With connections to the Jewish quarter in Béjar, the aljama in Hervas was devoted to agriculture and, in particular, vineyards, as well as trades and crafts. Settling in the “Lower Quarter”, the town’s Jewish population would go up to the “Upper Quarter”, along the Cuestecilla, while the Christians from the upper part of the city would go down to the Jewish quarter along the Calle de Abajo. The main building materials for the houses in the Jewish quarters were rough stone and adobe, making use of the nearby riverbank, along with wood from local chestnut trees. They were built on two storeys with an attic that was used as storage for cereals or as a larder.
THE LEGEND OF THE ERRANT JEW AND JEWESS
The synagogue in Hervas was built using the same popular materials, and its Talmudic school was famous throughout Extremadura. Tradition has it that it stood in Calle de Rabilero, although it later changed location several times. Rabbi Samuel, the physician and notary of the Duke of Béjar, was the owner of the synagogue and he managed it in an exemplary fashion until he was exiled to Portugal following the edict of 1492. The Calle Judeo - Cristiana, Calle del Vado and Calle Cofrades make up the Jewish corrala, or “yard”, at the centre of the Hervás aljama. In the last of these three streets stood the Communal Assembly of the Hebrews which after the expulsion of the Jews became the headquarters of the processional brotherhood of converts, or cofradía de conversos. Inside, all the elements necessary for making Kosher wine were found.
Evoking its Jewish past is an intimate part of the essential spirit of Hervas. For several years now, in the early summer, local inhabitants dress up as ancient Hebrews and celebrate, in memory of this group of ancestors, by performing the play Los Conversos, or The Converts, by Solly Wolodarsky.
Sweet soup, nuegados dessert, tishpitti cake, or veal stew with chestnuts are old Sepharadic recipes that are part of the town’s best local cuisine, and that of the whole of Extremadura. Since 1971, in Calle de la Amistad Judeo-Cristiana, there has been a plaque that states: “The inhabitants of Hervás have named this street in memory of its Jewish population. Its name is a symbol full of hope…”. The name means “Street of Judeo-Christian Friendship”.
The tale of the Maruxa, or the Errant Jewess, is another of the town’s oldest traditions. Quite a number of locals, on their evening walks near the Chiquita fountain, claim to have heard the grievous sobbing of the young Jewess who was in love with a handsome young Christian. She protected him with her own body and died alongside him when her father sent hired assassins to kill him. Buried in a secret place beside the river Ambroz, far from the Hebrew cemetery, the Maruxa only appears to warn of some approaching misfortune…