Why did Christians and Jews hate each other? Doubtless a pervasive and continuing reason was a vital conflict in religious creeds. The Jews were a perennial challenge to the fundamental tenets of Christianity.
This religious hostility led to a racial segregation at first voluntary, later compulsory, issuing in the establishment of the first ghetto in 1516. The segregation accentuated differences of dress, ways, features, worship, and speech; these differences encouraged mutual distrust and fear; this fear generated hate. The Jews turned into a glory their usual exclusion from marriage with Christians; their pride of race boasted of descent from kings who had ruled Israel a thousand years before Christ. They scorned the Christians as superstitious polytheists, a little slow of mind, mouthing gentle hypocrisies amid merciless brutalities, worshiping a Prince of Peace and repeatedly waging fratricidal wars. The Christians scorned the Jews as outlandish and unprepossessing infidels. Thomas More told of a pious lady who was shocked to learn that the Virgin was a Jewess, and who confessed that thereafter she would be unable to love the Mother of God as fervently as before.25
The theory of the Eucharist became a tragedy for the Jews. Christians were required to believe that the priest transformed the wafer of unleavened bread into the body and blood of Christ; some Christians, like the Lollards doubted it; stories of consecrated wafers bleeding at the prick of a knife or a pin could strengthen belief; and who would do so horrible a deed but a Jew? Such legends of a bleeding Host were plentiful in late medieval centuries. In several cases, as at Neuburg (near Passau) in 1338, and at Brussels in 1369, the allegations led to the murder of Jews and the burning of their homes. In Brussels a chapel was set up in the cathedral of St. Gudule to commemorate the bleeding Host of 1369, and the miracle was annually celebrated with a festival that became the Flemish Kermess.26 In Neuburg a clerk confessed that he had dipped an unconsecrated Host in blood, had hidden it in a church, and had accused the Jews of stabbing it.27 It should be added that enlightened ecclesiastics like Nicholas of Cusa condemned as shameful cruelties the legends of Jewish attacks on the Host.
Economic rivalries hid behind religious hostility. While the papal prohibition of interest was respected among Christians, the Jews acquired almost a monopoly of moneylending in Christendom. When Christian bankers ignored the taboo, firms like the Bardi, Pitti, and Strozzi in Florence, the Welsers, Hochstetters, and Fuggers in Augsburg, rose to challenge this monopoly, and a new focus of irritation formed. Both Christian and Jewish bankers charged high interest rates, reflecting the risks of lending money in an unstable economy rendered more unstable by rising prices and debased currencies. Jewish lenders ran greater risks than their competitors: the collection of debts owed by Christians to Jews was uncertain and hazardous; ecclesiastical authorities might declare a moratorium on debts as in the Crusades; kings might, and did, lay confiscatory taxes upon Jews, or force “loans” from them, or expel the Jews and absolve their debtors, or exact a share in permitted collections. North of the Alps nearly all classes except businessmen still regarded interest as usury, and condemned the Jewish bankers especially when borrowing from them. Since the Jews were generally the most experienced financiers, they were in several countries employed by the kings to manage the finances of the state; and the sight of rich Jews holding lucrative posts and collecting taxes from the people inflamed popular resentment.
Even so, some Christian communities welcomed Jewish bankers. Frankfurt offered them special privileges on condition that they would charge only 32½ per cent, while their rate to others was 43 per cent.28 This seems shocking, but we hear of Christian moneylenders charging up to 266 per cent; the Holzschuhers of Nuremberg charged 220 per cent in 1304; the Christian lenders in Brindisi charged 240 per cent.29 We hear of towns calling for the return of Jewish bankers as more lenient than their Christian counterparts. Ravenna stipulated, in a treaty with Venice, that Jewish financiers should be sent to it to open credit banks for the promotion of agriculture and industry.30
Nationalism added another note to the hymn of hate. Each nation thought it needed ethnic and religious unity, and demanded the absorption or conversion of its Jews. Several Church councils, and some popes, were aggressively hostile. The Council of Vienne (1311) forbade all intercourse between Christians and Jews. The Council of Zamora (1313) ruled that they must be kept in strict subjection and servitude. The Council of Basel (1431—33) renewed canonical decrees forbidding Christians to associate with Jews, to serve them, or to use them as physicians, and instructed secular authorities to confine the Jews in separate quarters, compel them to wear a distinguishing badge, and ensure their attendance at sermons aimed to convert them.31 Pope Eugenius IV, at war with the Council of Basel, dared not be outdone by it in troubling the Jews; he confirmed the disabilities decreed by that Council, and added that Jews should be ineligible for any public office, could not inherit property from Christians, must build no more synagogues, and must stay in their homes, behind closed doors and windows, in Passion Week (a wise provision against Christian violence); moreover, the testimony of Jews against Christians should have no validity in law. Eugenius complained that some Jews spoke scandalously about Jesus and Mary, and this was probably true;32 hatred begot hate. In a later bull Eugenius ordered that any Italian Jew found reading Talmudic literature should suffer confiscation of his property. Pope Nicholas V commissioned St. John of Capistrano (1447) to see to it that every clause of this repressive legislation should be enforced, and authorized him to seize the property of any Jewish physician who treated a Christian.33
Despite such edicts the general Christian public behaved toward the Jews with the good nature that actuates nearly all men, women, and animals when their purposes are not crossed. But there could be found in most communities a minority not averse to practicing cruelty when this might be done with collective impunity. So the Pastoureaux, originating as shepherds bound for the Holy Land, but attracting riffraff as they passed through France (1320), decided to kill en route all Jews refusing to be baptized. At Toulouse 500 Jews sought refuge in a tower; they were besieged by a wild mob, which gave them a choice between baptism or death. The governor of the city tried in vain to rescue them. Finding resistance impossible, the fugitives instructed the strongest among them to slay them; in this way, we are told, all but one died; and the survivor, though offering to submit to baptism, was torn to pieces by the crowd. In like manner all the Jews of 120 communities in southern France and northern Spain were blotted out, leaving only some destitute remnants.34 In 1321, on a charge of poisoning wells, 120 Jews were burned near Chinon.35 In 1336 a German fanatic announced that he had received a revelation from God commanding him to avenge the death of Christ by killing Jews. He gathered a following of 5,000 peasants, who called themselves Armleder from a leather band worn on the arm; they ranged through Alsace and the Rhineland, killing all the Jews they could find. A murderous mania swept through Bavaria, Bohemia, Moravia, and Austria (1337). Pope Benedict XII tried in vain to stop it, but only in Ratisbon and Vienna were the Jews effectively protected; elsewhere thousands were tortured and killed.36
The Black Death was a special tragedy for the Jews of Christendom. The same plague had slain Mongols, Moslems, and Jews in Asia, where no one thought of blaming the Jews; but in Western Europe a populace maddened by the ravages of the pestilence accused the Jews of poisoning the wells in an attempt to wipe out all Christians. Fevered imaginations brewed details: the Jews of Toledo, it was said, had dispatched agents with boxes of poison, made from lizards and basilisks and Christian hearts, to all the Jewish communities in Europe, with instructions to drop these concentrations into wells and springs. The Emperor Charles IV denounced the charge as absurd; so did Pope Clement VI;37 many burgomasters and municipal councils spoke to the same effect, which was little indeed. A false belief spread among the Christians that the Jews were rarely touched by the plague. In some cities—perhaps through differences in hygienic laws or medical care—the fever did seem less fatal to them than to the Christians;38 but in many places—e.g., Vienna, Ratisbon, Avignon, Rome—the Jews suffered equally.39 Nevertheless some Jews were tortured into confessing that they had distributed the poison.40 Christians closed their wells and springs, and drank rain water or melted snow. Merciless pogroms broke out in France, Spain, and Germany. In one town in southern France the entire Jewish community was cast into the flames. All Jews in Savoy, all Jews around Lake Leman, all in Bern, Fribourg, Basel, Nuremberg, Brussels, were burned. Clement VI a second time denounced the horror and the charge, declared the Jews innocent, and pointed out that the plague was as severe where no Jews lived as anywhere else; he admonished the clergy to restrain their parishioners, and excommunicated all persons who killed or falsely accused Jews. In Strasbourg, however, the bishop joined in the accusation, and persuaded the reluctant municipal council to banish all Jews. The populace thought this measure too mild; it drove out the council and installed another, which ordered the arrest of all Jews in the city. Some escaped to the countryside; many of these were killed by the peasantry. Two thousand Jews left in the city were jailed, and were commanded to accept baptism; half of them submitted, the rest refused and were burned (February 14, 1439). All in all, some 510 Jewish communities were exterminated in Christian Europe as a result of these pogroms;41 many more were decimated; in Saragossa, for example, only one Jew out of five survived the Black Death persecutions.42Lea estimated 3,000 Jews killed at Erfurt, 12,000 in Bavaria.43 In Vienna, on the advice of Rabbi Jonah, all the Jews gathered in their synagogue and killed themselves; similar mass suicides occurred in Worms, Oppenheim, Krems, and Frankfurt.44 A panic of flight carried thousands of Jews from Western Europe into Poland or Turkey. It would be hard to find, before our time, or in all the records of savagery, any deeds more barbarous than the collective murder of Jews in the Black Death.
Slowly the surviving Jews of Germany crept back to the cities that had despoiled them, and rebuilt their synagogues. But they were all the more hated for having been wronged. In 1385 all thirty-six towns of the Swabian League imprisoned their Jews, and released them only on condition that all debts owed them should be canceled; this was especially satisfactory to Nuremberg, which had borrowed 7,000 pounds from them ($700,000?).45 In 1389 a number of Jews were massacred on a charge that they had desecrated a consecrated Host; on the same excuse fourteen Jews were burned in Posen (1399) .46 For diverse reasons the Jews were expelled from Cologne (1424), Speyer (1435), Strasbourg and Augsburg (1439), Würzburg (1453), Erfurt (1458), Mainz (1470), Nuremberg (1498), Ulm (1499). Maximilian I sanctioned their expulsion from Nuremberg on the ground that “they had become so numerous, and through their usurious dealings they had become possessed of all the property of many respectable citizens, and had dragged them into misery and dishonor.”47 In 1446 all Jews in the mark of Brandenburg were imprisoned, and their goods were confiscated, on charges which Bishop Stephen of Brandenburg scored as a cover for greed: “Those princes have acted iniquitously who, prompted by inordinate avarice, and without just cause, have seized on certain Jews and thrown them into prison, and refuse to make restitution of that of which they robbed them.”48 In 1451 Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, one of the most enlightened men of the fifteenth century, enforced the wearing of badges by the Jews under his jurisdiction. Two years later John of Capistrano began his missions, as legate of Pope Nicholas V, in Germany, Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and Poland. His powerful sermons accused the Jews of killing children and desecrating the Hostcharges which popes had branded as murderous superstitions. Urged on by this “scourge of the Jews,” the dukes of Bavaria drove all Hebrews from their duchy. Bishop Godfrey of Würzburg, who had given them full privileges in Franconia, now banished them, and in town after town Jews were arrested, and debts due them were annulled. At Breslau several Jews were jailed on Capistrano’s demand; he himself supervised the tortures that wrung from some of them whatever he bade them confess; on the basis of these confessions forty Jews were burned at the stake (June 2, 1453). The remaining Jews were banished, but their children were taken from them and baptized by force.49 Capistrano was canonized in 1690.
The tribulations of the Jews in Ratisbon illustrate the age. A converted Jew, Hans Vogel, alleged that Israel Bruna, a seventy-five-year-old rabbi, had bought from him a Christian child, and had killed it to use its blood in a Jewish ritual. The populace believed the accusation, and cried out for the death penalty. The city council, to save the old man from the crowd, imprisoned him. Emperor Frederick III ordered him released. The council dared not obey, but it arrested Vogel, told him that he must die, and invited him to confess his sins. He admitted that Bruna was innocent, and the rabbi was freed. But news came to Ratisbon that Jews under torture had confessed to killing a child in Trent. Belief in Vogel’s charge rose again. The council ordered the arrest of all Ratisbon Jews, and the confiscation of all their goods. Frederick intervened, and laid a fine of 8,000 guilders on the city. The council agreed to free the Jews if they would pay this fine and an additional 10,000 guilders ($250,000?) as bail. They answered that 18,000 guilders were more than all the property still left them; they could not possibly raise such a sum. They were kept in jail for two years more, and were then released on taking oath not to leave Ratisbon and not to seek revenge. The clergy, however, agitated for their expulsion, and threatened with excommunication any tradesman who sold goods to Jews. By 1500 only twenty-four families remained, and in 1519 these were expelled.50
Their expulsion from Spain has been described above, as vital to the history of that country. In Portugal their crucifixion was renewed when Clement VII, at the urging of Charles V, allowed Portuguese prelates to establish the Inquisition (1531) for the purpose of enforcing the practice of Christianity upon the novos cristãos—mostly Jews who had been baptized against their will. The severe code of Torquemada was adopted, spies were set to watch the converts for any relapse into Jewish religious observances, and thousands of Jews were imprisoned. Emigration of Jews was prohibited, for their economic functions were still necessary in the Portuguese economy. To prevent flight, Christians were forbidden to buy property from Jews, and hundreds of Jews were sent to the stake for attempting to leave the country. Shocked by these procedures, and perhaps swayed by Jewish gifts, Clement abrogated the powers of the Portuguese Inquisition, and ordered the release of its prisoners and the restoration of confiscated goods. His bull of October 17, 1532, laid down humane principles for dealing with the converts:
Since they were dragged by force to be baptized, they cannot be considered members of the Church; and to punish them for heresy and relapse were to violate the principles of justice and equity. With sons and daughters of the first Marranos the case is different; they belong to the Church as voluntary members. But as they have been brought up by their relatives in the midst of Judaism, and have had this example continually before their eyes, it would be cruel to punish them according to the canonical law for falling into Jewish ways and beliefs; they must be kept in the bosom of the Church through gentle treatment.51
That Clement was sincere appears from a brief issued by him on July 26, 1534, when he felt death upon him; it instructed the papal nuncio in Portugal to hasten the release of imprisoned converts.52
Pope Paul III continued the efforts to aid the Portuguese Jews, and 1,800 of the prisoners were freed. But when Charles V returned from his apparently successful expedition against Tunis he demanded, as reward, the restoration of the Inquisition in Portugal. Paul reluctantly agreed (1536), but with conditions that seemed to King John III to nullify his consent: the accused must be confronted with the accuser, and the condemned should have the right of appeal to the pope. A fanatical convert helped the inquisitors by placarding Lisbon Cathedral with a defiant announcement: “The Messiah has not yet appeared; Jesus was not the Messiah; and Christianity is a lie.”53 As such a statement was clearly calculated to injure the Jews, we may reasonably suspect an agent provocateur.Paul appointed a commission of cardinals to investigate the procedures of the Portuguese Inquisition. It reported:
When a pseudo-Christian is denounced—often by false witnesses—the inquisitors drag him away to a dismal retreat where he is allowed no sight of heaven or earth, and least of all to speak with his friends, who might succor him. They accuse him on obscure testimony, and inform him neither of the time nor the place where he committed the offense for which he is denounced. Later on he is allowed an advocate, who often, instead of defending his cause, helps him on the road to the stake. Let an unfortunate creature acknowledge himself a true believing Christian, and firmly deny the transgressions laid to his charge, they condemn him to the flames, and confiscate his goods. Let him plead guilty to such and such a deed, though unintentionally committed, they treat him in a similar manner under the pretense that he obstinately denies his wicked intentions. Let him freely and fully admit what he is accused of, he is reduced to extremest necessity, and condemned to the dungeon’s never-lifting gloom. And this they call treating the accused with mercy and compassion and Christian charity! Even he who succeeds in proving his innocence is condemned to pay a fine, so that it may not be said that he was arrested without cause. The accused who are held prisoners are racked by every instrument of torture to admit the accusations against them. Many die in prison, and those who are set free, with all their relatives bear a brand of eternal infamy.54
Though harassed by political developments, and the danger of losing Spain and Portugal as Leo had lost Germany and Clement England, Paul did all that he could to mitigate the Inquisition. But day by day the terror went on, until the Portuguese Jews found, by whatever desperate device, some escape from their hosts, and joined the Jews of Spain in seeking some corner of Christendom or Islam where they might keep their Law and yet be allowed to live.