Jewish culture in the 10th through 12th centuries ran parallel to Christian culture. There was a level of social stability during this time, and marriage was the base of the Jewish family; religious rites and traditional customs could be practiced freely. The birth of a boy is always an important event in a Jewish family. But circumcision constituted one of the major contradictions of "convivencia" (co-existence), for, while Christians celebrate the cicumcision of Christ, they condemnded this ritual in Judaism, as religious disobedience. For the Spanish Jews, the synagogue continued to be the centre of the community. The rabbis' moral authority guided the people, while Torah precepts relating to kosher food meant that various laws prevented Jews and Christians from eating together.
Family life revolved around the women of the household. In families of modest means they worked and took care of the home and children, while among the elite they could emulate the Christian noblewomen. The great Jewish families lived at court and constituted the leaderhsip of the aljamas, with their economic power and ties to the monarchy, especially in the 13th and 14th centuries. The Caballería, Benveniste, Santangel, Orabuena and Abravanel families constituted an aristocratic and privileged caste, sometimes surrounded by their own courts At times the upper class led a life so relaxed that it stood in contrast to the stricter morality of the people.
Until the 13th century, many Jews were wealthy landowners and many others based their economic liefe in the fields, though some legislation prevented them from owning land. Still, there were small landowners until the expulsion, standing out for their vineyards, and even teaching some techniques to the Christians. The majority, however, worked in commerce or as artisans, forming guilds and living in specific urban neighbourhoods. One of their main occupations, especially in Aragon, was dye-making; they also excelled as tailors, shoemakers, jewellers, saddle-makers and cloth merchants, leading to a comfortable lifestyle, though, of course not all Jews were wealthy. They were also small businessmen, middlemen and shopkeepers. The kings granted or rescinded privileges to their communities, and the church and nobility exated taxes. Some Jews worked collecting royal taxes, which earned them the hatred of Christians. The legal situation changed: sometimes they collected royal taxes, and at other times they were forbidden any business with Christians.
One of the professions in which they stood out was medicine. Yosef Ferruziel was Alphonso VI's physician, Don Meyer Alguadés was physician to Henry III of Castile, and Abiatar ben Crescas to John II of Aragon. Arabic science influenced the study of astronomy, in which field Abraham ben Daud, Abraham ben Ezra and Yehuda Cohen, among others, were remarkable. Interested in contacting Jewish Diaspora communities, Benjamin of Tudela travelled through Europe and the East, reaching Jerusalem; his travel writings, composed fater his return to Spain, constitute a true compendium of history and geography.
Many other Jews were remarkable in the field of science, for example Rabbi Azag, who organized the irrigation system of Tudela, Abraham Annasi, disseminator of Arabic and Hebrew science in Europe, Abraham Zacuto, author of the "Perpetual Almanach", and the Mallorcan scientists Yehudah and Abraham Cresques, author of the first "Catalan Atlas".
Jews rose to high positions in government, collecting taxes, acting as financiers and influencing politics. Samuel Ha-Levy was one noteworthy figure, as treasurer for Pedro I the Cruel, and Abraham Senior was the financier of the Catholic Monarchs.
The Jews paid special taxes and were considered Crown property. In some cases, the fine for wounding or killing a Jew was not paid to his family but to the king. The aljama was the Jewish municipal administrative centre. The dayanim or judges held a position comparable to that of mayor and the Chief Rabbiexercised authority over all the Jews of the kingdom. The judería (Jewish quarter) was the neighbourhood of the city where the Jews lived, usually near the walls, the castle or the cathedral. The aljamas enjoyed considerable autonomy. Disputes among Jews were resolved by their own laws and tribunals.
In Castiel, representatives of the aljamas met in assemblies to take care of the interests common to all the kingdom's Jews. The aljama watched over religious observance, collected taxes, took care of education and cared for the poor; it also went after informers. The cemetery was located outside the juderia; sometombs may still be seen, such as those of Segovia. Synagogues, such as Toledo's Santa Maria la Blanca (Saint Mary the White) were transformed into churches or disappeared in the terrible events of the 15th century. Next to the synagogues there were ritual baths, of which the best preserved is that of Besalu, in Girona. As the juderias were near the walls, castles or bridges, Jews were often charged with their defence and protection, which gives some idea of their important role in medieval Spain.