Persecution and Killing of the Jews in Medieval Europe

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Antisemitic image of Saturn eating his children, 1492

In medieval Europe and elsewhere, Jews were harshly persecuted, denied entrance into certain professions, prohibited from owning land, forced to pay extra taxes and excluded from the normal education system. Especially during and after of the Crusades of 1096, 1146–47, and 1189–90 and of the Black Death in 1348–49, things got really bad for Jews in Europe. During the Crusades, many Jews in Europe, particularly those in Germany, were slaughtered by Christian Crusaders who were on their way to Palestine to reclaim it from Islam. Whole communities were massacred, and others were expelled.

The Jews lived in constant threat of violence. They were persecuted in Spanish Inquisition. The Black Death was blamed on them. Cannibalism was regarded with such horror that only werewolves, witches, vampires and Jews were deemed capable of it.

In the 16th century Jewish life was largely centered in the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania, where a unique brand of Ashkenazi piety and learning developed, and in the Islamic world. Martin Luther was one of many zealous anti-Semites. According to a 16th century British medical historian the Russian cure for drunkenness consisted "in taking a piece of pork, putting it secretly into a jew's bed for 9 days and then giving it to the drunkard in pulverized form." They had a reputation for drinking less than the Catholics.

Jewish persecution was widespread in central Europe and Russia in the 1700s. Anti-Semitism was at a peak. In 1517 Jews in Venice were confined to neighborhoods around the cannon foundry, or “ghetto” . The word ghetto came from this move. In other places Jews were forced to wear special clothes or badges. Through it all the Jews kept their culture and communities alive in their synagogues and schools, with the help of their rabbis, and for the part steadfastly refused to assimilate. The German-Israeli scholar Gershom Scholem wrote: the Jews “have had a relationship with Europe only to the degree that Europe has acted upon us as a destructive stimulation.” There were pogroms in Russia in 1881, 1891, 1897 and 1903.

Websites and Resources: Virtual Jewish Library ; Judaism101 ; Yivo Institute of Jewish Research ; Jewish History Timeline Jewish History Resource Center ; Center for Jewish History ; Jewish ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook

Timeline of Persecution of Jews in Late Medieval Europe

In the 1200s: 1078 — Pope Gregory VII prohibited Jews from holding offices in Christendom.
1215 — The Church's Fourth Lateran Council decrees that Jews be differentiated from others by their type of clothing to avoid intercourse between Jews and Christians. Jews are sometimes required to wear a badge; sometimes a pointed hat.
1227-1274 — Christian theologian, who called for the slavery of all Jews, Saint Thomas Aquinas.
1267 — In a special session, the Vienna city council forced Jews to wear the Pileum cornutum, a cone-shaped headress prevelent in many medieval woodcuts illustrating Jews. This form of distinctive dress was an additon to badge Jews were forced to wear. 1242 — Burning of the Talmud in Paris.
1254 — French King Louis IX expelled the Jews from France, ending the Tosaphists period. Most Jews went to Germany and further east. 1278 — The Edict of Pope Nicholas III requires compulsory attendance of Jews at conversion sermons.

In England in the 1200s: 1066 — In the wake of the Norman conquest of England, Jews left Normandy and settled in London and later in York, Norwich, Oxford, Bristol and Lincoln.
1229 — King Henry III of England forced Jews to pay half the value of their property in taxes.
1255 — Seeing himself as the "master of the Jews," King Henry II of England transferred his rights to the Jews to his brother, Richard, for 5,000 marks.
1253 — King Henry III of England ordered Jewish worship in synagogue to be held quietly so that Christians passing by do not have to hear it. e also ordered that Jews may not employ Christian nurses or maids, nor may any Jew prevent another from converting to Christianity. 1275 — King Edward of England banned usury and unsuccessfully encouraged Jews in agriculture, crafts and local trades. He also forced Jews over the age of seven to wear an indentifying badge.
1282 — The Archbishop of Canterbury, John Pectin, ordered all London synagogues to closed and prohibited Jewish physicians from practicing on Christians.
1290/1291 — Expulsion of Jews from England.
1290 — Bowing political pressure, English King Edward I expels the Jews from England. They were only allowed to take what they could carry and most went to France, paying for thier passage only to be robbed and cast overboard by the ship captains.

During the Crusades:
May 3, 1096 — Count Emico of Leiningen, on his way to join a Crusade, attacked the synagogue at Speyers and killed all the defenders. 1191 — French King Phillip starts the Third Crusade, cancels debts to Jews, drives many Jews out of France, confiscates their property.
1215 — Fourth Lateran Council expands anti-Jewish decrees in Europe, forces Jews to wear the Yellow Patch, the "Badge of Shame.
1222 — Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury and a prime mover of the Lateran Council, forbids Jews from building new synagogues, owning slaves or mixing with Christians.
1239 — Pope Gregory IX orders the kings of France, England, Spain and Portugal to confiscate Hebrew books, Following this edict, the Talmud is condemned and burned in France and Rome.

In the 1300s: 1306-1294 — Expulsions of Jews from France.
1306 — Philip IV orders all Jews expelled from France, with their property to be sold at public auction. Some 125,000 Jews are forced to leave.
1321 — Henry II of Castile forces Jews to wear yellow badges.
1322 — Charles IV of France expels all French Jews without the one year period he had promised them.
1385-1386 — German Emperor Wenceslaus arrests Jews living in the Swabian League, a group of free cities in S. Germany, and confiscates their books. Later, he expelled the Jews of Strassburg after a community debate.
1386 — Emperor Wenceslaus expelles the Jews from Strassbourg and confiscate their property. 1389 — Pope Boniface continues the policy of Clement VI, forbidding the Christians to harm Jews, destroy their cemeteries or forcibly baptize them.

In the 1400s: 1415 — Benedict XIII bans the study of the Talmud in any form, institutes forced Christian sermons and tries to restrict Jewish life completely.
1420 — All Jews are expelled from Lyons, including the refugees from Paris who were expelled 20 years earlier. Jews now only remain in Provence (until 1500) and in the possessions of the Holy See.
1422 — Pope Martin V issues a bull reminding Christians that Christianity was derived from Judaism and warns the Friars not to incite against the Jews. The Bull was withdrawn the following year, alleging that the Jews of Rome attained the Bull by fraud.
1454 — Casimir IV of Poland revokes the Jewish charter, at the insistence of Bishop Zbignev. The Bishop had correctly predicted Casimir's defeat by the Teutonic Knights backed by the Pope, and succeeded in convincing the King that it was due to the Jews.
1494 — Polish King Jan Olbracht's orders Jews to leave to leave Crakow for Kazimierz after they are blamed for a large fire that destroyed part of the city.

Events in Spain: 1479-15 — Isabella's severe anti-Jewish learnings influence Ferdinand and lead to the final expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
1492 — End of Muslim states in Spain.
1492 — Christian expulsion of Muslim Moors from Spain.
1492 — The Alhambra Decree ordered the expulsion of the Jews from Castile and Aragon, Spain. The edict was not formally revoked until December 16, 1968.
1492 — Columbus sets sail.
1492 — Christian expulsion of Jews from Spain, sending over 200,000 Jews fleeing: 137,000 Jews forced to leave Sicily.
1496 — Manuel of Portugal expels Jews from Portugal.

Timeline of Killing of Jews in Late Medieval Europe

20120504-Spain pogrom Barcelona 1391.jpg
Pogrom in Barcelona in 1391
In the 1100s and 1200s:
1144 — Jews in Norwich, England, are accused of murdering a Christian child in what is believed to be the first ritual murder charge. The blood libel, as well as others in England that follow in the 12th century, incites anti-Jewish violence. a precedent for the burning of "heretics". 1171 — In the town of Blois, southwest of Paris, Jews are falsely accused of committing ritual murder ( (killing of a Christian child) and blood libel. The adult Jews of the city are arrested and most are executed after refusing to convert. Thirty-one or 32 of the Jews are killed. The Jewish children are forcibly baptized.
March 16, 1190 — Jews attacked, over 150 die after a six day standoff in York, England.
1222 — Deacon Robert of Reading, England, was burned for converting to Judaism, setting
1285 — Blood libel in Munich, Germany results in the death of 68 Jews. An additional 180 Jews are burned alive at the synagogue.
1287 — A mob in Oberwesel, Germany kills 40 Jewish men, women and children after a

During the Crusades:
1096 — Participants in the First Crusade massacre Jews in several Central European cities, beginning centuries of pogroms linked to the Crusades.
1096 — More than 5,000 Jews were murdered in Germany in several different attacks.
May 27, 1096 — 1,200 Jews commit suicide in Mayence to escape Count Emico, who tried to forcibly convert them.
1099 — Crusaders (European Christians) capture Jerusalem and massacre tens of thousands of the city's Jews. 1143 — 150 Jews killed in Ham, France.

In the 1300s: 1321 — Similar to accusations made during the Black Plague, Jews were accused of encouraging lepers to poison Christian wells in France. An estimated five thousand Jews were killed before the king, Philip the Tall, admitted the Jews were innocent.
September 30, 1338 — The Deggendorf Massacre. Residents of Deggendorf, Germany, burned the homes of and massacred the town's approximately 50 Jews.
1348-1349 — Much of Europe blames the Black Plague on the Jews and tortured to confess that they poisoned the wells. Despite the pleas of innocence of Pope Clement VI, the accusations resulted in the destruction of over 60 large and 150 small Jewish communities.
1348 — Basel burns 600 Jews at the stake and forcibly baptizes 140 children, expelling the city's other Jews. The city's Christian residents convert the synagogue into a church and destroy the Jewish cemetery.
July 6, 1348 — Pope Clement VI clarifies that the Jews are not behind the Black Death, tells Christians not to blame Jews for the disease sweeping Europe. Pope Clement VI issues an edict repudiating the libel against Jews, saying that they too were suffering from the Plague. 1360 — King Pedro of Portugal arrests and tortures to death Samuel Ben Meir Abulafia. No charges were ever given and the King confiscated Abulafia's lands and great wealth.
1389 — After a priest was hit with some sand from a few small Jewish boys playing in the street, he insisted that the Jewish community was plotting against him and began a virulent campaign against the city's Jews, resulting in the massacre of thousands and the destruction of the city's synagogue and Jewish cemetery. King Wenceslaus refused to condemn the act, insisting that the responsibility lay with the Jews for going outside during the Holy Week.
1391 — Ferrand Martinez, archdeacon of Ecija, begins a campaign against Spanish Jewry, killing over 10,000 and destroying the Jewish quarter in Barcelona. The campaign quickly spreads throughout Spain, except for Granada, and destroys Jewish communities in Valencia and Palma De Majorca.

Persecution of of Jews from England

Jews in medieval Britain were treated as chattel of the British crown. According to English law synagogues had to be placed in the back of buildings. A large Jewish community lived around Guildford, a wool trading center. Jews suffered from the same kind of persecution in England that they did elsewhere in Europe. In 1144, after a 12-year-old tanner's apprentice in Norwich was found tortured, raped and murdered, a group of townspeople accused Jews living in the town of committing ritual sacrifice and king's representative had to sent to rescue them. This and other incidents set of massacres of Jews across England that finally led to their expulsion in 1290 on the orders of the Catholic monarchs.

Tara Holmes of the BBC wrote: Jews have been living in England since Roman and Anglo-Saxon times, but they did not become an organised community until William the Conqueror arrived in 1066. He encouraged Jewish merchants and artisans to move from northern France to England. Over the next few centuries Jews faced increasing persecution until, in 1290, they were banished altogether. [Source: Tara Holmes, BBC, June 24, 2011]

In 1144, Jews in Norwich were accused of a ritual murder. A rumour sprung up that a Christian child had been kidnapped by Jews, tied to a cross and stabbed in the head to simulate Jesus' crown of thorns. While the Norwich account did not contain the accusation that the child's blood was drained and was then ritually drunk at Passover, and so does not constitute the full blood libel, it is a story of the same type and is generally seen as the entry point into England of such accusations. The rumour was false — for one thing, the Torah forbids the eating and drinking of any form of blood — but it became the first recorded case in Europe of 'blood libel'. The accusation was enough to get Jewish leaders in the town executed.

The other main charge that early 11th-century Christians levelled at Jews was that of host desecration. The host is the wafer used during Christian communion; England was Catholic at this time and to Catholics the host is literally Jesus's flesh, so mistreating it was an incredibly serious thing to do. Jews were variously accused of stabbing the host wafer with pins, stepping on it, stabbing it with a knife until Jesus' blood flowed out and nailing it in a symbolic re-enactment of the crucifixion.

Jews were also accused by their Christian neighbours of poisoning wells and spreading the plague. Each fresh claim gave rise to new massacres. Accusations of blood sacrifice continued in the 12th and 13th centuries:
1181 — accusations were made in Bury, St Edmunds, Suffolk
1183 — accusations were made in Bristol
1192 — accusations were made in Winchester
1244 — London Jews were accused of ritual murder

In 1247, Pope Innocent IV ordered a study into the charges brought against the Jews. The investigation found no evidence to justify their persecution. The Jewish community was vindicated by four more Popes but accusations, trials and executions continued to rise.

York Pogrom, 1190

Clifford's Tower, where York Jews were killed in 1190

The expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 came after a particularly intense sequence of pogroms - anti-Jewish massacres. According to the BBC: “One of the most infamous of the pre-expulsion pogroms took place in York on the site known as Clifford’s Tower. In March 1190, six months after the coronation of King Richard I, the city caught or was set on fire. Under cover of the fire a mob targeted the Jews. The family and friends of the leading Jew called Baruch* were attacked and killed and his wealth looted. He himself had already been killed in an attack at the time of the King’s coronation. This and the attempted murder of Joseph, another leading member, led the Jews to seek shelter. They naturally looked to Clifford's Tower, the site for two castles built by William the Conqueror after his conquest of England in 1066. Its wooden defences or keep were first burned down during a local rebellion in 1069 before being destroyed for a second time during a siege of Jewish citizens in 1190. [Source: BBC. July 7, 2009 |::|]

“The warden allowed the Jews to enter and then left them alone (because the Jews were under the direct protection of the king). They feared that the warden would be bribed to betray them so when he returned they refused to admit him. The warden complained to the sheriff John Marshall that the Jews cheated him. The Sheriff roused the militia and the rest of the townspeople. This large gathering beseiged the trapped Jews for some days while preparations were made to storm the castle and force them out to the mercy of the baying mob. A fire was started in their refuge, whether by the Jews or their persecutors is uncertain. When it became clear that their situation was hopeless many of the Jews took their own lives. Husbands killed their wives following the advice of Rabbi Yom Tov* from Joigny in France. |::| “On Saturday March 16, 1190 there was a special Sabbath celebration linked to the festival of Passover. As it dawned: The Jews who had survived the terrible night of fire and suicide begged for mercy and offered to convert to Christianity if they were spared. They were tricked into leaving but were butchered instead of being allowed baptism. The ringleader Richard Malebisse and his accomplices went to the cathedral where they burned documents stored for safekeeping. These specified details of money they owed to the Jews. This, it would seem was the driving force behind the tragedy. Malebisse escaped to Scotland. |::|

“Historians differ in their judgements as to the severity of the punishments meted out to the perpetrators. But what is certain is that the murder of 150 Jews who had been entitled to the King’s protection was not ignored. Nor indeed was the loss of royal revenue this implied. Some 50 citizens of the city were fined. There was also a change in the law which protected the interests of the king in any similar events. Richard I introduced a system whereby all debts held by Jews were duplicated to the Crown. But the massacre of the Jews of York left an indelible mark on the city. There is said to have been a Jewish curse (Cherem) placed on the city and that Jews were not supposed to spend time there and certainly not to eat or spend the night there. This stigma is commonly held to have been lifted following a ceremony conducted at the site in 1990 by the then Chief Rabbi Lord Jacobovits and the Archbishop of York Dr Stuart Blanche.” |::|

Blaming Jews for The Black Death in 1348-1349

In 1348 a devastating plague — the Black Death — enveloped Europe. It is reported to have ultimately killed 25 million people. In the fall of that year a widespread the rumor blamed the deaths on an international conspiracy by Jews Jewry to poison water supplies used by Christians. It was reported that the leaders in the Jewish metropolis of Toledo had initiated the plot and that one of the chief conspirators was a Rabbi Peyret who had his headquarters in Chambéry, Savoy, whence he dispatched his poisoners to France, Switzerland, and Italy. [Source:]

By authority of Amadeus VI, Count of Savoy, arrested a number of the Jews who lived on the shores of Lake Geneva. These Jews were tortured so severely they confessed to anything their inquisitors suggested. These Jews, under torture, incriminated others. Records of their confessions were sent from one town to another in Switzerland and down the Rhine River into Germany, and as a result, thousands of Jews, in at least two hundred towns and hamlets, were butchered and burnt. Their wealth also disappeared. The account here is a translation from the Latin of a confession made under torture by Agimet, a Jew, who was arrested at Chatel, on Lake Geneva. It is typical of the confessions extorted and forwarded to other towns.

The account reads: Agimet the Jew, who lived at Geneva and was arrested at Châtel, was there put to the torture a little and then he was released from it. And after a long time, having been subjected again to torture a little, he confessed in the presence of a great many trustworthy persons, who are later mentioned..To begin with it is clear that at the Lent just passed Pultus Clesis de Ranz had sent this very Jew to Venice to buy silks and other things for him. He said: "We have been informed that you are going to Venice to buy silk and other wares. Here I am giving you a little package of half a span in size which contains some prepared poison and venom in a thin, sewed leather-bag. Distribute it among the wells, cisterns, and springs about Venice and the other places to which you go, in order to poison the people who use the water of the aforesaid wells that will have been poisoned by you, namely, the wells in which the poison will have been placed."

Agimet took this package full of poison and carried it with him to Venice, and when he came there he threw and scattered a portion of it into the well or cistern of fresh water which was there near the German House, in order to poison the people who use the water of that cistern. And he says that this is the only cistern of sweet water in the city. He also says that the mentioned Rabbi Peyret promised to give him whatever he wanted for his troubles in this business.

Burning Jews Blamed for The Black Death in 1348-1349

The following account addresses the destruction of the Jewish community in Strasbourg, where authorities attempted to save the Jews, were overthrown by a fear-stricken mob led by the butchers' and tanners' guilds and by the nobles who were determined to do away with the Jews who were their economic competitors and to whom they were indebted for loans. Thus in this city, at least, it was not merely religious bigotry and fear of the plague, but economic resentment that fired the craftsmen and the nobles to their work of extermination. Those people of Strasbourg, who had thus far escaped the plague and who thought that by killing off the Jews they would insure themselves against it in the future, were doomed to disappointment, for the pest soon struck the city and, it is said, took a toll of sixteen thousand lives.

The account reads: In the year 1349 there occurred the greatest epidemic that ever happened. Death went from one end of the earth to the other, on that side and this side of the sea, and it was greater among the Saracens than among the Christians. In some lands everyone died so that no one was left....In the matter of this plague the Jews throughout the world were reviled and accused in all lands of having caused it through the poison which they are said to have put into the water and the wells-that is what they were accused of-and for this reason the Jews were burnt all the way from the Mediterranean into Germany, but not in Avignon, for the pope protected them there.

Jews accused of poisoning wells during the Great Plague

Nevertheless they tortured a number of Jews in Berne and Zofingen [Switzerland] who then admitted that they had put poison into many wells, and they also found the poison in the wells. Thereupon they burnt the Jews in many towns and wrote of this affair to Strasbourg, Freiburg, and Basel in order that they too should burn their Jews. But the leaders in these three cities in whose hands the government lay did not believe that anything ought to be done to the Jews. However in Basel the citizens marched to the city-hall and compelled the council to take an oath that they would burn the Jews, and that they would allow no Jew to enter the city for the next two hundred years. Thereupon the Jews were arrested in all these places and a conference was arranged to meet at Benfeld rAlsace, February 8, 1349. The Bishop of Strasbourg [Berthold II], all the feudal lords of Alsace, and representatives of the three above mentioned cities came there. The deputies of the city of Strasbourg were asked what they were going to do with their Jews. Thev answered and said that they knew no evil of them. Then they asked the Strasbourgers why they had closed the wells and put away the buckets, and there was a great indignation and clamor against the deputies from Strasbourg. So finally the Bishop and the lords and the Imperial Cities agreed to do away with the Jews. The result was that they were burnt in many cities, and wherever they were expelled they were caught by the peasants and stabbed to death or drowned. . . [The town-council of Strasbourg which wanted to save the Jews was deposed on the 9th-10th of February, and the new council gave in to the mob, who then arrested the Jews on Friday, the 13th.]

On Saturday - that was St. Valentine's Day-they burnt the Jews on a wooden platform in their cemetery. There were about two thousand people of them. Those who wanted to baptize themselves were spared. [Some say that about a thousand accepted baptism.] Many small children were taken out of the fire and baptized against the will of their fathers and mothers. And everything that was owed to the Jews was cancelled, and the Jews had to surrender all pledges and notes that they had taken for debts. The council, however, took the cash that the Jews possessed and divided it among the working-men proportionately. The money was indeed the thing that killed the Jews. If they had been poor and if the feudal lords had not been in debt to them, they would not have been burnt. After this wealth was divided among the artisans some gave their share to the Cathedral or to the Church on the advice of their confessors.

Thus were the Jews burnt at Strasbourg, and in the same year in all the cities of the Rhine, whether Free Cities or Imperial Cities or cities belonging to the lords. In some towns they burnt the Jews after a trial, in others, without a trial. In some cities the Jews themselves set fire to their houses and cremated themselves.

Ordinance of the Jews of the Crown of Aragon, 1354

Paul Halsall of Fordham University wrote: “This ordinance or takkanah was the product of an increased sense of Jewish vulnerability in the years after the Black Death (1348). It attempted to draw together Jews from all of the communities of the Crown of Aragon to address shared problems, and propose collective solutions to them. The Crown of Aragon was a group of associated realms, governed separately by the same ruler: Catalonia, and the kingdoms of Aragon, Valencia and Majorca. The assembly which produced the ordinance was not entirely successful: it was attended only by delegates of Catalonia and Valencia, and it failed to create an ongoing institutional framework for intercommunal efforts. It nonetheless provides important testimony of the problems perceived by Jews in the 1350s and the sorts of solutions which they envisioned, as well as the potential difficulties which they faced. [Source:]

Louis Finkelstein, the editor of the text, wrote: “The introduction recites the woes that have befallen the Jewish people. "Many of faint heart, weak by nature" seeing the implements of torture were unable to withstand the trial and yielded their faith, "crossing over the bridge in their distress". Apparently some of them turned against their former brethren, "bending their bow, making ready their arrow" to shoot by their deadly defamations whomever they pleased. The people of Israel have thus come into hard times. Unless immediate action be taken danger would result to the whole community. It was their duty to take counsel and to save themselves and theirs before the evil fell. Already there were cases of murder and riot here and there, and no effective protest had been raised. If "the communities were made into a single union with a common treasury" they would be in a position to defend themselves, and to bring punishment on such as attacked them. Of what value would their money be to them if there lives were in danger? Since there was no leader taking upon himself the duty of protecting "the sheep of the Lord", the delegates has (sic) assembled at the call of the Jewish Community of Barcelona to take counsel in the critical situation. [Source: Louis Finkelstein, Jewish Self-government in the Middle Ages (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1924), pp. 336-47]

“It was evident that the matter could not be left to the individual communities to deal with separately, as singly they were far too weak for the task. The only means for saving themselves in the situation was to use their money power, and they feared that "if one community will not help the other, we will be unable to bring the money which is annually assessed against us to the treasury of the King" and that "we will appear ungrateful" in his eyes and the eyes of the princes. It was therefore necessary to perfect an organization which should be responsible for the funds. A commission would be appointed to wait on the King [Peter IV, 1336-87] in order to secure his assent to the formation of the union and the ordinance which were enacted by the council. The commission was to hold office for five years.”

Rules from the 1354 Aragon Ordinance Protecting Jews

French Jews executed by burning

The Ordinance of the Jews of the Crown of Aragon, A.D. 1354 reads: “They were to strive to obtain from the King the following kindness: 1) That he should intercede with "the King of Nations, the Pope" [Innocent VI, 1352-62], either in writing or by sending "many and worthy ambassadors", so that he might grant the Jews the following: a. A decree forbidding the masses of the Christians to fall upon the Jews whenever a natural visitation, such as a plague or famine, occurs. They should rather seek the favor of the Lord by good deeds of charity and kindness, and "not add transgression to their sins" by destroying the Jews whom, according to their own faith, it was their duty to protect. [Source: Louis Finkelstein, Jewish Self-government in the Middle Ages (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1924), pp. 336-47]

“b. A law among his Decretals forbidding the Christians to make attacks on the Jews because of alleged desecrations of the host. [*] Such a case had occurred shortly before at Seville. The alleged offender should be tried properly and punished if found guilty, but the Pope was to forbid under pain of excommunication any general attack on the Jews. Moreover he was to declare impossible the miracles that were usually alleged with regard to the desecration of the host, and which were relied upon to incite the mob to violence. He was to make clear "that any one who believes in all such things is a heretic against his own faith and laws, which command that they leave us a remnant in the land." * Accusations in regard to the desecration of the host seem to have begun about the middle of the thirteenth century. The particular outbreak at Seville is not otherwise mentioned to my knowledge.

“c. A decree forbidding the placing of the Jewish quarter in a state of siege about the time of Easter. He was to declare it a grievous sin to pain the Jews in any other way than that declared by law, namely that they should remain in their houses behind closed doors "on that day" [*]. * Jews were forbidden to show themselves on the streets on Good Friday. A church council held at Mayence, in 1259, forbade them to appear on the streets on that day under penalty of a fine of one mark. At another synod at Ashaffenburg, 1292, the Jews were forbidden to come near the doors of their houses or to look out of their windows under pain of a fine of one mark. Another synod held at Prague, 1347, commanded the Jews to keep away from the streets and remain in their homes.

“d. A limitation on the power of the Inquisition, declaring a Jew to be guilty of heresy only when he denies some tenet of his own faith, as for instance the existence of God, or the Divine origin of the Torah. But no Jew should be subject to the charge of heresy for supporting heretical views of a Christian which are in consonance with the Jewish faith. Indeed such a one might be subject to punishment by the secular power but was to be exempt from the Inquisition. If the Commissioners should find themselves unable to obtain this concession, they were to seek a decree ordering the Inquisition to furnish the accused Jew a statement of the charges against him, and the Jew was to be granted the right of Counsel [*] Ordinarily the Inquisition defended its denial of both elemental rights of an accused person by expressing the fear that if the accused should be a person of influence he might escape punishment if he were granted these rights, but since there could be no fear of that in the case of Jews, who were all without influence, it was patent injustice to deny them this right. * To defend one accused by the Inquisition, was to make oneself liable to complicity in the dread crime of fautorship of heresy. Innocent III in a decretal embodied in the Canon law, had ordered advocates to lend no aid or counsel to heretics or to understate their case in litigation. Lea, History of the Inquisition. I, 444.

“e. Furthermore "let them obtain the further declaration that if a Christian should desire to return a stolen thing which he robbed or took by violence from one of the children of Israel, he shall be obliged to return it to the Jew, either from hand to hand, or through the priests, but he shall not free himself from guilt by returning it to a creditor of the Jew."

“3) Furthermore it was agreed that while it was impossible to carry out Jewish law, especially where it involved capital punishment, still it were well to "cleanse away every Malshin [*] and informer who will be found in any one of the cities or to pour out evil on him in accordance with his wickedness in the judgement of the Commissioners and to make him known as a Malshin and drive him forth. Provided however, that the defamation is in regard to a public matter, from which there may result, Heaven forbid, harm to all our people, but not if it is merely a private defamation from which no harm can result." Similarly the Communities were to have a common fund to oppose those inciting the popular to violence against them since "evil of this sort spreads"... But no notice was to be taken of merely private quarrels between individual Jews and Gentiles, if no public harm could result therefrom. * A malshin was an informer [ed.]

4) “Furthermore the Commissioners were to strive to obtain a decision of the Cortes that if "anyone slay a Jew, or try to incite others to violence against them" he should not be given asylum in the territory of any of the nobles of princes, but each one must drive him forth from his land.”

1354 Aragon Ordinance Protecting Jews From Unfair Taxes and Extortion

13th century rabbis in France

The Ordinance of the Jews of the Crown of Aragon, A.D. 1354 continues: 7. "Furthermore have we agreed that whereas the tax-collectors have of late gone beyond all bounds making sorrowful the souls of our brethren in the matter of their extortions and they have bound them in affliction and in iron, so that well-nigh unto death do they cry from their prisons, therefore have we agreed that the Commissioners should endeavor to obtain a decree from the King, forbidding his tax-collectors who rule over our people in the matter of taxes, to cause anyone bodily pain, except in the manner which the King and his ancestors have been in the habit of employing heretofore. [Source: Louis Finkelstein, Jewish Self-government in the Middle Ages (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1924), pp. 336-47]

10) "Furthermore they shall obtain a decree from our King, fortified by an oath, that he should not be able to levy any special tax on the Communities or on any individual Community from this day forth [*]. For when the Communities bring their money to the coffers of the King they find grace in his eyes and in the eves of his counsellors and princes; also if they are in poor condition our lord, the King, may be generous to them in accordance with his proper custom, which would not be the case if the taxes were assigned.

11) "Since the heralds of our lord, the King, demand redemption money from any Jew whom they meet walking innocently, and if he is unable to redeem himself they cast him 'with thrust on thrust' 'and with the garment they strip also the mantle', therefore we have agreed that the commissioners should obtain and acquire a decree from our lord, the King, similar to the former rule which a few individuals sought and obtained from him now two years past, but which matter was never carried out because they were unable to supply the redemption money.

13) " Furthermore have we decided to obtain a decree from our lord, the King, promising that he will not appoint any Comisares (special investigators) to examine any matter relating to Jews. That can be left to the Ordinares (ordinary judges). For the Jews are weak and it is unnecessary to put them in the hands of a hard master; and also in that way (by appointing special investigators) the expenses increase without any gain for the King while the Jews grow poorer. The appointment of the Comisares should only be made at the request of the chosen Commission.

16) "Furthermore have we agreed to ask our lord, the King, to compel each community of those taking part in this synod to pay the share which is assigned to it in accordance with the division which is made between us. They shall be compelled to pay these expenses in the same manner they are compelled to pay the taxes of the King, whether by punishment of body or property, or by excommunication or ban. The said compulsion is to be executed at the order of the Commissioners and with their agreement and at the expense of the Community which should refuse to pay its portion.

"To all the said decrees and all the said matters have we, the undersigned, agreed and we have taken it upon ourselves to execute all the documents in this regard which will be necessary after we have obtained permission from our lord, the King, but we have written all this merely as a record of proceedings. which took place in the month of Tebet of the year 5115 of the Creation. We have written and signed this we Moses and Crescas by the authority given us for this in a document executed by the notary, En Marco Castanero on the twenty-fifth of September of the year 1354, Common Era, and I, Judah, by the authority conferred upon me by a document, executed by the notary, Guillem Berndt de Ximo, on the first day of September, 1354, Common Era. And all is firm and established."
Moses Nathan Haii
Crescas Solomon
Judah Eleazar

French Jews

Spanish Inquisition and the Persecution of the Jews in 15th Century Spain

Pogroms occurred in various kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula in 1391, when huge numbers of Jews converted to Christianity. Further conversions followed in the early fifteenth century. In 1478 the Jews in Spain suffered under the Spanish Inquisition.

The aim of Spanish Inquisitionunder King Ferninand II and Queen Isabella of Columbus fame was to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in Spain and its colonies. Formally known as the Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición, it replaced the medieval Inquisition, which had been under papal control. The Inquisition, which didn’t disband until 1812, forced the conversion or expulsion of up to 300,000 Spanish Jews. It also was used to identify heretics (known as Judaizers or crypto-Jews) who continued to secretly practice Judaism while outwardly professing Catholicism. Juan Blázquez Miguel, author of Inquisición y criptojudaísmo, wrote that more than 37,000 crypto-Jews were tried and more than 3,700 were burned at the stake. [Source: Michael Tashji, The Santa Fe New Mexican, January 3, 2022]

The Spanish Inquisition was used primarily as an instrument to control “Coversos” (Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism). The Inquisition was most out of control in the 1480s when it was used against conervsos. Torquemada ordered 2,000 Jews to be burned alive.

In "The Spanish Inquisition, A Historical Revision” Henry Kamen wrote, "There is no evidence that the converso as a group were secret Jews." It is known that anti-Semitism was very prevalent but it is not clear how much racism had to do with persecution or how many converso had returned to Judaism. Kamen blames part of the converso troubles on their unwillingness to assimilate and their calls for a separate "nation."

Burning of Jews in Portugal in 1497

Simon of Trent and the Massacre of Jews Set Off by the Death of Two-Year-Old

On Easter Sunday, 1475, in the city of Trent, a German-Italian city in what is now Northern Italy, a two-year-old boy named Simon was found dead. His death triggered a series chain of events that would leave almost all of the male members of the Jewish community in Trent dead, create a heretical cult that viewed Simon as a new messiah and generate a wave of anti-Semitism that would endure in the region for centuries. The events are recorded by the historian Po-Chia Hsia in his book “Trent 1475: Stories of a Ritual Murder Trial.” [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, July 5, 2020]

Simon went missing in the early evening of Thursday, 23 Marc. The next day, Good Friday, the boy’s father had asked the prince-bishop of the city, Johannes Hinderbach, for help in locating his missing son. Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: Searches ensued and by Easter Saturday suspicion had lighted on the small Jewish community in the city. The chief magistrate, Giovanni de Salis, had the households of the three main Jewish families searched, but Simon was not to be found. Then on Easter Sunday Seligman, a cook in the household of Samuel (a moneylender), discovered Simon’s body in a water cellar on Samuel’s extensive property. As all historians agree, the body had clearly been planted there. Samuel could have fled but had, up until this point, enjoyed an amicable relationship with the city’s authorities. So, instead, he “trusted the system” and reported the discovery. He also insisted that all members of the community stay put, including visitors who just happened to be in town for the Jewish Passover. That Samuel came forward and complied with the authorities was never mentioned in the ensuing trials. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, July 5, 2020]

In the aftermath of the discovery, things escalated quickly. Anti-Jewish feeling in the city had recently been inflamed by the arrival of an itinerant Franciscan preacher, Bernardino da Feltre, who had spent the Lenten season railing against Jewish usury and amplifying local hostilities. There were others in the local community, Hsia writes, who had exploited the vulnerability of this small religious minority in order to blackmail members of the Jewish community. All of these elements coupled with centuries-old rumors of blood libel (the dangerous myth that Jews used the blood of Christian children in their religious rituals) combined to create a kind of tinderbox of hatred that was sparked by Simon’s death.

Over the course of several months, the entire Jewish community were arrested and tortured and were forced to confess to having murdered Simon in order to use his blood in their Passover rituals. At first, Samuel withstood several bouts of torture and protested that Jews simply did not use human blood in their rituals. When he reached the limits of his endurance and in an effort to spare others, he confessed that only he and one other had suffocated Simon with a handkerchief. Other members of the community were forced both to confess and to invent fictitious religious motivations for exsanguinating the child. By the time the torture was over 15 male members of the Jewish community were sentenced to death: they were subsequently burned at the stake. Interestingly, female members of the community escaped on the grounds that, as women, they were unable to participate in these rituals (They were eventually freed in 1478 after the pope intervened). The news of the trials spread throughout Northern Italy to Veneto, Lombardy and Tyrol. By 1479 Jewish moneylending had been banned and by 1486 Jews were expelled from the region.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, Live Science, Archaeology magazine, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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