THE JEWS IN THE MIDDLE AGES
The capture of Jerusalem by Titus had been no more than an episode in Jewish history. Perhaps, in the long run, the nation gained in powers of expansion and of resistance through the loss of a territorial centre. In the immediate sequel, however, its life continued without any great change save for the cessation of sacrificial worship; and Jewish culture enjoyed another period of productivity, first in its ancient seat in Palestine, and then in the newer centres of population in Mesopotamia. The fifth century, which witnessed the disruption of the Roman Empire in the West, was the period of the redaction of the Talmudic literature and of the final settlement of the forms of Rabbinic observance which gave medieval Judaism its characteristic imprint as well as its phenomenal resilience and cohesion. For, while the new peoples of Western Europe were struggling into existence, the Jew was entering into a fresh phase of his history which was to link his fate decisively with theirs.
Already before the destruction of Jerusalem, the Diaspora had been a familiar phenomenon in Europe. The prisoners captured in innumerable wars in the East and spread through the Empire as slaves had been followed (if not preceded) by merchants and traders. Philo, Seneca, and Josephus all give evidence of the extent to which Jewish observances were spread through the civilised world of their day. From early times there had been extensive colonies in Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia, from which there was a constant expansion. Flaccus and Mithridates had been able to enrich themselves at the expense of those in Asia Minor and the Archipelago. Paul had found them in large numbers in Greece; and the infant Church advanced consistently where the Synagogue had blazed the way. Progressively, settlers penetrated farther west. The capital itself preserved without any serious break the community against which Cicero had inveighed and Juvenal sneered; and in other places in Italy, especially along the lines of communication with the Levant, they were similarly established at an early date. The proscriptive measures of the provincial Council of Elvira, which began the tradition of Iberian intolerance, attest the strength of the settlement in Spain as early as the first decade of the fourth century. The regulations of Constantine prove the existence of regularly constituted communities in the Rhineland at the same period; and it is not likely that they were absent from the rest of Gaul, or even from the more remote provinces. Indeed, it is probable that, before the Roman Empire had begun to decay, Jews were to be found in all of its greater cities. In any case, it is highly suggestive that their presence in some numbers through Western Europe is attested from precisely the period at which the medieval world may be considered to begin.
With the Christianisation of the Empire, however, a change came about in their condition. From the period of its triumph, the Church was able to advance beyond the stage of mere polemics and to concentrate upon differentiation, which finally degenerated into oppression. With the conversion of Constantine, the ecclesiastical outlook came to be adopted almost in its entirety, though with less discrimination, by the State. From an insignissima religio, certe licita, as it had been to earlier jurists, Judaism became the secta nefaria or sacrilegi coetus which figure in the edicts of the first Christian Emperors. The difference of language marks a fundamental change of attitude. It is true that there were at first no juridical repercussions, the Jews being comprised in the toleration accorded by the Edict of Milan. But, while they lost none of their privileges immediately, their status became profoundly different. For the first time, there arose the conception (unknown to pagan antiquity) that civic rights were dependent upon adhesion to certain articles of belief. Judaism was changed almost in a moment into a proscribed faith, existing only on sufferance. From full citizens, suffering from only one or two minor disabilities, its followers became transformed into a recalcitrant minority which both Church and State deemed it necessary to segregate and to humiliate.
The ecclesiastical policy was far from being merely persecutory. The victory of Christianity was not yet secure; and the line of demarcation from Judaism was still in many places so indefinite as to be perilous. It was unthinkable therefore that the infidel should be allowed to exercise any semblance of authority; hence the Jew must be excluded from all office, and (whatever the economic disadvantage entailed) should not either purchase Christian slaves or retain pagan ones if they became baptised. At the same time, he should not be permitted to contaminate the purity of the faith by entering into close social relations with Christians. For this reason, feasting together and intermarriage were prohibited, and it was forbidden even to make use of the services of Jewish physicians. With the Council of Chalcedon, in the middle of the fifth century (451), this policy was finally enunciated. It must be realised that, like so much else in medieval legislation, it remained in many ways an ideal rather than a standard of conduct. Nevertheless, it set up a code to which the Church inevitably reverted at moments when circumstances rendered her peculiarly suspicious: in the twelfth century, under the menace of the Albigenses; in the fifteenth, in consequence of the Hussite movement; and, finally, in the sixteenth, in the wake of the Reformation. Thus, paradoxically enough, it was only after the Renaissance that the regulations of the early Councils were consistently enforced even by the Popes themselves.
There was, however, a positive side to the ecclesiastical attitude accompanying these restrictions. The preservation of the Jew, though in ignominy, provided in Christian eyes standing testimony to the truth of Scripture and the punishment of guilt; while the more enlightened thought of him as custodian of the text and interpretation of Holy Writ. At the same time, while the ideal of conversion was inevitably present, it was an ideal to be achieved by peaceful persuasion, and the employment of force was deprecated. A corollary of this was that the Jews might enjoy liberty of worship and maintain their synagogues, though they should be allowed neither to erect new ones nor to embellish the old. Toleration, however, was essentially for the Jew by race. Hence the Christian who apostatised (not an uncommon occurrence even in the Middle Ages), or the Jew who received him into his faith, was liable to the penalty of death. Gregory the Great summed up the ecclesiastical policy in its double aspect. He figures in his epistles alternately as the protector of Jews far and near against injustice and as repressor of their “insolence”. This was the ideal generally followed by his successors, who tended to depart from it rather on the side of lenience. It is noteworthy that, until the period of the Reformation, the role of patron was assumed more consistently and more frequently than the reverse. Down to modem times, the grosser libels and attacks upon the Jewish people were generally discouraged, or even prohibited, by the Papacy, save in a very few exceptional cases where a tardy and unwilling acquiescence was forced upon it by popular action. It is significant that, under the papal aegis, the community of Rome, almost alone in the whole of Europe, was enabled to continue its existence undisturbed from classical times down to the present day.
The delicate balance of the official ecclesiastical policy was seldom, however, appreciated by secular rulers, who generally carried it to what appeared to be its logical conclusion in the one direction or the other. The theological predilections of Byzantium in particular translated themselves into discriminatory action. The embodiment of the ecclesiastical attitude towards the Jews in the Codex Theodosianus ultimately permeated the whole of Western law with the idea of their inferiority. It was Theodosius II, too, who finally abolished the Jewish Patriarchate in Palestine on the death of Gamaliel VI without male heirs, after an existence which had continued for nearly four centuries (425). Justinian, however, besides proclaiming the Jews ineligible for any public office whatsoever (537),was the first Emperor who interfered with their religious institutions, forbidding them to celebrate the Passover before Easter or to interpret the Bible in public worship according to their traditions. Under Heraclius, the dwindling communities of Palestine were driven to a last revolt in support of the Persian invasion (614); and it seems as though the Emperor, embittered and disquieted at this or at the subsequent rise of Islam, tried to procure a general persecution throughout Europe. From this period, it became regular to attempt to procure the conversion of the Jews by force when persuasion failed, Basil I (867-886) being especially notorious in this respect. The degrading special Jewish form of oath, which continued till very recently in some countries of Europe, goes back to Constantine VII (912-959). The devastations caused by Byzantine intolerance were to be traced as far off as Apulia and northern Africa, where the very existence of the ancient communities was jeopardised.
The Jews in Western Europe
In Western Europe, the Jews, belonging as they did essentially to the older culture, became associated after the barbarian invasions with the inferior position which was now the lot of the Roman; and this persisted as far as they were concerned when it had otherwise disappeared. Religiously, indeed, the new rulers displayed at first that tolerance which arises from indifference; while those who adopted the Arian form of Christianity were sympathetically inclined towards the adherents of a stricter monotheism, if only to enlist support against their opponents. But, with the triumph of Catholicism, the Jews were made in almost every case to feel the fervour of the neophyte, or served as the offering which proved his sincerity. It was only in Italy, under the patronage of the Ostrogoths, succeeded by the qualified protection of the Popes, that no general reaction took place, though local persecutions were not unknown.
Conditions were worst, however, in Spain, where the Jews had come to be an important element in the population. Under the Arian rulers, they enjoyed remarkable freedom and influence. After the conversion to Catholicism, the inevitable change came about. The disabilities at first imposed developed progressively into oppression. Sisebut (612-621) and his more fanatical successors, at the Councils of Toledo, utterly proscribed the practice of Judaism, and gave its adherents the alternative of baptism or banishment. The repetition of these or even crueller regulations by later rulers seems to indicate that they were none too rigidly enforced; and the converts actually secured proved anything but a strength to their new faith, setting the example for the characteristically Spanish product of crypto-Judaism. In the end, there seems to have been a slight reaction in their favour. Nevertheless, it is hardly a cause for wonder that the Jews warmly sympathised with the Arab invasion, even if they did not actually invite it.
The rise of Islam had spelled disaster for the independent Jewish tribes in Arabia, which had attained the zenith of their importance in the previous century. Though his teaching owed so much to the older religion, Mahomet had exterminated, expelled, or reduced to tribute those of its adherents with whom he came into contact. His successors continued his policy with even greater rigour, and Omar in particular imposed the most severe restrictions upon the Jews of his new conquests. But once their original missionary enthusiasm had declined the Caliphs showed themselves willing to accord an almost boundless toleration in return for a slender poll-tax. Mesopotamia, where the greatest Jewish masses were still to be found, fell victim to the first wave of attack. The persecutions which had disturbed Jewish life in the Persian and Byzantine Empires, in the name of Zoroaster or of Jesus, came to an end. Judaism became almost Arabianised; and there resulted a brilliant revival, centred about Baghdad. The glories of the office of Exilarch, or Prince of the Captivity—the secular head of local Jewry—were revived after a period of abeyance, which had lasted since the execution of Mar Zutra II for revolt in the previous century (520). Bostanai (c. 660), the first of the new line, could trace his descent, like his predecessors, to the house of David; and the office continued to be filled by his descendants until its extinction. A graphic account has come down of the brilliant ceremonies usual at the time of installation, when homage was paid by the heads of the two great Rabbinical colleges, each of whom was known at this period as Gaon. The most prominent of these was without doubt Saadiah (882—942), who first exemplified in his philological and philosophical writings the fruitful combination of the Helleno-Arabic and Jewish cultures. It was his activity which was principally responsible for the check of the anti-traditional Karaite schism which seemed at this time to be threatening the existence of Judaism.
The Muslim conquest of Spain marks a new stage in the history of the Jews in Europe. Hitherto, their importance had been comparatively slight, in relation to their own people or to the Western world as a whole. Their numbers were relatively small, and they had as yet made no contribution of any importance to Jewish or to general culture. The centre of the national life was still in Asia—particularly in Mesopotamia. But the same economic causes which made the Arabs leave their peninsula to overrun the Mediterranean world were operative with the Jews of those regions. It was only a minority which turned its footsteps to the East, founding the ancient settlements in India and China. Others had already begun to push northwards, to Persia and Armenia; and, crossing the Caucasus, perhaps laid the foundations of the great nuclei in the later Russian Empire. It was through these that the ruling classes at least of the Chazar kingdom were brought to accept Judaism in the eighth century. But more important than all of these in the history of civilisation as well as of Judaism (probably also in point of number, though of this there is no definite proof) were those who turned to Western Europe. Records of the transition are virtually non-existent, and even the date cannot be given with any degree of certainty. But the vast Arab Empire, stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, provided an easy and natural bridge whereby the influence of Mesopotamian Jewry was indefinitely widened. It was possible to travel from Baghdad to Cordova without any change of ruler, culture, or language. Jews must have flocked in the wake of the conquering tribes as immigrants, as traders, even as warriors. The immemorial settlements in Egypt, in fullest decadence since the repressive activities of the patriarch Cyril (415), awakened to a new life. Farther east, great communities sprang up again at Qairawan, Fez, and elsewhere in the northern provinces of Africa. In Sicily and Apulia, the phenomenon was repeated. But above all, the Jew took root and flourished in Muslim Spain. No restrictions were placed upon his activity. At the court of Cordova, and in those of the minor States which arose upon its ruins, he attained the highest offices of State, his linguistic or medical abilities usually serving as his introduction. Intellectual and cultural activities, stimulated by Moorish example, followed in the wake of freedom and numbers. Thus it came about that the academies of Mesopotamia, united at last with the West by the ties of a living language, were able to transmit the torch of learning to worthy successors before their decay.
In the result, Spain became the seat of a Jewish culture hardly equalled before or since in the Diaspora. Hasdai ibn Shabrut (c. 915-970), court physician to ‘Abd-ar-Rahman III, and described by John of Goritz as the acutest diplomat he had met, was the Maecenas of the new era. Under his encouragement all branches of Jewish intellectual activity, but especially poetry and philology, took root in the country. The ancestral traditions of the East, the manifold interests of the Moors, and the rediscovered sciences of ancient Greece were marvellously blended. The age was summed up in Samuel ibn Nagdela, called haNagid, or the Prince (993-1055), vizier to the King of Granada, a position which he characteristically attained by virtue of his Arabic style. A generous and discriminating patron of letters, he was himself distinguished as lexicographer, Talmudist, and poet. With his name is inseparably associated that of Solomon ibn Gabirol (1021?—56?), his protege, a poet and philosopher of the first importance, whose Fons Vitae became a classic of medieval Catholic literature. Ibn Nagdela’s son Joseph was unable to maintain his father’s political position; and, on his fall, the Jews of Granada were associated in his fate and subjected to a ruthless massacre (1066)1. A majority of the local emirs continued a benevolent policy. Ministers at the courts of Seville, Saragossa, and Cordova kept alive the traditions of Ibn Shabrut and Samuel haNagid. Nevertheless, the record was no longer an unchequered one. Under the rule of the first of the Almorávides, an attempt was made to force the Jews of Lucena to embrace Islam (1107). His successors were more tolerant; but they gave way (1148) to the fanatical Almohades, whose rule had spelled disaster for the communities of Morocco. Under their authority, the practice of the Jewish religion was completely prohibited, so that crypto-Judaism again became common in the peninsula. It was in consequence of this persecution that the father of Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) went into exile with his family, and that the son’s remarkable powers distinguished Cairo instead of Cordova. The fall of the Almohadic power at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212) was hailed by the Jews of Spain as a deliverance.
Meanwhile, those of the northern countries had grown in numbers and importance. Settlements had indeed been found in Gaul from early times, but the conversion of the Franks to Christianity had necessarily made a difference in their position. The provincial councils from the middle of the fifth century tried to enforce the strict separation of Jew and Gentile; and the Merovingians, especially from Chilperic onwards, shewed themselves fanatically submissive. Mass baptisms were sporadically enforced by local prelates, of whom Avitus of Auvergne, Bishop of Clermont, was the most prominent (576). Though Gregory the Great had roundly condemned this unofficial ecclesiastical policy, it was adopted in its entirety by Dagobert, who, following the example of his neighbours to the south of the Pyrenees, gave his Jewish subjects the alternative of baptism or banishment (629). For a century and a half to come, the Jews entirely disappear from view in northern France. To the south, in Septimania, the later Visigothic rulers attempted to enforce the same uniformity as in Spain, though, it seems, with exceptionally small success.
In Lombardy, in the middle of the seventh century, King Perctarit gave the Jews a similar alternative shortly after his conversion. The details are all vague, and obscured with legend; and it is far from certain that, as later chroniclers report, it was at the invitation of Heraclius that Dagobert acted as he did. Nevertheless, the simultaneous wave of forced conversion which swept all over Europe, from Constantinople to Toledo, in the course of the seventh century, is significant to a degree. It was one of the great hours of crisis for Judaism; and it might well have succumbed but for the strength it still possessed outside the boundaries of the Christian world.
With the decline of the Merovingians, conditions in the Frankish dominions changed. It was from the eighth century, the period of the Muslim invasions to the south and the rise of the Carolingians to the north, that the Jews of Western Europe began to assume the importance which characterised them in the later Middle Ages, and to eclipse by degrees the older settlements of the East. By the period of the Crusades, they had attained absolute cultural, if not numerical, supremacy in the Jewish world. Thus it may be said that it was in the period from the middle of the eighth century to the middle of the eleventh that the Jews became a European people. The origin of the new settlement in the Frankish dominions is difficult to trace. Wherever there was a commercial route of any importance, there existed a potential road for Jewish expansion and penetration. To any survivors who may have been left from Roman times were added refugees who came from beyond the Pyrenees during the Visigothic persecutions. Some originated from Italy, a country which has always been most important in Jewish history as a bridge or a refuge; though its settlement remained uninterrupted, and acquired a disproportionate importance owing to its nearness to the nerve-centres of the Christian world. Others penetrated directly into Central Europe along the valley of the Danube. From the Carolingian monarchs they received consistent encouragement; for strong rulers were less amenable to the influence of the Church, and statesmen could realise the importance of the Jews in the extension of commerce and of culture. They were not indeed excessively favoured, and the principles of the ecclesiastical restrictions were sternly enforced. Nevertheless, Jewish merchants invariably received protection and privileges, while Jewish factors, physicians, and interpreters were employed at court or sent on diplomatic missions. Jewish legend long preserved the name of Charles the Great—the personification of his house—in connexion with favours and patronage bestowed upon their fathers. The temper of the Church was indeed unchanged. Agobard, Archbishop of Lyons (ob. 840), with his successor Amulo (ob. 852), the fathers of medieval anti-Semitism, inveighed against the favour shewn by the ruling house to the infidels. Their writings, and the recommendations of successive synods under their influence, had however very little effect in practice; and the earlier rulers of the house of Capet continued in the main the favourable policy of their predecessors.
Under these auspices, the Jews of the Frankish dominions increased in numbers and in importance. The earliest settlements were apparently to be found in Provence and spread up the valley of the Rhone to those of the Loire and the Seine, penetrating thus to Champagne. The communities of the Rhineland were probably in the main an offshoot of these and were closely connected with them culturally, thus compensating for the intellectual subordination of Provence to Spain. Other congregations were to be found along the valleys of the Danube and the Elbe. Farther to the east, the importance of the Jews was as yet inconsiderable, though a settlement was established at an early date in Bohemia. Northward, to Scandinavia, they never penetrated to any appreciable extent. By the middle of the eleventh century, when the ancient seats of learning in Mesopotamia were nearing their end, the communities of northern France and the Rhineland, forming one intellectual unit, were able to co-operate with those of Spain in keeping alight the torch of Jewish learning, excelling in legalistic studies as others did in the humanities. It is to be imagined that the ideas from East and West, exchanged together with merchandise at the great fairs of Champagne (without doubt one of the main attractions to the newcomers), must have been largely responsible for this remarkable revival. The first important figure was Gershom of Mainz, “the Light of the Exile” (960-1040), chiefly remembered for the ordinance which forbade among Western Jews the polygamy which had long been abandoned in practice. Local tendencies were summed up in the work of Solomon ben Isaac of Troyes (1040-1105), universally known by the abbreviation of “Rashi,” whose writings preserved the older traditions of Talmudic scholarship for after generations. An extensive body of Tosaphists, or “supplemented,” whose activities extended to almost every township of north-eastern France, and even beyond, carried on his work.
The last important region of Western Europe to be penetrated was England, where the Jews came over in the wake of the Conqueror; though that they were entirely absent previously is hardly probable. This country, brought at last into the orbit of European affairs, was attractive territory to the pioneer. As yet, it lacked a middle class, and needed the capital which the Jews could bring. The ambitious policy and frequent emergencies of the new regime made their presence definitely welcome to the sovereign. William Rufus, indeed, favoured them somewhat too exuberantly, in words at least. Henry I began to regularise their position by charter. Before long, there were settled communities in London, York, Lincoln, Norwich, Bristol, Oxford, and, indeed, almost all of the more important towns. The pioneers came from Rouen; but they were followed before long by others, attracted by the fresh field of activity or fleeing from persecution abroad. This was the culmination of the westward sweep of the Jewish masses, which had lasted from the fourth century and had been intense since the eighth. The next four hundred years were to witness the reversal of the process, which drove the vast mass of the Jewish people back again towards the East.
Growth of persecution
The First Crusade marks an epoch in Jewish no less than in general history. The story is familiar how the crusading hosts, marching to wrest the Holy Sepulchre from the hands of the Muslims, considered it their duty to exterminate the infidel whom they found on their path. Here and there in France, and especially at Rouen, the pilgrims began their work by murdering individuals or forcing them to the font. Further outrages took place in Lorraine, particularly at Metz. But the horrors were greatest in the Rhineland, where each successive mob of crusaders massacred the Jews as it passed through.
The bishops of the various cities worked, characteristically, to protect them both by their spiritual authority and by force of arms. In the case of Cologne and of Spires, they met with considerable success; but in most instances their efforts were fruitless. The community of Treves sought refuge in baptism; those of Mainz, Worms, and many other places “sanctified the Name” almost to a man by a resolute death. Many committed suicide after slaying their wives and children with their own hands to save them from the temptations of abjuration. In more than one spot, the first historical record of the presence of Jews is that of a massacre at this period. The numbers of the victims may have been exaggerated; but the extent of the disaster may be gauged by the fact that over 350 martyrs belonging to the community of Worms were subsequently remembered by name. Popular fantasy saw in this calamity the tribulations which were to prelude the coming of the Messiah.
These were not the first persecutions which the Jews had undergone in Europe after the outburst of intolerance in the seventh century. About the year 1010, apparently in consequence of the passions aroused by the profanation of the Holy Sepulchre (at the instigation of the Jews, as it was alleged), there were persecutions at Limoges, Rouen, and Mainz. In 1065 the Viscount and Bishop of Narbonne earned the gratitude of the Pope by protecting the Jews of their city against the troops on their way to help the Christians on the south of the Pyrenees. It was, however, with the outrages of 1096 that the age of martyrdom began. Hitherto, persecution had been merely sporadic. Henceforth, it was to become more and more general, and, down to the close of the Middle Ages and after, it was the rule rather than the exception. Rabbinic codes gravely prescribed the prayer to be recited at the moment of martyrdom. The example became contagious, spreading from the Rhineland to the adjacent countries; and to religious passion there was added the commercial jealousy of the mercantile class which was now springing up. The horrors of the Second Crusade rivalled those of the First. Whereas in 1096 the danger had principally conic from an ill-disciplined and superstitious rabble on the march, and the Jews could look almost invariably to the local authorities for protection, in 1146 it began at the point of assembly, and was due in large measure to the deliberate rousing of the passions of the populace. The noble efforts of Bernard of Clairvaux, who had inspired the Crusade, were partially successful in restricting the massacres; but, nevertheless, northern France suffered on this occasion equally with the Rhineland.
The example was rapidly followed elsewhere, and the pretext of a crusade soon became superfluous. Thus in England, where this movement had as yet aroused only slight enthusiasm, a different justification was found. The supposed martyrdom of William of Norwich at the hands of the Jews (1144) was the first recorded case of the infamous Blood Accusation; and it was followed by a long series which has continued down to the present day, notwithstanding the opinion of scholars, the authority of rulers, the declarations of the Papacy, and the dictates of common-sense. After the recognition of the doctrine of transubstantiation in 1215, another pretext was made available. The desecration of the Host was a libel even more ridiculous than the other, if such a thing were possible, because it postulated a degree of regard for the consecrated elements which would have been self-contradictory in a Jew; yet this did not prevent countless martyrs from being put to death on the charge. The first instance was that of Belitz, near Berlin, where the entire Jewish population was burned alive for the alleged offence (1243). It has recently been conjectured that the micrococcus prodigiosus, a scarlet microscopical organism which sometimes forms on stale food kept in a damp place, may have been responsible for the phenomenon of the “bleeding host”, and for the wholesale massacres frequently perpetrated in consequence.
The wave of intolerance which passed through Christendom as a result of the Crusades and of the Albigensian movement received formal expression in the enactments of the Third and Fourth Lateran Councils (1179,1215), after a period of comparative quiescence which had lasted for seven centuries. The former, besides renewing old restrictions, absolutely forbade Jews to have Christians in their service, even as nurses or midwives. In addition, it forbade true believers even to lodge amongst the infidel, thus laying the foundation of the Ghetto system. The latter enforced for the first time the payment of tithes by the Jews, and strictly prohibited the secular government from employing them in any position which might afford any semblance of authority over Christians. These were accompanied by other provisions which reduced the Jews almost to the position of social pariahs. Above all, the regulations instituted by certain Muslim rulers, by which all unbelievers were compelled to wear a distinguishing badge, were introduced for the first time into the Christian world, ostensibly in order to prevent the unthinkable offence of unwitting sexual intercourse between adherents of the two faiths. In practice, the badge consisted of a piece of yellow or crimson cloth, in England in the form of the Ten Commandments, in France, Germany, and elsewhere of a wheel, the rotella or rouelle. In Italy, where a simple badge was found inadequate, the wearing of a hat of distinctive colour was subsequently prescribed. The result of this was to stigmatise the Jews in perpetuity as a race apart, and to single them out for insult and massacre in any outburst of popular feeling. It must not be thought that all of these regulations were immediately and consistently enforced, even in the Papal States themselves. Nevertheless, they remained a standard of conduct to which it was always possible to revert with increasing severity, and which in fact formed the basis of the repressive policy of the CounterReformation. The Fourth Lateran Council is as crucial in Jewish history as it is in that of Europe as a whole. It marked the high-water mark of medieval legislative anti-Semitism in theory. The rest of the Middle Ages witnessed the gradual translation into action.
Exclusion of Jews from agriculture
There was another direction in which the provisions of the Lateran Councils vitally affected the Jews. The year 1179 marked the culmination of the Church’s attack upon usury, the laws against it being increased in severity, and Christian burial being refused to those dying in the sin. Though the success of these regulations was imperfect, they nevertheless tended to throw the business of money-lending more and more into the hands of those to whom canonical prescriptions did not apply.
In the earliest days of their settlement in Europe, many Jews had been agriculturalists. But the peaceful immigrant into a country already inhabited cannot easily settle on the soil. Moreover, the communal character of Jewish religious observance rendered desirable a constant contact which cannot easily be secured in rural solitude. This fact reinforced the natural tendency of newcomers to remain where colonies of their compatriots were already to be found. Besides, the growing differentiation made it necessary to enter walks of life where they were indispensable and need fear no boycott; while their increasing unpopularity rendered it advisable to settle where it was easy to band together, not only for prayer, but also for self-defence.
This tendency to concentration was reinforced, as time went on, by a further important consideration. The whole of feudal society was built up upon a military and agricultural basis, in which actual service was supplemented only by payments in kind. In this system the Jew, like the merchant or the priest, could find no place. There was a tradition dating back to the earliest days of the Christian Empire which excluded him from a military career. In later times, an inevitable distrust and unpopularity, as well as the facts of his urban life, combined to discriminate against him. In England, indeed, the Assize of Arms categorically forbade him to possess any weapon. Moreover, in consequence of his religion, he could neither give nor receive like other men the Christian oath of fealty which formed an inseparable element of the bond between superior and inferior. Hence there was absolutely no place for him in the growing feudal economy, and his exclusion from agricultural life became in consequence more and more complete as time went oil.
All these causes combined to make the Jews congregate more and more in the towns. Many were artisans; and in some places, especially in Spain and Sicily, this remained common till the end. In the medieval gild organisation, indeed, based as it was partly on a religious bond, and wholly on feelings of solidarity and good will, there was no opening for the Jew. As a merchant, however, he had unusual qualifications, by reason both of his acumen and of his ubiquity. It was as merchants, without doubt, that many of the pioneers penetrated to the western countries, and laid the foundations of the later settlements. The “Syrian” traders who almost monopolised the trade of Western Europe after the Barbarian invasions must have comprised Jews; and the lingua franca spoken, for example, in Bordeaux in the sixth century, was as a matter of fact almost identical with that in which the Jewish legalistic correspondence between East and West was carried on in the early Middle Ages. A majority of the older settlements, until they were displaced by persecution, lay along the lines of the major trade-routes, ibn Khurdadhbih, the Postmaster of the Caliphate of Baghdad, gives in his Book of the Ways (c. 847) a remarkable picture of the activities of the so-called “Radanite” Jewish traders, from China to Spain, in the ninth century. In the Carolingian cartularies, “Jew” and “merchant” are used as almost interchangeable terms. Despite the indignation of the Church (based of course on religious and not humanitarian grounds), the infidels controlled the slave-trade, purchasing their human merchandise in the Slavonic countries or the Byzantine Empire, and selling it as far afield as Andalusia to supply the harem or the bodyguard of the Caliphs.
The growth of the mercantile spirit in Europe from the tenth century, and especially from the period of the Crusades, tended to displace the Jew from the favourable position which he formerly enjoyed. He suffered from obvious disadvantages where a Christian competitor offered himself; and he could not emulate the grandiose co-operative enterprises which the Italian and other commercial cities were able to organise. Moreover, as a general rule, he was excluded from the Merchant Gild when it came into being, and, naturally, from the privileges which it enjoyed. His growing insecurity brought about another result of hardly less importance. It was advisable for him to have his capital in a form in which it could soon be liquidated and would not easily be jeopardised by any sporadic outburst of mob violence. The merchant excluded from trade can moreover hardly find an outlet for his capital except as a financier. For this the Jew enjoyed one great advantage in his widespread literary and family connexions. It was not that he necessarily invented “credit” in its technical sense (though a good case can be made out to support the hypothesis), but that he enjoyed it as a social reality. Accordingly, he had every facility for supplying medieval society with the capital which it considered disgraceful to provide, but with which it found itself unable to dispense. The Jewish authorities disapproved, and, where a coreligionist was in question, they flatly forbade; but they had to yield to circumstances. The action of the Third Lateran Council in endeavouring to extirpate usury among the Christians tended to concentrate the occupation more and more in the hands of the Jews; even though the Fourth tried to control their activities, limiting the interest they were allowed to charge and remitting it where any crusader was concerned.
For a period, therefore, the Jew was almost the sole capitalist in some countries. Whenever any great scheme was on foot, his services had to be sought out. For the two characteristic occupations of the Middle Ages, fighting and building, his aid was indispensable. The Crusades, fatal as they were to him, were in part made possible only by his financial aid. Aaron of Lincoln, the greatest Anglo-Jewish financier of the twelfth century, assisted in the construction of no less than nine of the Cistercian monasteries of England, as well as the great abbey of St Albans. The growth of the system of scutage made the capital which the Jew could alone provide all the more necessary even in times of peace; and the transition would perhaps have been impossible had it not been for his co-operation.
As yet it was the upper classes with whom he was principally concerned; not so much the greater nobles, who could dispense with his services, as the lesser feudal baronage, or the patricians of the continental cities. He earned, in consequence, unpopularity from all classes: from his clients, who fell deeper and deeper into debt, and from their enemies, who resented this financial succour; and the time inevitably came when this hatred expressed itself in massacre, whatever the ostensible cause. The heyday of this period of predominance in finance was from the middle of the twelfth century, when on the one hand the displacement from trade had come to be effective, and on the other the canonical restrictions against Christian usury were more rigidly enforced. A century later, the Cahorsins and the Lombards, availing themselves of legal fictions, and enjoying both a closer cohesion and a higher patronage, including that of the Popes themselves, began to make their competition increasingly felt. From this point, the Jews tended to abandon money-lending on a large scale and to engage in pawnbroking, in which the more centralised foreigners would not compete even if it had been worth their while.
The rate charged was high; necessarily so, in view of the scarcity of coin and the general unruliness. Even when fixed by law, it was in the northern countries rarely less than 43 per cent., unless exceptional security was available. The chances of violence and expropriation were extreme, and it was inevitable that there should be taken into account the high probability of losing both capital and interest. But if this were obviated, profits were so enormous as to arouse general jealousy and to add another incitement to violence. It was a vicious circle, any peaceful escape from which was impossible. Yet the Christian usurer, although he did not have to safeguard himself to anything like the same extent against the chances of murder and pillage, was no less exacting. When the Jews were expelled from France, the common people were far from approving:
Car Juïfs furent débonères
Trop plus, en fesant telz afferes
Que ne sont ore crestien....
(Geoffrey of Paris, Histoire de France)
An inevitable result of a special occupation in the Middle Ages was a special status; for any persons who could not be included in the feudal scheme of things had necessarily to find some place in the organisation of society outside it. It would perhaps have been natural to include the Jews with the other inhabitants of the towns; but this would have presumed a degree of sympathy and solidarity between the two elements which was in fact generally absent. Besides, since the Jew was so frequently a stranger, he had to find some external safeguard against the jealousy which he was sure to encounter. Accordingly, he looked for protection to the king—the lord of all men who had no other, and the traditional protector of the merchant and the foreigner. Especially in Germany, appeals to the Emperor for protection during the period of the Crusades were continuous, and had much to do with the growth of the later theories of subjection. But there was another side to the question. After the destruction of Jerusalem, Vespasian had ordered the voluntary levy which every Jew had hitherto contributed each year to the sanctuary of Jerusalem, in obedience to Biblical precept, to be continued as an annual poll-tax for the benefit of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, under the name of the Fiscus Iudaicus. This had indeed been abolished, as an indirect consequence of his antiChristian attitude, by Julian the Apostate. It had never been revived; but Theodosius II, when he put an end to the Jewish Patriarchate in Palestine, ordered the aurum coronarium which it had hitherto received year by year as a voluntary offering from every Jew throughout the Diaspora to be paid henceforth by the heads of the community to the imperial treasury. The later history of the levy is not clear; but it is more than probable that the special right of taxation was revived by the Carolingian Empire and taken over imitatively by other sovereigns; and that, instead of the Crown deriving its power to mulct the Jews from their special relationship, this theory was in part a legalistic invention intended to justify the royal claims. The payments to the Emperor in return for his protection, especially during the Third Crusade, helped to revive the old ideas. The Opferpfennig imposed by Lewis the Bavarian in 1342 was thus explained as being in theory the poll-tax which was due to the Roman Emperor since the days of Vespasian in testimony of perpetual servitude to the imperial throne. On a similar line of reasoning, it was possible to put forward a claim to the ultimate suzerainty overall the Jews of Europe. Such pretensions, while they were not likely to be conceded, were easy to imitate. Whatever the reason for it, the Jews were reckoned servi camerae regis (Kammerknechte). It is this special relationship to the Crown which explains a great deal of their characteristic position in the national life of the Middle Ages.
In each town they formed a unit enjoying a considerable degree of judicial and fiscal autonomy—the universitas, or schola Iudaeorum, the latter term was not yet restricted to the synagogue building, nor did it have any educational significance. Their relations with the government were essentially as a collective body. A Jewish “Parliament” representing all of the Jewries of the realm could sometimes be summoned for purposes of taxation; and such gatherings might assume a legislative side and in virtue of their spiritual authority make regulations for the general guidance. Of the manifold corporations of the Middle Ages, that of the Jews was perhaps the closest and the most rigidly controlled, for there was no way out of it except through apostasy. A logical consequence of the proprietary rights of the Crown was that it might pledge or alienate its Jews individually or collectively to some other party for the sake of an immediate monetary consideration, or that it might expel them from the country without any cogent reason.
Being the king’s men, they were subject to him in every way. When it was to his interest, he attempted to enforce the appointment of rabbis and even lesser officials in the same fashion as he did that of the bishops. In England at least, appeals overseas on questions of Jewish law could be prevented by a sort of counterpart to praemunire. Though permitted to settle internal disputes according to their own traditions, they were subject in other matters to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Crown—greatly indeed to its profit, though not a little to their security. Above all, the king found in them a source of income. Unlike the Christian usurer, who was breaking the law, the Jew was able to sue his debtors in the royal courts; and the profits of justice accrued to the king. The wealth of the dead usurer, whether Jew or Gentile, legally escheated to the Crown: though the reality was not so drastic, as it was to the king’s advantage to leave the heirs sufficient to carry on the business. If a Jew became converted to Christianity, his property, or a large proportion of it, would be confiscated; for it was not equitable that he should continue to enjoy the profits which he had amassed in sin. Besides all this, there were certain “extraordinary” amercements, such as the tallage of 60,000 marks on the occasion of an alleged ritual murder at London in 1244, or the 14,000 which the wealthy Aaron of York was fined on a suspicion of forgery six years later. All of this was quite apart from the ordinary taxation by arbitrary tallage. The average revenue derived from the Jews in northern countries has been reckoned at about one-twelfth of the total royal income. The amount is not so large; but it is wholly disproportionate to their numerical importance, which was never great. Above all, the levies were entirely arbitrary. It was possible to raise what were for those days enormous sums without any customary pretext, merely to suit the royal convenience. Naturally, therefore, it was to the king’s interest to protect the Jews and encourage their activities. So much of their profits came into his coffers that he became, in a certain sense, the arch-usurer of the realm. Very frequently, he came into possession of their claims as well. It was only short-sighted rulers (though there were many of them) who would display their authority by a wholesale remission of interest, or even of the whole debt, on condition that a certain proportion should be paid into the treasury. This had the automatic effect of increasing the rate of usury for future occasions. But, besides this, it was illogical in the extreme; for it was obvious that the Crown stood to gain more by a few years of sleeping partnership than by the most drastic measure of wholesale confiscation.
It is of the highest importance to realise that the description given above is not universal. Generalisation is even more difficult in Jewish than in general history. The nearest approach to the typical medieval Jewish organisation was to be found in England. In France and Germany, the communities approximated to the same economic, and therefore constitutional, position; but, by reason of the antiquity of their settlement and of their gradual evolution, as well as by the lack of uniformity through the two countries, it is less easy to generalise. Thus, in Narbonne, the Jews remained allodial proprietors until their expulsion, in consequence, according to legend, of a grant made by Charlemagne. Viticulture was similarly practised in the south of France until late in the thirteenth century. In Germany especially, the position of the Crown with regard to the Jews, as in so many other matters, was usurped by the nobility; and Charles IV sanctioned the alienation of his rights in the Electoral territories by the Golden Bull (1356). Here, moreover, the Jewish financial hegemony came comparatively late; for loans were made until the twelfth century principally by the clergy, and thereafter by the citizens and nobles, the Jews coming to the fore only after 1300. In a few handicrafts the Jews long retained their predominance, especially in the south and east of Europe. Down to a late period, they almost monopolised the dyeing and silk-weaving industries in Sicily and Greece, as well as farther east; and they were little less prominent as tanners and glassblowers. The art of the goldsmith, facilitated by foreign intercourse, and above all desirable for a nomad who needed his possessions in the most easily transferable form, was represented even in England. In Spain, owing to its peculiar circumstances, this development was least. The Jews never abandoned the practice of handicrafts on a large scale; many remained addicted to commerce; and, though money-lending was the calling of a minority, it never widely degenerated into pawnbroking.
In Italy, the position of the Jews faithfully reflected the bewildering political condition of the country, and three, or even four, separate zones may be distinguished. In the independent mercantile cities of the north, where their commercial rivalry was feared, they were generally admitted towards the close of the Middle Ages, by a special temporary “condotta,” for the specific purpose of opening loan-banks when local scruples or disorganisation rendered it necessary; and they were liable to expulsion when the immediate need had passed, or when a monte di pietà was erected to supply the want. Thus the important community of Venice existed down to modern times on a recurrent ten-year tenure, not always renewed; and the Jews were admitted to Florence, under similar conditions, only as late as 1437. In the States of the Church, matters were much the same where the towns enjoyed any degree of independence, though the influence of the Papacy and the example of Rome made for a greater tolerance and stability. The kingdom of Naples approximated to the type of the feudal countries of the North, as in other things. Ecclesiastical restrictions were strenuously enforced; and the settlement in Apulia was interrupted by persecution under the Angevin rulers at the end of the thirteenth century. The economic position of the Jewish capitalist in the rural centres of Calabria was, however, so important that the country is said not to have recovered even now from the effects of his ultimate disappearance. In Sicily, finally, the community approached the Spanish type politically and economically, its rigid control and high centralisation compensating in part for the bewildering complexity which was the rule in the rest of the country. The complete economic and social degradation of the Jew did not come about, in those parts of Italy where he was ultimately allowed to remain, until the Middle Ages were at an end.
Even in those places where they were utterly excluded from the ordinary walks of life, the Jewish communities could not be restricted to a single occupation. The principal householders, indeed, might be financiers. These would represent, however, only a small proportion of the total numbers. Dependent upon them, directly or indirectly, there would necessarily be numerous subordinates—agents and clerks—to help in their business; synagogal officials to carry out divine worship; scribes to draw up their business documents and to copy out their literary or liturgical compositions; tutors for the instruction of their children; physicians to care for their sick; attendants to perform household services, forbidden by the Church to Gentiles; butchers and bakers to prepare their food in accordance with ritual requirements; even a bath-keeper to facilitate the cleanliness which was reckoned an integral part of godliness. In any considerable community, however restricted in its activities by ecclesiastical and governmental prescriptions, all of these occupations were necessarily represented, though occasionally more than one might be filled by a single individual. Their very multiplicity, however, prevented a rigorous control on the part of the authorities, and facilitated evasion of the statutory restrictions.
Even before the formal institution of the Ghetto, there was a natural tendency for the Jews to forgather in one street or quarter of the town— the Jewry, Juiverie, Judería, Via del Giudei, or Judengasse, as it was called in the various countries. Within it, a difference might be noted in the construction of the houses; for the Jews were among the pioneers in domestic architecture, and, for security’s sake, were driven to make considerable use of stone. The whole would be grouped about the synagogue, which reflected faithfully in its architectural style the current fashions of the environment, though Christian zeal ensured that it remained, externally at least, modest and unassuming to a degree. To this would inevitably be added the school and bath-house, together with, in larger communities, a hall for wedding festivities, a work-room, and even a hospital which served also as a hostelry for strangers.
In spite of all restrictions, and of occasional outbursts of fanaticism, the relations between the Jewish and Christian population were generally intimate, though they tended to become more embittered as time went on. The language spoken in Western Europe was invariably the vernacular, with perhaps a few dialectal differences, though in writing it Hebrew characters were usually employed. The glosses of Rashi and his contemporaries thus preserve some of the oldest specimens of the Langue d’oil vocabulary. In all else, the outward similarity with the Gentile must have been close to justify the institution of the Badge, though a characteristic pointed headdress was common. Life was profoundly influenced by the environment. The severe Gothic of the oldest German synagogues contrasts strikingly with the flowing Arabesques of Toledo. Hebrew codices were illuminated in the same manner as the Church missals, and sometimes, perhaps, by the same artists. On the other hand, a Jewish minnesinger such as Susskind von Trimberg (c. 1200) might enter the service of a German court; and a poet like Immanuel of Rome (1270-1330), who introduced something of the careless spirit of Italian verse into Hebrew literature, could exchange sonnets in the vernacular with his Christian contemporaries, and is conjectured to have been an intimate of Dante himself, whose Divina Commedia he parodied.
However much he was depressed by force of circumstances, the Jew could not discard his intellectual interests. The only calling in which he is universally found besides finance is medicine, and this in spite of innumerable ecclesiastical ordinances forbidding recourse to infidel care, which the Popes themselves were the first to evade. Many courts, especially in Spain, employed a Jewish astrologer, whose activities extended to astronomy and cartography; Vasco da Gama’s dependence upon astronomical tables prepared by Jews was fully as characteristic as Columbus’ recourse to financiers of the same race for funds. At a period at which the vast majority of Europeans were illiterate, the Jews insisted as a religious duty upon a system of universal education of remarkable comprehensiveness. In every land to which they penetrated, schools of Rabbinical learning sprang up, in which the shrewd financiers became transmuted into acute scholars while their clients sat toping in their castles. The rolls of the various Exchequers bear ample witness to the wide secular activities of men whose names are immortalised in the annals of Hebrew literature; even England, backward as she was in this respect, is proved by recent discoveries to have exemplified it to a far greater extent than was formerly suspected. The office of rabbi became professionalised, so far as it ever was, only at a comparatively recent date.
Even where legalistic studies were most cherished, the humanities were not altogether neglected; and in the Latin countries they sometimes predominated. To philosophic studies there was indeed some resistance, particularly in France and Germany. It was long before the rationalistic tendencies even of Maimonides obtained anything like universal acceptance. On one occasion the reactionary party secured the help of the newly-founded Dominicans to burn his writings (1233); but it subsequently suffered and repented for its action. The speculative tendency, however, found its outlet in a vast mystical literature, afterwards grouped about the Zohar, which afforded a refuge from the tribulations of daily existence.
For a considerable time to come, the Christian world, with rare exceptions like Roger Bacon, shewed very little interest in Jewish learning. From time to time, indeed, especially after the rise of the Dominican Order, disputations would be staged, usually by apostates, in which the imbecility of the Talmud and its testimony to the truth of Christianity would alternately or simultaneously be argued. All possibility of fair debate was, however, stifled by the fact that any outspoken reply on the part of the Jewish protagonists would be characterised as blasphemy. These disputations generally took place under the highest patronage, such as that of Louis IX, who presided over the debate of Nicholas Donin and Jehiel of Paris in 1240; of James I of Aragon, before whom Pablo Christiani argued with Moses Nahmanides at Barcelona in 1263; and the anti-Pope Benedict XIII, under whose auspices Jeronimo de Santa Fe pitted himself against the philosopher Joseph Albo and others at Tortosa in 1413-14. The results of these encounters were all necessarily adverse, and led to a general attack upon the traditional literature. In obedience to the ecclesiastical injunction that the Jews were not to be permitted to have in their possession works containing blasphemies against the Christian faith, twenty-four cartloads of Talmudic writings were burned in Paris after the disputation of 1240; and the example was followed intermittently elsewhere. It was not, however, until after the Reformation that a systematic censorship of Hebrew books was introduced. A further means of persuasion was by conversionist sermons, for which the Jews were sometimes forced to lend the hospitality of their synagogues.
There was one side of Jewish intellectual activity which was, however, of supreme importance to the Christian world. When Western Europe was wrapped in darkness, the learning of ancient Greece had been acquired by the Muslims. In Moorish Spain, this had brought about the great intellectual revival which is associated with the names of Avicenna and Averroes. The Jews were not slow to be affected by the new intellectual movement. Moses Maimonides, familiar to the schoolmen as Rabbi Moses of Egypt, was far from being a solitary phenomenon, though his influence surpassed that of all others both in his own community and outside. But it is in a different direction that Jewish influence was of most importance. The medieval world, ignorant of Arabic as it was of Greek, gained access to the intellectual treasures rediscovered in Spain largely through the medium of translations from the Hebrew versions which the Jews had prepared from the Arabic for their own use. At a later period, especially under the patronage of Frederick II, Robert of Anjou, and Alfonso the Learned, a systematic series of renderings was carried out by Jewish scholars in Naples, Provence, and Castile. The share of the Jew in bringing about the earlier, Aristotelean, phases of the Renaissance is symbolic of his intermediary position in medieval life. It was only as late as the fifteenth century that Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino, eager disciples of the Jewish litterateurs in Florence, taught the Christian world the importance of direct acquaintance with Hebrew literature for its own sake; but their example, followed by John Reuchlin, was of considerable moment in the growth of the Reformation.
Jews in England
From the many-sided activity described above, England was to a certain extent isolated. As has already been pointed out, her settlement was late and artificial. She did not possess, like France, Spain, Italy, and Germany, any nucleus of what may perhaps be termed autochthonous Jews. Those who were admitted were intended to fill a very definite gap in the economy of the country; others were not likely to be encouraged. In addition, the authority of the Crown under the Norman monarchs was so strong as to ensure their continuance in the functions for which they were introduced. England’s was therefore the type of a feudal Jewry; for it knew no survivals, and few’ exceptions, to qualify the general rule. The history of the Jew’s in medieval England is indeed so compact, so fully documented, and so well defined, that it has a “typical” value disproportionate to its real importance.
The community had steadily grown under the Normans, when England, as yet comparatively unaffected by the Crusades, provided a tranquil haven of refuge from the growing storms of the Continent. A majority of its members hailed from France, or from the western provinces of Germany; but we find Spain and Italy, and even Russia and the Muslim countries, represented to a minor extent. Their tranquillity was not indeed without qualification. In the course of the war of succession between Stephen and Matilda, both sides mulcted them to the limit of their ability, the Oxford community suffering especially. In 1130 the Jews of London were fined the enormous sum of £2000 on the pretext that one of their number had killed a sick man—a drastic expression, it would seem, of primitive ideas of medical responsibility. The prototype of the Blood Accusation at Norwich in 1144 was followed at Gloucester in 1168, before it had time to be imitated outside England, and, subsequently, at Bury St Edmunds in 1181. Nevertheless, the position of the English Jew was as yet on the whole enviable compared with that of his co-religionists in the adjacent parts of the Continent.
This comparative tranquillity came to an end with the rise in England of the full tide of the crusading enthusiasm. At the coronation of Richard I (1189), a riot began which ended in the sack of the London Jewry and the murder of many of its inhabitants, the work of violence being carried on overnight and into the next day by the light of the burning buildings. The example was followed throughout the country immediately the king had crossed the Channel; notably at York, where the steadfastness of the victims added a glorious page to the history of Jewish martyrdom (1190). The ringleaders were in many cases members of the lesser baronage, whose religious ardour was heightened if not occasioned by their financial indebtedness.
Such outbreaks were in every way against the interest of the government. Any breach of order was naturally distasteful to it; and immediate vassals had a special title to the royal protection. The rioters had moreover been careful to destroy wherever possible the records of their indebtedness, threatening thereby heavy loss to the Crown, to which the claims of those who had perished legally reverted. For their unruliness the ringleaders were punished, though none too severely. The financial question was, however, so important that it was deemed necessary to take steps against any possible recurrence. Accordingly, after his return from captivity (to his ransom from which the Jews of the realm had been made to contribute three times as much as the burghers of London), Richard ordered the establishment in the principal cities, under the charge of Jewish and Christian “chirographers,” of “archae” in which were to be deposited records of all debts contracted with Jews. Thus, whatever might happen, the Crown and its rights would henceforth be secure. As coordinating authority over these provincial centres, ultimately twenty-six in number, there came into being the “Exchequer of the Jews,” an institution mainly judicial, though not without its financial side. In close connexion with this was the office of Presbyter Judaeorum, or Chief Rabbi: not so much in the modern sense of the supreme spiritual head of the Jews of the country as of an official representative appointed by the Crown without any necessary regard for the individual qualifications or the general desire. Through their Exchequer, the Jews of medieval England acquired an organisation (by no means, indeed, to their advantage) equalled probably in no other country of Europe; and it is by its records that we are so minutely informed as to their position.
The English communities never fully recovered from the blow they had received at the accession of Richard I. John, indeed, whether from his perennial neediness or his natural sympathy for unpopular causes, conceded them in 1201 a comprehensive charter of liberties in return for a considerable subsidy. But later in his reign his attitude changed, and he began to squeeze money out of them by a series of expedients as typical of his short-sightedness as anything in his reign. During the minority of Henry III, the condition of the Jews improved; but, from the beginning of his personal rule, it became worse and worse. Tallage succeeded tallage with fatal regularity, allowing no time for recovery. The rapacity of the Crown overreached itself. If the figures given are correct, the annual revenue derived from the Jews went down from about £3000 in the second half of the twelfth century to less than £700 at the close of the thirteenth. So far did the spoliation go that in 1254 the Presbyter Elias appealed for permission for his people to leave the country, as they had no more left to give. When nothing further could be extorted from them directly, Henry exercised his right as suzerain by mortgaging them to his brother, Richard of Cornwall. They were subsequently made over to Prince Edward, and by him to their competitors, the Cahorsins. Religious intolerance meanwhile came to a head. The oppressive decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council were early enforced. The Blood Libel and similar accusations again blazed out, coining to a head with the classical case of Little Hugh of Lincoln in 1255. From several cities the Jews were entirely excluded. With the outbreak of the Barons’ War, there was a recrudescence of massacre all over the country.
In this condition the Jews were found by Edward I on his accession. It was a state of affairs which obviously could not be allowed to continue. They were so impoverished that their importance to the treasury, the needs of which were increasing, had become negligible. Moreover, the foreign bankers, who enjoyed a higher patronage, had begun to render the services for which they were formerly essential. It was necessary to make a fundamental alteration. Edward shewed in his treatment of the question many of his finest qualities. He was perhaps the first European statesman before Napoleon who tried to face the Jewish problem; and his Statutum de Iudaismo of 1275 is deserving of a good deal more notice than it has generally received. In the previous year, at the Council of Lyons, Pope Gregory X had urged the Christian world to make a strenuous effort to suppress usury. Edward obeyed implicitly, adding to his proceedings against Christian money-lenders an attempt to effect a complete change in the Jewish economic position and mode of life. The practice of usury was utterly forbidden, the consequent financial loss to the Crown being in part made good by the establishment of a poll-tax on every adult. On the other hand, the Jews were to be empowered to engage in commerce and handicrafts, and (for an experimental period) to rent farms on short leases. That there was no essential tenderness in the measure was proved by the strict enforcement simultaneously of all the ecclesiastical restrictions.
This was a courageous attempt to grapple with the Jewish problem; but it did not go far enough. Restrictions could be removed, yet prejudices on either side were more obstinate. The Jew might have been diverted from his enforced activities, but only by removing the causes which had driven him to them. He would perhaps have turned his attention to agriculture if he had been granted security of tenure, and if he had been admitted to it on terms of equality with other persons. He would assuredly have embraced commerce if he could have been included in the Gild Merchant. But to hope to change his manner of life while he remained subject to the same insecurity, to the same prejudices, and to the same differentiation of treatment as before was impossible: the habits of a lifetime and the hereditary influence of past generations could not be so easily cancelled. A Bull of Honorius IV of 1286 insisting upon a stricter segregation cut off the possibility of further concessions. As a result, Edward’s scheme failed utterly. A few of the wealthier, indeed, entered into commerce, particularly the export of wool. The money-lending now prohibited by law continued, however, to be carried on in a clandestine manner; while it appears that some, prevented from following their old profession, attempted to continue to eke a living out of their capital by clipping the coinage. For a moment, Edward contemplated, if he did not execute, a relaxation of his own measure, by permitting a resumption of usury for a limited period of years. On second thoughts, however, he preferred to sweep away the problem which he had failed to solve. Already the Jews had been expelled or excluded from a number of cities in the country. On more than one occasion, they had been temporarily banished from the narrow royal domains in France. The expulsion from England in 1290, however, was the first general measure of the sort which the Jews had known since their establishment in Europe. The exclusion was not, indeed, absolute, and individuals continued to appear in the country intermittently. The re-establishment of a settled community was, however, impossible until the seventeenth century.
Jews in France and Germany
Closest akin to the Jews of England in culture, in condition, and in history were those of France. Here, since the outbreaks which had accompanied the Second Crusade, they had lived a chequered existence. From the close of the twelfth century, the house of Capet developed an anti-Jewish attitude which was perhaps unparalleled in Europe as a dynastic policy. At the beginning, their sphere of influence was so limited that the effects were not much greater than the enmity of any major baron would have been; and the condition of the communities of Languedoc in particular remained very similar from every point of view to that of their more fortunate brethren in Spain. The history of the Jews in France is hence to be understood only in relation to the expansion of the royal authority, which spelled for them utter disaster. Philip Augustus set the example to his successors by driving the Jews from his possessions after cancelling the debts due to them, save for one-fifth payable to himself, and confiscating their property (1182). Sixteen years later, however, on his return from crusade, he invited them back and regularised their activities (1198). From this period dates the establishment of the Produit des Juifs as a department of the treasury, and the assimilation of the Jew’s to the position of serfs in both the royal and the baronial domains.
Louis VIII followed his father’s example, remitting all interest due on current loans in his Établissemenl sur les Juïfs (1223). With Louis IX, however, religious zeal reinforced ancestral prejudice. The prescriptions of the Fourth Lateran Council were rigorously enforced. A personal interest was taken in securing converts. It was under his auspices that the Disputation of Paris was held and the Talmud condemned to the flames. Not only the interest, but also a third part of the capital of all debts was remitted. Finally, before setting out for the East, he decreed the expulsion of the Jews from his realms (1249), though the order was not apparently carried out. Philip the Bold continued his father’s policy. But the sufferings of the Jews reached their culmination under Philip the Fair. From the moment of his accession, he shewed that he considered them merely as a source of gold. Spoliation succeeded spoliation, wholesale imprisonment being resorted to in order to prevent evasion. The climax came in 1306, when the policy of Edward I of England was imitated with the usual significant differences. On the anniversary, as it happened, of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, he had all the Jews of his realm arrested; and in prison, they were informed that they had been sentenced to exile and that the whole of their property was confiscated to the Crown. The real object of this measure, and the entire lack of religious motive, shewed itself in the fact that the king took over, not only their property, but also their usurious claims in full. By this time, the royal authority extended over the majority of France proper, including Champagne, where the schools of Rabbinic learning had especially flourished. This banishment spelled accordingly the end of the ancient and glorious traditions of French Jewry, except in part of Provence. The recall of some financiers for a few years from 1315, and on a somewhat larger scale after the financial crisis which followed the battle of Poitiers, from 1359 to 1394, cannot be counted a real restoration, and failed to revive to any appreciable extent the old tradition of Franco-Jewish culture.
From Germany, by reason of its special political conditions, there was no general expulsion. It figures instead as the classical land of Jewish martyrdom, where banishment was employed only locally and sporadically to complete the work of massacre. The example set in the First Crusade was followed with fatal regularity. When external occasion was wanting, the Blood Libel or a charge of the desecration of the Host was always to hand to serve as pretext. As long as the central authority retained any strength, the Jews enjoyed a certain degree of protection. On its decay, however, they were at the mercy of any wave of popular prejudice. Thus, in 1298, a charge of desecrating the Host at Rottingen proved the pretext for wholesale massacres throughout Franconia, Bavaria, and Austria by a band of fanatics led by one Rindfleisch. Forty years later, the example was imitated in Franconia, Swabia, and Alsace by a mob frankly calling themselves Jüdenschläger, led by two nobles, named Armleder, from a strip of leather which they wore round their arms (1336-88). But popular prejudice came to its height at the period of the Black Death. Some time before, the first resettlement of the Jews in France had ended after a wave of massacre which had swept through the country, in consequence of an accusation that the Jews and lepers had poisoned the wells at the instigation of the King of Granada (1321-22). Now, in the face of a great general scourge, a similar indictment was almost universally made and obtained general currency. The ridiculousness of the charge should have been apparent even to fourteenth-century credulity; for the plague raged virulently even in those places where the Christian population was absolutely unadulterated; and elsewhere the Jews suffered with the rest, though their manner of life and their superior medical knowledge may have reduced their mortality. Nevertheless, a wave of general and pitiless massacres, usually carried out under some semblance of judicial form, started in Savoy and spread through Switzerland until it had swept the whole of Germany (1348-49). Something like 350 places where massacres occurred at this time were remembered; 60 large and 150 small communities were utterly exterminated. This was the climax of disaster for the Jews of that country, just as the great expulsions had been for those of England and France. When the storm had died down, a large number of the cities thought better of the vows made in the heat of the moment and summoned Jews back again to supply their financial requirements. The period which followed was one of comparative quiescence, if only for lack of victims. King Wenceslas, however, initiated the short-sighted policy of periodical cancellation of the Jewish debts in return for some monetary consideration. It was impossible therefore for the remnant which returned to recover the position held by their predecessors; and the hegemony of German Jewry passed, with the refugees, to the East.
There followed a period when the Jews of Austria, who had received a model charter in 1244, enjoyed a certain degree of comparative prosperity and intellectual pre-eminence. The Hussite wars, however, reviving the worst passions of religious intolerance, brought in their train a further wave of massacre at the hands of the degenerate successors of the crusaders, which affected the eastern part of the country in particular. This interlude came to an end with the great expulsion following upon a trumped-up accusation of ritual murder and Host-desecration at Vienna in 1421.
In the bewildering turmoil of massacre and banishment which followed, down to the close of the Middle Ages and after, it is difficult to steer a clear path. Isolated handfuls continued to live here and there throughout the country. Larger aggregations were to be found in the semi-Slavonic territories on the eastern borders of the Empire. No important communities in Germany proper managed, however, to protract their existence unbroken down to modern times save those of Frankfort-on-Main and Worms.
For the refugees, only one way of escape really lay open. A small minority crossed the Alps into the cities of northern Italy, to which they were admitted under strict regulation. But the vast majority turned towards the East. The massacres in the Rhineland contributed to spread the area of settlement in the outlying provinces of the Empire. In Bohemia, the history of the Jews followed ominously upon that of their brethren in Germany, but there was never any general expulsion. In Hungary, conditions were much the same, though the massacres at the period of the First Crusade, which had decimated the community of Prague, were here checked; subsequently, however, the story was more chequered, and there was more than one temporary interruption. But the great haven of refuge was Poland. Here Jews had without doubt penetrated from the ancient settlements on either side of the Caucasus and in the Crimea, where they had been settled from Roman times; and it may well be that the Chazar converts of the eighth century contributed to their numbers. However that may be, the immigrants from the West were able to impose their superior culture upon their indigenous brethren, with the result that the vast majority of the Jews of Russia and Poland still speak today the Low German dialect which they brought with them. In the twelfth century, Jews were in control of the mints, as is proved by the existence of a large number of coins with Hebrew lettering.
The Tartar invasions which devastated the whole country, especially the towns, from 1241 onwards mark the starting-point of a more systematic immigration, in which Jewish and Gentile settlers from Germany were equally encouraged. The concessions to the former of Boleslav the Chaste (1264) formed the charter of the new settlement. The Christian newcomers, however, brought with them something of the persecuting spirit of their native country; this was reflected in the decrees of the provincial synod of Breslau, whereby an attempt was made to enforce the policy of the Lateran Councils (1266). Nevertheless, the new settlement grew apace, each fresh outbreak in Germany driving before it a new wave of refugees. Under the favour of Casimir the Great (1333-70), Jewish prosperity reached its climax. Thereafter, indeed, their tranquillity was not undisturbed. Accusations of ritual murder and of the desecration of the Host began to claim their victims. In the middle of the fifteenth century, the inflammatory sermons of Giovanni da Capistrano, personifying the anti-Hussite reaction, brought about a recrudescence of massacre here as in most other places on his road, from Sicily northwards. Nevertheless, the lot of the Jews of Poland was happy by comparison with those of the rest of Northern Europe. There was little restriction upon their economic activity. Their numbers grew rapidly; and scholarship followed as usual in the wake of population. In Lithuania, their history was very similar, though it dated from a somewhat later period. When, at the close of the Middle Ages, almost the whole of Northern Europe was closed to the Jews, they had thus seemed in this last corner a haven of refuge which ensured their preservation even if not an undisturbed tranquillity.
Jews in Christian Spain
In Spain, the Christian reconquest had originally involved obvious peril for the Jews. Closely assimilated to the Muslims as they were in language and mode of life, they were classed with them as infidels and enemies of Christendom. Accordingly, the early phases of the advance had been stained by massacre and maltreatment. As early as the tenth century, however, a change of attitude began to show itself. If the Christian hold upon the country was to be secure, it was obviously necessary to conciliate so important an element of the population. At the same time, by reason of their linguistic qualifications, it was found convenient to employ Jews on important diplomatic missions, while their inherent aptitude won them high office in the financial administration. Thus the golden age of Jewish life in Spain, while without doubt largely due throughout to the propinquity and example of the Moors, was by no means exclusively under their rule; and, indeed, over a prolonged period Christian tolerance compared most favourably with Almohadan fanaticism. It was under Christian rule, though to some extent under Muslim intellectual influence, that some of the greatest figures of Spanish Jewry flourished: Jehudah haLevi (c. 1086-1141), the sweetest singer of Zion; Abraham ibn Ezra (1092-1167), traveller, poet, and exegete, who shewed more than a glimmering of the principles of modern criticism; and many others of a later date. But as the Moorish rivalry progressively grew less dangerous, the Christian attitude towards the Jews correspondingly stiffened; till finally the disappearance of the last vestiges of Muslim rule was closely followed by the final disaster.
It was in the reign of Alfonso VI of Castile (1065-1109) that the acme of prosperity was reached. His armies contained large numbers of Jews, on whose behalf (it was reported) military operations were on one occasion postponed until the conclusion of the Sabbath. By his fueros, despite the admonitions of Gregory VII, they were left in possession of all the privileges they had enjoyed under the Mohammedans, and were placed in a position of legal equality with the gen er al population. His body-physician, the Jew Cidelo, enjoyed high influence at his court; and co-religionists were employed on delicate diplomatic missions. Even before Alfonso’s death, the inevitable reaction set in, accompanied as usual by massacres; and his successors considerably restricted the privileges which the Jews were theoretically allowed to enjoy. But in fact this period of special favour only came to an end with the final breaking of Muslim power at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212). The crusaders on their way thither had followed the example set in the Rhineland, beginning the Holy War with an attack on the Jews of Toledo. The repressive policy of the Lateran Councils now began to gain a foothold in the Peninsula. Even Alfonso the Learned (1252-84), though his court was one of the greatest centres of the Jewish activities in translation and in the sciences, subjected the Jews in his Siete Partidas to the most minute and galling restrictions. In spite of this, Spain remained the solitary haven of comparative tranquillity in the west of Europe. Though there were occasional local outbreaks, massacre did not become the rule. The restrictive enactments of the Church were reflected in legislation, but they were never fully enforced. Tax-farming was largely in Jewish hands. Through the medium principally of medicine or of finance, individuals attained great influence in the State. Yet at the same time the Jews were not divorced from agriculture, and continued to figure largely as merchants and as craftsmen. If they were restricted to their Aljama in a single quarter of the town, they enjoyed in it an unusual degree of autonomy. As a natural consequence, the standard of intellectual life was high; and science, philosophy, and letters continued to flourish by the side of Rabbinic studies.
From the fourteenth century, however, there were signs that the violence which had become rife in the rest of Europe was spreading to the peninsula. The Pastoureaux of southern France, beginning the redemption of the Holy Sepulchre amongst the restored communities of their own region, continued their ravages oil the south of the Pyrenees (1320). The massacres at the time of the Black Death extended into Catalonia, though with nothing like the virulence with which they raged in Germany (1348). The excessive favour of Peter the Cruel naturally led to a reaction under his rival, Henry of Trastamara, whose wild mercenaries sacked the Aljama of every city they entered (1355 onwards). But the crucial year was 1391, when political provocation was virtually absent. It is from this date that the glory of Spanish Jewry may be said to end. Following the inflammatory Easter sermons of the archdeacon Fernán Martínez, the wealthy Judería of Seville was attacked by a fanatical mob on Ash Wednesday 1391. Hence the movement spread like wild-fire through the country, from the Pyrenees to the Balearic Islands. Except in Granada and Portugal, hardly a single community was spared. The solitary way of escape from death lay through baptism. For the only time, perhaps, in the whole of their long history, the morale of the Jews broke. Elsewhere, it had only been a small and weak remnant which saved its life by apostasy. But in Spain, there seems to have been something in the atmosphere which predisposed their brethren to a lesser fortitude. As we have seen, there was a tradition of crypto-Judaism dating back to Visigothic times. The long association with the country may have weakened their power of resistance. The calamities in the neighbouring lands had deprived them of any haven of refuge, and perhaps made them doubt after so many centuries of their future. However that may be, a very large proportion of the Jews, when offered the alternative of baptism or death, chose the former.
When the storm died down—only to break out again with similar results a couple of decades later (1411) under the influence of Fra Vincent Ferrer—Spanish Jewry found itself in an entirely new position. By the side of those who had managed to escape massacre while remaining true to their old faith, there was now an immense number of nuevos Cristianos. Some indeed were sincere enough, and, like Paul de Santa María, later Archbishop of Burgos, took the lead in baiting their former co-religionists. But the vast majority remained unaffected by the mere fact of baptism, though they feared to return formally to their old faith. Whatever characteristics had earned their previous unpopularity remained unchanged. With the removal of the disabilities from which they had formerly suffered by reason of their religion, they entered into every walk of life and pushed their way into the highest offices of State. They thronged the financial administration. Some entered the Church, and attained high rank. Many contracted family alliances with the proudest nobility of the land. But the majority intermarried amongst themselves, consorted familiarly with Jews, observed almost without concealment the practices of their old religion, and spoke with open disparagement of their new one. Moreover, and this was the distinguishing characteristic of Iberian crypto-Judaism, they were able to transmit their traditions to their children, who were in most cases Christians only by the accident of baptism.
These Marranos, as they were disparagingly called, became a real problem for a State in which religion was taken so seriously as in medieval Spain, as was shown by a frequent recrudescence of massacre. The passage of yearn proved that the problem was not likely to be solved by time. In an age which could not admit the idea of release from the sacrament of baptism, there was only one solution. The genuine piety of Isabella the Catholic rendered her a willing tool in the hands of her spiritual advisers. A Bull authorising the appointment of Inquisitors in the Spanish dominions was obtained from Sixtus IV in 1478. The Holy Office was set up in Castile in 1480, and in Aragon four years later; and it began to extirpate the canker of heresy with all the horrors of which it was capable. But the position was hopelessly illogical. A converso, Christian only in name, would be burned alive for practising in secret only a fraction of what his unconverted brethren were doing every day in public with impunity. It seemed impossible to root out this Judaising heresy from the land while the Jews were still present to teach their relapsed kinsmen, by precept and by example, the practices of their old faith. Moreover, the tide of nationalism as well as of fanaticism was rising in Spain, and the time was ripe for her to follow the example of the neighbouring countries. The conquest of Granada, to which the Jews had liberally contributed, did away with all further need for their support. Seven months after that event, Ferdinand and Isabella issued the edict of expulsion which put an end to the settlement of the Jews in Spain after so many centuries (31 March 1492). In this were included the more distant possessions of the crown of Aragon—Sicily and Sardinia—in spite of the fact that in them the problem of the crypto-Jew was absent. In vain were the prayers and inducements of Isaac Abrabanel (1437—1508), the last of the long line of Jewish scholar-statesmen in the Peninsula. The edict was imitated in Portugal (1496) and in Navarre (1498) after a very brief interval. Almost simultaneously, the last remnant of the ancient French communities was banished from Provence.
Thus ended, with the Middle Ages themselves, the immemorial Jewish connexion with South-Western Europe. The easterly movement of population, which had begun with the First Crusade, was complete. The Marranos, indeed, continued a surreptitious existence in the Peninsula, handing on their traditions secretly from generation to generation at the risk of their lives. It was their descendants, fleeing from the fires of the Inquisition, who founded the modern communities in France, Holland, England, and even America. Their forcible assimilation to European standards brought about the inception of the modem, individualistic attitude towards their race, hitherto considered and treated as a distinct and inferior branch of humanity.
The whole of the west of Europe was now closed to the Jew, except for northern Italy and a few regions of Germany. Of the refugees, a vast majority made their way with indescribable difficulty to the Muslim countries of the Mediterranean littoral, where they found at least toleration. With them, they brought their native Spanish tongue, which is spoken by their descendants to the present day. Many fled to the ancient settlements of Morocco and northern Africa, which had gone through a prolonged period of decadence, but had been recruited and awakened to a new, if degraded, life by the Spanish fugitives of 1391. In Palestine itself, the exiles re-established the ancient connexion, which had been almost extinct since the period of the Crusades and the Tartar invasions. But by far the greatest number made their way to the central provinces of the Turkish Empire, with the sedulous encouragement of Bayazid II. Here, their superior culture and numbers soon assimilated the remnants of the old Byzantine communities, which had managed to protract a decadent and uninspired existence from ancient times. Thus Turkey became, with Poland, the greatest centre of population for the whole Jewish people, which was now overwhelmingly concentrated in the two great empires of the Near East. The Western European phase of Jewish history, which had begun with the Middle Ages, ended with them. The stage was set for a new act of the age-long drama to be played.