The End of Tolerance the Uprooting of Spain's Jews and Muslims Brought to an End a Fertile Civilization and a Unique Era of Coexistence between Adherents of the Three Great Monotheistic Religions. HISTORICAL TURNING POINT

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`THEY say Ferdinand is a clever prince, but he empoverishes his kingdom and enriches mine."

Legend lends those words to Bayezid II, sultan of the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the 15th century, as he took in Jews expelled by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in their campaign to purify Roman Catholic Spain. The campaign culminated in 1492: first with the defeat of Granada, Islam's last kingdom in Christian Europe, then with the royal decree banning Judaism.

Five hundred years later, the wisdom of Bayezid's words is re-cognized in Spain, where the loss of a prosperous, often educated, and influential Jewish community is acknowledged as a factor in its fall as a European power.

King Juan Carlos marked the quincentennial of the expulsion March 31 with a reconciliation speech in the Madrid synagogue to representatives of both Spain's now-modest Jewish community and the Sephardic diaspora.

But the Jewish expulsion alone does not capture the full significance of what Spain lost, nor does the end of Islam's rule over its last piece of the Iberian Peninsula: The Jews had been expelled from other European countries, and the Muslims had known other defeats.

What gives these events particular importance is that they mark the end of a unique era that brought together in Spain the three great monotheistic religions born and developed in the crucible of the Mediterranean basin.

"The radical aspect of 1492 was to abolish a unique historical moment of coexistence and dialogue among the three religions of the book," writes Edgar Morin, a noted French sociologist, in the preface to "The Jews of Spain," an exhaustive work tracing the paths of Sephardic Jewry. It "destroy{ed} in Spain, where it could have and should have been born, the possibility of an open and tolerant Europe."

It is not as though the three religions and cultures lived in idyllic harmony in Spain until 1492. The Jews had experienced terrible massacres in 1391, faced forced conversions and laws limiting many top professions to "pureblood" Christians, and had been ordered in 1480 to inhabit separate neighborhoods. The final push to conquer Al-Andalus - today's Andalucia - and rid the Iberian Peninsula of its last Islamic state, had begun in 1482.

But the Jews had been in Spain for more than 1,000 years, the Muslims for nearly 800, so it was not itinerants or foreigners who were forced out, but people with deep roots in their communities. …