These pages are adapted by the kind permission of Dr. Gustavo Perednik. They are based on a twelve-lecture Internet course prepared for “The Jewish University in Cyberspace.” During 2000 and 2001, the book by Gustavo Perednik “Judeophobia” was published in Spanish.
This course summarizes the core ideas of the book. It presents a comprehensive and unique analysis of the development of Jew hate (Judeophobia or anti-Semitism) throughout history. It tries to answer the question “why the Jews?” - why have Jews been particularly singled out for ethnic, racial and religious persecution, and it traces the relationship between anti-Zionism and racist Judeophobia or so-called ‘anti-Semitism.’
I’m very grateful to Dr. Perednik for his permission (2/28/06) to popularize his works.
Aryeh ben Abraham
Chapter 1 - First Part:
WHAT IS IN A WORD? - Judeophobia or Anti-Semitism
You may be wondering why we choose the word “Judeophobia” as the title of our course, as opposed to the well known word anti-Semitism. I think you will see that the quest for the most fitting word will teach us a lot about the phenomenon it describes.
The word anti-Semitism was coined by Wilhelm Marr in Hamburg in 1879. Before that, hatred of Jews was simply called Jew-hatred. Marr had written a pamphlet called The Victory of Judaism over Germandom, Considered from a Non-Religious Point of View. Marr’s aim was to disassociate his hatred from any religious stance, which had long been utilized by Christian Judeophobes.
Marr’s book rapidly numbered many editions. The religious component had been replaced by racism, and the words Jews and Judaism by “Semite” and “Semitism.” Marr introduced the word “anti-Semite” into the political lexicon by founding the League of Anti-Semites (Antisemiten-Liga) .
The problem is that the word is flawed, even misleading. Firstly, Semites do not exist -nor did they exist during Marr’s times. The word “ Semite” may be useful in either anthropological or paleographical studies. There are Semitic languages, but to imply that today there is a racial group called Semites that would comprise, let’s say, Jews and Arabs, is simply absurd. You cannot argue that a Jew from Holland, one from Ethiopia and one from Yemen, for instance, belong to the same “race.”
The second reason to reject the word “anti-Semitism” is even stronger. Semites do not exist today, but anti-Semites never existed! There was never a person, political party, publication or group that wanted to combat Semites. Of course, many were against Jews. This is the subject of our course. But it is misleading to call anyone who hates Jews an anti-Semite. There are even people who hide their hatred by semantic fuzziness. I remember the ambassador of an Arab country once answering an accusation by stating: “How could I be an anti-Semite if I am myself a Semite!”
For the two above reasons, many thinkers, such as Emil Fackenheim of the Hebrew University, proposed replacing “anti-Semitism” by… “antisemitism”! There is indeed some progress in the new spelling: By dropping the hyphen, we imply that “antisemitism” is a noun which describes a specific phenomenon rather than one ideology which stands opposed to another ideology. We’ve gained accuracy. But this change is still inadequate; there is another reason to prefer “Judeophobia” over “antisemitism,” with or without a hyphen -an historical reason.
Three years before Marr the Judeophobe coined his jargon, one of the first ideologues of modern Zionism, Leon Pinsker, used the word Judeophobia in his booklet “Auto-Emancipation” (1882), in which he pointed out the inadequacy of the Emancipation granted to the Jew by modern states, and advocated that Jews take their history into their own hands. How unfortunate that the word created by the Jew-hater became so popular, and yet the word coined by a Jewish scholar was dismissed, although it was absolutely fitting as we shall see.
If you are still not convinced, let me show you that “Judeophobia” has a further twofold advantage over “anti-Semitism.” Firstly, it makes manifest that the Jews are targeted for hatred and not anyone else. Secondly, while the prefix “anti” and the suffix “ism” suggest that their bearer opposes an ideology, the suffix “phobia” implies that we are talking about an irrational phenomenon, and not about an idea or opinion. As Jean Paul Sartre suggests in his book on Judeophobia, let us not allow the Judeophobes to dress their hatred up as ideology.
If before W.W.II you defined yourself as an anti-Semite , even those who repudiated or feared you would dare rebuke you only on these terms: “I disagree with you, but I respect your opinion.” Judeophobia was presented as a rational ideology which could be disagreed with, but was nevertheless regarded as an acceptable tenet. In contrast, after the Holocaust most Judeophobes would not define themselves openly as anti-Semites (semantic progress?) People increasingly realized that we are dealing with social hatred and not with ideas and therefore “anti” and “ism” are inappropriate in its definition.
I hear your objection- you claim that “phobia” is the Greek for fear, and not for hatred. In psychology, we name different fears by that suffix: ailurophobia (fear of cats), claustrophobia (fear of enclosed places), nyctophobia (fear of night ) , and many others. But in the Social Sciences, the suffix “phobia” means hatred rather than fear, as in “xenophobia,” hatred of foreigners.
Let us make it clear that Judeophobia is not of the genre of xenophobia. It is something very different and unique, and therefore it deserves separate study as in this course. I’m glad you joined us. I would like to explain this uniqueness next.
THE UNIQUENESS OF JUDEOPHOBIA
(so called “Anti-Semtism”)
There are at least seven characteristics that make Judeophobia (anti-Semitism) very different from racism, xenophobia, or any other hatred against groups.
1) It is the oldest hatred. Professor Robert Wistrich of the Hebrew University was right in calling his last book on the subject “The Longest Hatred.” There is no other hatred in the history of mankind that you can trace back to the last two or three millennia. We will deal with precisely when Judeophobia started, in the second part of this class. But we shall see that it is at least two thousand years old.
2) Judeophobia is strikingly universal. It has existed in almost every country on earth, regardless of whether it had Jewish inhabitants or how many they numbered. Jews were expelled from almost every European and African country in which they lived, and in most countries of the world in which there was a Jewish community, Jews were at some point harassed or attacked for being Jews. The only exception usually mentioned is China, while even in today’s Japan Judeophobia is rampant, despite its tiny Jewish community.
3) Judeophobia is permanent. Jews were despised and hated , years, decades, and even centuries after they left the country in which they lived. Take England for example. The Jews were expelled from there in 1290 by king Edward II , and after no less than three Jewless centuries had passed, Shakespeare created his stereotypical Shylock, the Jew in “The Merchant of Venice,” a character that was mocked and despised by theatre-going mobs who had never met a real Jew in their lives -nor had their grandparents or ancestors during three hundred years.
Take another example. In 1968 the Polish government launched a campaign against “Polish Zionists” on radio and TV. Twenty years after three million Polish Jews had been murdered by the Nazis, Poles could still feel hatred for a tiny group of old people who constituted no more than 0.1 % of their population.
In seventeenth century Spain, one of the most celebrated Spanish writers of all ages , Francisco de Quevedo attacked his literary rival with allusions to his “Jewish” nose and threatened to anoint his own poems with bacon in order to deter Jews from stealing them… although Jews had been expelled from his country more than one century before.
4) Judeophobia is deeper. As a result of the above points, negative mental stereotypes of the Jew are profoundly embedded. If you consider how, over many centuries, millions of people believed either that the Jews transmitted leprosy, or poisoned wells to kill Christians, or used human blood for their rituals, or killed God, or have a world conspiracy, or constitute a promiscuous race, or are demoniac creatures, or, or, or. No wonder Judeophobes do not have to invest much effort to rationalize, since each has his own mental associations detrimental to Jews. Remember the story told about Goebbels’s ministry of propaganda in Nazi Germany. A sign showed a man riding his bike above the following inscription: “The misery of Germany is due to Jews and cyclists.” The readers wondered… why cyclists? And the depth and breadth of Judeophobia was made apparent.
5) Judeophobia is obsessive. For the Judeophobe, Jews are not an enemy. They are the enemy. He does not speak of Jews; he speaks of the Jews. When Adolf Hitler gave his farewell speech to the German nation from his Berlin bunker where he committed suicide on April 30, 1945, what type of message did he convey? He did not remind his listeners of the glories of Germany, nor did he mention any regrets regarding the bloodiest of wars that he brought upon Europe -he stressed that the Jews had not been totally defeated and therefore implored that the Germans continue the struggle against their “eternal enemy.’’ Although Hitler is Judeophobia in its most extreme expression, Judeophobes share that obsession about the allegedly all-inclusive villainy of the Jews.
6) Judeophobia is more dangerous. With appalling ease this particular hatred transforms into physical violence. In most countries in which they lived, at some point in history, Jews were killed for being Jews. That is why any Judeophobic expression is potentially more dangerous than hostility towards other groups. It quickly slides into abuse and murder. Take the example of humor as an aggressive outlet against minorities. In almost every country there are jokes about another group which is depicted as dumb. In England these are Irish jokes, in America Polish jokes, in Sweden Norwegian jokes, in Brazil Portuguese jokes, and so on. Jewish jokes can be as inoffensive as the others, and no one should be particularly concerned about them. But on the other hand, had it been possible to suppress Jewish jokes in Europe during a century or two before the Holocaust, the virulence of Judeophobia may have been diminished and the Nazis may have found less support for their genocide. After all, Judeophobia is transmitted in gestures, jokes and generalizations rather than in lectures. Jokes and gestures can be fatal.
7) Judeophobia is chimerical (based on fantasy). This could very well be the main point. Hatred against any minority group usually develops out of a misinterpretation of reality. If a Frenchman hates an Algerian because he pollutes French culture, or if a German hates a Turk because he is taking away his job, in both cases there is a misinterpretation of reality. There may indeed be unemployment in Germany, but it is not true that the Turks are to blame. The case of Judeophobia is different, because there is no such misinterpretation, but sheer fantasy. Jews can be hated for having eaten non-Jews in the past, or for dominating the world in the present; for having killed God or for being the source of war, slavery or evil, or for fabricating the Holocaust. How can you contend with these kinds of arguments?
Even if you find types of hatred that share one or two of these characteristics, you will not find one that has these seven characteristics together. Judeophobia is unique and as such it should be studied and confronted.
We have explained why this is an object deserving of study, and how it should be named. Now let us discuss when it started.
THEORIES ON THE BEGINNINGS OF JUDEOPHOBIA
We can postulate six theories about the beginnings of Judeophobia. Namely:
1) It started with the Jews, with the first Hebrews about four millennia ago.
2) It started with the Egyptian bondage, about three millennia ago.
3) It started with the Return to Zion, about two and a half millennia ago.
4) It started with Alexandrian Hellenism, about twenty-three centuries ago.
5) It started with Christianity, about two millennia ago.
6) It started with the reaction to Emancipation, about one century ago.
Our next step will be to refute 1), 2), 3) and 6) , and concentrate on 4) and 5) as the most plausible theories.
To say that Judeophobia started with Abraham is incorrect both historically and theoretically. Historically, because it is not true that Jews have suffered from persecutions for so long. There are several biblical verses that show a tinge of Judeophobia, but as with the Bible as a whole, it can provide us more with archetypes to facilitate understanding, than with historic data. For example Abimelech, the king of Gerar in the Negev, said unto Isaac “Go away from us; for thou art much mightier than we” (Genesis 26:16). This statement could be considered either as the first case of Judeophobia and thus traced to patriarchal times, or, more validly, as an archetype of Judeophobic arguments, especially since the Hebrew original could be rendered into English “Go away from us, for thou becameth powerful at our expense.”
To say that Judeophobia was the main motivation of the Egyptian Pharaoh, is also to take the Bible too literally. It is true that the Egyptian ruler states a second argument used frequently by Judeophobes, that Jews are a fifth-column in the countries where they reside. Thus says Pharaoh: “Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come on, let us deal wisely with them lest they multiply and that when there falleth out any war, they join unto our enemies and fight against us” (Exodus 1:9-10).
But on the other hand, it would be more acceptable historically not to attribute to the Egyptians any specific hatred against the Jews, rather a xenophobic attempt to enslave a whole people, a common practice in ancient times.
Having discarded hypotheses 1) and 2), let us explain number 3), namely that Judeophobia started during the Return to Zion. Here we have the most known Biblical archetype of Judeophobia, Haman. Indeed, many consider Judeophobia to have originated in the fifth century b.c.e. , during which king Xerxes I of Persia lived. Xerxes is thought to be the King Ahasuerus whose vizier Haman planned a genocide against the Jews, as reported in the book of Esther. Again, historical veracity of Haman’s story is not certain but his words became a chorus for Judeophobes of all times: “There is a certain people scattered through all the provinces… and their laws are diverse from all people, neither keep the king’s laws… Let it be written that they may be destroyed” (Esther 3:8).
Nonetheless, two events during this fifth century b.c.e. do seem to point the genesis of Judeophobia. One in the land of Israel (the attack against the rebuilders of Jerusalem) and one in the Diaspora (the destruction of the Temple of Elephantine in Egypt).
When Nehemiah led the Return to Zion from Babylon in the year 445 b.c.e., his attempt to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem met with the opposition of Sanballat I , called “an enemy” (Nehemiah 6:1,16).
At that time there was a Jewish community in Elephantine, a small island on the Egyptian Nile, where the Jews had erected a temple around 590 b.c.e. This temple was destroyed in 411 b.c.e. by the priests of Khnub with the help of the Persian commander Waidrang. But it was more a fanatic act done by Egyptians who resented Persian domination, than a Judeophobic outburst.
We can conclude that the Sanballat and Waidrang episodes were isolated and left no Judeophobic trace in history. Both attacks were the results of national tension between two groups, with no clear signs of particular Jew-hatred. Judeophobia had yet to be born.
This bring us to the three remaining theses, that is, 4), 5) and 6). The last one is put forward by Hannah Arendt in her book “The Origins of Totalitarianism” in which she claims that “anti-Semitism is a nineteenth century secular ideology,” “evidently” different from the religious hatred towards the Jews. This conclusion is simplistic. Of course Judeophobic political parties rose in Germany in the 1880’s, and that was the first time a regime used Judeophobia as a calculated means to gain power. However, the question is not when Judeophobia was first used as a political tool, but rather how did it first come into being so that it could be harnessed for political use. True, the nineteenth century brings a new form of Judeophobia, but the phenomenon is unique precisely in its adaptability to different historical contexts. This characteristic shows both its permanence and its singularity.
We thus remain with the two acceptable theses 4) and 5). Judeophobia’s roots are either in Hellenism or in Christianity. In the next two chapters we shall explain the rationale of each .
This concludes Chapter One.
Next Chapter, number Two: “Pagan Judeophobia - Jew Hate (anti-Semitism) in the Ancient World“.
Chapter 2 - First Part
Judeophobia (’anti-Semitism’,Jew Hate) in the Pagan Ancient World - Alexandria and Rome
In the previous chapter you read why Judeophobia is unique. It is important to bear this singularity in mind in order to avoid a feeling students frequently express, who suggest that by stressing Judeophobic danger we are overlooking discrimination and persecution against other groups.
I think they miss the point. We should naturally repudiate every kind of group hatred, racism and persecution, but Judeophobia is and remains the longest hatred, the most permanent, deep, obsessive, universal, dangerous, chimerical hatred on earth. If we dilute it into a sea of discriminations and hatreds we will understand less.
Our second point was the genesis of Judeophobia. After presenting (and refuting) five hypotheses, the two remaining ones demand explanation.
One, that Jew-hatred was born within Hellenism, is held among others by a contemporary historian of Judeophobia, the American priest Edward Flannery, whose book “The Anguish of the Jews -Twenty -Three Centuries of Anti-Semitism,” gives us his answer in its subtitle.
In his attempt to single out the first historically documented hostility against the Jews, Flannery traces Judeophobia back to Alexandria in the third century b.c.e. Let me acquaint you with that famous town.
ALEXANDRIA AS THE CRADLE OF JUDEOPHOBIA
Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great, a disciple of Aristotle who was to be the most renowned conqueror of all times. Apparently Alexander was well disposed towards the Jews. He allowed them to build a Jewish area in the town, where they were active in commerce and became very prosperous. Alexandria became the commercial and intellectual capital of the ancient world. At the beginning of the common era, Jews occupied two-fifths of the city and already numbered 100,000.
Egypt was both the heart of the Jewish Diaspora, and the most advanced centre of Hellenization outside Greece itself. And it was not an exception to the rule that, in general, the pagan world was very tolerant towards religious diversity. After all, if each family worshipped several gods, what harm could be attributed to further deities others choose to worship. That atmosphere allowed the Jews to freely practice monotheism. Indeed there were many prominent figures who thought highly of the Jews as a group. Three examples are Clearchus, Theophrastrus and Megasthenes, at the beginning of the third century b.c.e. The first two were disciples of Aristotle. Clearchus of Soli describes in his dialogue “On Sleep” the meeting between his teacher and a Jew. Theophrastrus of Eresos describes the Jews as “philosophers by race,” a characterization that was not uncommon among those writers, for whom the Jews were philosophers dwelling among the Syrians. When Megasthenes went to India as ambassador of Seleucus Nicator, he wrote a work in which he idealized the Indians and included the Jews in his idealized descriptions.
However the mainstream of Alexandrian historians (Egyptians who wrote in Greek) were notorious for their Judeophobia. One reason for this animosity was that many native Egyptians, unhappy with Greek and Roman domination, did not approve of the tolerance under which the Jews flourished. This social envy was the context of the very first Judeophobic writings, all of them by Hellenistic writers in Alexandria and its environs.
The first one mentioned by Flannery is Hecataeus of Abdera (fourth century b.c.e.). He was the first pagan who wrote extensively on the history of the Jews, albeit in a legendary fashion: “When a plague occurred, the Egyptians expelled them… The majority fled to uninhabited Judea… Their leader, Moses, founded Hierosolyma and its Temple, establishing a cult and a constitution which differed completely from any other… groups of men, to whom the Jews adopted a hostile attitude.” On the whole Hecataeus’ account is sympathetic to the Jews (four centuries after him Phylo of Byblos even wondered whether Hecataeus had become a Jewish convert).
Nevertheless he is to be blamed for the first myth related to Jewish history, in what was to become an extensive and murderous mythology. The Jews “had been expelled,” and “in remembrance of the exile of his people, Moses instituted for them a misanthropic and inhospitable way of life.” All the following Alexandrian writers picked up on this humiliating origin. The only exceptions were Timagenes and Appian, about the only Alexandrian Greek historians not to show animosity towards the Jews. And Alexandrian historians were many in number and prolific in their writings.
The first Egyptian to give an account of the history of his country in Greek was the priest Manetho during the third century b.c.e. He tells that “King Amenophis son of Paapis decided to purge the country of lepers and other polluted persons. He collected 80,000 people and sent them to work in the quarries east of the Nile… They appointed as their leader Osarsiph (who) decreed that his people neither worship the gods nor abstain from the flesh of animals reverenced by the Egyptians… he sent representatives to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who had been expelled from Egypt. The people of Osarsiph (who Manetho identifies with Moses) defeated the Egyptians in a concerted effort.” Although he never explicitly mentions the Jews, Manetho does speak of “a nation of alien conquerors who set fire to Egyptian towns, razed the temples of the gods, and treated the natives with cruelty. After their expulsion from Egypt… they crossed the desert on their way to Syria, and in the country called Judea built a town, which they named Jerusalem.”
Manetho’s contribution was the seriousness he added to what had previously been unsubstantiated tales, in his capacity as the official historian. From this point, the themes of leprous origins and misanthropy were rarely absent from the litanies of pagan Judeophobia. Lysimachus would say that “the Jews, sick of leprosy took refuge in the temples, until king Bocheris drowned many of the lepers and sent another one hundred thousand of them to die in the desert. Moses exhorted them to show kindliness to no one, to follow only the worst advice, and overthrow all the sanctuaries and altars of the gods they might come upon. They arrived in Judea and they built a town called Hierosyla (“town of temple …”).
Once the story of the Exodus was rewritten, myths were added in order to explain why they were expelled. Poseidonius tells that Jews were “impious people, hated by gods” and refers sardonically to the Jewish abhorrence of pork. During the second century b.c.e. Mnaseas of Pathros raises for the first time the charge that the Jews adore the golden head of an ass. And Philostratus summarizes these pagans’ belief: “For the Jews have long been in revolt against humanity… they have made their life apart and irreconcilable, and cannot share with the rest of mankind the pleasures of the table nor join in their libations or prayers or sacrifices… they are separated from ourselves by a greater gulf than divides us from the most distant Indies.”
To those two main accusations (that Jews were lepers and that their religion was misanthropic) a third one was added by Agatharchides of Cnidus, who mocked “the ridiculous practices of the Jews, the absurdity of their law, in particular what concerned the Sabbath.” The Sabbath was a focus of scorn because it revealed a people of laziness, who needed to rest one seventh of their lives.
During the first century b.c.e. Apollonius Molon (famous rhetorician, teacher of Cicero and Caesar) was the first to compose an entire work against the Jews in which he calls the Jews “the worst among the barbarians, lacking any creative talent, they did nothing for the good of mankind, they do not believe in any god… Moses was an impostor.”
But the worst pagan myth was still to appear in the first century b.c.e. through Damocritus’s pen. In “On the Jews” he claims that “every seven years they capture a stranger, lead him to their Temple, and immolate him cutting his flesh into small pieces.” His slander constitutes a remote source of the blood libel, about which we shall talk in the next two classes.
The peak of Alexandrian Judeophobia was achieved by Apion, whom Flannery calls “the first of the titans in the history of antisemitism.” Apion repeated in his “History of Egypt” every single myth held till then, and filled them with bitter consistency. The Sabbath originated because of a pelvic ailment incurred as Jews fled Egypt, which forced them to rest once a week. The Jews would kidnap a Greek, fatten him, convey him to a wood, slay him, sacrifice his body and swear an oath of hostility against the Greeks. And all this they did once a year (there was inflation in the legends of these “historians.”)
Two great Jews confronted this Judeophobe. The historian Flavius Josephus who called one of his books “Against Apion,” and the philosopher Philo of Alexandria who led a delegation to Rome to plead the Jewish cause before Caligula in the wake of Judeophobic riots in Alexandria under Flaccus in the year 38 c.e. (A.D) (Apion represented the attacking mobs).
Chapter 2 - Second Part
Greek Judeophobia was inherited by Rome. In the beginning of the common era, the Greek historian and geographer Strabo claimed that “the Jews had already gotten into all cities, and it is hard to find a place in the habitable earth that hath not admitted this tribe of men, and is not possessed by them.”
This overperception of the Jews often accompanies Judeophobia. In any case, whether it created hostility or not, overperception of Jews is the rule. It is well exemplified in a letter sent by Mark Twain (not at all a Judeophobe) to the editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica: “I read that the Jewish population of the U.S. was 250,000. I was personally acquainted with more Jews than that in my country. (The) figures were without a doubt a misprint for 25,000,000.”
In every country in which they live, Jews are at most 1% of the population (the only two exceptions are the US, where they are more than 2%, and Israel, where they constitute almost 90%). But in every single country they are usually perceived as five or ten times that proportion. The reasons for this overperception are that Jews are extremely urban (90% of them are concentrated in each country’s two major towns), they are very active in central activities (economy, arts, science) and Jewish history is the sacred history of most of the world (most people learn about the Jews at some stage during their education, so that the Jews are present in people’s minds long before they are personally acquainted).
But besides this overperception, the question remains why these Alexandrians initially attacked the Jews. We mentioned the prosperity of the Jews that created envy. Moreover, there was another reason for the first expressions of Judeophobia, namely that the centrality of the Exodus in the Jewish religion offended Egyptian national feelings. The biblical account challenged the Egyptians to provide a suitable answer, and that is why Judeophobic feelings existed in Egypt even before its conquest by Alexander the Great.
The Romans absorbed the Greek prejudices against the Jews (shameful origin, isolationism, ridiculous practices) and those prejudices were a mainstay of the intelligentsia. The Jewish community in Rome was second only to Alexandria. Already in 59 b.c.e. Cicero in his plea “Pro Flacco” mentions “how numerous they are, their clannishness, their influence in the assemblies.” As in Alexandria, privileges given by the Roman emperors to the Jews earned the hatred of envious neighbors. Those privileges were necessary for practicing their way of life since Romans were generally tolerant of other religions but uncompromising with whatever threatened to undermine their own cult. And their rituals were so woven into daily life that Jewish abhorrence of any type of image worship was a source of tension. However, the policy of the empire was never consistently Judeophobic. Some emperors were hostile to the Jews and some were not . Even the war against Judea did not modify that ambivalence.
But men of letters tended to incline the equilibrium. Horace, Tibullus and Ovid mocked Jewish practices and Seneca brought these jibes to their pitch by calling the Jews “most wicked nation (who) lose one seventh part of life contrary to a useful life.” Quintilian, Martial and Juvenal joined the attack on the “pernicious nation” but the apogee of pagan Judeophobia was reached in Tacitus. For him Jewish institutions are “sinister, shameful, and have survived only because of their perversity. Of all enslaved peoples the Jews are the most contemptible, loathsome… All that we hold sacred is profane to them; all that is licit to them is impure to us.”
Thus we close the chapter on ancient Judeophobia, which was mainly a literary phenomenon, and which justifies the standpoint of those who see in Alexandria the beginnings of Judeophobia.
The question is how could it be otherwise? How could anyone claim that Judeophobia was born with Christianity (as in our 5th thesis of last class) if there is so much evidence that both the Greeks and the Romans produced Jew-haters in abundance?
We will devote the next chapter to this question.
This concludes Chapter Two.
Next Chapter, number Three: Judeophobia (Anti-Semitism, Jew Hate) in the Early Christian Church.
The beginnings of Christian Anti-Semitism -
Judeophobia (Jew Hate) in Early Christian thought.
The previous chapter concluded with the question of how can we consider the beginnings of Judeophobia to be in Christianity when we have already seen abundant Judeophobic evidence from pre-Christian times.
The answer is, basically: only with the inception of this new religion based upon Judaism, did hatred against the Jews become the norm, with widely and deeply penetrating roots, facilitating its monstrous growth, sprouting ideological and even theological fruit.
I must state from the outset that pointing out Judeophobia’s Christian roots does not imply the absurd generalization that Christians are necessarily Judeophobes. However, some basic facts remain that deserve attention and constitute the core of this third class.
The essence of the problem is as follows: the nascent church claimed to be the consummation of Judaism. Christianity emerged from Judaism and the first Christian church was Jewish in its leadership, membership, and worship. During the first period of Christianity, until the year 70, while the Jewish state was still in existence, there was no real antagonism between the two religions.
The first Christians conveyed their message to the House of Israel, but it soon became clear that the vast majority of the Jews would not become Christians. They were firm in their loyalty to biblical law and to an uncompromising view both of God’s transcendence and of the coming of the Messiah who will heal the world at the end of times.
Once doctrinal differences were obvious, the original harmony between the two faiths was doomed. The realization that the Jews would reject the new notion of the Messiah as “Son of God” was disconcerting to Christians, whose faith was built on the Jewish Scriptures and beliefs and therefore expected to win over the children of Israel. If they were to be the heirs of those beliefs and their true perpetuators, if Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism, sooner or later some flaw had to be perceived in the independent continuity of the inherited religion. The ongoing vitality of Judaism questioned the legitimacy of the inheritance.
The break between the two religions was proclaimed by Paul, the Jewish-born true founder of Christianity, who resolved against the observance of law as stipulated in Judaism and established that true salvation comes only from faith in Jesus as the Messiah. The Jewish-Christians were the minority of Jews who accepted this dogma, but even they broke with Paul when they discovered that he was making no distinction between Jew and Gentile. These Jewish-Christians, who continued practicing Judaism, were seen by the new expanding faith as temporarily compromised (see Paul’s epistle to the Galatians 2:11-21 in the New Testament). But Paul had inherited Jesus’ love for his people. Neither he nor his immediate disciples wished to see Jews either degraded or destroyed.
The gradual composition of the New Testament was accompanied by a worsening of the Christian attitude towards Jews and therefore its earlier parts (Paul’s, around the year 50) are devoid of the Judeophobia present in the later parts (John’s gospel, 100). The earliest known canon of the New Testament was compiled in 140 by Marcion, who outrightly rejected the Hebrew Bible.
The discussion of how Judeophobic is the New Testament is beyond the scope of our course. Among Christian theologians, some claim it is as a whole (Rosemary Ruether) and some claim it is not at all (Gregory Baum).
The fact is that some verses in the New Testament describe the Jews in a positive way, attributing to them salvation (John 4:22) or divine love (Romans 11:28) while many others can be -and were- much used by Judeophobes. The two worst verses are those in which the Jews prompt Jesus’ crucifixion and say “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:25) and when Jesus calls the Jews “children of the devil“ (John 8:44). These verses, and the whole gamut of accusations charged against the Jews during the growth and individuation of Christianity, were buttressed by constant repetition by people who had but scant acquaintance with Jews. Jerome, Anthanasius, Ambrose, Amulo, all echo that the Jews have devilish origins, or that they are tempted by the devil, partners with him, and ultimately his willing slaves and instruments.
THE REWRITING OF THE CRUCIFIXION
The main source of later Judeophobia from the New Testament is the story of the crucifixion, full of historical mistakes (this fact does not demean the New Testament either as a sacred book or as the theological basis of Christianity. We speak in historical terms alone).
We are told: during Passover, the Sanhedrin (the supreme Jewish political, religious and judicial body in Judea during the Roman period) tried Jesus and condemned him to death. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate attempted to side-step the death penalty, but eventually gave in to an insistent Sanhedrin. Pilate “washed his hands” and let Jesus be crucified by Roman soldiers.
In Solomon Zeitlin’s Who Crucified Jesus? you can find a complete account of the story which shows, among others, the following inaccuracies: the Sanhedrin never met during festivals, and it seldom applied death penalties (the Talmud has it that “a Sanhedrin which puts a man to death once in seven years is called a murderous one” -Makkot 1:10- and rabbi Eleazar Ben Azaryah added: “…or even once in seventy years”).
And in the case of Jesus, we are surprised by a quick death penalty decreed upon a Jew -whose crime according to Jewish law is no crime at all. (There were crimes that according to biblical law deserved capital punishment, but to claim to be the son of God appears nowhere in the Bible as a crime!). Moreover, the Sanhedrin could carry out capital punishment without any Roman intervention. Why would they request the “help” of their worst enemy in order to carry out their law? (Four methods of judicial execution were stated by Talmudic law: stoning, burning, slaying and strangling, in contrast with crucifixion, which was typically Roman).
Besides that, the role of Pilate is highly unlikely. Why would a man who was in charge of suppressing the Jews, a man who had ordered the crucifixion of thousands of them, unexpectedly strive to defend one of them? The way Pilate chooses to express his lack of involvement is also suspect -it is called ‘Netilat Yadaim,’ the old Jewish custom to wash one’s hands as a sign of purity, which Orthodox Jews still practice. Why would a Roman warrior resort to a Jewish practice?
The answer to these questions is that it is probable that the New Testament tells us a true story -with changed over protagonists. The Roman announced his intention to execute a Jew who seemed to be unusually popular, and warned the Sanhedrin not to react. The Rabbis remained passive (a large group of which opposed rebellion against Rome; the more rebellious party prevailed only four decades later). As was the norm, the Romans wrote the reason for the crucifixion on the cross. In the case of Jesus, INRI (“Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews”) it is clear that they imply a political crime: sedition.
The reason for which the crucifixion was retold by the Gospel writers with these changes is logical. The new religion needed consolidation. Accusing the mighty empire of having murdered God would have been perilous. However, whitewashing Rome and at the same time accusing the weak Jews, who competitively claimed the same sources as their own, the Gospel stood to gain newfound strength and acceptance.
Moreover, the Christians could not evangelize by spreading the word that Jesus was the Messiah, because this argument was meaningless to the pagans. The only convincing claim was that Christianity was the original religion, the universal truth for mankind. For that to be the truth, Christianity had to exclusively possess the history of Israel.
At the end of the first century, the “Letter of Barnabas” attempts to show how Jews misunderstood what Christians call the Old Testament, which, the writer asserts, was never intended to be observed literally, since all therein is but a prefiguring of the Church.
As the start of the second century, Ignatius of Antioch summarizes their view: “Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity.” Thus a fertile theme originated: the Church is, and always was, the true Israel. The problem was that the people the Church claimed to have supplanted, continued to co-exist and, more importantly, laid claim to the same sources of faith, asserting its anteriority and its ownership of the “Old Testament.”
A whole anti-Judaic literature developed, according to which the Church antedates the Old Israel, going back to the faith of Abraham and even to the promise made to Adam. The Church is “Eternal Israel” whose origins coincide with humanity itself. The Mosaic Law was only for the Jews, who were punished for their unworthiness and their cult of the golden calf by the burden of the Law. The Mosaic prescriptions hence were a yoke imposed upon the Old Israel because of its sins. The Jews are an apostate nation, deprived of its providential role of the chosen people. And so on.
The most complete Christian tract against the Jews during early centuries was the “Dialogue with Trypho” by Justin, which puts forward the ominous theme that Jewish misfortunes are the consequence of divine punishment.
But the worst myth arising during that time is “deicide,” the murder of God, which was raised for the first time by Melito, the bishop of Sardis, around the year 150. This sinister accusation, which was repeated for years, decades, centuries, was never the official ideology of the Church. But it became so rooted in Christian sermons that the Church had to officially reject it during the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
THE DEMONIZATION OF THE JEW
The anti-Judaic literature developed while Jewry was weak, humiliated, defeated, when it posed no challenge to Christianity. In the misfortunes of the Jewish people, in the dissolution of the state and in subsequent Jewish defeats, the Christians found definite confirmation of their belief that God was displeased with the Jews and no longer wanted their continuation. The Christians took it for granted that Judaism would ultimately absorbed into their new religion.
However, after the disasters of 70 and 135 (terrible defeats at the hands of the Romans) Jewry gradually recuperated vitality and influence, and the Christian reaction was new literary attacks. We should have in mind that between those two years Christianity became a definitely gentile movement.
According to Origen, the first Christian scholar to study Hebrew, Christians respected the Law more than the Jews did, who interpreted it in a fantastical manner, and whose practices were trivial; their rejection of Jesus had resulted in calamity and exile. “We say with confidence that they will never be restored to their former condition. For they committed a crime of the most unhallowed kind, in conspiring against the Saviour of the human race….”
By the end of the third century the image of the Jew was of an unbeliever and a competitor. At the end of the fourth century, the Jew had been transformed into the deicidal, satanic figure, cursed by God and discriminated against by the State. The very term “Jew” was an insult.
The full flowering of the theology which prescribed Jewish miseries as divine punishment for Jesus’ crucifixion was one of the reasons for the deterioration of the Jewish image and status. By the time Christianity became the dominant religion of the Empire (the year 323), the foundation of its Judeophobia was already laid; it was the natural outcome of theological necessity as well as defensiveness against the danger of a relapse into Judaism. It was an inevitable by-product of Christian propaganda, which had to assume that Judaism was dead, even while Judaism steadfastly refused to die. The Church did not recognized that Judaism was a distinct religion; it saw it as a distortion of the only true religion, a perfidia, a stubborn rebelliousness against God. Thus wrote the Church Fathers.
In the year 338 a Christian mob led by the local bishop burned down the synagogue of Callinicus in Mesopotamia. The emperor Theodosius ordered the synagogue to be rebuilt and the incendiary punished. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, intervened with a letter to the emperor: the synagogue was “home of unbelief, a house of unpiety, a receptacle of folly.” Only out of negligence had he himself not set fire to the synagogue of Milan. Imperial power must be used in the service of the faith. In the cathedral the emperor was threatened with refusal of the sacraments, and he eventually ceded to Ambrose. Other synagogues were destroyed in Italy, North Africa, Spain and even the land of Israel, where a group of monks under Barsauma massacred Jews.
John Chrysostom (d.407) brings Judeophobia to its highest point within all “Adversus Judaeos” literature. In his sermons in Antioch he says: “the Jews most miserable of all men… lustful, rapacious, greedy, perfidious bandits, inveterate murders, destroyers, men possessed by the devil. They know only one thing, to satisfy their gullets, get drunk, to kill and maim one another… They have surpassed the ferocity of wild beasts, for they murder their offspring and immolate them to the devil…”and much more. Chrysostom and all the Judeophobes among the Church Fathers and their successors were over many centuries revered as saints by the Catholic Church.
Augustine wrote at the same time and his original contribution to the Judeophobic arsenal is the theory of the witness-people. The reason for which Jews subsist is to probe the truth of Christianity. Like Cain, he explains, they carry a sign but are not to be killed. Jews were not only wrong but evil.
And the theological gulf grew wider and deeper. As the Anglican theologian James Parkes puts it, the Church did not claim the Hebrew Bible in its entirety, only its heroes and virtuous characters, God’s promises and praise. The rest, the villains and the idolaters, the stubborn and the unbelievers, were left for the Jews. Curses and accusations were for them. And that was the description of the Jews supposedly written by God. Variations of this theme were preached in writings and from pulpits, Sunday after Sunday, century after century, whenever Jews were mentioned.
So, by saying that Judeophobia was born with Christianity, we are not overlooking the hostility of the Greek Egyptians. We are adding proportion. Christian Judeophobia was incomparably stronger. Joseph Eötvösz, a Hungarian nobleman, would say in the 1920’s that “an anti-Semite is one who hates the Jews… more than necessary.” This was not true for the pagan world, generally tolerant to the Jews, even if did have many Judeophobes. But once Christianity took hold, Judeophobia became the norm, God’s will, a theological platform with laws, contempt, calumnies, animosity, segregation, forced baptisms, appropriation of children, unjust trials, pogroms, exiles, systematic persecution, rapine, and social degradation.
On the basis of all the above, Jules Isaac unabashedly calls his 1956 book “The Christian Roots of Antisemitism.” We will study the offshoots of these roots in the next chapter.
Next Chapter number 4 - Christian Persecution of the Jews in Europe: Proselytization, Conversions and Ghettos.
Christian Medieval European Persecution of Jews: I-Proselytism and Ghettos
At the end of the last chapter we referred to Jules Isaac’s book, The Christian Roots of Antisemitism.” Isaac was a chief inspector of history teaching, at the French Ministry of Education. The deportation and death of his family by the Nazis in 1943, motivated him to devote the rest of his life to the research of Judeophobia. He focused on three principal falsehoods in the Church Fathers’ historiography, namely:
a) that the dispersion of Israel was a divine punishment for the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah;
b) that Jews had committed deicide; and
c) that Judaism was corrupt during Jesus’ time.
Isaac refuted each point through historical data. He also describes the Church’s teaching of degradation, which is manifest even in the writings of Thomas Aquinas, the most important Christian medieval philosopher. In 1270 he wrote that Jews “in consequence of their sin, are or were destined to perpetual slavery: so that sovereigns of states may treat their goods as their own property, with the sole provision that they do not deprive them of all that is necessary to sustain life.” These teachings were gradually accepted by secular governments which were influenced by the ecclesiastical establishment. This led to the Jews being subjected to restrictions and exclusions, such as taxes, the obligation of wearing a distinguishing badge, and religious limitations.
Had the Church’s “teaching of contempt” remained within the framework of theology, it might have only caused the Jews humiliation, anger and sorrow. However, Christian Judeophobia transcended mere theory. If a Christian wanted to strike a blow at the devil, he could do so by striking a Jew.
The theology of the Church Fathers was translated into law, which acted as a bridge between theory and practice. The Theodosian Code of 438 (the first official collection of imperial statutes on the subject) sanctioned the civil inferiority of the Jews, defined as “enemies of the Roman laws and of the supreme majesty.” The legislation of Theodosius II became the juridical basis upon which Jewish affairs were regulated.
Numerous medieval bulls (a bull is a Papal edict -”bullum” is Latin for seal) are openly Judeophobic. I’ll give you ten examples:
“Etsi non displiceat “(1205) solicited kings to put an end to “Jewish evils” like usury, arrogance and murder;”
“In generali concilio” (1218) compelled Jews to wear special clothing;
“Si vera sunt” (1239) ordered the seizure and examination of the Talmud and Jewish literature, which were eventually burned;
“Vineam Soreth” (1278) ordered the selection of trained men to preach Christianity to the Jews;
“Etsi doctoribus genium” (1415) was a collection of anti-Jewish laws;
“Numquam dubitavimus” (1482) empowered kings to appoint inquisitors to prevent Jewish practices;
“Cum nimis absurdum” (1555) established the ghetto in Rome and forbade contact between Jews and Christians;
“Hebraeorum gens” (1569) accused Jews of magic and expelled them from papal territories;
“Vices eius nos” (1577) ordered Roman Jews to send delegations to the church;
“Sancta mater ecclesia” (1584) decreed that each Saturday one hundred Jewish men and fifty women must come to listen to conversionist sermons in the church.
This legislation was not always influential on the kings and rulers it addressed. Around 830, the bishop of Lyons, Agobard, called “the most cultured man of his time,” sensed danger in the relations between his flock and the Jews of the city, because the latter were not considered to be of inferior status as deemed by the Church. Indeed, Jews were prosperous and their religion respected. Agobard brought charges against them before King Louis the Pious and called for a return to the Theodosian Code. However, Louis remained well disposed towards the Jews as had his father Charlemagne before him. Years later Louis’s son Charles the Bald also refused to ratify the Judeophobic canons passed by the Church Council on Meaux in 845, as suggested by Bishop Amulo, Agobard’s successor and disciple. These kings were the last representatives of the Carolingian age during which the Jews enjoyed equal rights.
Around 950 the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII promulgated a special oath called Juramentum Judaeorum, which Jews were compelled to take when involved in lawsuits against non-Jews. This remained the rule in Europe until at least the 18th century. Both the text and the ritual of taking the oath, expressed a self-imposed curse, as we can see in the German “Schwabenspiegel “ of 1275:
“About the goods for which this man sues against thee… help thee God, who created heaven and earth… And that so if thou eatest something, thou will become defiled all over… and that the earth swallow thee… thou art true in what thou has sworn… And so that the blood and the curse ever remain upon thee which thy kindred wrought upon themselves when they tortured Jesus Christ and spake thus: ‘His blood be upon us and our children’: it is true… So help thee God and the oath which thou hast sworn. Amen”.
Oaths, badges and restrictions were but a small part of the medieval Judeophobic repertoire. An all-inclusive summary of the martyrdom of the Jews is complex since different geographies and chronologies are involved. But we will discuss seven practices which were common all over Europe, namely: forced baptism, compulsory sermons, disputations, burning of Jewish books, ghettos, expulsions and genocides.
Proselytism: FORCED BAPTISM AND SERMONS
As Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire, large numbers of Jews were forcibly baptized. The earliest detailed account is on the island of Minorca in 418. Other major campaigns of forced conversions spread through Europe, one in 614 when Emperor Heraclius forbade Judaism in the Byzantine Empire, and another in 873, launched by Basil I.
However, Pope Gregory I (d.604) decided that baptism should be accepted willingly and not imposed by force. This became, on the whole, accepted practice, but “willingly” was subject to interpretation. Was conversion under threat of death now acceptable, or should the anticipated violence be more remote? If so, how subtle must the insinuation be? Take the advise given by the bishop of Clermont-Ferrand to the Jews on May 14, year 576, after a mob had destroyed the synagogue in his town: “If ye be ready to believe as I do, be one flock with us, and I shall be your pastor; but if ye be not ready, depart from this place.” About 500 Jews of Clermont converted, and the Christians celebrated -“candles were lit, the lamps shone…” The other Jews left for Marseilles. Was this “willingly”? Well, in 938 the pope told the archbishop of Mainz he should expel local Jews if they refused to convert… willingly (he claimed force should not be applied).
Children were another dilemma. At what age was a baptism “willing,” as opposed to a gesture cheaply bought in return for some trivial compensation? The aforementioned Agobard assembled the Lyons children who had not been sent out of harm’s way by their parents, and baptized all those who, according to his judgment, appeared to be agreeable. One of the clauses in the “Constitutio pro Judaeis” issued by successive popes between the 12th and 15th centuries, declared categorically that no Christian should use violence to force Jews to be baptized. What it did not say was what should happen if the forced conversion actually took place, whether it was valid regardless of the illegal process, or if the victim was free to return to his former faith.
The answer to these questions is that, on the whole, the church condemnation of forced baptism remained unchanged, but its attitude regarding post facto problems became tougher over the centuries.
In a letter of 1201, Pope Innocent III stated that a Jew who submitted to baptism under threat of force, expressed a conditional willingness to accept the sacrament, and so was not allowed to renounce it thereafter. For medieval Christianity the backsliding of faith was heretical, punishable by death according to the code later elaborated by the Inquisition. As late as 1747 Pope Benedict XIV decided that once baptized, albeit illegally, a child was to be considered a Christian and be thus raised.
Later waves of forced baptisms include one which swept through the kingdom of Naples in the last decades of the 13th century, and one in Spain from 1391, which started with the riots led by the archdeacon Ferrant Martinez. Hundreds of Jews were massacred and entire communities forcibly converted, and it left in its wake the phenomenon of the Marranos (a derogatory term for the ”New Christians” and their descendants). These people continued to live an underground Jewish existence until after the 18th century. The most dramatic case was in Portugal, where thousands of Jews settled, having been expelled from neighboring Spain in 1492.
King Manuel of Portugal found that it was unnecessary to expel his Jewish subjects, who were valuable economic assets, in order to purge his realm of heresy. Instead he embarked on a systematic campaign of forced conversion initially directed against the children, who were seized and dragged from their parents’ arms in the hope that the adults would follow suit, and later against the entire population. This explains both why by the end of 1497 not a single professing Jew remained in Portugal, as well as the greater tenacity of Marranism in this country, up to the present day.
A new chapter in the history of forced baptism began in 1543, with the establishment of the House of Catechumens in Rome, which rapidly took hold in other cities. Any person who, by whatever casuistry, could be considered to have shown an inclination towards Christianity, could be immure in the House of Cathecumens “to explore his intention,” all the while being submitted to unremitting pressure. A popular superstition which claimed that any person who secured the baptism of an unbeliever was assured of paradise, lead to a spate of such procedures throughout the Catholic world.
In the mid-18th century the Jesuits were the main enforcers of this practice. Several cases became infamous. In 1762 the son of the rabbi of Carpentras was pounced upon and baptized in ditch water, and thereafter lost to his family. The kidnapping for baptism of Terracina children in 1783 caused a revolt in the Roman ghetto. In 1858, Edgardo Mortara, aged six, was abducted by papal police from his family in Bologna, and taken to the House of Catechumens. The boy had been secretly baptized five years previously by a domestic servant who thought he was about to die. The parents tried in vain to get their child back. Napoleon III, Cavour and Franz Joseph were among those who protested and Moses Montefiore traveled to the Vatican in an unsuccessful attempt to release the child.
The founding of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in 1860 “to defend the civil rights of the Jews” was partly in reaction to this case. The pope rejected all petitions and by 1870, when his secular power came to an end, the boy had ceased to be Edgardo. He had taken the pope’s name (Pius), and had become a novice in the Augustinian order and an ardent conversionist in six languages. Mortara’s tragic end was his death in Belgium in 1940, weeks before the Nazi invasion, in this way narrowly avoiding an unwilling return to his Jewish roots.
In the Russian Empire during the second quarter of the 19th century, the institution of the Cantonists was introduced. This involved the virtual kidnapping for military service of Jewish male children from the age of 12, or even 8, with the explicit intention of compelling them to abandon Judaism.
ON SERMONS, BURNINGS AND GHETTOS
On the other hand, the same Pius IX of the Mortara case, abolished Sermons to the Jews after more than a millennia of their practice. The first recorded instance of sermons directed at Jews is related to the aforementioned Agobard of Lyons. His “Epistola de baptizandis Hebraeis” (820) states that on his instruction the clergy of Lyons went to preach in synagogues every Saturday. With the foundation of the Dominican order (1216) this system was regularized. King James I of Aragon himself delivered one of these speeches (1263) and later issued an order enjoining the Jews to listen quietly to the addresses of friars who had come to convert them. In 1278 the compulsory conversionist (evangelist or proselytic) sermon received papal approval (in the above bull), and was enjoined in England the following year (ten years after which all English Jews were expelled from the country).
With the Judeophobic reaction that accompanied the Counter-Reformation, the sermon became a regular way of abusing Jewish community life; Rome was the worst case. Jews were compelled to send a regular quota of people to churches to listen to the friars, and hear sermons while beadles armed with rods saw to it that they paid attention, and examined their ears to see that they were not plugged. The philosopher Michele de Montaigne records that while in Rome in 1581 he heard such a violent sermon that Jews appealed for papal protection. In 1630 the emperor Ferdinand II instituted conversionist sermons in the auditorium of Vienna university, and the Jesuits initiated the practice in Prague.
The conversionist (evangelist) sermons continued up to the period of the French Revolution, and by the time they were finally abolished in the mid-19th century, the poet Robert Browning attempted to record the Jews’ state of mind during the sermons: “…when the hangman entered our bounds,/ yelled, pricked us out to this church like hounds./ It got to a pitch, when the hand indeed/ Which gutted my purse, would throttle my creed,/ And it overflows, when, even the odd/ Men I helped to their sins, help me to their God.”
The proscription of Jewish literature was another phenomenon of medieval life, established in the 13th century (it had several precedents, such as the attempt by Emperor Justinian to prevent the teaching of the “second tradition” in 553). In 1199 Pope Innocent III declared that since Scripture contained lessons too profound for the layman to grasp, Christians should rely wholly on the clergy for its interpretation. In 1236 a memorandum was submitted to the pope with 35 charges against the Talmud: it was an allegedly blasphemous book which attacked the Church, mocked Jesus, and was hostile to non-Jews. The pope ordered that the confiscation of Jewish books in France take place on a Saturday, while the Jews were gathered in their synagogues. It happened on March 3, 1240, and similar instructions were conveyed to the kings of England, Spain, and Portugal.
In response to the papal circular, the first public disputation between Jews and Christians was staged in Paris on June 25-27 1240. The Jewish spokesman was Rabbi Yehiel of Paris, then the most eminent French rabbi, whose task was to defend the Talmud against its slanderers. (The Talmud was not completely translated before the mid-19th century and therefore very few had any real knowledge of it. Andrea Masio, a Christian Hebraist who repudiated the papal law on the subject, considered that the condemnation of the Talmud was as valid as the opinion of a blind man about differing colors).
Two years after the Paris disputation, an inquisitorial committee again condemned the Talmud, and 24 wagon loads of books totaling thousands of volumes were handed to the executioner for public burning. Subsequently the burning of the Talmud was repeatedly urged by the popes.
Famous disputations and burnings took place in Barcelona in 1263 (after which the king warned the Jews that their holy books were doomed to the pyre unless they censored them), in Toulouse 1319, in Tortosa 1413. Following the Church Council of Basle in 1431, the pope forbade the Jews to study the Talmud.
Italy became a center of burnings during the Counter-Reformation, after the pope had designated the Talmud blasphemous. On Rosh Hashanah of 1553, thousands of Jewish books were burnt in Campo de Fiori, Rome, in a gigantic pyre, followed by others in about ten Italian towns.
Only in 1564 the prohibition of the Talmud was rescinded, but even after that the confiscation of Jewish literature continued for two centuries. The Talmud was possibly the most attacked booked on earth. In order to write his two-thousand page “Endecktes Judemthum” (Judaism Unmasked) in 1699, Johannes Eisenmenger spent twenty years studying in a yeshiva (a Talmudic academy), so deep was his hatred of the book that kept Judaism alive. “Experts” churned out a vast literature exposing the Talmud’s blasphemies in the past two centuries.
The last public burning of the Talmud before the Nazi era took place in 1757 in Poland, when Bishop Nicholas Dembowski ordered the burning of one thousand copies.
Another practice was to establish quarters for Jews, surrounded by a wall separating it from the rest of the city, the gates of which bolted at night. This compulsory place of residence is called “ghetto,” which in Italian means “foundry” (the quarter of Venice enclosed by walls and gates in 1516 and declared to be the only part of the city open to Jewish settlement, was near a foundry). The institution antedates the word, since the idea was raised as early as the 4th century and was legalized in 1179 when the Third Lateran Council of the Church forbade Christians to reside together with Jews. Famous ghettos were set up in London (1276), Bologna (1417) and Turin (1425), always serving to reinforce the stereotype of the Jew, a demoniac figure who, even when he had contact with Christians during the day, would go back to his night residence beyond the walls to practice his absurd rituals and habits.
The walls of the Italian ghettos were demolished by French troops in 1796. After Napoleon’s fall (1815) there was an attempt to rebuild them, but this did not happen until the Nazis assumed power.
The ghetto was another implementation of the objective to separate the Jews from the rest of society, degrade them and oppress them so that they would ultimately convert to Christianity. When he saw the Jew living miserably in his ghetto, the 18th century Catholic publicist G.Roberti called it “a better proof of the truth of the religion of Jesus Christ than a whole school of theologians.” But the worst is yet to come…
Next Chapter number 5 - Christian Persecution of the Jews in Europe: II- Pogroms, Crusades, Expulsions, Inquisitions and Massacres.
Christian Persecution of Jews in Medieval Europe : II- Massacres, Crusades, Inquisitions, Expulsions
Expulsion of the Jews
The story of European Judeophobia so far: forced sermons and baptism, book burning, and ghettos. Now the tale takes a harsher turn: expulsions. Jews had been expelled on many occasions during ancient times, but only from the 4th century on was a systematic policy adopted. In the principal expulsions Jews were removed from a whole country for an extended period. By the end of the 13th century Jews had been expelled from England, France and Germany. This is how the story usually unfolded:
The Jew was caught in a no-win situation. On the one hand he was the “royal usurer” from whom kings squeezed their much needed funds. On the other, he was the local lender and pawn-broker who collected from peasants the money he needed to sustain his uncertain existence. The Royalty protected him as long as he was useful, and as long as the anger of the creditors and mobs simmered below the surface. When the resentment boiled over, the king abandoned “his Jews” and joined in the clamor.
In England, during the civil war of 1262, Jews were attacked in many places; in London alone, 1,500 were killed. In 1279 all Jews in the city were arrested on the charge of debasing the coin of the realm. After a London trial 280 were executed. Edward I ordered those remaining out of the realm by All Saints Day, 1290. The Jews’ possessions fell to the crown. In October, a month before the deadline, 16,000 left for France and Belgium, some finding death on the way, even as close as the Thames where a sea captain allowed many to drown. Jews were readmitted to England in 1650.
France expelled the Jews from most of its territory in 1306 and in 1394; they were not readmitted until 1789. Germany expelled them mainly during the Black Death of 1348 (we will refer to it next chapter). Spain and Portugal (in 1492 and 1497) removed the strongest community of that time (about 300,000 Jews) for virtually half a millennium. In 1495 the Jews were expelled from Lithuania, but were allowed to return eight years later.
Expulsions of Jews from specific towns and regions took place regularly (famous among the modern ones were Prague in 1744 and Moscow in 1891). As a rule, the reason for expelling the Jews was usually the exploitation of Judeophobia by rulers, for fiscal considerations. Socio-economic factors contributed to the hostility of Christian merchants and craftsmen felt towards their Jewish rivals, and to the resentment of debtors towards Jewish moneylenders. When Jews were not indispensable moneylenders and they did not fulfill any vital socio-economic function, the outcome was expulsion.
While most countries have their own cruel history of expulsions, Spain is a special case. After the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand, respective heirs to the thrones of Castile and Aragon, the two kingdoms were united (1479). Spanish national homogeneity became the goal, and the Conversos (converted to Christianity) were perceived to threaten that goal. Initially, the Catholic Monarchs, as they were called, continued to employ Jewish and Converso functionaries, but later they requested that the Pope extend the Inquisition’s activities to their kingdom. In 1480 two Dominicans were named inquisitors and in the following six years more than 700 Conversos were burnt at the stake. Tomas de Torquemada, confessor to the queen, was appointed inquisitor-general in 1483, and the institution brought terror to the Jews from town to town. In ten years the Inquisition condemned 13,000 Conversos, men and women alike.
The march towards complete religious unity was reinforced when the last bastion of Muslim power in Spain fell, with the triumphant entry of the Catholic monarchs into Granada, in January 2, 1492. The scandal of Conversos who had remained true to Judaism had shown that the segregation of the Jews and limitations of their rights were not sufficient to suppress their influence, and the “New Christians” had to be isolated from that influence. The expulsion edict was signed in Granada to advance political consolidation; in May the exodus began. Hundreds of thousands left the country where their families had lived for over one thousand years, flourishing as merchants, astronomers, physicians, philosophers and poets.
From then on, concern in the Iberian Peninsula with the New Christians, which had long existed, became an obsession directed against those who had remained. The Marranos and their descendants were excluded from public office, guilds, colleges, orders, and even residence in certain towns. All roles in society were to be performed only by Christians with pure Christian ancestry. As time passed, the establishment redoubled its efforts to unearth the traces of any long-forgotten “impure” forefathers.
In Portugal legal distinctions between Old and New Christians were not officially abolished before 1773. Spain went even further and until 1860 “blood purity” was a requirement for admission to the military academy. The college attended by Spain’s most important leaders, the Saint Bartholomew of Salamanca, took pride in refusing admittance to anyone even rumored to be of Jewish descent. But since no one could be absolutely certain of his “blood purity since time immemorial,” the blemish ultimately became negotiable through bribed witnesses, shuffled genealogies, and falsified documents.
The tragic paradox is that when Jewish suffering was so immense, discrimination, humiliation and expulsion were often considered the lesser evils in an epoch when the menace of death hovered continually over the Jews. Thus the Maharal of Prague, a well known rabbi and philosopher, thought that the era of exile in which he lived was more tolerable precisely because its principal sufferings consisted of expulsions. In many places the Jews got accustomed to expulsion and rapid readmission. A 1692 poem by Elhanan Helin of Frankfurt read: “we went in joy and in sorrow; because of the destruction and the disgrace, we grieved for our community and we rejoiced that we had escaped with so many survivors.” Also Tevye the Dairyman in Shalom Aleichem’s play (1894) takes the expulsions lightly-the reason for which we wear hats, he says, is that we have to be prepared to leave at any moment.
The expulsions resulted in loss of property and damage to body and spirit; they left their impression on the entire Jewish nation and its history; they maintained and intensified the Jews’ feeling of foreignness. Consider that after 1492 there were no Jews living openly on the European coast of the Atlantic Ocean, during a period when this had become the center of the world.
The worst part of Jewish martyrdom was undoubtedly the massacres of Jews, which took place sporadically from ancient times, and systematically since the Crusades. Judeophobia surpassed itself in each successive century; the superlatives were belittled by posterior events. Due to Hitler, for example, Bogdan Chmielnicky was eventually forgotten as the most murderous Jew-hater. This Ukrainian patriot fought Polish domination of his country by killing more than 100,000 Jews during 1648-1649. To this day, Chmielnicky is revered as the national hero of the Ukraine.
Under Christian domain, killing Jews was nothing new. It dates back to shortly after the split from Judaism. In Antioch (the town which assumed Alexandria’s importance in the East) rioting Christian factions, the “Blues” and the “Greens,” massacred Jews and burned down the Daphne synagogue together with the bones of the dead (c.480), about which Emperor Zeno commented that it would have been better to burn live Jews instead. This is an example of a sporadic massacre.
In contrast, the first half of this millennium witnessed genocides of Jews as the norm. And this is precisely when the Church reached the zenith of its power. To summarize, the main genocides were the first three crusades and the four Jew-murdering campaigns that followed them. Let me add the name of one ringleader in each case, as follows: the First Crusade (Godfrey of Bouillon, 1096), the Second Crusade (the monk Radulph, 1144), the Third Crusade (Richard the Lion-hearted, 1190), the “Judenschachters” (Rindfleisch, 1298), the Pastoureaux (friar Peter Olligen, 1320), the Armleder (John Zimberlin, 1337), and the Black Death (Friedrich of Meissen, 1348).
THE TURNING POINT: The Crusades
As Edward Flannery puts it, to find a more fateful year in the history of the Jews than 1096, the First Crusade, would necessitate going back a thousand years to the fall of Jerusalem, or forward to the Holocaust. It all started on November 27, 1095 in the town of Clermont-Ferrand (mentioned last class), when during the closing ceremony of a council, Pope Urban II called for a campaign “to free the Holy Land from the Muslim infidel.” Massive, ill-organized hordes of nobles, knights, monks and peasants set off - and turned on the Jews. The crusaders decided to start their cleansing on the “infidels at home,” and pounced upon the Jews all over Lorraine, massacring those who refused baptism. Soon it was rumored that their leader Godfrey had vowed not to set out for the crusade until he had avenged the crucifixion by spilling the blood of the Jews, and that he could not tolerate the continued existence of any man calling himself a Jew. Indeed, one common denominator of the genocides we are recounting was the attempt to wipe out the entire Jewish population, children included.
The French Jews warned their German brethren, but to no avail. All along the Rhine Valley the troops, urged by preachers like Peter the Hermit, offered the Jewish communities the option of baptism or death. In Speyer, as the crusaders surrounded the panic-stricken community, huddled up in the synagogue, a woman reinaugurated the tradition of freely accepting martyrdom for the glory of God, “Kiddush ha-Shem.” Hundreds of Jews committed suicide and some even sacrificed their children beforehand. In Ratisbon, the crusaders forced the whole Jewish community into the Danube and baptized them. Massacres occurred at Treves and Neuss, in the cities along the Rhine and the Danube, Worms, Mainz, in Bohemia and in Prague. The end of the journey was Jerusalem, where the crusaders found the Jews assembled in the synagogues and set them ablaze (1099). There, the few survivors were sold as slaves, some being later redeemed by Jewish communities in Italy. The Jewish community of Jerusalem came to an end and was not reconstituted for about one century.
In the first half-year of the First Crusade approximately 10,000 Jews were murdered, almost one third of the Jewish population of Germany and Northern France at that time.
In 1144, the crusaders lost Edessa, and the precariousness of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was a matter of concern. A second crusade was called for by Pope Eugene III. He and his successors encouraged the Crusaders, often at the Jews’ expense. For example no interest could be charged by Jews on debts incurred by the crusaders (from the 13th century the term “crusade” applied to any campaign from which the Church stood to gain politically). In 1146 the monk Radulph violently attacked the Jewish communities of the Rhineland and exhorted the crusaders to avenge themselves on “those who had crucified Jesus.” Hundreds of Jews fell before the aroused mobs which rushed upon them crying “Hep, Hep” (this cry was probably shortened Latin for “Jerusalem is lost” and was very popular as a Judeophobic motto in Germany; long afterwards it was the name given to the riots against German Jews in 1819).
Brutalities occurred in Cologne and Wurzburg in Germany, and in Carenton and Sully in France. The famous Jewish scholar Rabbenu Jacob Tam was stabbed in five places in memory of the wounds suffered by Jesus. Peter of Cluny (called “the Venerable”) requested that the king of France punish the Jews because “they defile Christianity and fleece Christians. They should not be killed, but they should made to suffer fearful torments and prepared for greater ignominy, for an existence worse than death.”
After the two first crusades, Jews enjoyed a respite in Europe marred by the Almohade persecutions in North Africa and Spain. But when Saladin put an end to the crusader kingdom in Jerusalem, the Third Crusade was launched. King Philip Augustus of France (who had had a hundred Jews burned in Bray in retaliation for the hanging of one of his subjects who had murdered a Jew) joined enthusiastically as did the German emperor. But the most savage repercussions of this crusade were for the Jews of England, who had been spared during the first and second crusades.
Almost the entire Jewish communities of Lynn, Norwich and Stamford were massacred. In York, the Jews took refuge in the castle, where they were besieged, and killed themselves on the eve of Passover.
For the Jews, the crusades became the symbol of the inveterate hostility of Christianity. 300 rabbis from Western Europe emigrated to the Land of Israel in 1211, portentous that their chances, should they stay, would be slim indeed. And as Flannery says, “those who stayed lived to regret their decision.”
The memory of the martyrs was a source of inspiration for the Jews. The martyrs became an object of admiration for the following generations -God had put them to test and they had proved themselves worthy, a symbol of the whole people, and their martyrdom was perceived as victory. The majority of those converted by force were able to return to Judaism - to be the victims of the massacres that broke out later.
The crusades dramatically revealed the physical danger in which the Jews lived, and encouraged the Jews to move to the fortified cities, where they would be less vulnerable (this could partially explain the urban character of the Jews, which we mentioned in our second lecture).
For the Christians, the Jews were now perceived as the implacable enemy of their faith. A whole mythology developed, which exposed “the true character” of the Jews, and to this we will devote our next lecture.
A consequence of the crusades was the institution of the “serfs of the imperial chamber.” The Jews sought the protection of emperors and kings, and bought it at a heavy price. The new status was conceived as a privilege and protection against the fanaticism of the mobs and the rapacity of the barons, but before long it became a device for royal enrichment. Theology helped. The Pope Innocent III spoke of the “perpetual servitude of the Jews,” and the jurist Henry de Bracton (d.1268) wrote: “The Jew cannot have anything of his own. Whatever he acquires, he acquires not for himself but for the king.” By the 13th century many Jews were well worth owning, before they were eventually killed.
The massacres that followed the crusades proved to be even more gory and murderous than their precedents. In Rottingen in 1298 a nobleman called Rindfleisch stirred up the mob which burned the entire community at the stake. Then his “Judenschachters” (Jew-slaughterers) marched through Austria and Germany pillaging, burning, and murdering Jews as they proceeded . One hundred and forty communities were decimated; 100,000 Jews were murdered. In 1306 the king of France had all Jews arrested on a single day and ordered them to leave the country within a month. 100,000 left and settled in nearby lands; nine years later they were readmitted… to be massacred. A Benedictine monk led 40,000 shepherds (the “Pastoureaux”) in a kind of crusade which destroyed one hundred and twenty communities.
The viscount of Toulouse had been informed of the massacre perpetrated by the Pastoureaux in Castelsarrasin and neighboring localities between June 10 and 12, 1320. He set out at the head of an armed detachment in order to check their advance. He returned with twenty four carloads of Pastoureaux, intending to imprison them in the town castle, but the populace came to their assistance and released them. Indeed, another common characteristic of the genocides is the appalling degree of support from the peasants that the murderous mobs enjoyed.
And as always in the case of Judeophobia, the worst was still to come. In 1336-38 one visionary who “received a call to avenge the death of Christ by murdering the Jews,” John Zimberlin, led 5,000 followers armed with crude weapons, wearing leather arm-bands (the “Armleder”) and slaughtered Jews from Alsace through the Rhineland.
The last genocide on our list was occasioned by the Black Death. A plague killed about one third of the whole population of Europe between 1348 and 1350 (almost one hundred million people). The Jewish communities all over Europe were torn to pieces by a populace crazed by the plague. Who could be blamed for the plague if not the archconspirator and poisoner, the Jew? Emperor Charles IV granted immunity to the attackers and conceded Jewish property to his favorites… even before the massacre took place! For example, he offered the Archbishop of Trier the goods of the Jews “who have already been killed or may still be killed” and to a margrave he gave a choice of Jewish houses in Nuremberg “when the next massacre takes place.”
So much death calls for reflection. Maximo Kahn, a German Jewish intellectual who escaped the Holocaust, wrote in 1944: “The death of the Jews is the most enigmatic of all deaths, the most accusing one indeed. During twenty five hundred years Jews have been killed instead of being allowed to die. Long before racist aspirations existed, long before faith spread around… they started to kill the Jews with so much ecstasy that natural death did not scare them at all. Violent death was thrown at them so implacably, that natural death did not give them the impression of death any more. Unnatural death became so natural, that natural death came to be for the Jews what life was for the rest. In the same way that the rest took hold of life, the Jews took hold of death as if it were life, sunshine, song of birds, flower fragrance, or love. Nothing had for them the appeal present in dying without the footprints of murder in their bodies. As a matter of fact, life was transformed into a waiting for death. For more than twenty five hundred years the Jew is born like a convict awaits the moment of his execution. The Jew who does not die a violent death, lives as if his life was pardoned. It is very strange that the word “Jew” did not become yet a synonym for “moribund”…
Such boundless hatred was sustained by a huge body of myths regarding the Jews that cries out to be studied. This we will do in our next chapter.
Next Chapter number 6 - Christian European Persecution of Jews in Medieval Europe: III- Myths- Well Poisoning, Blood Libels and Desecration of the Host.
Christian Persecution of Jews in Medieval Europe: III- Myths- Well Poisoning, Blood Libels and Desecration of the Host
Our last two chapters were about suffering. A book by Joseph Ha-kohen published in 1558 gives it the biblical title of “The Valley of Tears” (Emek Ha-Bakha). The author refers to “the hardships which befell us since the day of Judah’s exile from its land.” When we look at these tears and hardships with hindsight, three questions usually come to mind.
The first question is why do the Jews always suffer. If by “why” we’re enquiring about the reasons for Judeophobia, well, this what our study about, and we’ll have some answers when we are done. But the implication may be that it is paranoid to review history and find the Jews consistently cast in the rôle of the victims. Our answer is the conceptualization of Judeophobia as a social disease which consists of hatred of the Jews. We must be aware of the enormity of this boundless hatred, a hatred which, always had the Jews as its main victims. This loathing endured for twenty-five centuries, continued through a genocide of 6,000,000 of its target population (a third of it) after which it remained powerful and game for more.
The second question is whether the unsurpassed magnitude of Judeophobia means that the whole world hates (or hated) the Jews. No, it does not. Not everybody is sick with Judeophobia. But the sick, not the healthy, are the objects of our study, even if the majority are healthy.
The third question is whether the clergy of the medieval Church were unanimous in their murderous stance. Again, the answer is no. Even during periods in which all the Church was Judeophobic in its theoretical outlook, individual churchmen did not always behave violently towards the Jews. There are many examples of bishops and priests trying to protect Jews. When the synagogue of Ravenna was burned down (c.550), Theodoric ordered the Catholic population to rebuild it and to flog the arsonists. During the first crusade Bishop Cosmas saved the Jews of Prague. During the second crusade, Bernard of Clairvaux came actively in the defense of Jews who were being murdered. And there are numerous cases through the centuries.
The problem remains, however, that the most virulent Judeophobes within the Church, were (and are) revered as saints. Judeophobia was a crime committed with virtual impunity. The friar John Capristano (d.1456) instigated the abolishment of Jewish rights in Naples and other towns, and in Bavaria he pushed the authorities to enforce that Jews wear a badge, to expel them from several villages, and to have the debts owed to them by Christians canceled. Due to his activities in Breslau, many Jews were tortured and burned alive; many committed suicide. The abolishment of Jewish rights in Poland by Casimir IV was a further result of Capistrano’s maneuvers, and it set off a train of anti-Jewish violence. Capistrano did not allow the Jews to escape their fate: he was responsible for a papal edict which prohibited the transportation of Jews to the Land of Israel.
During his lifetime he received both the title “scourge of the Jews” and the office of papal Inquisitor. More than two centuries after his death, he was canonized, and every March 28 since then, Catholics worship his memory.
The message of the Church was at best inconsistent. It spread the teaching of contempt, and occasionally tried to stop the contemptuous as they ran to commit unspeakable crimes - but it was usually too late.
This standpoint of the Church never changed radically. That is why one of the first historians of the Holocaust, Raul Hilberg, was able to draw a chart in which he shows that each of the principal Nuremberg Nazi Laws had their precedent in ecclesiastical legislation. The Conference of Dutch Bishops of 1995 stated it very bluntly, in what was a major breakthrough in Church’s history: there is a direct road that leads from the New Testament theology to Auschwitz.
During WW2 the position of the Vatican reflected its habitual ambivalence. Its reservations about Nazism were limited to whatever affected Catholic non-Aryans. The encyclicals and statements of the Church rejected the racial dogma and questioned some Nazi theses as erroneous, but neither mentioned nor criticized the specific attack against Jews. In 1938, Pius XI is said to have condemned Judeophobic Christians, but this was omitted by all Italian papers from their account of the pope’s address. His successor Pius XII, a Germanophile, had received information about the murder of Jews in the camps as early as 1942. He nevertheless restricted all his public utterances to carefully phrased expressions of sympathy for the victims of injustice.
The pope’s neutrality and silence continued even when the Nazis rounded up 8,000 Roman Jews in 1943. On October 18, over 1,000 Jews, mostly women and children, were transported to Auschwitz. At the same time, more than 4,000 other Jews, with the knowledge and approval of the pope, found refuge in the numerous monasteries in Rome, and a few dozen in the Vatican itself.
The pope could have not halted the Holocaust, but he could have saved thousands of lives had he taken a public stand against the Nazis. Hitler, Goebbels and other Nazi leaders, died as members of the Catholic Church and were never excommunicated (President Perón of Argentina was excommunicated when he attacked the Church’s influence in 1955, and a few months later he was overthrown). A Catholic priest headed the pro-Nazi regime in Slovakia. A quarter of SS members were Catholic (as was almost half of the population of the Greater German Reich).
The resolute reaction of the German episcopate to the Nazi euthanasia program almost stopped it. Jews did not receive the solidarity that the Church gave to the insane and the retarded. Regarding the Jews, the Church was more interested in saving souls than lives. The diocesan chancelleries even helped the Nazi state to detect people of Jewish descent by supplying data from Church records on the religious background of their parishioners. When mass deportations of German Jews began in October 1941, the episcopate limited its intervention to pleading for Christians. When the bishops received reports about the mass murder of Jews in the death camps, their public reaction remained limited to vague pronouncements that did not mention the word Jews.
There were individual and national exceptions. One of the former was the Berlin prelate Bernhard Lichtenberg, who prayed publicly for Jews (and died on his way to Dachau). An exceptional country was Holland, where as early as 1934 the Church prohibited the participation of Catholics in the Nazi movement. Eight years later the bishops publicly protested the first deportations of Dutch Jews, and in May 1943 they forbade the collaboration of Catholic policemen in hunting down Jews, even at the cost of their jobs. Large numbers of Jews owe their lives to the courageous rescue activities of lesser clerics, monks, and Catholic laymen.
Now let’s move on to the three main Christian myths invented in the Middle Ages, through which Judeophobia has been transmitted since the 14th century.
The Blood Libel
The main myth was the Blood Libel, namely the belief that Jews murder non-Jews (especially Christians) in order to use their blood for Passover and other rituals. This libel was one of the utmost expressions of cruelty and mass hysteria in human history. The pattern was generally as follows: a corpse was found (usually of a child, often close to Easter), Jews were accused of having committed the murder to get the blood, the main rabbis or community leaders were detained and tortured till they confessed they had done it, and the outcome was the expulsion of the whole community, the torture of most of its members, or its outright extermination. Generation after generation, Jews were tortured in Europe, and Jewish communities were massacred or dispersed because of this libel.
Although the first cases happened in England, here blood libels were a strictly medieval phenomenon. In 1144, a boy called William was found dead in Norwich, and the local Jews were accused of “having bought the ‘boy-martyr’ before Easter and tortured him with all the tortures wherewith our Lord was tortured, and on Long Friday hanged him on a rood in hatred of our Lord.” The motif of torture and murder of Christian children in imitation of Jesus’ suffering persisted with slight variations throughout the 12th century. In the case of Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln (1255) the chronicler Matthew Paris relates “that the Child was first fattened for ten days with white bread and milk and then… almost all the Jews of England were invited to the crucifixion.” This echoed the pagan myth (see Damocritus and Apion in our second lesson).
In Spain the myth was included in the law: “We have heard it said that in certain places on Good Friday the Jews do steal children and set them on the cross in a mocking manner” (“Siete Partidas” Code, 1263).
There were altogether around 130 cases of Blood Libel. They spread from England to Italy and Spain, and then Eastwards. In modern times it occurred mainly in Russia and Poland. Overall, Germany was the leader, as in many other aspects of Judeophobia. One third of all the blood libels took place there, most recently under Nazi rule (Memel, 1936, and Bamberg, 1937). A special issue of ‘Der Stürmer’ of May 1, 1934, was entirely devoted to the myth. Outside Germany, there were four other cases during the 20th century.
The first of these four was the Hilsner case. Thomas Masaryk, the founder and first president of modern Czechoslovakia, took a stand “not to defend Hilsner (a 22-year old vagabond of low intelligence) but to defend the Christians against superstition.” He was attacked by the mob and his university lectures were suspended because of student demonstrations against him. This affair stirred a Judeophobic campaign throughout Europe, conducted by Vienna blood libel “specialist” Ernst Schneider.
The libels created a satanic Jewish stereotype. The Jew detests purity, he disdains innocence and good in the Christian child. According to the German monk Caesarius of Heisterbach “the child sings, the Jews cannot endure this pure laudatory song, they cut off his tongue and hack him to pieces.”
The libel was repeated in literature and the arts. About a century after the expulsion of the Jews from England the cultural motif was the plot of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Prioress’ Tale,” where Jews obey their Satanic master and kill the child. In Spain, books supporting the libel were published by top writers in virtually every century, for instance: Rodrigo de Yepes (16th c.), Lope de Vega (17th c.), José de Canizares (18th c.), Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (19th c.), and Romero de Castilla (20th c.).
According to the account of the citizens of Trnava in 1494, the Jews believed that “the blood of a Christian was a good remedy for the wound of circumcision… that this blood put into food awakes mutual love… it is a medicine for menstruation which, among them, both men and women suffer… they have an ancient and secret ordinance to daily shed Christian blood in some spot or other…”
Again, the problem was not that the Church spread the libel. On the contrary, it usually opposed it, as did most heads of state. After the Fulda libel in 1235, in which Jews were accused of having taken the blood of five young Christian boys for medical purposes, Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen decided to clear up the matter definitively. If the accusation proved to be true, all the Jews in the empire were to be killed. If not, they were to be publicly exonerated. His inquiry turned into an all-Christian problem. Since the Church authorities with whom he consulted were not able to decide the matter due to their ignorance of Judaism, a synod of converts was convened and its conclusion was published by the emperor: “There is not to be found, wither in the Old or the New Testament, that the Jews are desirous of human blood. On the contrary, they avoid contamination with any type of blood… Those to whom even the blood of permitted animals is forbidden, cannot have a hankering after human blood. Against this accusation stands its cruelty, its unnaturalness.” A few years later Pope Innocent IV wrote that “Christians charge falsely that the Jews hold a communion rite with the heart of a murdered child; and should the cadaver of a dead man happen to be found anywhere they maliciously lay it to their charge.”
Neither the word of the emperor nor that of the pope were heeded. Accusations spread and massacres continued. The Church tried to stop them but with its characteristic ambivalence. The dead boys were considered martyrs and revered as such. Examples are Saint Hugh of Lincoln, the Holy Child of La Guardia, and Simon of Trento. Every year during centuries Christians worshipped the memory of those “martyrs” who had allegedly been murdered by blood-thirsty Jews.
The libel of La Guardia occurred on the eve of the expulsion from Spain. Conversos were tortured till they confessed that with the knowledge of the chief rabbi the Jews had assembled in a cave, crucified a child, abused him and cursed him as was done to Jesus. The crucifixion motif explained why blood libels occurred at the time of Passover.
Out of many cases in Italy, Trento was particularly infamous. In 1475 the friar Bernardino da Feltre announced that “the sins of the Jews were to be soon manifested to all.” A few days later, on Maundy Thursday, a boy named Simon disappeared and his corpse was soon found near the house of the head of the Jewish community. The whole community was arrested, including women and children. Seventeen of them were tortured for a fortnight till they “confessed.” Some Jews died of torture, the few who converted to Christianity were strangled, and the others burnt at the stake. Their property was confiscated. A papal court of inquiry in 1476 justified the libel, Sixtus IV endorsed the “legality” of the trial and the martyr Simon was beatified.
After his success, Friar Bernardino concocted similar scenarios at Reggio, Bassano and Mantua. He instigated the expulsion of the Jews from Peruggia, Gubbio, Ravenna, Campo San Pietro. His last victims were the Jews of Brescia in 1494, the year of Bernardino’s death, shortly after which he was beatified. It was five long centuries before the Church debeatified Simon in 1965.
Desecration of the Host
Another main myth was the Host Desecration. According to the Christian doctrine of Transubstantiation, the wafer consecrated in the ceremony of Eucharist becomes thereby the actual body of Jesus (Protestants dropped the doctrine and consider the wafer only a symbol of the body, not Jesus himself; Catholics still hold it). The myth was the belief that Jews secretly stabbed, tormented and burned the consecrated wafer (this belief brought Judeophobia to a new peak of irrationality, since Jews obviously did not believe in Transubstantiation). This charge brought more persecution and massacre. Most of the forty infamous cases took place in Germany and Austria.
The first recorded case was in Belitz, near Berlin, in 1243 where Jewish men and women were burnt at the stake on this charge on the spot later known as the Judenberg (“Jews hill”). In Brussels it led to the extermination of Belgian Jewry (1370); in Knoblauch to 38 executions and the expulsion of the Jews from Brandenburg (1520); in Lisbon all New Christians were banished from the country (1671). The genocide by Rindfleisch that we discussed earlier started with a desecration of the Host charge. The last accusation of desecration was in Rumania, 1836.
At least two of the post-desecration expulsions are still celebrated every year. One at Deggendorf in Bavaria (since 1337) and one at Segovia in Spain (since 1415), where the alleged desecration is said to have caused an earthquake which resulted in the confiscation of the synagogue and the execution of leading Jews. (As to the reason why blood was supposedly found on the host: stale food kept in a dry place often produces a scarlet fungoid organism blood-colored, called for this reason the Micrococcus Prodigiosus).
The Black Death and Poisoning the Wells
The third myth was referred to at the end of our last class, namely the Black Death. In this case the relation between the myth and its consequential massacres was direct and obvious. Between 1348 and 1350, one hundred million people, a third of Europe’s population, died of an epidemic caused by the bacillus “pasteurella pestis.” In centers with denser populations, such as monasteries, the proportion of dead people was higher. People had extreme reactions, either seeking recourse to religion through repentance and supplication to God, or reverting to licentiousness, lawbreaking and savagery. These two types of reaction often combined to accuse the Jews of having poisoned the wells and therefore being the cause of the death (after so much persecution, Christians could imagine that the Jews might seek revenge).
Pope Clement VI came out to defend the Jews, as did the emperors, but massacres broke out throughout Europe. All appeals to reason were ineffective, and in many places Jews were killed even before the plague had visited the locality.
The first case was in September 1348 in the Castle of Chillon on Lake Geneva. The Jews’ “confessed” that the disease was spread by a Jew of Savoy on the instructions of a rabbi who had prepared the poison.
The defamation, killings and expulsions spread from Spain to Poland, affecting about 300 Jewish communities. Emperor Charles IV, who initially defended the victims, finally granted “forgiveness for every transgression involving the slaying and destruction of the Jews.” A group of “Flagellants” roamed through Germany expiating their sins by stirring up attacks on Jews.
In Mainz the Jews in desperation set fire to their own homes and to the Jewish street; 6,000 Jews perished in the flames. In Strasbourg 2,000 Jews were burnt on a wooden scaffold. But the Black Death not only resulted in the immediate destruction of Jewish lives, but also fed popular imagination with even more horrible characteristics added to the already odious image of the Jew. After the Black Death the legal status of the Jews deteriorated almost everywhere in Europe.
There were other myths in medieval Judeophobia, but none as murderous as the three just explained. For example, the Wandering Jew is based upon a legend heard for the first time in Bologna in 1233. It influenced art and literature, but caused no Jews to be massacred.
In contrast, the aforementioned trilogy were the essence of sheer sadism, and made the term “Jewish” synonymous with “diabolical.” In medieval art, the Jew was portrayed with horns, a tail, an evil visage; his company was that of devils, sows, scorpions: his poses grotesque. The image was further elaborated by men of letters, preachers and apologists, and was seized upon as a motif in mob aggressions.
In the 16th century there was a split within the Church, and Protestantism was born. This could have been the dawning of the breakdown of Judeophobia, but these expectations were dashed as we will see.
Next: Chapter 7: Persecution of the Jews Under Islam
Persecution of the Jews Under Islam
You may be wondering whether this Medieval “valley of tears” discussed in previous chapters had a parallel in the Islamic world, and whether Christian Judeophobia was equally rampant within the two main branches of Christianity, Catholic and Protestant.
Islam and Protestantism are similar in that both sought the validation of the Jews, and became Judeophobic out of frustration when they were rejected.
But unlike Christianity, Islam did not emerge out of Judaism. Its founder was not Jewish, and it did not claim to be the realization of the promises of the prophets. Therefore its encounter with Jewry was far less tense. Jews in the Islamic world seldom suffered the tortures, expulsions and burning at the stake that typified Jewish life under medieval Christian rule. However, their life under Islam was usually tainted with degradation and insecurity.
In 7th century Medina, at the time of the beginnings of Islam, there lived a Jewish population from whom Mohammed learned many practices of his new religion (to pray in the direction of Jerusalem, which was eventually changed to Mecca; dietary laws; the Day of Atonement which was later replaced by the fast of Ramadan). But when Mohammed failed to convince the Jews to accept him as a new Moses, he turned against them. His angry reaction was recorded in the Koran, giving millions of Muslims throughout history divinely based antipathy to the Jews.
The Pact of Umar of 720 was the Muslim legal code which prescribed the treatment of Dhimmis, or non-Muslim monotheists. The Dhimmis were required to acknowledge their subservient position to Muslims - they must not manifest their religion publicly, they must rise from their seats if Muslims wish to sit, avoid riding horses, wear different clothes. During the 11th century, the Caliph Hakim of Egypt ordered Jews to wear balls weighing five pounds around their necks, to commemorate the calf’s head which their ancestors had worshipped. Yemen was the only Muslim country with a Jewish minority, that was never ruled by a European power. In 1679 nearly all Yemenite Jews were expelled from their cities and villages. The synagogue of San’a, the capital, was converted into a mosque which still exists and is called “the Mosque of the Expulsion”). Until their departure from Yemen in 1948, all Jews were compelled to dress like beggars, and Jewish children were forced to convert to Islam when their fathers died.
When the Turks occupied Yemen (1872) they asked an assembly of Muslim leaders to stop Muslim children throwing stones at Jews. The answer was that the practice was an old religious custom called “Ada,” and could not be forbidden.
In 1840 a blood libel in Damascus introduced the myth into the Arab world. Only after international protest were the Jews who survived their tortures released. But the libel became popular among Muslims, who often attacked the Jews (mostly in Egypt and Syria) for drinking Muslim blood. The present Minister of Defense of Syria, Mustafa Tlas, is the author of “The Matza of Zion,” a book in which he documents the blood libel. The pamphlet was published in 1983 (!) and distributed to all delegates at the United Nations.
Next: Chapter 8: Judeophobia (’anti-Semitism’) in the Reformation
Judeophobia (’anti-Semitism’) in the Reformation
The Protestant reformation was started by Martin Luther in 1517. One of the principles of the Protestant Church was to bring Christianity back to its Jewish sources rather than the Hellenistic interpretation. Initially many Protestants approached Judaism, expecting Jews to finally accept the new faith when it was lovingly presented and stressing its Jewish components. But again, when this expectation proved false, the reaction was Judeophobic. Luther’s last book was “On the Jews and Their Lies” (1543) in which he called the Jews the anti-Christ. “It is harder to convert them than Satan himself.”
Luther called for the violent expulsion of Jews from all Germany. He addressed European noblemen: “Let me give you my honest advice. First, their synagogues should be set on fire, and whatever does not burn up should be covered or spread over with dirt… And this ought to be done for the honor of God and of Christianity in order that God may see that we are Christians, and that we have not willingly tolerated or approved of such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of His Son and His Christians… Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed. For they perpetrate the same things that they do in their synagogues. For this reason they ought to be put under one roof or in a stable… Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayerbooks and Talmuds in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught. Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more… God’s rage is so great against them that they only become worse and worse… To sum up, dear princes and nobles who have Jews in your domains, if this advice of mine does not suit you, then find a better one so that you and we may all be free of this insufferable devilish burden - the Jews.” This was the theologian and founder of the new trend (one of the most brutal Nazi Judeophobes, Julius Streicher, argued in his defense at the Nuremberg trials that he had merely repeated what Luther had said about the Jews).
So far we have seen the development of Judeophobic mythology pass through three stages: Antiquity (Jews are lepers and ass-worshipers, misogynists and lazy), Early Middle Ages (the Jewish people is deicidal and, through its suffering, a witness of Christian truth) and Late Middle Ages (Jews drink Christian blood, poison wells, and are partners with Satan). The main difference between pagan and Christian myths is that the former were mainly cultural, whereas and the latter were mostly theological: “God hates them” became a common belief.
But what do I see on the horizon? It looks like the salvation of the Jews from the accumulated myths, discrimination and disdain, the lies and legends. It is 18th century Europe: rationalism and Encyclopedism are in the air, free-thinkers scorn superstitions and plan the religion of reason in a world of brotherhood. Surely the Enlightenment will put an end to the discrimination and violence caused by gratuitous hatred!
Next: Chapter 9: Judeophobia in the Enlightenment and 19th Century France