Anti-Semitism in the Crusades

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Jewish Persecution in the Middle Ages-Elizabeth Hallman

Jewish Persecution the Middle Ages

Jewish Persecution in the Middle Ages

 

One of the side effects of Pope Urban II’s call for Crusade in 1095 was an increase in violence against Jews in France and Germany.

The preaching of the Crusade at the Council of Clermont, in 1095, had a number of unintended consequences. In some parts of Europe, the Jews were considered as much an enemy of Christianity as the Muslims. There were a number of reasons for this, but chief among them was the belief among Christians that the Jews were collectively responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In addition, the Jews were more visible than Muslims. As a result many of the primary sources contain numerous arguments against the Crusades, claiming that there were large numbers of non-believers close to home.

Anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages

It is also believed that anti-semitic attitudes during the Crusades were motivated by money. The Jewish communities in the German Rhineland were wealthy and geographically isolated. As a result they did not have restrictions against money lending. In contrast, the Catholic Church forbade usury outright. As a result many of the people who took part in the Crusades bought their weapons, clothing and supplies with money borrowed from Jewish money lenders. Having armed themselves by going into debt, the Crusaders may have seen killing Jews as an extension of their Christian mission.

There had been no pogroms against the Jews in Europe since the forced conversions of the 7th Century. Since that time organized anti-Jewish violence had been suppressed by the Catholic Church.

This changed in June and July of 1095, however, when the Jewish communities along the River Rhine were attacked by a group of unknown Crusaders.

The Jews and the People’s Crusade

On top of this, when the People’s Crusade reached the Rhine, it had run out of supplies and began looting and pillaging Jewish homes and businesses.

At the same time, Peter the Hermit, the leader of the People’s Crusade, is reported to have used blackmail and extortion in order to procure additional supplies for his followers. The primary sources do not indicate that Peter actively preached against the Jews, but that does not seem to have stopped some of his followers from attacking and looting Jewish homes and shops without restraint.

In the spring of 1096, small bands of knights and peasants set off from various parts of France and Germany, inspired by the Council of Clermont, on so-called Crusades. One such group was led by Father Folkmar, whose followers attacked Jews in Magdeburg and later in Prague.

The Catholic Church officially condemned these activities, but could do little to stop the persecution of the Jews by Folkmar and his followers. The Crusaders did not fear retribution because local courts did not have the power to prosecute them.

Toward the end of 1096, Godfrey of Bouillon, a highly influential Crusader, began to collect tribute from Jews in Mainz and Cologne.

Jewish Persecution in Jerusalem

According to Professor Thomas Madden, the Jews in Jerusalem retreated to the synagogue when the Crusaders breached the city walls during the First Crusade in 1099. Muslim sources claim that the Crusaders set fire to the synagogue with large numbers of Jews trapped inside. This account has been challenged, however, by a Jewish letter contemporary to the First Crusade, which suggests that this incident may have been fabricated later.

Following the siege, captured Jews were forced to clean the city and bury the dead. A number of Jews, along Jewish holy books, were held ransom by Raymond of Toulouse. They were eventually set free in 1100.

The violence against the Jews by Christians and Muslims also had an effect on internal Jewish politics. During the Middle Ages, the Jews were divided into three geographical groups, who rarely interacted with each other.

  • Jews living in territory under Muslim control
  • Jews living in the Byzantine Empire
  • Jews living in Western Europe

The pogroms of 1096 created a new awareness and a sense of connectedness in the Jewish people

The First Crusade started a long tradition of organized violence against Jews in Europe that would eventually culminate in the Nazi Race Laws in the 1930s and the Holocaust in World War II.

Sources

Robert Chazan, European Jewry and the First Crusade. University of California Press, 1987.

Jeremy Cohen, Sanctifying The Name of God: Jewish Martyrs and Jewish Memories of the First Crusade. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004 

One of the side effects of Pope Urban II’s call for Crusade in 1095 was an increase in violence against Jews in France and Germany.

The preaching of the Crusade at the Council of Clermont, in 1095, had a number of unintended consequences. In some parts of Europe, the Jews were considered as much an enemy of Christianity as the Muslims. There were a number of reasons for this, but chief among them was the belief among Christians that the Jews were collectively responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In addition, the Jews were more visible than Muslims. As a result many of the primary sources contain numerous arguments against the Crusades, claiming that there were large numbers of non-believers close to home.

Anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages

It is also believed that anti-semitic attitudes during the Crusades were motivated by money. The Jewish communities in the German Rhineland were wealthy and geographically isolated. As a result they did not have restrictions against money lending. In contrast, the Catholic Church forbade usury outright. As a result many of the people who took part in the Crusades bought their weapons, clothing and supplies with money borrowed from Jewish money lenders. Having armed themselves by going into debt, the Crusaders may have seen killing Jews as an extension of their Christian mission.

There had been no pogroms against the Jews in Europe since the forced conversions of the 7th Century. Since that time organized anti-Jewish violence had been suppressed by the Catholic Church.

This changed in June and July of 1095, however, when the Jewish communities along the River Rhine were attacked by a group of unknown Crusaders.

The Jews and the People’s Crusade

On top of this, when the People’s Crusade reached the Rhine, it had run out of supplies and began looting and pillaging Jewish homes and businesses.

At the same time, Peter the Hermit, the leader of the People’s Crusade, is reported to have used blackmail and extortion in order to procure additional supplies for his followers. The primary sources do not indicate that Peter actively preached against the Jews, but that does not seem to have stopped some of his followers from attacking and looting Jewish homes and shops without restraint.

In the spring of 1096, small bands of knights and peasants set off from various parts of France and Germany, inspired by the Council of Clermont, on so-called Crusades. One such group was led by Father Folkmar, whose followers attacked Jews in Magdeburg and later in Prague.

The Catholic Church officially condemned these activities, but could do little to stop the persecution of the Jews by Folkmar and his followers. The Crusaders did not fear retribution because local courts did not have the power to prosecute them.

Toward the end of 1096, Godfrey of Bouillon, a highly influential Crusader, began to collect tribute from Jews in Mainz and Cologne.

Jewish Persecution in Jerusalem

According to Professor Thomas Madden, the Jews in Jerusalem retreated to the synagogue when the Crusaders breached the city walls during the First Crusade in 1099. Muslim sources claim that the Crusaders set fire to the synagogue with large numbers of Jews trapped inside. This account has been challenged, however, by a Jewish letter contemporary to the First Crusade, which suggests that this incident may have been fabricated later.

Following the siege, captured Jews were forced to clean the city and bury the dead. A number of Jews, along Jewish holy books, were held ransom by Raymond of Toulouse. They were eventually set free in 1100.

The violence against the Jews by Christians and Muslims also had an effect on internal Jewish politics. During the Middle Ages, the Jews were divided into three geographical groups, who rarely interacted with each other.

  • Jews living in territory under Muslim control
  • Jews living in the Byzantine Empire
  • Jews living in Western Europe

The pogroms of 1096 created a new awareness and a sense of connectedness in the Jewish people

The First Crusade started a long tradition of organized violence against Jews in Europe that would eventually culminate in the Nazi Race Laws in the 1930s and the Holocaust in World War II.

Sources

Robert Chazan, European Jewry and the First Crusade. University of California Press, 1987.

Jeremy Cohen, Sanctifying The Name of God: Jewish Martyrs and Jewish Memories of the First Crusade. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004

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