IV. ANTI-SEMITISM: 500–1306

What were the sources of the hostility between non-Jew and Jew?

The main sources have ever been economic, but religious differences have given edge and cover to economic rivalries. The Moslems, living by Mohammed, resented the Jewish rejection of their prophet; the Christians, accepting the divinity of Christ, were shocked to find that His own people would not acknowledge that divinity. Good Christians saw nothing unchristian or inhuman in holding an entire people, through many centuries, responsible for the actions of a tiny minority of Jerusalem Jews in the last days of Christ. The Gospel of Luke told how “throngs” of Jews welcomed Christ into Jerusalem (xix, 37); how, when He carried His cross to Golgotha, “there followed Him a great company of people, and of women, who also bewailed and lamented Him” (xxiii, 27); and how, after the crucifixion, “all the people that came together to that sight… smote their breasts” (xxiii, 48). But these evidences of Jewish sympathy for Jesus were forgotten when, in every Holy Week, the bitter story of the Passion was related from a thousand pulpits; resentment flared in Christian hearts; and on those days the Israelites shut themselves up in their own quarter and in their homes, fearful that the passions of simple souls might be stirred to a pogrom.114

Around that central misunderstanding rose a thousand suspicions and animosities. Jewish bankers bore the brunt of the hostility aroused by interest rates that reflected the insecurity of loans. As the economy of Christendom developed, and Christian merchants and bankers invaded fields once dominated by Jews, economic competition fomented hate; and some Christian moneylenders actively promoted anti-Semitism.115 Jews in official positions, especially in the finance department of governments, were a natural targetfor those who disliked both taxes and Jews. Given such economic and religious enmity, everything Jewish became distasteful to some Christians, and everything Christian to some Jews. The Christian reproached the Jew for clannish exclusiveness, and did not excuse it as a reaction to discrimination and occasional physical assault. Jewish features, language, manners, diet, ritual all seemed to the Christian eye offensively bizarre. The Jews ate when Christians fasted, fasted when Christians ate; their Sabbath of rest and prayer had remained Saturday as of old, while that of the Christians had been changed to Sunday; the Jews celebrated their happy deliverance from Egypt in a Passover feast that came too close to the Friday on which Christians mourned the death of Christ. Jews were not allowed by their Law to eat food cooked, to drink wine pressed, or to use dishes or utensils that had been touched, by a non-Jew,116 or to marry any but a Jew;117 the Christian interpreted these ancient laws—formulated long before Christianity—as meaning that to a Jew everything Christian was unclean; and he retorted that the Israelite himself was not usually distinguished by cleanliness of person or neatness of dress. Mutual isolation begot absurd and tragic legends on both sides. Romans had accused Christians of murdering pagan children to offer their blood in secret sacrifice to the Christian God; Christians of the twelfth century accused Jews of kidnaping Christian children to sacrifice them to Yahveh, or to use their blood as medicine or in the making of unleavened bread for the Passover feast. Jews were charged with poisoning the wells from which Christians drank, and with stealing consecrated wafers to pierce them and draw from them the blood of Christ.118 When a few Jewish merchants flaunted their opulence in costly raiment the Jews as a people were accused of draining the wealth of Christendom into Jewish hands. Jewish women were suspected as sorceresses; many Jews, it was thought, were in league with the Devil.119 The Jews retaliated with like legends about Christians, and insulting stories about the birth and youth of Christ. The Talmud counseled the extension of Jewish charity to non-Jews;120 Bahya praised Christian monasticism; Maimonides wrote that “the teachings of Christ and Mohammed tend to lead mankind toward perfection”;121 but the average Jew could not understand these courtesies of philosophy, and returned all the hatred that he received.

There were some lucid intervals in this madness. Ignoring state and Church laws that forbade it, Christians and Jews often mingled in friendship, sometimes in marriage, above all in Spain and southern France. Christian and Jewish scholars collaborated—Michael Scot with Anatoli, Dante with Immanuel.122 Christians made gifts to synagogues; and in Worms a Jewish park was maintained through a legacy from a Christian woman.123 In Lyons the market day was changed from Saturday to Sunday for the convenience of the Jews. Secular governments, finding the Jews an asset in commerce and finance, gave them a vacillating protection; and in several cases where a state restricted the public movements of Jews, or expelled them from its territory, it was because it could no longer safeguard them from intolerance and violence.124

The attitude of the Church in these matters varied with place and time. In Italy she protected the Jews as “guardians of the Law” of the Old Testament, and as living witnesses to the historicity of the Scriptures and to “the wrath of God.” But periodically Church councils, often with excellent intentions, and seldom with general authority, added to the tribulations of Jewish life. The Theodosian Code (439), the Council of Clermont (535), and the Council of Toledo (589) forbade the appointment of Jews to positions in which they could impose penalties upon Christians. The Council of Orléans (538) ordered Jews to stay indoors in Holy Week, probably for their protection, and prohibited their employment in any public office. The Third Council of the Lateran (1179) forbade Christian midwives or nurses to minister to Jews; and the Council of Béziers (1246) condemned the employment of Jewish physicians by Christians. The Council of Avignon (1209) retaliated Jewish laws of cleanliness by enjoining “Jews and harlots” from touching bread or fruit exposed for sale; it renewed Church laws against the hiring of Christian servants by Jews; and it warned the faithful not to exchange services with Jews, but to avoid them as a pollution.125 Several councils declared null the marriage of a Christian with a Jew. In 1222 a deacon was burned at the stake for accepting conversion to Judaism and marrying a Jewess.126 In 1234 a Jewish widow was refused her dower on the ground that her husband had been converted to Christianity, thereby voiding their marriage.127 The Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215), arguing that “at times through error Christians have relations with the women of Jews or Saracens, and Jews or Saracens with Christian women,” ruled “that Jews and Saracens of both sexes in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off in the eyes of the public from other people through the character of their dress”: after their twelfth year they were to wear a distinctive color—the men on their hats or mantles, the women on their veils. This was in part a retaliation against older and similar laws of Moslems against Christians and Jews. The character of the badge was determined locally by state governments or provincial Church councils; ordinarily it was a wheel or circle of yellow cloth, some three inches in diameter, sewn prominently upon the clothing. The decree was enforced in England in 1218, in France in 1219, in Hungary in 1279; it was only sporadically carried out in Spain, Italy, and Germany before the fifteenth century, when Nicholas of Cusa and San Giovanni da Capistrano campaigned for its full observance. In 1219 the Jews of Castile threatened to leave the country en masse if the decree should be enforced, and the ecclesiastical authorities consented to its revocation. Jewish physicians, scholars, financiers, and travelers were often exempted from the decree. Its observance declined after the sixteenth century, and ended with the French Revolution.

By and large, the popes were the most tolerant prelates in Christendom. Gregory I, though so zealous for the spread of the faith, forbade the compulsory conversion of Jews, and maintained their rights of Roman citizenship in lands under his rule.128 When bishops in Terracina and Palermo appropriated synagogues for Christian use, Gregory compelled them to make full restitution.129 To the bishop of Naples he wrote: “Do not allow the Jews to be molested in the performance of their services. Let them have full liberty to observe and keep all their festivals and holydays, as both they and their fathers have done for so long.”130 Gregory VII urged Christian rulers to obey conciliar decrees against the appointment of Jews. When Eugenius III came to Paris in 1145, and went in pomp to the cathedral, which was then in the Jewish quarter, the Jews sent a delegation to present him with the Torah, or scroll of the Law; he blessed them, they went home happy, and the Pope ate a paschal lamb with the king.131 Alexander III was friendly to Jews, and employed one to manage his finances.132 Innocent III led the Fourth Lateran Council in its demand for a Jewish badge, and laid down the principle that all Jews were doomed to perpetual servitude because they had crucified Jesus.133 In a softer mood he reiterated papal injunctions against forcible conversions, and added: “No Christian shall do the Jews any personal injury … or deprive them of their possessions … or disturb them during the celebration of their festivals … or extort money from them by threatening to exhume their dead,”134 Gregory IX, founder of the Inquisition, exempted the Jews from its operation or jurisdiction except when they tried to Judaize Christians, or attacked Christianity, or reverted to Judaism after conversion to Christianity;135 and in 1235 he issued a bull denouncing mob violence against Jews.136 Innocent IV (1247) repudiated the legend of the ritual murder of Christian children by Jews:

Certain of the clergy and princes, nobles and great lords… have falsely devised godless plans against the Jews, unjustly depriving them of their property by force, and appropriating it to themselves; they falsely charge them with dividing among them on the Passover the heart of a murdered boy…. In fact, in their malice, they ascribe to Jews every murder, wherever it chance to occur. And on the ground of these and other fabrications, they are filled with rage against them, rob them… oppress them by starvation, imprisonment, torture, and other sufferings, sometimes even condemning them to death; so that the Jews, though living under Christian princes, are in worse plight than were their ancestors under the Pharaohs. They are driven to leave in despair the land in which their fathers have dwelt since the memory of man. Since it is our pleasure that they shall not be distressed, we ordain that you behave toward them in a friendly and kind manner. Whenever any unjust attacks upon them come under your notice, redress their injuries, and do not suffer them to be visited in the future by similar tribulations.137

This noble appeal was widely ignored. In 1272 Gregory X had to repeat its denunciation of the ritual murder legend; and to give his words force he ruled that thereafter the testimony of a Christian against a Jew should not be accepted unless confirmed by a Jew.138The issuance of similar bulls by later popes till 1763 attests both the humanity of the popes and the persistence of the evil. That the popes were sincere is indicated by the comparative security of the Jews, and their relative freedom from persecution, in the Papal States. Expelled from so many countries at one time or another, they were never expelled from Rome or from papal Avignon. “Had it not been for the Catholic Church,” writes a learned Jewish historian, “the Jews would not have survived the Middle Ages in Christian Europe.”139

Before the Crusades the active persecution of Jews in medieval Europe was sporadic. The Byzantine emperors continued for two centuries the oppressive policies of Justinian toward the Jews. Heraclius (628) banished them from Jerusalem in retaliation for their aid to Persia, and did all he could to exterminate them. Leo the Isaurian sought to disprove the rumor that he was Jewish by a decree (723) giving Byzantine Jews a choice between Christianity or banishment. Some submitted; some burned themselves to death in their synagogues rather than yield.140 Basil I (867-86) resumed the campaign to enforce baptism upon the Jews; and Constantine VII (912-59) required from Jews in Christian courts a humiliating form of oath—more Judaico—which continued in use in Europe till the nineteenth century.141

When, in 1095, Pope Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade, some Christians thought it desirable to kill the Jews of Europe before proceeding so far to fight Turks in Jerusalem. Godfrey of Bouillon, having accepted the leadership of the crusade, announced that he would avenge the blood of Jesus upon the Jews, and would leave not one of them alive; and his companions proclaimed their intention to kill all Jews who would not accept Christianity. A monk further aroused Christian ardor by declaring that an inscription found on the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem made the conversion of all Jews a moral obligation of all Christians.142 The Crusaders planned to move south along the Rhine, where lay the richest settlements in northern Europe. The German Jews had played a leading part in the development of Rhenish commerce, and had behaved with a restraint and piety that had won the respect of Christian laity and clergy alike. Bishop Rüdiger of Speyer was on cordial terms with the Jews of his district, and gave them a charter guaranteeing their autonomy and security. In 1095 the Emperor Henry IV issued a similar charter for all the Jews of his realm.143 Upon these peaceful Jewish congregations the news of the crusade, its proposed route, and the threats of its leaders, broke with paralyzing terror. The rabbis proclaimed several days of fasting and prayer.

Arrived at Speyer, the Crusaders dragged eleven Jews into a church, and ordered them to accept baptism; refusing, the eleven were slain (May 3, 1096). Other Jews of the city took refuge with Bishop Johannsen, who not only protected them but caused the execution of certain Crusaders who had shared in the murders at the church. As some Crusaders neared Trier, its Jews appealed to Bishop Egilbert; he offered protection on condition of baptism. Most of the Jews consented; but several women killed their children and threw themselves into the Moselle (June 1, 1096). At Mainz Archbishop Ruthard hid 1300 Jews in his cellars; Crusaders forced their way in, and killed 1014; the Bishop was able to save a few by concealing them in the cathedral (May 27, 1096). Four Mainz Jews accepted baptism, but committed suicide soon afterward. As the Crusaders approached Cologne, the Christians hid the Jews in their homes; the mob burned down the Jewish quarter, and killed the few Jews upon whom they could lay their hands. Bishop Hermann, at great danger to himself, secretly conveyed the Jews from their Christian hiding places to Christian homes in the country; the pilgrims discovered the maneuver, hunted their prey in the villages, and killed every Jew they found (June, 1096). In two of these villages 200 Jews were slain; in four others the Jews, surrounded by the mob, killed one another rather than be baptized. Mothers delivered of infants during these attacks slew them at birth. At Worms Bishop Allebranches received such of the Jews as he could into his palace, and saved them; upon the rest the Crusaders fell with the savagery of anonymity, killing many, and then plundering and burning the homes of the Jews; here many Jews committed suicide rather than repudiate their faith. Seven days later a crowd besieged the episcopal residence; the Bishop told the Jews that he could no longer hold back the mob, and advised them to accept baptism. The Jews asked to be left alone for a while; when the Bishop returned he found that nearly all of them had killed one another. The besiegers broke in and slew the rest; all in all, some 800 Jews died in this pogrom at Worms (August 20, 1096). Similar scenes occurred at Metz, Regensburg, and Prague.144

The Second Crusade (1147) threatened to better the example of the First. Peter the Venerable, the saintly Abbot of Cluny, advised Louis VII of France to begin by attacking the French Jews. “I do not require you to put to death these accursed beings… God does not wish to annihilate them; but, like Cain the fratricide, they must be made to suffer fearful torments, and be preserved for greater ignominy, for an existence more bitter than death.”145Abbot Suger of St. Denis protested against this conception of Christianity, and Louis VII contented himself with capital levies on rich Jews. But the German Jews were not let off with mere confiscation. A French monk, Rodolphe, leaving his monastery without permission, preached a pogrom in Germany. At Cologne Simon “the Pious” was murdered and mutilated; at Speyer a woman was tortured on the rack to persuade her to Christianity. Again the secular prelates did all they could to protect the Jews. Bishop Arnold of Cologne gave them a fortified castle as refuge, and allowed them to arm themselves; the Crusaders refrained from attacking the castle, but killed any unconverted Jew that fell into their clutches. Archbishop Henry at Mainz admitted into his house some Jews pursued by a mob; the mob forced a way in, and killed them before his eyes. The Archbishop appealed to St. Bernard, the most influential Christian of his time; Bernard replied with a strong denunciation of Rodolphe, and demanded an end to violence against the Jews. When Rodolphe continued his campaign Bernard came in person to Germany, and forced the monk to return to his monastery. Shortly thereafter the mutilated body of a Christian was found at Würzburg; Christians charged Jews with the crime, attacked them despite the protests of Bishop Embicho, and killed twenty; many others, wounded, were tended by Christians (1147); and the Bishop buried the dead in his garden.146 From Germany the idea of beginning the Crusades at home passed back to France, and Jews were massacred at Carentan, Rameru, and Sully. In Bohemia 150 Jews were murdered by Crusaders. After the terror had passed, the local Christian clergy did what it could to help the surviving Jews; and those who had accepted baptism under duress were allowed to return to Judaism without incurring the dire penalties of apostasy.147

These pogroms began a long series of violent assaults, which continued till our time. In 1235 an unsolved murder at Baden was laid to the Jews, and a massacre ensued. In 1243 the entire Jewish population of Belitz, near Berlin, was burned alive on the charge that some of them had defiled a consecrated Host.148 In 1283 the accusation of ritual murder was raised at Mainz, and despite all the efforts of Archbishop Werner, ten Jews were killed, and Jewish homes were pillaged. In 1285 a like rumor excited Munich; 180 Jews fled for refuge to a synagogue; the mob set fire to it, and all 180 were burned to death. A year later forty Jews were killed at Oberwesel on the charge that they had drained the blood of a Christian. In 1298 every Jew in Rottingen was burned to death on the charge of desecrating a sacramental wafer. Rind-fleisch, a pious baron, organized and armed a band of Christians sworn to kill all Jews; they completely exterminated the Jewish community at Würzburg, and slew 698 Jews in Nuremberg. The persecution spread, and in half a year 140 Jewish congregations were wiped out.149 The Jews of Germany, having repeatedly rebuilt their communities after such attacks, lost heart; and in 1286 many Jewish families left Mainz, Worms, Speyer, and other German towns, and migrated to Palestine to live in Islam. As Poland and Lithuania were inviting immigrants, and had not yet experienced pogroms, a slow exodus of Jews from the Rhineland began to the Slavic East.

The Jews of England, excluded from landholding and from the guilds, became merchants and financiers. Some waxed rich through usury, and all were hated for it. Lords and squires equipped themselves for the Crusades with money borrowed from the Jews; in return they pledged the revenues of their lands; and the Christian peasant fumed at the thought of moneylenders fattening on his toil. In 1144 young William of Norwich was found dead; the Jews were accused of having killed him to use his blood; and the Jewish quarter of the city was sacked and fired.150 King Henry II protected the Jews; Henry III did likewise, but took £422,000 from them in taxes and capital levies in seven years. At the coronation of Richard I in London (1190) a minor altercation, encouraged by nobles seeking escape from their debts to Jews,151 developed into a pogrom that spread to Lincoln, Stamford, and Linn. In York, in the same year, a mob led by Richard de Malabestia, “who was deeply indebted to the Jews,”152 killed 350 of them; in addition 150 York Jews, led by their Rabbi Yom Tob, slew themselves.153 In 1211 300 rabbis left England and France to begin life anew in Palestine; seven years later many Jews emigrated when Henry III enforced the edict of the badge. In 1255 rumor spread through Lincoln that a boy named Hugh had been enticed into the Jewish quarter and there had been scourged, crucified, and pierced with a lance, in the presence of a rejoicing Jewish crowd. Armed bands invaded the settlement, seized the rabbi who was supposed to have presided over the ceremony, tied him to the tail of a horse, dragged him through the streets, and hanged him. Ninety-one Jews were arrested, eighteen were hanged; many prisoners were saved by the intercession of courageous Dominican monks.*154

During the civil war that disordered England between 1257 and 1267, the populace got out of hand, and pogroms almost wiped out the Jewish communities of London, Canterbury, Northampton, Winchester, Worcester, Lincoln, and Cambridge. Houses were looted and destroyed, deeds and bonds were burned, and the surviving Jews were left almost penniless.155The English kings were now borrowing from the Christian bankers of Florence or Cahors; they no longer needed the Jews, and found it troublesome to protect them. In 1290 Edward I ordered the 16,000 remaining Jews of England to leave the country by November 1, abandoning all their immovable realty and all their collectible loans. Many were drowned in crossing the Channel in small boats; some were robbed by the ships’ crews; those who reached France were told by the government that they must leave by Lent of 1291.156

In France, too, the spiritual climate changed for the Jews with the Crusades against the Turks in Asia and the Albigensian heretics of Languedoc. Bishops preached anti-Semitic sermons that stirred the people; at Béziers an attack upon the Jewish quarter was a regular rite of Holy Week; finally (1160) a Christian prelate forbade such preaching, but required the Jewish community to pay a special tax every Palm Sunday.157 At Toulouse the Jews were forced to send a representative to the cathedral each Good Friday to receive publicly a box on the ears as a mild reminder of everlasting guilt.158In 1171 several Jews were burned at Blois on a charge of using Christian blood in Passover rites.159 Seeing a chance to turn a pious penny, King Philip Augustus ordered all the Jews in his realm to be imprisoned as poisoners of Christian wells,160 and then released them on payment of a heavy ransom (1180). A year later he banished them, confiscated all their realty, and gave their synagogues to the Church. In 1190 he had eighty Jews of Orange killed because one of his agents had been hanged by the city authorities for murdering a Jew.161 In 1198 he recalled the Jews to France, and so regulated their banking business as to secure large profits to himself.162 In 1236 Christian crusaders invaded the Jewish settlements of Anjou and Poitou—especially those at Bordeaux and Angoulême—and bade all Jews be baptized; when the Jews refused, the crusaders trampled 3000 of them to death under their horses’ hoofs.163 Pope Gregory IX condemned the slaughter, but did not raise the dead. St. Louis advised his people not to discuss religion with Jews; “the layman,” he told Joinville, “when he hears any speak ill of the Christian faith, should defend it not with words but with the sword, which he should thrust into the other’s belly as far as it will go.”164 In 1254 he banished the Jews from France, confiscating their property and their synagogues; a few years later he readmitted them, and restored their synagogues. They were rebuilding their communities when Philip the Fair (1306) had them all imprisoned, confiscated their credits and all their goods except the clothes they wore, and expelled them, to the number of 100,000, from France, with provisions for one day. The King profited so handsomely from the operation that he presented a synagogue to his coachman.165

So crowded a juxtaposition of bloody episodes scattered over two centuries makes a one-sided picture. In Provence, Italy, Sicily, and in the Byzantine Empire after the ninth century there were only minor persecutions of the Jews; and they found means of protecting themselves in Christian Spain. Even in Germany, England, and France the periods of peace were long; and a generation after each tragedy the Jews there were again numerous, and some were prosperous. Nevertheless their traditions carried down the bitter memory of those tragic interludes. The days of peace were made anxious by the ever-present danger of pogroms; and every Jew had to learn by heart the prayer to be recited in the moment of martyrdom.166 The pursuit of wealth was made more feverish by the harassed insecurity of its gains; the gibes of gamins in the street were ever ready to greet the wearers of the yellow badge; the ignominy of a helpless and secluded minority burned into the soul, broke down individual pride and interracial amity, and left in the eyes of the northern Jew that somber judenschmerz—the sorrow of the Jews—which recalls a thousand insults and injuries.

For that one death on the cross how many crucifixions!

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