Antisemitic image of Saturn eating his children, 1492

Jews were harshly persecuted, denied entrance into certain professions, prohibited from owning land, forced to pay extra taxes and excluded from the normal education system. They were gradually expelled from Europe: from England in 1290, from France in 1306 and from Spain and Portugal in 1492. They were also expelled from Hungary in 1376, from Sicily in the 15th century, from Bavaria in 1470, from Bohemia in 1542, and suffered pogroms in Russia in 1881, 1891, 1897 and 1903.

The Jews lived in constant threat of violence. They were persecuted in Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades. The Black Death of 1348 was blamed on them. Cannibalism was regarded with such horror that only werewolves, witches, vampires and Jews were deemed capable of it. Martin Luther was one of many zealous anti-Semites. According to a 16th century British medical historian the Russian cure for drunkenness consisted "in taking a piece of pork, putting it secretly into a jew's bed for 9 days and then giving it to the drunkard in pulverized form." They had a reputation for drinking less than the Catholics.

In the early 16th century, anti-Semitism was at its peak in Europe. In 1517 Jews in Venice were confined to neighborhoods around the cannon foundry, or “ghetto” . The word ghetto came from this move. In other places Jews were forced to wear special clothes or badges. Through it all the Jews kept their culture and communities alive in their synagogues and schools, with the help of their rabbis, and for the part steadfastly refused to assimilate. The German-Israeli scholar Gershom Scholem wrote: the Jews “have had a relationship with Europe only to the degree that Europe has acted upon us as a destructive stimulation.”

Websites and Resources: Judaism Judaism101 ; ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ; Chabad,org ; Religious Tolerance ; BBC - Religion: Judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica,; Virtual Jewish Library ; Yivo Institute of Jewish Research ;

Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center ; Center for Jewish History ; Jewish ; Holocaust Museum ; Jewish Museum London ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL)

Persecution of the Jews in England and Spain

20120504-Spain pogrom Barcelona 1391.jpg
Pogrom in Barcelona in 1391
Jews in medieval Britain were treated as chattel of the British crown. According to English law synagogues had to be placed in the back of buildings. A large Jewish community lived around Guildford, a wool trading center.

Jews suffered from the same kind of persecution in England that they did elsewhere in Europe. In 1144, after a 12-year-old tanner's apprentice in Norwich was found tortured, raped and murdered, a group of townspeople accused Jews living in the town of committing ritual sacrifice and king's representative had to sent to rescue them. This and other incidents set of massacres of Jews across England that finally led to their expulsion in 1290 on the orders of the Catholic monarchs.

The Spanish Inquisition was used primarily as an instrument to control “Coversos” (Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism). The Inquisition was most out of control in the 1480s when it was used against conervsos. Torquemada ordered 2,000 Jews to be burned alive.

In "The Spanish Inquisition, A Historical Revision” Henry Kamen wrote, "There is no evidence that the converso as a group were secret Jews." It is known that anti-Semitism was very prevalent but it is not clear how much racism had to do with persecution or how many converso had returned to Judaism. Kamen blames part of the converso troubles on their unwillingness to assimilate and their calls for a separate "nation."

York Pogrom, 1190

The expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 came after a particularly intense sequence of pogroms - anti-Jewish massacres. According to the BBC: “One of the most infamous of the pre-expulsion pogroms took place in York on the site known as Clifford’s Tower. In March 1190, six months after the coronation of King Richard I, the city caught or was set on fire. Under cover of the fire a mob targeted the Jews. The family and friends of the leading Jew called Baruch* were attacked and killed and his wealth looted. He himself had already been killed in an attack at the time of the King’s coronation. This and the attempted murder of Joseph, another leading member, led the Jews to seek shelter. They naturally looked to Clifford's Tower, the site for two castles built by William the Conqueror after his conquest of England in 1066. Its wooden defences or keep were first burned down during a local rebellion in 1069 before being destroyed for a second time during a siege of Jewish citizens in 1190. [Source: BBC. July 7, 2009 |::|]

“The warden allowed the Jews to enter and then left them alone (because the Jews were under the direct protection of the king). They feared that the warden would be bribed to betray them so when he returned they refused to admit him. The warden complained to the sheriff John Marshall that the Jews cheated him. The Sheriff roused the militia and the rest of the townspeople. This large gathering beseiged the trapped Jews for some days while preparations were made to storm the castle and force them out to the mercy of the baying mob. A fire was started in their refuge, whether by the Jews or their persecutors is uncertain. When it became clear that their situation was hopeless many of the Jews took their own lives. Husbands killed their wives following the advice of Rabbi Yom Tov* from Joigny in France. |::|

Clifford's Towere, where York Jews were killed in 1190

“On Saturday March 16, 1190 there was a special Sabbath celebration linked to the festival of Passover. As it dawned: The Jews who had survived the terrible night of fire and suicide begged for mercy and offered to convert to Christianity if they were spared. They were tricked into leaving but were butchered instead of being allowed baptism. The ringleader Richard Malebisse and his accomplices went to the cathedral where they burned documents stored for safekeeping. These specified details of money they owed to the Jews. This, it would seem was the driving force behind the tragedy. Malebisse escaped to Scotland. |::|

“Historians differ in their judgements as to the severity of the punishments meted out to the perpetrators. But what is certain is that the murder of 150 Jews who had been entitled to the King’s protection was not ignored. Nor indeed was the loss of royal revenue this implied. Some 50 citizens of the city were fined. There was also a change in the law which protected the interests of the king in any similar events. Richard I introduced a system whereby all debts held by Jews were duplicated to the Crown. But the massacre of the Jews of York left an indelible mark on the city. There is said to have been a Jewish curse (Cherem) placed on the city and that Jews were not supposed to spend time there and certainly not to eat or spend the night there. This stigma is commonly held to have been lifted following a ceremony conducted at the site in 1990 by the then Chief Rabbi Lord Jacobovits and the Archbishop of York Dr Stuart Blanche.” |::|

Muslim Violence against Spanish Jews in the 11th Century

On Samuel Ha-Nagid, Vizier of Granada by Abraham ibn Daud includes an account of first Muslim violence against Spanish Jews. This section of the account reads: “Of all the good traits of his father, Joseph lacked but one. He was not humble like his father because he grew up in riches, and he never had to bear the yoke [of poverty and discipline] in his youth. He was proud to his own hurt, and the Berber princes were jealous of him, with the result that on the Sabbath, on the 9th of Tebet in the year 4827 [Saturday, December 30, 1066], he and the Community of Granada were murdered. [About 150 families were killed. This is the first known massacre of Jews in Spain by Moslems.] All those who had come from distant lands to see his learning and his greatness mourned for him, and the lament for him spread to all lands and to all cities. Since the days of the ancient rabbis - of blessed memory-who wrote the Scroll of Fasts and decreed that the 9th of Tebet should be a fast, the reason for the decree was never known. But from this incident we know that they were directed by the Holy Spirit to fix this day. After his death his books and treasures were scattered and dispersed throughout the world So also were the disciples whom he had raised up. After his death they became the rabbis of Spain and the leaders of the generation.”

Ordinance of the Jews of the Crown of Aragon, 1345

Jews accused of poisoning wells during the Great Plague

Paul Halsall of Fordham University wrote: “This ordinance or takkanah was the product of an increased sense of Jewish vulnerability in the years after the Black Death (1348). It attempted to draw together Jews from all of the communities of the Crown of Aragon to address shared problems, and propose collective solutions to them. The Crown of Aragon was a group of associated realms, governed separately by the same ruler: Catalonia, and the kingdoms of Aragon, Valencia and Majorca. The assembly which produced the ordinance was not entirely successful: it was attended only by delegates of Catalonia and Valencia, and it failed to create an ongoing institutional framework for intercommunal efforts. It nonetheless provides important testimony of the problems perceived by Jews in the 1350s and the sorts of solutions which they envisioned, as well as the potential difficulties which they faced. [Source:]

Louis Finkelstein, the editor of the text, wrote: “The introduction recites the woes that have befallen the Jewish people. "Many of faint heart, weak by nature" seeing the implements of torture were unable to withstand the trial and yielded their faith, "crossing over the bridge in their distress". Apparently some of them turned against their former brethren, "bending their bow, making ready their arrow" to shoot by their deadly defamations whomever they pleased. The people of Israel have thus come into hard times. Unless immediate action be taken danger would result to the whole community. It was their duty to take counsel and to save themselves and theirs before the evil fell. Already there were cases of murder and riot here and there, and no effective protest had been raised. If "the communities were made into a single union with a common treasury" they would be in a position to defend themselves, and to bring punishment on such as attacked them. Of what value would their money be to them if there lives were in danger? Since there was no leader taking upon himself the duty of protecting "the sheep of the Lord", the delegates has (sic) assembled at the call of the Jewish Community of Barcelona to take counsel in the critical situation. [Source: Louis Finkelstein, Jewish Self-government in the Middle Ages (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1924), pp. 336-47]

“It was evident that the matter could not be left to the individual communities to deal with separately, as singly they were far too weak for the task. The only means for saving themselves in the situation was to use their money power, and they feared that "if one community will not help the other, we will be unable to bring the money which is annually assessed against us to the treasury of the King" and that "we will appear ungrateful" in his eyes and the eyes of the princes. It was therefore necessary to perfect an organization which should be responsible for the funds. A commission would be appointed to wait on the King [Peter IV, 1336-87] in order to secure his assent to the formation of the union and the ordinance which were enacted by the council. The commission was to hold office for five years.”

Rules from the 1345 Aragon Ordinance Protecting Jews

The Ordinance of the Jews of the Crown of Aragon, A.D. 1354 reads: “They were to strive to obtain from the King the following kindness: 1. That he should intercede with "the King of Nations, the Pope" [Innocent VI, 1352-62], either in writing or by sending "many and worthy ambassadors", so that he might grant the Jews the following: a. A decree forbidding the masses of the Christians to fall upon the Jews whenever a natural visitation, such as a plague or famine, occurs. They should rather seek the favor of the Lord by good deeds of charity and kindness, and "not add transgression to their sins" by destroying the Jews whom, according to their own faith, it was their duty to protect. [Source: Louis Finkelstein, Jewish Self-government in the Middle Ages (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1924), pp. 336-47]

“b. A law among his Decretals forbidding the Christians to make attacks on the Jews because of alleged desecrations of the host. [*] Such a case had occurred shortly before at Seville. The alleged offender should be tried properly and punished if found guilty, but the Pope was to forbid under pain of excommunication any general attack on the Jews. Moreover he was to declare impossible the miracles that were usually alleged with regard to the desecration of the host, and which were relied upon to incite the mob to violence. He was to make clear "that any one who believes in all such things is a heretic against his own faith and laws, which command that they leave us a remnant in the land." * Accusations in regard to the desecration of the host seem to have begun about the middle of the thirteenth century. The particular outbreak at Seville is not otherwise mentioned to my knowledge.

French Jews executed by burning

“c. A decree forbidding the placing of the Jewish quarter in a state of siege about the time of Easter. He was to declare it a grievous sin to pain the Jews in any other way than that declared by law, namely that they should remain in their houses behind closed doors "on that day" [*]. * Jews were forbidden to show themselves on the streets on Good Friday. A church council held at Mayence, in 1259, forbade them to appear on the streets on that day under penalty of a fine of one mark. At another synod at Ashaffenburg, 1292, the Jews were forbidden to come near the doors of their houses or to look out of their windows under pain of a fine of one mark. Another synod held at Prague, 1347, commanded the Jews to keep away from the streets and remain in their homes.

“d. A limitation on the power of the Inquisition, declaring a Jew to be guilty of heresy only when he denies some tenet of his own faith, as for instance the existence of God, or the Divine origin of the Torah. But no Jew should be subject to the charge of heresy for supporting heretical views of a Christian which are in consonance with the Jewish faith. Indeed such a one might be subject to punishment by the secular power but was to be exempt from the Inquisition. If the Commissioners should find themselves unable to obtain this concession, they were to seek a decree ordering the Inquisition to furnish the accused Jew a statement of the charges against him, and the Jew was to be granted the right of Counsel [*] Ordinarily the Inquisition defended its denial of both elemental rights of an accused person by expressing the fear that if the accused should be a person of influence he might escape punishment if he were granted these rights, but since there could be no fear of that in the case of Jews, who were all without influence, it was patent injustice to deny them this right. * To defend one accused by the Inquisition, was to make oneself liable to complicity in the dread crime of fautorship of heresy. Innocent III in a decretal embodied in the Canon law, had ordered advocates to lend no aid or counsel to heretics or to understate their case in litigation. Lea, History of the Inquisition. I, 444.

“e. Furthermore "let them obtain the further declaration that if a Christian should desire to return a stolen thing which he robbed or took by violence from one of the children of Israel, he shall be obliged to return it to the Jew, either from hand to hand, or through the priests, but he shall not free himself from guilt by returning it to a creditor of the Jew."

“3. Furthermore it was agreed that while it was impossible to carry out Jewish law, especially where it involved capital punishment, still it were well to "cleanse away every Malshin [*] and informer who will be found in any one of the cities or to pour out evil on him in accordance with his wickedness in the judgement of the Commissioners and to make him known as a Malshin and drive him forth. Provided however, that the defamation is in regard to a public matter, from which there may result, Heaven forbid, harm to all our people, but not if it is merely a private defamation from which no harm can result." Similarly the Communities were to have a common fund to oppose those inciting the popular to violence against them since "evil of this sort spreads"... But no notice was to be taken of merely private quarrels between individual Jews and Gentiles, if no public harm could result therefrom. * A malshin was an informer [ed.]

  1. “Furthermore the Commissioners were to strive to obtain a decision of the Cortes that if "anyone slay a Jew, or try to incite others to violence against them" he should not be given asylum in the territory of any of the nobles of princes, but each one must drive him forth from his land.”

1345 Aragon Ordinance Protecting Jews From Unfair Taxes and Extortion

13th century rabbis in France

The Ordinance of the Jews of the Crown of Aragon, A.D. 1354 continues: 7. "Furthermore have we agreed that whereas the tax-collectors have of late gone beyond all bounds making sorrowful the souls of our brethren in the matter of their extortions and they have bound them in affliction and in iron, so that well-nigh unto death do they cry from their prisons, therefore have we agreed that the Commissioners should endeavor to obtain a decree from the King, forbidding his tax-collectors who rule over our people in the matter of taxes, to cause anyone bodily pain, except in the manner which the King and his ancestors have been in the habit of employing heretofore. [Source: Louis Finkelstein, Jewish Self-government in the Middle Ages (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1924), pp. 336-47]

  1. "Furthermore they shall obtain a decree from our King, fortified by an oath, that he should not be able to levy any special tax on the Communities or on any individual Community from this day forth [*]. For when the Communities bring their money to the coffers of the King they find grace in his eyes and in the eves of his counsellors and princes; also if they are in poor condition our lord, the King, may be generous to them in accordance with his proper custom, which would not be the case if the taxes were assigned.

  2. "Since the heralds of our lord, the King, demand redemption money from any Jew whom they meet walking innocently, and if he is unable to redeem himself they cast him 'with thrust on thrust' 'and with the garment they strip also the mantle', therefore we have agreed that the commissioners should obtain and acquire a decree from our lord, the King, similar to the former rule which a few individuals sought and obtained from him now two years past, but which matter was never carried out because they were unable to supply the redemption money.

  3. " Furthermore have we decided to obtain a decree from our lord, the King, promising that he will not appoint any Comisares (special investigators) to examine any matter relating to Jews. That can be left to the Ordinares (ordinary judges). For the Jews are weak and it is unnecessary to put them in the hands of a hard master; and also in that way (by appointing special investigators) the expenses increase without any gain for the King while the Jews grow poorer. The appointment of the Comisares should only be made at the request of the chosen Commission.

  4. "Furthermore have we agreed to ask our lord, the King, to compel each community of those taking part in this synod to pay the share which is assigned to it in accordance with the division which is made between us. They shall be compelled to pay these expenses in the same manner they are compelled to pay the taxes of the King, whether by punishment of body or property, or by excommunication or ban. The said compulsion is to be executed at the order of the Commissioners and with their agreement and at the expense of the Community which should refuse to pay its portion.

"To all the said decrees and all the said matters have we, the undersigned, agreed and we have taken it upon ourselves to execute all the documents in this regard which will be necessary after we have obtained permission from our lord, the King, but we have written all this merely as a record of proceedings. which took place in the month of Tebet of the year 5115 of the Creation. We have written and signed this we Moses and Crescas by the authority given us for this in a document executed by the notary, En Marco Castanero on the twenty-fifth of September of the year 1354, Common Era, and I, Judah, by the authority conferred upon me by a document, executed by the notary, Guillem Berndt de Ximo, on the first day of September, 1354, Common Era. And all is firm and established."
Moses Nathan Haii
Crescas Solomon
Judah Eleazar

French Jews

Expulsion of Jews from Spain, England and Italy

In England the Jews faced increasing restrictions during the Thirteenth Century, and in 1290 they were all expelled from England. Shortly afterwards the Jews were expelled from France. In 1478 the Jews in Spain suffered under the Spanish Inquisition, and in 1492 Jews were expelled from Spain altogether. The same thing happened in Portugal in 1497. 50 years later in Germany, Martin Luther (founder of Protestant Christianity) preached viciously against the Jews. [Source: BBC]

The victory of the Catholic monarchs over the Muslims in Spain set off a wave of religious intolerance that lead to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. In 1492, the same year Columbus discovered America, 150,000 Jews known as Sephardim were stripped of their possessions during the Spanish Inquisition and kicked out of the Spain.

In 1492, the Spanish inquisitor general Torquemada gave the Jews three months to convert to Christianity, leave the country, or face execution. Many Jews sought refuge in the Netherlands or the Islamic empires of the Moors, Arabs and Turks, where there was more religious toleration.

Some Jews lived on quietly as Catholics in Toledo and other Spanish cities. One Toledo resident told Journalist Louise E. Levathes, "I have a friend. He is Catholic and goes to mass every Sunday. But for some reason his grandfather and father told him not to eat pork, and every Friday night he lights a Sabbath candle."

The Jews were expelled from southern Italy, then known as the Kingdom of Naples, is the 16th century. Few returned even after the ban was lifted in the 18th century.

Book: “Farwell España, The World of Sephardism Remembered” by Howard M. Sachar (Alfred A. Knopf).

Expulsion of the Jews from France, 1306

According to the BBC: “During the first half of the 13th century the attitude of the Church towards Jews hardened from disapproval to loathing. On 22 July, 1306 King Philip IV of France expelled all Jews from his kingdom. King Philip IV, known as Philip the Fair, came to the throne in 1285. A few years later, in 1290, Jews living in England were expelled by King Edward I, many of them moving to France. Unfortunately for the Jews, France had its own history of persecution. The Lateran Council of 1215 summoned by Pope Innocent III forbade the living or working together and trading between Jews and Christians. Jews were excluded from all trades except pawn broking and working with old clothes. They had to wear a special garment to differentiate them from Christians. This applied throughout the Christian world wherever canon law was followed. [Source: BBC, June 25, 2009 |::|]

“This period included an infamous two year disputation of the Talmud which led to the burning of 20 cartloads of the holy book in Paris in 1242. Jews had been expelled from France in 1182 by an earlier King Philip and regularly throughout the 13th century but within a few years they were allowed back. They acted as tax collectors for the king but this role was gradually taken over by Italian bankers. So by the beginning of the 14th century they were no longer indispensable to the crown. |::|

Expulsion of the Jews

“In 1306 King Philip was short of money due to a war with the Flemish and a complex currency revaluation problem. It was against this financial background that King Philip came up with the plan to expel the Jews of France and confiscate and sell off their property. This was a normal event in mediaeval times. It was perfectly legal for the King to take over the Jews' possessions as they were in effect already his property. Jews were regarded as 'servi camerae mostrae', the Latin for 'servants of our chamber'. They were the King's chattel to do with as he saw fit. They had until this time also been entitled to his protection. King Philip saw the Jews as a liability with which he wanted to deal and an asset which he needed to realise. They had been tolerated, because of their material usefulness, but never accepted. |::|

“In January of 1306 King Philip set up a secret plan to strip the Jews of their belongings and expel them from the country. If any were to be found after a particular date then they would be killed. 100,000 Jews were arrested on July 22nd 1306. This was the day after the solemn fast of the 9th of Av which has often seen calamitous occurrences for Jews. It was possible to complete the arrests in one day because the orders had been kept secret. The authorities knew the whereabouts of the Jews and they were taken by surprise. |::|

“When in prison the Jews were told that they were sentenced to exile. They had to leave behind their belongings and debts and were to be allowed to leave the country only with the clothes they were wearing and a small sum of money. They were permitted 12 sous each. They were then given a period of one month in which to flee or face the consequences. However it took until the October for the expulsions to be complete due to the noting and processing of the assets concerned. |::|

“All the Jews' belongings were auctioned. The King took the proceeds. All debts to the Jews were transferred to the King and he received the payments from their Christian debtors. In order to maximise the profit, the King made sure the sale happened at the same time that a new edict forbidding coin clipping came into force. Endemic in the middle ages, coin clipping involved shaving off a tiny part of the precious metal of the coin and melting the collected clippings down to sell. Philip also offered a bounty of 20 percent to anyone who discovered any wealth that the Jews had secreted. |::|

“In taking this action and removing one of the main sources of finance in his kingdom the King was taking a desperate step. Though the Kingdom of France had expanded during the 13th century the Jews were allowed to remain in areas outside the realm. These were Lorraine, the county of Burgundy, Savoy, Dauphiné, Roussillon, and the papal lands at Avignon. Although the expulsion was quick the auctions took a long time. They were still happening at the time of King Philip's death. He was succeeded by his son Louis who in 1315 reversed the decree. However by 1322 the Jews were banished once more. This was part of a pattern of expulsion and return. It concluded with the expulsion of 1394. This is accepted as the date of the last expulsion from France in the mediaeval period. They returned over the following centuries as the kingdom expanded into areas to which they had fled.” |::|

Burning of Jews in Portugal in 1497

Ottoman Empire and Sephardic Jews

About 100,000 of the 150,000 Sephardic Jews kicked out of the Spain were welcomed to Istanbul by the Ottoman Sultan Bayazit II, who dispatched the Ottoman navy to rescue many Jews. "The exiled Sephardim," wrote journalist Melanie Menagh, "brought with them the glories of Spain's golden age and made major contributions to Turkish life. Many were physicians and they introduced modern European medical techniques to the court.”

By the the 16th century a large portion of the population of Istanbul was made up of Spanish-speaking Jews. The first printing press in the Ottoman empire was established by two Spanish-Jewish refugees. Sephardim circumspection was so highly regarded by the sultans that many Ottoman diplomats were Jews. The Sephardim language, Judeo-Spanish or “Ladino” , was thought to be especially melodic and lent itself to poetry and sacred and secular songs. Ancestors of the Sephardim still live in Istanbul and Ladino is still spoken in some neighborhoods.

Jews expelled from Hungary in 1376, from Sicily in the the 15th century, from Bavaria in 1470, from Bohemia in 1542, and from Russia in 1881, 1891, 1897 and 1903 also were provided with sanctuary by the Ottomans. During World War II, Turkey accepted some Jews who were fleeing Nazism.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, King James Version of the Bible,, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, , Metropolitan Museum of Art “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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