Table of contents:

Jews and Christians: A History of Relationships
Jews and Christians: A History of Relationships

Video: Jews and Christians: A History of Relationships

Video: Jews and Christians: A History of Relationships
Video: America's Book Of Secrets: The Rise and Fall of Freemasons in the U.S. (Season 4) | History 2023, December

Medieval Jewish communities were in dire need of the patronage of the city authorities, and the city was no less in need of the services of the Jews.

Ritual killings, infecting wells, desecrating liturgical bread - these and other, much more incredible crimes were attributed by popular rumor to Jews in the 13-14th centuries. The church, unable to explain the wars and epidemics that befell Europe, fueled such rumors.

Christian artisans and traders saw Jews as rivals, and city officials as scapegoats. The life of the Jews in the Christian city was unbearable.

The image of a Jew on the bas-relief of the Munster Cathedral
The image of a Jew on the bas-relief of the Munster Cathedral

However, this was not always the case.

In 1084, the bishop of the German city of Speyer invited the Jews to the city, allocated them a separate quarter, "so that they would not be so defenseless against the riot of a rough crowd," as well as a place for a cemetery.

Until the First Crusade, powerful Christian rulers brought Jews closer to their courts to solve difficult economic problems, and also used them as doctors and translators. Jewish scholars could be found at the court of Frederick II and Karl of Anjou, and Dante Alighieri was friends with the Jewish thinker and poet Immanuel Ben Salomo.

Jews, unlike Muslims, were not considered pagans, and the people, for the most part, treated them favorably. But it was not so easy to get rid of the stigma of outsiders.

Doctors and traders

Jews from the Old Testament are farmers and pastoralists. Jews from the mass medieval consciousness are usurers and merchants. Such a contradiction arose because of the way of life that the Jews were forced to lead in Europe. The danger of persecution, the impossibility of becoming full-fledged participants in feudal relations, the scattering of communities around the world predetermined the main occupations of the Jews.

The Christians themselves did not like to trade. Before the appearance in the 13th century of the idea of purgatory - a place where souls are cleansed from sins after death - clergymen painted in the minds of believers an image of a merchant's soul tortured by wanderings, a heavy purse around its neck pulling it into hellish heat. The Jews did not have such fears. However, as soon as the opportunity arose, they tried to return to their more familiar agricultural work.

The Jews were less willing to work in the craft. But if they had to, then here too they managed to achieve mastery. For example, in the 10th century, when the commercial republics began to grow in Italy, Jews were pushed out of their familiar niche, but quickly adapted and became first-class tanners, jewelers and tailors.

Deep medical knowledge and ability to speak languages made Jews excellent doctors. Their services were used by all segments of the population: from the poor to kings and popes. Saint Louis himself was treated by a Jewish doctor.

Jews in a Christian city

The wise bishop of Speyer was not the only one who saw the guarantee of economic prosperity in the Jewish community. The rulers of Christian cities not only invited, but also endowed the Jewish population with special privileges.

So, in France and Germany, up to the 13th century, Jews could carry weapons with them, and the Jewish community of Cologne had the right to expel any fellow tribesman who was guilty before it from the city with its own hand.

Jewish pogrom of 1349 in Flanders
Jewish pogrom of 1349 in Flanders

Such communities lived separately, often separated from the rest of the city by stone walls, and the gates were locked at night. However, these fortified quarters had nothing to do with the ghetto. The walls were a privilege, and life on the block was completely voluntary.

The Jews had reason to fear. Riots on religious grounds happened quite often, and the authorities decided only on protective measures. Among these is the ban on leaving the quarter during Easter. It was on this holiday that the most cruel pogroms and bloody clashes took place. In some cities, Easter violence became a local custom, for example, it was supposed to burn a stuffed Jew for Easter or throw stones at the windows of their houses. And in Toulouse, until the 12th century, the count annually gave a ritual slap in the face to the head of the Jewish community.

The oldest Jewish quarters were located in the city center, often near the market. Trade was in full swing in them, and the expression "Jewish street" almost always meant "shopping street." At times the townspeople complained that most of the goods they could buy only in the Jewish quarter, and demanded to move the trade outside of it. But more often than not, this state of affairs was accepted as usual.

The structure of the Jewish quarter

In the large medieval Jewish quarter, in addition to residential buildings, there were all the indispensable components of a full-fledged city. Each such "city" included a center of spiritual and secular power - a synagogue, a midrash - a place where Torah is studied, a community house, a cemetery, a bathhouse and a hotel.

The quarter often had its own bakery for making traditional pastries. And in the dance house, weddings and other festive events were held.

Revelation at Sinai
Revelation at Sinai

The city authorities tried not to interfere in the life of the community. The quarter had its own laws and its own court in the synagogue. There was also a Christian who wanted to sue a Jew. Only in exceptional cases, when the communal authorities could not resolve the conflict, they turned to the city authorities for help.

Most Jews in Germany had their own homes and even gardens. Some lived quite luxuriously.

For their privileges, the Jews were forced to pay an increased tax, but neither he nor the high stone walls could protect the Jews when the Black Death came in the 14th century.

The emergence of the ghetto

The enemy of the community was not disease at all, but the religious intolerance that gripped Christians in the face of the plague. Once again, as during the first crusades, a wave of brutal pogroms swept across Europe.

In many large cities, laws have been passed to prevent Jews. In the same places where Jewish communities survived, as, for example, in Rome, the Jews were forced to wear special insignia on their clothes and were finally isolated. This is how the ghettos arose, although the word itself would come into circulation only a century later - by the name of the Venetian Jewish quarter.

Reconstruction of the medieval synagogue in Cologne
Reconstruction of the medieval synagogue in Cologne

Now Jews could not live outside their stone walls. Even those who had long ago moved away from the community ended up in the ghetto. The number of restrictions grew: Jews were forbidden to engage in certain activities, to own land. Overcrowding and poverty turned the formerly well-groomed Jewish neighborhoods into slums.

The number of cities that did not want to provide refuge to Jews grew. So, from Western Europe, the Jews moved to Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, but this, as it turned out, was only a temporary measure.