Excerpt from "The Crusaders in Mainz" (1096)
Originally written by Solomon bar Samson; Reprinted in The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315–1791; Edited by Jacob Marcus; Published in 1938
Excerpt from "Las Siete Partidas: Laws on Jews" (1265)
Reprinted in The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315–1791; Edited by Jacob Marcus; Published in 1938
Excerpt from The Itinerary of Benjamin Tudela: Travels in the Middle Ages (late twelfth century)
Originally written by Benjamin of Tudela; Translated by Marcus Nathan Adler; Published in 1907
In the first excerpt of this section, the twelfth-century Jewish historian Solomon bar Samson describes how the enthusiasm for the Crusades bubbled over at the time of the First Crusade (1095–99), resulting in the killings of thousands of Jews in Germany as these Crusaders passed through the Rhineland on their way to the Holy Land. Considered infidels, the Jews became fair game for some Crusaders who wanted an excuse to loot the property of these people. Emich of Leiningen, a German noble, led one such group of soldiers who were responsible for the killings in the German city of Mainz that are described by Solomon bar Samson. Called Emico in this excerpt, this German Crusader was only one of several unscrupulous (without morals) leaders at the time of the First Crusade. A knight named Volkmar was another.
In the second excerpt, anti-Jewish laws are presented in "La Siete Partidas," or the Seven-Part Code, written in Castile, Spain, in 1265 but not put into effect until almost a hundred years later. In Spain during the thirteenth century the Jews were still too powerful and important to be mistreated. However, similar anti-Jewish, or anti-Semitic, laws were already in effect in much of the rest of Europe, many of them promoted by the Catholic Church. At the great meetings or councils of the church, called the Lateran Councils, laws were passed restricting the rights and privileges of Jews. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 made a law that Jews were forced to a wear a badge that separated them from Christians.
In the third excerpt, the twelfth-century Spanish (and Jewish) traveler Benjamin of Tudela provides an account of the situation of Jews not only in Europe but also throughout the Middle East at the time of the Crusades. On the whole, his travelogue shows that Jewish people were better off under Islamic rule than they were in Europe, where they were controlled by Christian laws. Benjamin provides a comparison, for example, of the harsh treatment of Jews in Constantinople, an Eastern Orthodox Christian city, with the kinder and more considerate treatment the Jewish people received at the hands of the caliph, or religious leader, of the Muslim city of Baghdad.
Things to Remember While Reading Excerpts from "The Jewish World":
- Crusaders were not always armies of noble, God-loving knights, as is shown in the excerpt about the killings of Jews in Mainz. Although the Jews sought safety in the palace of the archbishop, a high church official of the city, they were still killed by Emich/Emico and his men.
- There were numerous laws restricting the rights of Jews in Europe. Jews were forbidden to have Christian servants or to have relations of any sort other than business with Christians
- Innocent III, pope from 1198 to 1216, was the first pope who did not attempt to protect the Jews of Europe. In fact, Innocent III actually added to their persecution by passing a law that forced Jews to wear badges to separate them from the rest of society.
- Under Islamic law, the Jews did not have the full rights of Muslim citizens. They still had to pay taxes to the head of state. Depending on the ruler, however, Jews might or might not be segregated from the rest of society as they were in Europe.
- Despite or perhaps because of the persecution the Jews suffered, they developed a rich tradition of scholarship and philosophy. The Jewish diaspora, or spreading of Jewish people all over after they left the Holy Land, resulted in small and large communities of Jews throughout Europe and the Middle East, each with its own rabbi or scholarly and religious leader.
Excerpt from "The Crusaders in Mainz"
It was on the third of Siwan… at noon, that Emico the wicked, the enemy of the Jews, came with his whole army against the city gate, and the citizens opened it up for him. Emico, a German noble, led a band of plundering German and French crusaders. Then the enemies of the Lord said to each other: "Look! They have opened up the gate for us. Now let us avenge the blood of 'the hanged one' [Jesus]." The children of the holy covenant who were there, martyrs who feared the Most High, although they saw the great multitude, an army numerous as the sand on the shore of the sea, still clung to their Creator. Then young and old donned their armor and girded on their weapons and at their head was Rabbi Kalonymus ben Meshullam, the chief of the community. Yet because of the many troubles and the fasts which they had observed they had no strength to stand up against the enemy.… Then came gangs and bands, sweeping through like a flood until Mayence [Mainz] was filled from end to end.
The foe Emico proclaimed in the hearing of the community that the enemy be driven from the city.… Panic was great in the town. Each Jew in the inner court of the bishop girded on his weapons, and all moved towards the palace gate to fight the crusaders and the citizens. They fought each other up to the very gate, but the sins of the Jews brought it about that the enemy overcame them and took the gate.
The hand of the Lord was heavy against His people. All the Gentiles were gathered together against the Jews in the courtyard to blot out their name, and the strength of our people weakenedwhen they saw the wicked Edomites overpowering them. [The Edomites were the traditional foes of the Jews; here, Christians are meant.] The bishop's men, who had promised to help them, were the very first to flee, thus delivering the Jews into the hands of the enemy. They were indeed a poor support; even the bishop himself fled from his church for it was thought to kill him also because he had spoken good things of the Jews.…
When the children of the covenant [the Jews] saw that the heavenly decree of death had been issued and that the enemy had conquered them and had entered the courtyard, then all of them—old men and young, virgins and children, servants and maids—cried out together to their Father in heaven and, weeping for themselves and for their lives, accepted as just the sentence of God. One to another they said: "Let us be strong and let us bear the yoke
With a whole heart and with a willing soul they then spoke: "After all it is not right to criticize the acts of God—blessed be He and blessed be His name—who has given to us His Torah and a command to put ourselves to death, to kill ourselves for the unity of His holy name. Happy are we if we do His will. Happy is anyone who is killed or slaughtered, who dies for the unity of His name.… He exchanges the world of darkness for the world of light, the world of trouble for the world of joy, and the world that passes away for the world that lasts for all eternity." Then all of them, to a man, cried out with a loud voice: "Now we must delay no longer for the enemy are already upon us.… Let him who has a knife examine it that it not be nicked, and let him come and slaughter us for the sanctification of the Only One, the Everlasting and then let him cut his own throat or plunge the knife into his own body." [A nick in the slaughterer's knife would make it ritually unfit.]
As soon as the enemy came into the courtyard they found some of the very pious there with our brilliant master, Isaac ben Moses. He stretched out his neck, and his head they cut off first. The others, wrapped by their fringed praying shawls, sat by themselves in the courtyard, eager to do the will of their Creator. They did not care to flee into the chamber to save themselves for this temporal life, but out of love they received upon themselves the sentence of God. The enemy showered stones and arrows upon them, but they did not care to flee, and [Esther 9:5] "with the stroke of the sword, and with slaughter, and destruction" the foe killed all of those whom they found there.…
The women there girded their loins with strength and slew their sons and their daughters and then themselves. Many men, too, plucked up courage and killed their wives, their sons, their infants. The tender and delicate mother slaughtered the babe she had played with.… The maidens and the young brides and grooms looked out of the Windows and in a loud voice cried: "Look and see, O our God, what we do for the sanctification of Thy great name in order not to exchange you for a hanged and crucified one.…"
Thus were the precious children of Zion, the Jews of Mayence, tried with ten trials.… They stretched out their necks to the slaughter and they delivered their pure souls to their Father in heaven.…
The ears of him who hears these things will tingle, for whoever heard anything like this? Inquire now and look about, was there ever such an abundant sacrifice as this since the days of the primeval Adam? Were there ever eleven hundred offerings on one day, each one of them like the sacrifice of Isaac, the son of Abraham?
Yet see what these martyrs did! Why did the heavens not grow dark and the stars not withdraw their brightness? Why did not the moon and the sun grow dark in their heavens when on one day, on the third of Siwan, on a Tuesday eleven hundred souls were killed and slaughtered, among them many infants and sucklings who had not transgressed nor sinned, and many poor, innocent souls?
Wilt Thou, despite this, still restrain Thyself, O Lord? For thy sake it was that these numberless souls were killed. Avenge quickly the blood of Thy servants which was spilt in our days and in our sight. Amen.
Excerpt from " Las Siete Partidas: Laws on Jews"
LAW I. WHAT THE WORD JEW MEANS, AND WHENCE THIS TERM IS DERIVED.
A party who believes in, and adheres to the law of Moses is called a Jew.… The reason that the church, emperors, kings and princes permitted the Jews to dwell among them and with Christians is because they always lived, as it were, in captivity, as it was constantly in the minds of men that they were descended from those who crucified Our Lord Jesus Christ.
LAW II. IN WHAT WAY JEWS SHOULD PASS THEIR LIVES AMONG CHRISTIANS; WHAT THINGS THEY SHOULD NOT MAKE USE OF OR PRACTICE, ACCORDING TO OUR RELIGION; AND WHAT PENALTY THOSE DESERVE WHO ACT CONTRARY TO ITS ORDINANCES
Jews should pass their lives among Christians quietly, … practicing their own religious rites, and not speaking ill of the faith of Our Lord Jesus Christ.… A Jew should be very careful to avoid preaching to, or converting any Christian .… by exalting his own belief and disparaging ours. Whoever violates this law shall be put to death and lose all his property. And because we have heard it said that in some places Jews celebrated, and still celebrate, Good Friday, which commemorates the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by way of contempt: stealing children and fastening them to crosses, … we order that … if in any part of our dominions anything like this is done, and can be proved, all persons who were present when the act was committed shall be … arrested … and after the king ascertains that they are guilty, he shall cause them to be put to death in a disgraceful manner.…
LAW III. NO JEW CAN HOLD ANY OFFICE OR EMPLOYMENT BY WHICH HE MAY BE ABLE TO OPPRESS CHRISTIANS
LAW IV. HOW JEWS CAN HAVE A SYNAGOGUE AMONG CHRISTIANS
A synagogue is a place where the Jews pray, and a new building of this kind cannot be erected in any part of our dominions, except by our order. Where, however, those which formerly existed there are torn down, they can be built in the same spot where they originally stood; but they cannot be made any larger or raised to any greater height, or be painted.… And for the reason that a synagogue is a place where the name of God is praised, we forbid any Christian to deface it, or remove anything from it, or take anything out of it by force; except where some malefactor takes refuge there.… Moreover, we forbid Christians to … place any hindrance in the way of the Jews while they are there performing their devotions according to their religion.…
LAW V. NO COMPULSION SHALL BE BROUGHT TO BEAR UPON THE JEWS ON SATURDAY, AND WHAT JEWS CAN BE SUBJECT TO COMPULSION
Saturday is the day on which Jews perform their devotions, and remain quiet in their lodgings and do not make contracts or transact any business.… Wherefore we order that no judge shall employ force or any constraint upon Jews on Saturday, in order to bring them into court on account of their debts; or arrest them.… Jews are not bound to obey a summons served upon them on that day; and, moreover, we decree that any decision rendered against them on Saturday shall not be valid; but if a Jew should wound, kill, rob, steal, or commit any other offense like these for which he can be punished in person and property, then the judge can arrest him on Saturday.…
LAW VI. JEWS WHO BECOME CHRISTIANS SHALL NOT BE SUBJECT TO COMPULSION; WHAT ADVANTAGE A JEW HAS WHO BECOMES A CHRISTIAN; AND WHAT PENALTY OTHER JEWS DESERVE WHO DO HIM HARM
No force or compulsion shall be employed in any way against a Jew to induce him to become a Christian; but Christians should convert him to the faith of Our Lord Jesus Christ by means of the texts of the Holy Scriptures, and by kind words.… We also decree that if any Jew or Jewess should voluntarily desire to become a Christian, the other Jews shall not interfere with this in any way, and if they stone, wound, or kill any such person, … we order that all the murderers, or the abettors of said murder … shall be burned.… We also order that, after any Jews become Christians, all persons in our dominions shall honor them; and that no one shall dare to reproach them or their descendants, by way of insult, with having been Jews.…
LAW VII. WHAT PENALTY A CHRISTIAN DESERVES WHO BECOMES A JEW
Where a Christian is so unfortunate as to become a Jew, we order that he shall be put to death just as if he had become a heretic; and we decree that his property shall be disposed of in the same way that we stated should be done with that of heretics.
LAW VIII. NO CHRISTIAN, MAN OR WOMAN, SHALL LIVE WITH A JEW
We forbid any Jew to keep Christian men or women in his house, to be served by them; although he may have them to cultivate and take care of his lands, or protect him on the way when he is compelled to go to some dangerous place. Moreover, we forbid any Christian man or woman to invite a Jew or a Jewess, or to accept an invitation from them, to eat or drink together, or to drink any wine made by their hands.… We also order that no Jews shalldare to bathe in company with Christians, and that no Christian shall take any medicine or cathartic made by a Jew.…
LAW IX. WHAT PENALTY A JEW DESERVES WHO HAS INTERCOURSE WITH A CHRISTIAN WOMAN
Jews who live with Christian women are guilty of great insolence and boldness, for which reason we decree that all Jews who … may be convicted of having done such a thing shall be put to death. For if Christians who commit adultery with married women deserve death on that account, much more do Jews who have sexual intercourse with Christian women, who are spiritually the wives of Our Lord Jesus Christ; … nor do we consider it proper that a Christian woman who commits an offense of this kind shall escape without punishment. Wherefore we order that, whether she be a virgin, a married woman, a widow, or a common prostitute who gives herself to all men, she shall suffer the same penalty … [i.e., confiscation of property, scourging , or death].
LAW X. WHAT PENALTY JEWS DESERVE WHO HOLD CHRISTIANS AS SLAVES
LAW XI. JEWS SHALL BEAR CERTAIN MARKS IN ORDER THAT THEY MAY BE KNOWN
Many crimes and outrageous things occur between Christians and Jews because they live together in cities, and dress alike; and in order to avoid the offenses and evils which take place for this reason, … we order that all Jews … living in our dominions shall bear some distinguishing mark upon their heads, … and any Jew who does not bear such a mark, shall pay for each time he is found without it ten maravedis of gold; and if he has not the means to do this he shall receive ten lashes for his offense.
Excerpts from The Itinerary of Benjamin Tudela: Travels in the Middle Ages
Constantinople is a busy city, and merchants come to it from every country by sea or land, and there is none like it in the world except Baghdad, the great city of Islam. In Constantinople is the church of Santa Sophia, and the seat of the Pope of the Greeks, since the Greeks do not obey the pope of Rome. There are also churches according to the number of days of the year. A quantity of wealth beyond all telling is brought hither year by year as tribute from the two islands, and the castles and villages which are there. And the like of this wealth is not to be found in any other church in the world. And in this church there are pillars of gold and silver, and lamps of silver and gold more than a man can count. Close to the walls of the palace is also a place of amusement belonging to the king, which is called the Hippodrome, and every year on the anniversaryof the birth of Jesus the king gives a great entertainment there. And in that place men from all the races of the world come before the king and queen with jugglery and without jugglery, and they introduce lions, leopards, bears, and wild asses, and they engage them in combat with one another; and the same thing is done with birds. No entertainment like this can be found in any other land.
This King Emanuel built a great palace for the seat of his government upon the seacoast.… He overlaid its columns with gold and silver, and engraved thereon representations of the battles before his day and of his own combats. He also set up a throne of gold and of precious stones, and a golden crown was suspended by a gold chain over the throne, so arranged that he might sit thereunder. It was inlaid with jewels of priceless value, and at night time no lights were required, for every one could see by the light which the stones gave forth.… From every part of the empire of Greece tribute is brought here every year, and they fill strongholds with garments of silk, purple, and gold.… It is said that the tribute of the city amounts every year to 20,000 gold pieces, derived both from the rents of shops and markets, and from the tribute of merchants who enter by sea or land.
The Greek inhabitants are very rich in gold and precious stones, and they go clothed in garments of silk with gold embroidery, and they ride horses, and look like princes. Indeed, the land is very rich in all cloth stuffs, and in bread, meat, and wine.
Wealth like that of Constantinople is not to be found in the whole world. Here are also men learned in all the books of the Greeks, and they eat and drink, every man under his vine and his fig-tree.…
No Jews live in the city, for they have been placed behind an inlet of the sea. An arm of the sea of Marmora shuts them in on the one side, and they are unable to go out except by way of the sea, when they want to do business with the inhabitants.… And amongst them are artificers in silk and many rich merchants. No Jew there is allowed to ride on horseback. The one exception is the king's physician, and through whom the Jews enjoy considerable alleviation of their oppression. For their condition is very low, and there is much hatred against them, which is fostered by the tanners, who throw out their dirty water in the streets before the doors of the Jewish houses and defile the Jews' quarter. So the Greeks hate the Jews, good and bad alike, and subject them to great oppression, and beat them in the streets, and in every way treat them with rigor. Yet the Jews are rich and good, kindly and charitable, and bear their lot with cheerfulness.…
There is no harbor like [Tyre] in the whole world. Tyre is a beautiful city. It contains about 500 Jews, some of the scholars of the Talmud.… The Jews own sea-going vessels, and there are glassmakers amongst them who make that fine Tyranian glassware which is prized in all countries. In the vicinity is found sugar of a high class, for men plant it here, and people come from all over to buy it. A man can ascend the walls of New Tyre and see ancient Tyre, which the sea has now covered, lying at a stone's throw from
Damascus, the great city, which is the commencement of the empire of Nur al-din, the king of the Togarmin, called Turks. It is a fair city of large extent, surrounded by walls, with many gardens and plantations, extending over fifteen miles on each side, and no district richer in fruit can be seen in all the world.… The city is situated at the foot of Mount Hermon. The Amana flows through the city, and by means of aqueducts the water is conveyed to the houses of great people, and into the streets and market places. The Pharpar flows through their gardens and plantations. It is a place carrying on trade with all countries. Here is a mosque of the Arabs called the Gami of Damascus; there is no building like it in the whole world, and they say that it was a palace of Ben Hadad. Here is a wall of crystal glass of magic workmanship, with apertures according to the days of the year, and as the sun's rays enter each of them in daily succession the hours of the day can be told by a graduated dial. In the palace are chambers built of gold and glass, and if the people walk around the wall is between them. And there are columns overlaid with gold and silver, and columns of marble of all colours … Three thousand Jews abide in this city, and amongst them are learned and rich men.
Baghdad, the great city and royal residence of the Caliph Emir al Muminin al Abbassi of the family of Mohammed. He is at the head of the Mohammedan religion, and all the kings of Islam obey him; he occupies a similar position to that held by the Pope over Christians.…
There the great king, Al Abbassi the Caliph (Hafiz) holds his court, and he is kind unto Israel, and many belonging to the people of Israel are his attendants; he knows all languages, and is well versed in the law of Israel. He reads and writes the holy language (Hebrew). He will not partake of anything unless he has earned it by the work of his own hands.… He is truthful and trusty, speaking peace to all men.
Within the domains of the palace of the Caliph there are great buildings of marble and columns of silver and gold, and carvings upon rare stones are fixed in the walls. In the Caliph's palace are great riches, and towers filled with gold, silken garments, and all precious stones.… [During the parade of Ramadan] He is accompanied by all the nobles of Islam dressed in fine garments and riding horses, the princes of Arabia, the princes of Togarma and Daylam (Gilan), and the princes of Persia, Media and Ghuzz, and the princes of the land of Tibet, which is three months' journey distant,and westward of which lies the land of Samarkand.… Along the road the walls are adorned with silk and purple, and the inhabitants receive him with all kinds of song and exultation, and they dance before the great king who is styled Caliph.…
He built, on the other side of the river, on the banks of an arm of the Euphrates which borders the city, a hospital consisting of blocks of houses and hospices for the sick poor who come to be healed. Here there are about sixty physicians' stores which provided from the Caliph's house with drugs and whatever else may be required. Every sick man who comes is maintained at the Caliph's expense and is medically treated. Here is a building called Dar-al-Maristan, where they keep charge of the demented people who have become insane in the towns through the great heat in the summer, and they chain each of them in iron chains until their reason becomes restored to them in the winter-time. Whilst they abide there, they are provided with food from the house of the Caliph, and when their reason is restored they are dismissed and each one them goes to his house and his home. Money is given to those that have stayed in the hospices on their return to their homes.… All this the Caliph does out of charity to those that come to the city of Baghdad, whether they be sick or insane. The Caliph is a righteous man, and all his actions are good.
In Baghdad there are about 40,000 Jews, and they dwell in security, prosperity and honour under the great Caliph; and amongst them are the great sages, the heads of Academies engaged in the study of the law. In this city there are ten Academies.… In Baghdad there are 28 synagogues, situated either in the city itself or in Al-Karish on the other side of the Tigris, for the river divides the metropolis in two parts.
What happened next…
Jews continued to be persecuted in Europe during the time of the Crusades. With the Second Crusade in 1147, the Jewish people of Germany were once again set upon by Crusader forces before they left for the Holy Land. The famous church scholar Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who preached the Second Crusade, had to go to Germany to try to stop this persecution. Again, just before the Third Crusade, the Jews of York, England, were attacked and killed by mobs of Christians.
The legal position of the Jews in Europe continued to worsen during and after the time of the Crusades. Jews were actually expelled from, or kicked out of, certain countries: this happened in France in 1182, in England in 1290, and in Spain in 1492. While the position of the Jew in the Middle East remained stable during much of the Middle Ages, it is obvious from the Arab-Israeli conflict of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries that the two peoples and two religions have difficulty sharing the limited living space of the region.
Did you know…
- Spain was the home for great Jewish scholars at the time of the Crusades. Maimonides was one of the most famous Jewish scholars of the twelfth century, born in Cordova but forced to leave Spain when a radical Muslim group came to power.
- Benjamin of Tudela wrote of travels that took him not only to the Middle East but also, supposedly, as far as China and India. Scholars, however, believe that these sections of his travel guide were simply copied from reports of other travelers and that Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq, was his easternmost point of travel.
- Jewish occupations were tightly restricted in Europe. Because Jews could not own land, they were forced into commercial professions and into moneylending. As Christian doctrine, or law, looked at this occupation negatively, Jews were further criticized for taking up this job. In fact, Jews were caught in a no-win situation by such policies.
- The badges that Jews were forced to wear beginning in 1215 ultimately led to the armbands that Jews had to wear during World War II (1939–45), which made them targets in Nazi-controlled Europe.
Consider the following…
- Why do you think the Catholic Church passed anti-Jewish laws?
- In the course of his travels, Benjamin of Tudela was careful to record the size of Jewish communities throughout the Middle East. What does this tell you about the multicultural aspect of the region during the Middle Ages?
- During World War II (1939–45), it is estimated that more than six million Jews were killed by the Nazis. Explain how Europe's long tradition of anti-Semitism helped create an atmosphere that would make this possible.
For More Information
Benjamin of Tudela. The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Critical Text, Translation, and Commentary by Marcus Nathan Adler. New York: Phillip Feldenheim, 1907.
Marcus, Jacob, ed. The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315–1791. New York: JPS, 1938.
Fordham University. Internet Jewish History Sourcebook. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/jewish/jewishsbook.html#The%... (accessed on August 4, 2004).
The Itinerary of Benjamin Tudela. (accessed on August 4, 2004).
"Las Siete Partidas: Laws on Jews, 1265." Internet Medieval Sourcebook. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/jews-sietepart.html (accessed August 4, 2004).
"Soloman bar Samson: The Crusaders in Mainz, May 27, 1096." Internet Medieval Sourcebook. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/1096jews.htm (accessed on August 4, 2004).