In Bereishit 12:3, G-d tells Avraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you I will curse.” Throughout history, we have seen empires that persecuted the Jewish people fall and blessings showered on those that treated them well.
We know of the disappearance of the once-glorious empires of ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Persia-Media, Greece, and Rome. In the past century alone, the Third Reich was obliterated, and the Soviet communist empire fell. The British Empire – so expansive that it was said the sun never set on it – shrank into a shell of its former self after it sealed the borders of Palestine during the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, America, which has treated us so well and has consistently stood uniquely with Israel, has merited glorious achievements. G-d’s hand guides history; we need only look carefully to see the remarkable but unmistakable.
One of the defining moments in Jewish history was the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Five years later, the inquisition and expulsion spread to the rest of the Iberian Peninsula when King Manuel of Portugal married one of Ferdinand and Isabella’s daughters.
At the time, Spain and Portugal were the world’s two greatest super powers. But Spain and Portugal’s national fortunes subsequently took a sharp downturn, culminating in the British defeat of the Spanish armada in 1588. The two great powers became virtually irrelevant a century later,
Thus Spain and Portugal. But what of Catholicism itself, which inspired the Inquisition and expulsion?
As late as the early 1500s, Catholicism was dominant throughout Western Europe. To this day, it dominates in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and France. If England had remained Catholic, Catholicism not only would have reigned supreme in Western Europe (with the exception of Germany, where Martin Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation, and a few smaller places); it would have defined the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, South Africa, and the rest of the British Empire.
Why did England, then – lacking a theological ideologue like Martin Luther – depart from Catholicism?
The 15th century saw the Wars of the Roses tear England apart as the House of York and the House of Lancaster tore each other apart over succession disputes. When the Tudors came in at the start of the new century, Henry VII wanted to calm the waters. So he arranged for Catherine of Aragon to marry Prince Arthur. They married in 1501, but Arthur died very young. Due to arguments over her dowry and other factors, it was eventually decided to have Catherine married to Arthur’s successor and younger brother, who became Henry VIII, in 1509.
The couple really loved each other. Nevertheless, she failed to give birth to a boy. She had seven pregnancies. Four were stillborn or miscarried. Two lived but for less than a month. Only one daughter survived.
By 1525, Henry, desperate for a son, became convinced he had to move on to a new wife, so he took up with Anne Boleyn. He was Catholic, though, so he needed the pope to annul his marriage to Catherine because the Book of Matthew states that divorce is forbidden. Henry argued under Vayikra 18:16 and 20:21 that a man may not lawfully marry his brother’s wife. The pope rejected Henry’s interpretation, noting that the Bible actually extols marrying the sister-in-law of a deceased brother who had left behind no sons (Devarim 25:5-9).
The pope refused to grant him a divorce, so Henry decided to break with the Catholic Church and create Anglicanism. Thus, a century later, when the English came to Roanoke and Jamestown, they brought Anglicanism – not Catholicism – with them. Later, when the colonies broke from the Tudors and George III, the “Church of England” came to be known as Episcopalianism, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In other words, because Catherine of Aragon did not bear a single living boy amid seven pregnancies, Catholicism never became the predominant religion in the Anglophonic world (even though it was dominant throughout the Spanish-speaking world).
And who was Catherine of Aragon? She was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella – the couple responsible for the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion, the couple that uprooted Sephardic Jewry in the name of purifying the Catholic Church and assuring its world domination.
On the day of the Expulsion, Columbus set sail with Ferdinand and Isabella’s money on a journey that would plant the seeds for the finest haven Jews ever would find in exile. And within half a century of the Spanish Expulsion, the Catholic Church’s world dominance would end permanently because Ferdinand and Isabella’s daughter could not bear a boy.