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History of the Jews and the Crusades

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The history of the Jews and the crusades became a part of the history of antisemitism for the Jews in the Middle Ages. The call for the First Crusade touched off new persecutions of the Jews that would continue on and off for centuries.

Background

In the First Crusade, flourishing Jewish communities on the Rhine and the Danube were utterly destroyed by some crusaders. In the Second Crusade (1147) the Jews in France suffered especially. Philip Augustus treated them with exceptional severity during the Third Crusade (1188). The Jews were also subjected to attacks by the Shepherds' Crusades of 1251 and 1320.

The atrocities were opposed by the local bishops and widely condemned at the time as a violation of the crusades aim, which was not directed against the Jews.[1] However, the perpetrators mostly escaped legal punishment. Also, the social position of the Jews in western Europe distinctly worsened, and legal restrictions increased during and after the crusades. They prepared the way for anti-Jewish legislation of Pope Innocent III. The crusades resulted in centuries of strong feelings of ill will on both sides and hence constitute a turning point in the relationship between Jews and Christians.

First Crusade

Defending in the Holy Land

The Jews almost single-handedly defended Haifa against the crusaders, holding out in the besieged town for a whole month (June-July 1099) in fierce battles. At this time, a full thousand years after the fall of the Jewish state, there were Jewish communities all over the country. Fifty of them are known and include Jerusalem, Tiberias, Ramleh, Ashkelon, Caesarea, and Gaza.[2][3]

Massacre of Jerusalem

Jews fought side-by-side with Muslim soldiers to defend Jerusalem against the Crusaders.[4] Saint Louis University Professor Thomas Madden, author of A Concise History of the Crusades, claims the "Jewish Defenders" of the city knew the rules of warfare and retreated to their synagogue to "prepare for death" since the Crusaders had breached the outer walls.[5] According to the Muslim chronicle of Ibn al-Qalanisi, "The Jews assembled in their synagogue, and the Franks burned it over their heads."[6] One modern day source even claims the Crusaders "[circled] the screaming, flame-tortured humanity singing 'Christ We Adore Thee!' with their Crusader crosses held high."[7] On the contrary, a late 11th century Jewish communication does not corroborate the report that Jews were actually inside of the synagogue when it was set on fire.[8] This letter was discovered among the Cairo Geniza collection in 1975 by historian Shelomo Dov Goitein.[9] Historians believe that it was written just two weeks after the siege, making it "the earliest account on the conquest in any language."[9] However, all sources agree that a synagogue was indeed burned during the siege.

Ransoming

Following the siege, Jews captured from the Dome of the Rock, along with native Christians, were made to clean the city of the slain.[10] Tancred took some Jews as prisoners of war and deported them to Apuleia in southern Italy. Several of these Jews did not make it to their final destination as “Many of them were […] thrown into the sea or beheaded on the way.”[10] Numerous Jews and their holy books (including the Aleppo Codex) were held ransom by Raymond of Toulouse.[11] The Karaite Jewish community of Ashkelon (Ascalon) reached out to their coreligionists in Alexandria to first pay for the holy books and then rescued pockets of Jews over several months.[10] All that could be ransomed were liberated by the summer of 1100. The few who could not be rescued were either converted to Christianity or murdered.[12]

Jewish crusade literature

The end of the crusades brought with it many narratives coming from both Jewish and Christian sources. Among the better known Jewish narratives are the chronicles of Solomon Bar Simson and Rabbi Eliezer bar Nathan, The Narrative of the Old Persecutions by Mainz Anonymous, and Sefer Zekhirah, or 'he Book of Remembrance, by Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn.

The Chronicle of Solomon Bar Simson (1140) is mostly a record of what happened during the period of the First Crusade. There is a definite personal bias seen within the writing, as he discusses the martyrdom of resistant communities far more than the conversion of others. It is not yet proven that Bar Simson really existed, and therefore it is hard to be sure who wrote this and for what purpose.

The Chronicle of Rabbi Eliezer bar Nathan (mid 1100s), as Robert Chazan proves, is known to be written by a person named Rabbi Eliezer bar Nathan, who was very popular in his time due to his writings. He is thought to have borrowed much of his information from Bar Simson, since much of the information is the same. His writing here is extremely emotional, taking on a more apocalyptic tone in a sense. There is a definite sense of personal experience coming out of this chronicle, experience with death and suffering within his community and others. This chronicle was extremely popular at the time, as several manuscripts were written about it in a myriad of places.

The Narrative of the Old Persecutions (1300s), as the lack of the author's name implies, is from an unknown author. The main focus of this narrative is on Mainz, and takes a very realistic stance on the crusades. It tells of the complacency of Rhenish Jews, of the reactions that Mainz Jews had to news of other communities falling to the crusaders, and of their turn towards the Church to protect them, only to be find more despair there. It also brings in some information coming from the late Middle Ages, of Jews being associated with well poisoning.

Sefer Zekhirah (late 1160s, early to mid 1170s) has a very well known writer, Rabbi Ephraim, who was a well known liturgist of his time. He was 13 during the Second Crusade, and is considered to be an eyewitness to many of the events that occurred during that time. This writing was rather popular itself, and consists of a series of poems, all expressing grief over the suffering of the Jews through metaphors and references to fables. His accounts, despite their very emotional appeal, are corroborated by other writings from the time and tend not to be so skewed as the two chronicles.

The details behind these narratives can all be found in several secondary historical sources, including Robert Chazan's God, Humanity, and History and Shlomo Eidelberg's The Jews and the Crusades, each of which gives background to the narratives and discusses their effects on European Jewry and Christianity.

Robert Chazan's In the Year 1096: The First Crusade and the Jews provides details as to the changes made in Jewish/Christian relations as a result of the First Crusade. He focuses on whether or not the crusades really had a salient impact on the Jews of the time and in the future, pointing out that persecution was nothing new to them, yet also talking about the importance of their being made extremely distinct within the European community by the crusades. They were no longer part of it to any great extent, but rather were made out to be part of the “others” as many in Europe already had been, such as atheists and pagans.

Christian sources for information on general feelings after the First Crusade all focus on their acquisition of Jerusalem. William of Tyre, Fulcher of Chartres, the Venetian Treaty, the Travels of Saewulf, and John of Wurzburg's Pilgrim Guide all detail Jerusalem but have little, if anything, to say of Europe and the Jews. However, in the midst of the First Crusade there were several Christian documents on the crusaders' attacks of Jewish communities and the basis of those attacks. One such document is Albert of Aachen on the Peasant's Crusade, which focuses on the disorganized peasant crusades that occurred along with the organized crusades that went on to take Jerusalem. It provides the personal experiences of Aachen, who was in one of these peasant crusades, and provides accounts of the slaughter of several groups of Jews. He describes it as being either “judgement of the Lord” or “some error of mind,” and the killings as not only being indiscriminatory, but also with no exception. His account also shows the Church being able to achieve little in its attempts to prevent these massacres.

Much of the focus of Christian writings of the time, however, was on the efforts to get to Jerusalem, though some accounts talk of the crusaders' distrust of the Byzantine Empire, accounts that show some of the reasoning for the Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople. The Deeds of the Franks, which has an unknown author, is such an account, and has a clear bias against the Byzantines. Many of the writings on later crusades continue to focus on Jerusalem as well, until near the end of the crusades when Jerusalem stops being their focus and the return to stability in Europe does.

Many of the secondary sources on this time period question how important the impact of the crusades was on both the Jewish and Christian communities. Robert Chazan's belief is that the effect was minimal in the end – both cultures were, in many ways, used to the persecution that was being enacted, and that this was just another step. R. I. Moore, within his novel The Formation of a Persecuting Society, argues that the effect on Christians was huge, with their entire society gaining feelings of the need for separation from their Jewish neighbors, which allowed them to persecute further in the future. Ivan G. Marcus in his article The Culture of the Early Ashkenaz argues that the Jews pulled away from the Christian community physically, mentally, and spiritually due to the sheer ferocity and shocking nature of the crusades. All of these and more provide differing opinions on the results of the crusades, but all agree that the crusades caused a separation to occur between the two religions.

References

Notes

  1. "The Church and the Jews in the Middle Ages". Crisismagazine.com. http://www.crisismagazine.com/january2003/feature4.htm. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  2. Katz, Shmuel. Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine. Taylor Productions Ltd., 1974 (ISBN 0-929093-13-5), pg. 97
  3. Carmel, Alex. The History of Haifa Under Turkish Rule. Haifa: Pardes, 2002 (ISBN 965-7171-05-9), pp. 16-17
  4. Brown, Michael L. Our Hands Are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the "Church" and the Jewish People. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 1992 (ISBN 1560430680)
  5. CROSS PURPOSES: The Crusades (Hoover Institute television show). The entire episode can be viewed with Realplayer or Window’s Media player. The website includes the corresponding transcription of the dialogue between the host and two guests.
  6. Gibb, H. A. R. The Damascus Chronicle of the Crusades: Extracted and Translated from the Chronicle of Ibn Al-Qalanisi. Dover Publications, 2003 (ISBN 0486425193), pg. 48
  7. Rausch, David. Legacy of Hatred: Why Christians Must Not Forget the Holocaust. Baker Pub Group, 1990 (ISBN 0801077583), pg. 27
  8. Kedar, Benjamin Z. "The Jerusalem Massacre of July 1099 in the Western Historiography of the Crusades." The Crusades. Vol. 3 (2004) (ISBN 075464099X), pp. 15-76, pg. 64
  9. 9.0 9.1 Kedar: pg. 63
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Goitein, S.D. "Contemporary Letters on the Capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders." Journal of Jewish Studies 3 (1952), pp. 162-177, pg 163
  11. Goitein, "Contemporary Letters on the Capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders," pg. 165
  12. Goitein, "Contemporary Letters on the Capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders", pg. 166
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