1. Government

Excepting Palermo and a few towns in Spain, the cities of medieval Christendom required no segregation of their Jewish population. Usually, however, the Jews lived in a voluntary isolation for social convenience, physical security, and religious unity. The synagogue was the geographical, social, and economic center of the Jewish quarter, and drew most Jewish dwellings toward it. There was in consequence much overcrowding, to the detriment of public and private sanitation. In Spain the Hebrew sections contained handsome residences as well as hovels and tenements; in the rest of Europe they verged on slums.34

Allowing for the universally greater influence of the rich in elections and appointments, the Jewish communities were semidemocratic enclaves in a monarchical world. The taxpaying members of a congregation chose the rabbis and officers of the synagogue. A small group of elected elders sat as a Beth Din or communal court; this levied taxes, fixed prices, administered justice, issued ordinances—not always observed—on Jewish diet, dancing, morals, and dress. It was empowered to try Jewish offenders against Jewish law, and had executive officers to carry out its decrees. Penalties ranged from fines to excommunication or banishment. Capital punishment was rarely within the power or custom of the Beth Din; in its stead the Jewish court used the herem or full excommunication—a majestic and frightening ceremony of charges, curses, and candles extinguished one by one as a symbol of the culprit’s spiritual death. The Jews, like the Christians, used excommunication too frequently, so that in both faiths it lost its terror and effectiveness. The rabbis, like the Church, prosecuted heretics, outlawed them, and on rare occasions burned their books.35

Normally the Jewish community was not subject to local authority. Its only master was the king; him it paid liberally for a charter protecting its religious and economic rights; later it paid the liberated communes to confirm its autonomy. The Jews, however, were subject to the law of the state, and made it a principle to obey it; “the law of the kingdom is law,” said the Talmud.36 “Pray for the welfare of the government,” said another passage, “since but for fear thereof men would swallow one another alive.”37

The state laid upon the Jews a poll or head tax, property taxes running up to 33%, and taxes on meat, wine, jewelry, imports, and exports; in addition it required “voluntary” contributions from them to help finance a war, a coronation, or a royal “progress” or tour. The English Jews, numbering in the twelfth century one quarter of one per cent of the population, paid eight per cent of the national taxes. They raised a fourth of the levy for the crusade of Richard I, and donated 5000 marks toward his ransom from German captivity—thrice the amount given by the city of London.38 The Jew was also taxed by his own community, and was periodically dunned for charity, education, and the support of the harassed Jews in Palestine. At any moment, for cause or without, the king might confiscate part or all of the property of “his Jews,” for in feudal law they were all his “men.” When a king died, his agreement to protect the Jews expired; his successor could be induced to renew it only by a large gift; sometimes this was a third of all Jewish property in the state.39 In 1463 Albrecht III, Margrave of Brandenburg, declared that every new German king “may, according to old usage, either burn all the Jews, or show them his mercy, and, to save their lives, take the third penny” (i.e., one third) “of their property.”40 Bracton, the leading English jurist of the thirteenth century, summed up the matter simply: “A Jew cannot have anything of his own, because whatever he acquires he acquires not for himself but for the king.”41

2. Economy

To these political inconveniences were added economic restrictions. The Jews were not legally or generally prevented from owning land; at one time or another in the Middle Ages they owned considerable tracts in Moslem or Christian Spain, in Sicily, Silesia, Poland, England, and France.42 But circumstances made such ownership increasingly impractical. Forbidden by Christian law to hire Christian slaves, and by Jewish law to hire Jewish slaves, the Jew had to work his holding with free labor, hard to get and costly to retain. Jewish law forbade the Jew to work on Saturday, Christian law usually forbade him to work on Sunday; such leisure was a hardship. Feudal custom or law made it impossible for a Jew to find a place within the feudal system; any such position required a Christian oath of fealty, and military service; but the laws of nearly all Christian states forbade the Jews to carry arms.43 In Visi-gothic Spain King Sisebut revoked all grants of land made to Jews by his predecessors; King Egica “nationalized” all Jewish holdings that had at any time belonged to Christians; and in 1293 the Cortes of Valladolid prohibited the sale of land to Jews. The ever-present possibility of expulsion or attack persuaded the Jews, after the ninth century, to avoid landed property or rural solitude. All these conditions discouraged Jewish agriculture, and inclined the Jew to urban life, to industry, trade, and finance.

In the Near East and in southern Europe the Jews were active in industry; indeed in several cases it was they who brought advanced handicraft techniques from Islam or Byzantium to Western lands. Benjamin of Tudela found hundreds of Jewish glassworkers at Antioch and Tyre; Jews in Egypt and Greece were renowned for the excellence of their dyed and embroidered textiles; and as late as the thirteenth century Frederick II called in Jewish craftsmen to manage the state’s silk industry in Sicily. There and elsewhere Jews engaged in the metal trades, especially in goldsmithing and jewelry; they worked the tin mines of Cornwall until 1290.44 Hebrew artisans in southern Europe were organized in strong guilds, and competed successfully with Christian craftsmen. But in northern Europe the Christian guilds acquired a monopoly in many trades. State after state forbade the Jews to serve Christians as smiths, carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, millers, bakers, or physicians, or to sell wine, flour, butter, or oil in the markets,45 or to buy a home anywhere except in the Jewish quarter.

So restricted, the Jews took to trade. Rab, the Babylonian Talmudist, had given his people a shrewd motto: “Trade with a hundred florins, and you will afford meat and wine; put the same sum into agriculture, and at most you may have bread and salt.”46 The Jewish pedlar was known in every city and town; the Jewish merchant at every market and fair. International commerce was their specialty, almost their monopoly, before the eleventh century; their packs, caravans, and ships crossed deserts, mountains, and seas; and in most instances they accompanied their goods. They served as commercial links between Christendom and Islam, between Europe and Asia, between the Slavic and the Western states. They handled most of the trade in slaves.47 They were helped by their skill and patience in learning languages; by the understanding of Hebrew, and the similarity of laws and customs, among widely separated Jewish communities; and by the hospitality of the Jewish quarter in every city to any foreign Jew; so Benjamin of Tudela traveled halfway across the world, and found himself everywhere at home. Ibn Khordadbeh, director of the post for the Baghdad caliphate in 870, told in his Book of Routes of Jewish merchants who spoke Persian, Greek, Arabic, Frank, Spanish, and Slavonic; and he described the land and sea routes by which they traveled from Spain and Italy to Egypt, India, and China.48 These merchants took eunuchs, slaves, brocades, furs, and swords to the Far East, and brought back musk, aloes, camphor, spices, and silks.49The capture of Jerusalem by the Crusades, and the conquest of the Mediterranean by the fleets of Venice and Genoa, gave the Italian merchants an advantage over the Jews; and Jewish commercial leadership ended with the eleventh century. Even before the Crusades Venice had forbidden the transport of Jewish merchants on Venetian ships, and soon afterward the Hanseatic League closed its ports on the North Sea and the Baltic to Jewish trade.50 By the twelfth century Jewish commerce was mostly domestic; and even within that narrow scope it was limited by laws prohibiting the sale of divers goods by Jews.51

They turned to finance. In a hostile environment where popular violence might destroy, or royal cupidity confiscate, their immovable goods, the Jews were forced to the conclusion that their savings should be in liquid and mobile form. They took first to the simple business of money-changing, then to receiving money for commercial investment, then to lending money at interest. The Pentateuch52 and the Talmud53 had forbidden this among Jews, but not between Jew and non-Jew. As economic life grew more complex, and the need for financing became more acute with the expansion of commerce and industry, the Jews lent one another money through a Christian intermediary,54 or through silent partnerships in an enterprise and its profits—a device allowed by the rabbis and several Christian theologians.55 Since both the Koran and the Church forbade the charging of interest, and Christian moneylenders were consequently scarce before the thirteenth century, Moslem and Christian borrowers—including ecclesiastics, churches, and monasteries56—applied to Jews for loans; so Aaron of Lincoln financed the building of nine Cistercian monasteries and the great abbey of St. Albans.57In the thirteenth century Christian bankers invaded the field, adopted the methods that had been developed by the Jews, and soon surpassed them in wealth and range. “The Christian usurer, although he did not have to safeguard himself to anything like the same extent against the chances of murder and pillage, was no less exacting” than the Jew.58 Both alike pressed the debtor with Roman severity, and the kings exploited them all.

All moneylenders were subject to high taxation, and, in the case of the Jews, to occasional outright confiscation. The kings made it a principle to allow high interest rates, and periodically to squeeze the profits out of the financiers. The cost of collection was high, and in many cases the creditor had to bribe officials to allow him to capture his due.59 In 1198 Innocent III commanded all Christian princes, in preparation for the Fourth Crusade, to compel full remission of interest demanded of Christians by Jews.60 Louis IX, the saintly king of France, “for the salvation of his own soul and those of his ancestors,” freed all his subjects from a third of whatever they owed to Jews.61English kings on occasion granted letters of release—canceling interest or principle or both—to subjects owing money to Jews; not rarely the kings sold such letters, and noted in their registers the sums they received for their vicarious philanthropy.62 The British government required a copy of every loan agreement; an Exchequer of the Jews was formed to file and supervise these agreements, and to hear cases concerning them; when a Jewish banker could not meet the taxes or levies laid upon him, the government, checking its record of his loans, confiscated all or part of them, and notified the debtors to pay not the lender but the government.63 When, in 1187, Henry II levied a special tax upon the people of England, the Jews were compelled to pay one fourth, the Christians one tenth, of their property; nearly half the entire tax was paid by the Jews.64 At times “the Jews financed the kingdom.”65 In 1210 King John ordered all Jews in England—men, women, and children—to be imprisoned; a “tallage” of 66,000 marks was taken from them;66 those suspected of concealing the full amount of their hoards were tortured by having a tooth pulled out each day till they confessed.67 * In 1230 Henry III, charging that the Jews had clipped the coin of the realm (apparently some had), confiscated a third of all the movable property of the English Jews. The operation having proved profitable, it was repeated in 1239; two years later 20,000 silver marks were exacted from the Jews; 60,000 marks—a sum equal to the whole yearly revenue of the Crown—were exacted in 1244. When Henry III borrowed 5000 marks from the Earl of Cornwall, he consigned to him all the Jews of England as security.68 A series of imposts from 1252 to 1255 drove the Jews to such desperation that they begged permission to leave England en masse; permission was refused.69 In 1275 Edward I strictly prohibited lending at interest. Loans continued nevertheless; and as the risk was greater, interest rates rose. Edward ordered all Jews in England arrested and their goods seized. Many Christian lenders were also arrested, and three of them were hanged. Of the Jews 280 were hanged, drawn, and quartered in London; there were additional executions in the counties; and the property of hundreds of Jews was confiscated to the state.70

In the uneasy intervals between confiscations the Jewish bankers prospered, and some became too visibly rich. They not only advanced capital to build castles, cathedrals, and monasteries, but they raised for themselves substantial houses; in England their homes were among the first dwellings built of stone. There were rich and poor among the Jews, despite Rabbi Eleazar’s dictum that “all men are equal before God—women and slaves, rich and poor.”71 The rabbis sought to mitigate poverty, and check profiteering wealth, by a variety of economic regulations. They emphasized the responsibility of the group for the welfare of all, and softened the stings of adversity with organized charity. They did not denounce riches, but they succeeded in giving to learning a prestige equal to that of wealth. They branded monopoly and “corners” as sins;72 they forbade the retailer to profit by more than a sixth of the wholesale price;73 they watched over weights and measures; they fixed maximum prices and minimum wages.74 Many of these regulations failed; the rabbis could not isolate the economic life of the Jews from that of their neighbors in Islam or Christendom; and the law of supply and demand of goods and services found a way around all legislation.

3. Morals

The rich tried to atone for their accumulations by abundant charity. They acknowledged the social obligations of wealth, and perhaps they feared the curse or fury of the poor. No Jew is known to have died of hunger while living in a Jewish community.75Periodically, and as early as the second century after Christ, each member of the congregation, however poor, was assessed by official overseers for a contribution to the kupah or “community chest,” which took care of the old, poor, or sick, and the education and marriage of orphans.76 Hospitality was accorded freely, especially to wandering scholars; in some communities incoming travelers were billeted in private homes by officers of the congregation. Jewish philanthropic societies grew to a great number as the Middle Ages advanced; not only were there many hospitals, orphanages, poorhouses, and homes for the aged, but there were organizations providing ransoms for prisoners, dowries for poor brides, visits to the sick, care for destitute widows, and free burial for the dead.77Christians complained of Jewish greed, and tried to stir Christians to charity by citing the exemplary generosity of the Jews.78

Class differences disported themselves in dress, diet, speech, and a hundred other ways. The simple Jew wore a long-sleeved and girdled robe or caftan, usually black as if in mourning for his ruined Temple and ravished land; but in Spain the well-to-do Jews proclaimed their prosperity with silks and furs; and the rabbis deplored in vain the handle given to hostility and discontent by such displays. When the king of Castile banned finery in raiment the Jewish males obeyed, but continued to array their wives in splendor; when the king demanded an explanation they assured him that the royal gallantry could never have meant the restrictions to apply to women;79 and the Jews continued throughout the Middle Ages to robe their ladies well. But they forbade them to appear in public with uncovered hair; such an offense was ground for divorce; and the Jew was instructed not to pray in the presence of a woman whose hair was visible.80

The hygienic features of the Law alleviated the effects of congested settlements. Circumcision, the weekly bath, the prohibition of wine or putrid meat as food, gave the Jews superior protection against diseases rampant in their Christian vicinities.81 Leprosy was frequent among the Christian poor, who ate salted meat or fish, but was rare among the Jews. Perhaps for like reasons the Jews suffered less than Christians from cholera and kindred ailments.82 But in the slums of Rome, infested with mosquitoes from the Campagna marshes, Jew and Christian alike shivered with malaria.

The moral life of the medieval Jew reflected his Oriental heritage and his European disabilities. Discriminated against at every turn, pillaged and massacred, humiliated and condemned for crimes not his own, the Jew, like the physically weak everywhere, resorted to cunning in self-defense. The rabbis repeated again and again that “to cheat a Gentile is even worse than to cheat a Jew,”83 but some Jews took the chance;84 and perhaps Christians too bargained as shrewdly as they knew. Some bankers, Jewish or Christian, were ruthless in their resolve to be paid; though doubtless there were in the Middle Ages, as in the eighteenth century, moneylenders as honest and faithful as Meyer Anselm of the rote Schild. Certain Jews and Christians clipped coins or received stolen goods.85 The frequent use of Jews in high financial office suggests that their Christian employers had confidence in their integrity. Of violent crimes—murder, robbery, rape—the Jews were seldom guilty. Drunkenness was rarer among them in Christian than in Moslem lands.

Their sex life, despite a background of polygamy, was remarkably wholesome. They were less given to pederasty than other peoples of Eastern origin. Their women were modest maidens, industrious wives, prolific and conscientious mothers; and early marriage reduced prostitution to a human minimum.86 Bachelors were rarities. Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel ruled that a bachelor of twenty, unless absorbed in study of the Law, might be compelled to marry by the court.87 Marriages were arranged by the parents; few girls, says a Jewish document of the eleventh century, were “indelicate or impudent enough to express their own fancies or preference”;88 but no marriage was fully legal without the consent of both parties.89 The father might give his daughter in marriage in her early years, even at six; but such child marriages were not consummated till maturity, and when the daughter came of age she could annul it if she wished.90 The betrothal was a formal act, making the girl legally the man’s wife; they could not thereafter separate except by a bill of divorce. At the betrothal a contract (ketuba) was signed for the dowry and the marriage settlement. The latter was a sum set aside out of the husband’s estate to be paid his wife in case the husband should divorce her or die. Without a marriage settlement of at least 200 zuzas (which could buy a one-family house), no marriage with a virgin bride was valid.

Polygamy was practiced by rich Jews in Islamic lands, but was rare among the Jews of Christendom.91 Post-Talmudic rabbinical literature refers a thousand times to a man’s “wife,” never to his “wives.” About the year 1000 Rabbi Gershom ben Judah of Mainz decreed the excommunication of any polygamous Jew; and soon thereafter, in all Europe except Spain, polygamy and concubinage became almost extinct among the Jews. Cases continued to occur, however, where a wife barren for ten years after marriage allowed her husband to take a concubine or an additional wife;92 parentage was vital. The same decree of Gershom abolished the old right of the husband to divorce his wife without her consent or guilt. Divorces were probably less frequent in medieval Jewry than in modern America.

Despite the comparative looseness of the marriage bond in law, the family was the saving center of Jewish life. External danger brought internal unity; and hostile witnesses testify to the “warmth and dignity … thoughtfulness, consideration, parental and fraternal affection,” that marked and mark the Jewish family.94 The young husband, merged with his wife in work, joy, and tribulation, developed a profound attachment for her as part of his larger self; he became a father, and the children growing up around him stimulated his reserve energies and engaged his deepest loyalties. He had probably known no woman carnally before marriage, and had, in so small and intimate a community, few chances for infidelity afterward. Almost from their birth he saved to provide a dowry for his daughters and a marriage settlement for his sons; and he took it for granted that he should support them in the early years of their married life; this seemed wiser than to let youth prepare with a decade of promiscuity for the restrictions of monogamy. In many cases the bridegroom came to live with the bride in her father’s home—seldom to the increment of happiness. The authority of the oldest father in the home was almost as absolute as in republican Rome. He could excommunicate his children, and might beat his wife within reason; if he seriously injured her the community fined him to the limit of his resources. Usually his authority was exercised with a sternness that never quite concealed a passionate love.

The position of woman was legally low, morally high. Like Plato, the Jew thanked God that he had not been born a woman; and the woman replied humbly, “I thank God that I was made according to His will.”95 In the synagogue the women occupied a separate place in the gallery or behind the men—a clumsy compliment to their distracting charms; and they could not be counted toward making a quorum. Songs in praise of a woman’s beauty were considered indecorous, though the Talmud allowed them.96 Flirtation, if any, was by correspondence; public conversation between the sexes—even between man and wife—was forbidden by the rabbis.97 Dancing was permitted, but only of woman with woman, of man with man.98 While the husband was by law the sole heir of his wife, the widow did not inherit from her husband; when he died she received the equivalent of her dowry and the marriage settlement; for the rest her sons, the natural heirs, were relied upon to support her decently. Daughters inherited only in the absence of sons; otherwise they had to depend upon brotherly affection, which seldom failed.99 Girls were not sent to school; in their case a little knowledge was accounted an especially dangerous thing. However, they were allowed to study privately; we hear of several women who gave public lectures on the Law—though sometimes the lecturer screened herself from her audience.100Despite every physical and legal disadvantage, the deserving Jewish woman received after marriage full honor and devotion. Judah ben Moses ibn Tibbon (1170) quoted approvingly a Moslem sage: “None but the honorable honor women, none but the despicable despise them.”101

The parental relation was more nearly perfect than the marital. The Jew, with the vanity of the commonplace, prided himself on his reproductive ability and his children; his most solemn oath was taken by laying his hand upon the testes of the man receiving the pledge; hence the word testimony. Every man was commanded to have at least two children; usually there were more. The child was reverenced as a visitor from heaven, a very angel become flesh. The father was reverenced almost as a vicar of God; the son stood in his father’s presence until bidden to be seated, and gave him a solicitous obedience that fully comported with the pride of youth. In the ceremony of circumcision the boy was dedicated to Yahveh by the covenant of Abraham; and every family felt obligated to train one son for the rabbinate. When the boy had completed his thirteenth year he was received into manhood, and into all the obligations of the Law, by a solemn ceremony of confirmation.* Religion cast its awe and sanctity over every stage of development, and eased the tasks of parentage.

4. Religion

In like manner religion stood as a spiritual policeman over every phase of the moral code. Doubtless loopholes were found in the Law, and legal fictions were concocted to restore the freedom of adaptation indispensable to an enterprising people. But apparently the medieval Jew accepted the Law, by and large, as a bulwark saving him not only from eternal damnation but, more visibly, from group disintegration. It harassed him at every turn, but he honored it as the very home and school of his growth, the vital medium of his life.

Every home in Judaism was a church, every school was a temple, every father was a priest. The prayers and ritual of the synagogue had their briefer counterparts in the home. The fasts and festivals of the faith were celebrated there with educative ceremonies that bound the present with the past, the living with the dead and the yet unborn. Every Friday eve of the Sabbath the father called his wife, children, and servants around him, blessed them individually, and led them in prayer, religious readings, and sacred songs. To the doorpost of each major room was attached a tube (mezuzah) containing a parchment roll inscribed with two passages from Deuteronomy (vi, 4-9; xi, 13-21), reminding the Jew that his God is one, and must be loved “with all thy heart and soul and strength.” From the age of four the child was brought to the synagogue; and there religion was impressed upon him in his most formative years.

The synagogue was not merely a temple, it was the social center of the Jewish community; synagoge, like ecclesia, synod, and college, meant an assemblage, a con-greg-ation. In pre-Christian days it had been essentially a school; it is still called Schule by Ashkenazic Jews. In the Dispersion it took on a strange variety of functions. In some synagogues it was the custom to publish, on the Sabbath, the decisions reached by the Beth Din during the week; to collect taxes, advertise lost articles, accept complaints of one member against another, and announce the coming sale of property so that any claimant on it might protest the sale. The synagogue dispensed communal charity, and, in Asia, served as a lodging for travelers. The building itself was always the finest in the Jewish quarter; sometimes, especially in Spain and Italy, it was an architectural masterpiece, expensively and lovingly adorned. Christian authorities repeatedly forbade the erection of synagogues equaling in height the tallest Christian church in the city; in 1221 Pope Honorius III ordered the destruction of such a synagogue in Bourges.103 Seville had twenty-three synagogues in the fourteenth century, Toledo and Cordova almost as many; one built in Cordova in 1315 is now maintained as a national monument by the Spanish government.

Every synagogue had a school (Beth ha-midrash— House of Study—the Arabic madrasa); in addition there were private schools and personal tutors; probably there was a higher relative literacy among the medieval Jews than among the Christians,104 though lower than among the Moslems. Teachers were paid by the community or the parents, but all were under communal supervision. Boys went off to school at an early hour—in winter before dawn; some hours later they returned home for breakfast; then they went back to school till eleven, then home for lunch, back to school at noon, a respite between two and three, then more schooling till evening; then at last they were released to their homes for supper, prayers, and bed. Life was a serious matter for the Jewish boy.105

Hebrew and the Pentateuch were the primary studies. At the age of ten the student took up the Mishna, at thirteen the major tractates of the Talmud; those who were to be scholars continued the study of Mishna and Gemara from thirteen to twenty or later. Through the diversity of subjects in the Talmud the student received a smattering of a dozen sciences, but almost nothing of non-Jewish history.106 There was much learning by repetition; the chorus of recitation was so vigorous that some localities excluded schools.107 Higher education was given in the Yeshibah or academy. The graduate of such an academy was called talmid hakam— scholar of the Law; he was usually freed from community taxes; and though he was not necessarily a rabbi, all nonscholars were expected to rise on his coming or going.108

The rabbi was teacher, jurist, and priest. He was required to marry. He was paid little or nothing for his religious functions; usually he earned a living in the secular world. He seldom preached; this was left to itinerant preachers (maggidim) schooled in sonorous and frightening eloquence. Any member of the congregation might lead it in prayer, read the Scriptures, or preach; usually, however, this honor was granted to some prominent or philanthropic Jew. Prayer was a complex ceremony for the orthodox Hebrew. To be properly performed it required that he should cover his head as a sign of reverence, strap upon his arms and his forehead small cases containing passages from Exodus (xiii, 1-16) and Deuteronomy (vi, 4-9; xi, 13-21), and wear on the borders of his garments fringes inscribed with the basic commandments of the Lord. The rabbis explained these formalities as necessary reminders of the unity, presence, and laws of God; simple Jews came to look upon them as magical amulets possessed of miraculous powers. The culmination of the religious service was a reading from the scroll of the Law, contained in a little ark above the altar.

The Jews of the Dispersion at first frowned upon music in religion as hardly suited to a mood of grief for their lost home. But music and religion are as intimately related as poetry and love; the deepest emotions require for their civilized expression the most emotional of the arts. Music returned to the synagogue through poetry. In the sixth century the paitanim or “Neo-Hebraic” poets began to write religious verse, confused with acrostic and alliterative artificialities, but uplifted with the resounding splendor of Hebrew, and filled with that religious ardor which in the Jew now served for both patriotism and piety. The crude but powerful hymns of Eleazar ben Kalir (eighth century) still find a place in some synagogue rituals. Similar poetry appeared among the Jews of Spain, Italy, France, and Germany. One such hymn is sung by many Jews on the Day of Atonement:

With the coming of Thy Kingdom

The hills shall break into song,

And the islands laugh exultant

That they to God belong.

And all their congregations

So loud Thy praise shall sing

That the farthest peoples, hearing,

Shall hail Thee crowned King.109

When such piutim or sacred poems were introduced into the synagogue service they were sung by a precentor, and music re-entered the ritual. Furthermore the scriptural readings and the prayers were in many synagogues chanted by a cantor or by the congregation in a “cantillation” whose musical tones were largely improvised, but occasionally followed patterns set in the plain song of the Christian chant.110 From the singing school of the monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland, at some time before the eleventh century, came the complex chant for the famous Hebrew song Kol Nidre— “All Vows.”111

The synagogue never fully replaced the Temple in the heart of the Jew, The hope that he might some day offer sacrifice to Yahveh before the Holy of Holies on Zion’s hill inflamed his imagination, and left him open to repeated deception by false messiahs. About 720 Serene, a Syrian, announced himself to be the expected redeemer, and organized a campaign to recapture Palestine from the Moslems. Jews from Babylonia and Spain abandoned their homes to join his adventure. He was taken prisoner, exposed as a charlatan by the Caliph Yezid II, and was put to death. Some thirty years later Obadiah Abu Isa ben Ishaq of Isfahan led a similar revolt; 10,000 Jews took up the sword and fought bravely under his lead; they were defeated, AbuIsa was slain in battle, and the Isfahan Jews suffered indiscriminate punishment. When the First Crusade excited Europe, Jewish communities dreamed that the Christians, if victorious, would restore Palestine to the Jews;112 they awoke from this fantasy to a succession of pogroms. In 1160 David Alrui aroused the Jews of Mesopotamia with the announcement that he was the Messiah, and would restore them to Jerusalem and liberty; his father-in-law, fearing disaster for the Jews from such an insurrection, slew him in his sleep. About 1225 another Messiah appeared in southern Arabia, and stirred the Jews to mass hysteria; Maimonides, in a famous “Letter to the South,” exposed the impostor’s claims, and reminded the Arabian Jews of the death and destruction that had followed such reckless attempts in the past.112a Nevertheless he accepted the Messianic hope as an indispensable support to the Jewish spirit in the Dispersion, and made it one of the thirteen principal tenets of the Jewish faith.113

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