Jews made their way into medieval Russia from Babylonia and Persia through Transoxiana and the Caucasus, and up the Black Sea coast from Asia Minor through Constantinople. In that capital, and in the Byzantine realm, the Jews enjoyed a harassed prosperity from the eighth to the twelfth century. Greece had several substantial Jewish communities, notably at Thebes, where their silk manufactures earned high repute. Up through Thessaly, Thrace, and Macedonia the Jews migrated into the Balkans, and followed the Danube into Hungary. A handful of Hebrew merchants came to Poland from Germany in the tenth century. Jews had been in Germany since pre-Christian times. In the ninth century there were considerable Jewish settlements at Metz, Speyer, Mainz, Worms, Strasbourg, Frankfort, and Cologne. These groups were too busy and mobile with commerce to contribute much to cultural history; however, Gershom ben Jehuda (960-1028) founded a rabbinical academy at Mainz, wrote a Hebrew commentary on the Talmud, and acquired such authority that German Jewry addressed to him, rather than to the Geonim of Babylonia, their questions on Talmudic law.
There were Jews in England in 691,13 Many more came in with William the Conqueror, and were at first protected by the Norman rulers as providers of capital and collectors of revenue. Their communities in London, Norwich, York, and other English centers were outside the jurisdiction of the local authorities, and were subject only to the king. This legal isolation widened the barrier between Christian and Jew, and played a part in the pogroms of the twelfth century.
Gaul had had Jewish merchants from the time of Caesar. By 600 there were Jewish colonies in all the major cities. The Merovingian kings persecuted them with pious ferocity; Chilperic ordered them all to accept Christianity or have their eyes torn out (581).14Charlemagne, while maintaining discriminatory laws against the Jews, protected them as useful and enterprising farmers and craftsmen, merchants, doctors, and financiers, and employed a Jew as his personal physician. In 787, according to a disputed tradition, he brought the Kalonymos family from Lucca to Mainz to encourage Jewish scholarship in the Frank realm. In 797 he sent a Jew as interpreter or as dragoman with an embassy to Harun al-Rashid. Louis the Pious favored the Jews as stimulators of commerce, and appointed a magister ludaeorum to guard their rights. Despite hostile legends, legal disabilities, and occasional minor persecutions, the Jews enjoyed in France in the ninth and tenth centuries a degree of prosperity and peace hardly known again by the Jews of Europe before the French Revolution.15
All through Italy there were little Jewish enclaves, from Trani to Venice and Milan. Jews were especially numerous in Padua, and may have influenced the growth of Averroism in the university there. Salerno, home of the first medieval school of scientific medicine in Latin Christendom, contained 600 Jews,16 several of them noted physicians. The Emperor Frederick II had Jewish scholars at his court in Foggia, and Pope Alexander III (1159-81) had several Jews in high position in his household;17 but Frederick joined with Pope Gregory IX in oppressive measures against the Jews of Italy.
The Spanish Jews called themselves Sephardim, and traced their origin to the royal tribe of Judah.* After the conversion of King Recared (586-601) to orthodox Christianity the Visigothic government united with the powerful hierarchy of the Spanish Church to make life less attractive to the Jews. They were excluded from public office, and were forbidden to marry Christians or have Christian slaves. King Sisebut ordered all Jews to accept Christianity or emigrate (613); his successor repealed this decree, but the Council of Toledo of 633 ruled that those Jews who had submitted to baptism and then returned to Judaism should be separated from their children and sold into slavery. King Chintila renewed Sisebut’s decree (638); and King Egica prohibited Jewish ownership of land, and any business transaction between Christian and Jew (693). When the Moors and Arabs invaded the peninsula (711) the Jews helped them at every turn.
The conquerors, to repopulate the land, invited immigration; 50,000 Jews came from Asia and Africa,18 some towns, like Lucena, were inhabited almost wholly by Jews. Freed from economic disabilities, the Jews of Moslem Spain spread into every field of agriculture, industry, finance, and the professions. They adopted the dress, language, and customs of the Arabs, garbed themselves in turbans and silk robes, rode in carriages, and were hardly distinguishable from their Semitic cousins. Several Jews became court physicians, and one of these was made adviser to the greatest of the caliphs of Cordova.
Hasdai ibn Shaprut (915-70) was to Abd-er-Rahman III what Nizam al-Mulk in the next century would be to Malik Shah. Born in the wealthy and cultured Ibn Ezra family, his father taught him Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin; he studied medicine and other sciences at Cordova, cured the Caliph’s ailments, and showed such wide knowledge and good judgment in politics that he was appointed to the diplomatic staff, apparently at the age of twenty-five. He was entrusted with ever larger responsibilities over the financial and commercial life of the state. He had no official title; the Caliph hesitated to arouse resentment by making him officially vizier; but Hasdai performed his many functions with such tact that he won the good will of Arabs, Jews, and Christians alike. He encouraged learning and literature, provided students with scholarships and books, and gathered about him a salon of poets, savants, and philosophers. When he died, Moslems vied with Jews in honoring his memory.
There were similar, if lesser, figures, elsewhere in Moslem Spain. At Seville al-Mutamid invited to his court the scholar and astronomer Isaac ben Baruch, gave him the title of Prince, and made him head rabbi of all the Jewish congregations there.19 At Granada Samuel Halevi ibn Naghdela rivaled the power and wisdom, and exceeded the learning, of Hasdai ibn Shaprut. Born (993) and reared in Cordova, he combined the study of the Talmud with that of Arabic literature, and both with the selling of spices. When Cordova fell to the Berbers he moved to Malaga, and there added to his modest income by composing letters for petitioners to King Habbus of Granada. Struck with the calligraphy and diction of these letters, the King’s vizier visited Samuel, took him to Granada, and installed him in the Alhambra as his secretary. Soon Samuel was also his adviser, and the vizier said that “when Samuel gave counsel the voice of God was heard.” Dying, the vizier recommended Samuel as his successor; and in 1027 Samuel became the only Jew openly to hold the office and name of vizier in a Moslem state; this was the more feasible in Granada, where half the population in the eleventh century was Jewish.20 The Arabs soon applauded the choice, for under Samuel the little state flourished financially, politically, and culturally. He himself was a scholar, poet, astronomer, mathematician, and linguist, knowing seven tongues; he wrote (chiefly in Hebrew) twenty treatises on grammar, several volumes of poetry and philosophy, an introduction to the Talmud, and an anthology of Hebrew literature. He shared his fortune with other poets, came to the rescue of the poet and philosopher Ibn Gabirol, financed young students, and contributed to Jewish communities in three continents. While vizier to the King he was also rabbi to the Jews, and lectured on the Talmud. His grateful people conferred upon him the title of Nagid—Prince (in Israel). When he died (1055) he was succeeded as vizier and Nagid by his son Joseph ibn Naghdela.
Those centuries—the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth—were the golden age of Spanish Jewry, the happiest and most fruitful period in medieval Hebrew history. When Moses ben Chanoch (d. 965), one of the Bari émigrés, was ransomed in Cordova, he organized there, with Hasdai’s help, an academy that soon acquired the intellectual leadership of the Jewish world. Similar schools were opened at Lucena, Toledo, Barcelona, Granada …; and whereas the schools of Eastern Jewry had almost confined themselves to religious education, these gave instruction also in literature, music, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and philosophy.21 Such education gave to the upper half of the Jewish population in Spain a breadth and depth of culture and refinement at that time equaled only by their Moslem, Byzantine, and Chinese contemporaries. It was then a disgrace for a man of wealth or political position to be unacquainted with history, science, philosophy, and poetry.22 A Jewish aristocracy took form, graced by beautiful women; perhaps it was too keenly conscious of its superiority, but it redeemed its pride by its sense that good birth and fortune are an obligation to generosity and excellence.
The decline of Spanish Jewry might be dated from the fall of Joseph ibn Naghdela. He served the king almost as ably as his father had done, but not with the modest tact that had reconciled a population half Moorish to be ruled by a Jew. He took all power in his hands, dressed as royally as the king, and laughed at the Koran; gossip called him an atheist. In 1066 the Arabs and Berbers revolted, crucified Joseph, massacred 4000 Jews in Granada, and plundered their homes. The remaining Jews were compelled to sell their lands and emigrate. Twenty years later the Almoravids came from Africa, aflame with orthodoxy; and the long honeymoon of Spanish Moslems and Jews was ended. A Mohammedan theologian announced that the Jews had promised Mohammed to accept Islam at the end of 500 years after the Hegira, if by that time their expected Messiah had not come; the five centuries were up in 1107 by Mohammedan reckoning; the Emir Yusuf demanded the conversion of all the Jews in Spain, but excused them on payment of an enormous sum into his treasury.23 When the Almohads replaced the Almoravids as rulers of Morocco and Moslem Spain (1148), they gave the Jews and the Christians the same choice that King Sisebut had allowed the Jews 535 years before—apostasy or exile. Many Jews pretended conversion to Islam; many followed the Christians into northern Spain.
There, at first, they found a royal tolerance as magnanimous as that which they had enjoyed for four centuries under Islam. Alfonso VI and VII of Castile treated the Jews well, made Jew and Christian equal before the law, and sternly repressed an anti-Semitic outbreak in Toledo (1107), where there were then 72,000 Jews.24 A like entente between the mother and daughter religions prevailed for a century in Aragon; indeed King James I invited Jews to settle in Majorca, Catalonia, and Valencia, and in many cases gave Jewish settlers free homes and lands.25 In Barcelona they dominated commerce in the twelfth century, and owned a third of the soil.26 The Jews of Christian Spain were severely taxed, but they prospered, and enjoyed internal autonomy. Trade flowed freely between Christian, Jew, and Moor; the three exchanged gifts on holidays; now and then a king contributed to a synagogue building fund.27 From 1085 even to 1492, Jews could be found in high public office in Spanish Christian states as fiscal agents and diplomats, sometimes as ministers.28 During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Christian clergy joined in this Christian amity.29
The first outbreak of intolerance was among the Jews themselves. In 1149 Jehuda ibn Ezra, steward of the palace to Alfonso VII of Leon and Castile, turned the powers of his master’s government against the Qaraite Jews of Toledo; the details are unknown, but from that time the once numerous Spanish Qaraites are heard of no more.30 In 1212 some Christian crusaders entered Spain to help free it from the Moors; for the most part they treated the Jews well; one group attacked the Jews of Toledo and killed many of them; but the Christians of the city rose to the defense of their fellow citizens, and stopped the persecution.31 Alfonso X of Castile included anti-Judaic legislation in his law code of 1265, but the code was not put into effect till 1348; meanwhile Alfonso employed a Jewish physician and treasurer, presented to the Jews of Seville three mosques to be turned into synagogues,32 and basked in the splendor that Jewish and Moslem scholarship shed upon his genial reign. In 1276 the military enterprises of Pedro III of Aragon required insufferable taxes; his finance minister and several other officials were Jews; a revolt of nobles and cities against the monarchy compelled the King to dismiss his Jewish aides, and to confirm a resolution of the Cortes (1283) against further employment of Jews in the government. The era of toleration ended when the ecclesiastical Council of Zamora (1313) decreed the imposition of the badge, the segregation of the Jewish from the Christian population, and a ban against the employment of Jewish physicians by Christians, or of Christian servants by Jews.33