Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chapter Two, From Crusades to Martin Luther

The High Middle Ages, from about the year 1,000, was a period of radical change and turmoil in Europe. There was great expectation surrounding the anticipated return of Christ, great letdown with the failure to occur. Europe entered a long period of social stress and superstition heightened by a series of catastrophes from hurricane to Black Plague. Satan was believed to be behind the catastrophes and the Jews, with a tradition of association with the devil going back to the church fathers and Paul, were believed in league with the anti-Christ, his instrument of Christian suffering.

This was also a period of a political change and increasing local autonomy. Kingdoms emerged, cities expanded, and Europe’s population grew. With economic development came the need for capital. But Church doctrine forbade Christians to lend money. So, with few possibilities for livelihood, Jews were encouraged to take on the tasks of collecting rents and taxes for church and landlords. Jews also became the lenders of capital needed to feed the expansion. As tax collectors Jews became the focus of resentment, targets of rage by the general populace. As “usurers” they were subject to expulsion as a form of debt forgiveness.

This was also a period in which the church expanded its influence within and to evict Islam from Europe.

The Crusades, 1096-1272. On their way to Jerusalem the crusaders left a path of death and destruction behind in Jewish communities along the Rhine and Danube. Why, one is recorded as asking, "should we attack the unbelievers in the Holy Land, and leave the infidels in our midst undisturbed?" On May 25, 1096, about 800 Jews were murdered in Wurms, Germany while many others chose suicide rather than subject their families to torture, rape and murder. In Regensburg Jews were thrown the Danube, "baptized," according to another chronicler of the time. In Mainz, Cologne, Prague and many other cities, thousands were killed and their possessions plundered. During the nine crusades spanning nearly 200 years tens of thousands of Jews were massacred, their property destroyed or stolen. Thus began the long period of persecution, expulsion and murder which only began to ease, if temporarily, with the gradual secularization of Europe beginning in the 17th century.

The Crusades mark a shift in anti-Jewish persecution. For centuries previously anti-Judaism had been encouraged by the elites; with the eleventh century the “the atrocities committed against the Jews sprang from the people.” (The Causes and Effects of Anti-Semitism, 1978, p.120)

The Black Death devastated Europe in the mid-14th century, annihilating between one third and half of the population, Christians and Jews. Although Jews also suffered, rumors arose accusing the Jews of poisoning Christian wells in order to spread the disease. Although on several occasions popes condemned the violence, hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed. In Strasbourg, a city not yet touched by the plague, 900 Jews were gathered together and burned alive.

Rumors can take on a life of their own as did on that arose during the plague. It was believed that a cabal of rabbis gathered together, and international conspiracy plotting the destruction of Christians. According to the myth Jewish communities throughout Europe were instructed to poison Christian wells. Five hundred years later that myth would reappear in the form of The Protocols of Elders of Zion.

Blood libels Another myth that grew up in this period accused Jews of drinking of blood of Christian children, or murdering them to use their blood in the making of matzot. The myth usually involved the kidnapping of a pre-pubescent boy. The boy would be tied or nailed to a cross in mockery of the Christian Eucharist. Simon of Trent, who was supposedly murdered in 1475, was canonized by Pope Sixtus V in 1588. A cult developed around Simon that continued until 1965 when it was finally disbanded by Pope Paul VI.

Blood libel accusations continue to excite the imagination of some Christian communities today. The most celebrated modern case involved a Russian Jew, Menahem Beilis, arrested on July 21, 1911 for the murder and mutilation of a Ukrainian youth. Acquitted after spending two years in jail, the peasant making the charge eventually admitted that his accusation followed tutoring by the police.

And one year after the liberation of Auschwitz, of the more than 24,000 Jewish residents of pre-war Kielce, Poland, 200 survivors returned home only to be faced with a pogrom inspired by another blood libel. Thirty-five were murdered, and two Jews who just happened to be on a train passing through the city were also murdered.

The Spanish Inquisition

The Inquisition, intended to root out heresies, was created through a papal bull at the end of the 12th century. The Spanish Inquisition was created to unify Spain and consolidate Catholic power under the monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. It’s primary target was expulsion of the Moors from Spain. The Jews, that other foreign population according to the inquisitors, were given the choice of expulsion or conversion. The conversions, under threat of torture, death or expulsion, were clearly not voluntary. In the early years the inquisition was most concerned with establishing the credibility of the conversions. As the years went by and some conversos rose within church bureaucracy, fear of “Jewish” influence also grew. The inquisitors turned their attention to the conversos, tortured suspect converts to confession, then burned them at the stake for confessing their sin. Estimates vary regarding the actual number of Catholic conversos who died at the hands of the inquisitors. Based on statistics drawn from the records of Autos de fe, the numbers are estimate to be between 2,000 and 8,000.

In addition to ridding the church of what guilt-driven suspicion suspected to be insincere converts, the Inquisition also arrived at a new and novel definition of who is a Jew, limpieza de sangre, or purity of blood. “Now Jewishness is… a permanent inborn characteristic that even baptism does not remove, (Nichols, 1993, P. xxi). “Those who wished to hold public office had to present a certificate … showing that they were had no Jews in their lineage, that they were free of… mala sangre, bad blood (Nichols, pps. xx-xxi). According to Grosser and Halperin, p. 154, conversion and assimilation “were no longer a guarantee against prejudice and persecution. The Jewish taint survived and contaminated. In this sense the Inquisition (was) the intellectual and historical precursor of the racial anti-Semitism of the 19th and 20th centuries epitomized by Nazism.”

Four centuries after limpieza de sangre, German law adopted the principle and used it to determine who was worthy, who unworthy of life.

Martin Luther (1483 - 1546), called the Great Reformer, had a profound impact on the development of Christianity with his challenge to Catholicism; his writings also had a profound impact on the survival of the Jews four hundred years after his death. For this reason it will be beneficial to take some time reding his own words regarding “the Jews.”

Luther challenged the church and revolutionized Christianity. The impact of his challenge on Europe’s Jews was greater and more intense persecution by the Catholic south, for whom the Jews were seen as allies of the rebellious north while, in the north a temporary easing of their physical persecution. Since Protestantism represented, for its leaders, a return of Christianity to its Jewish sources, an effort to rid itself of pagan influence, Luther believed that this would attract Jews to the new religion. Luther’s attitude took a dramatic change from tolerance to radical anti-Judaism when his expectations failed to materialize, and the Jews obstinately clung to their own religion.

As had the writings of Paul, the gospels and the Church Fathers, it is his later writings, and particularly his final work, On the Jews and Their Lies, 1543, which would prove to have a profound impact on the conditions of Jewish existence and survival within the Christian Diaspora. The follow extracts from the 1543 essay provide the flavor and the letter of Luther’s frustration, what Nichols calls, “[the] concept of ‘severe mercy’[which] follows from [Luther’s] disillusionment with the prospects of large-scale Jewish conversion.”

‘What then shall we do with this damned, rejected race of Jews?

First, their synagogues or churches should be set on fire,

Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed.

Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer- books and Talmuds…

Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more…

Fifthly, passport and traveling privileges must be absolutely forbidden to the Jews.

Sixthly, they ought to be stopped from usury. All their cash and valuables of silver and gold ought to be take from them and put aside for safe keeping.

let us drive them out of the country for all time. For, as has been said, God's rage is so great against them that they only become worse and worse through mild mercy, and not much better through severe mercy. Therefore away with them.’

And, in Of The Unknowable Name and The Generations of Christ, also from 1543, "But your [God's] judgment is right, justus es Dominie. Yes, so shall Jews, but no one else be punished, who held your word and miracles in contempt and ridiculed, insulted and damned it for such a long time without interruption, so that they will not fall, like other humans, heathens and all the others, into sin and death, not up in Hell, nor in the middle of Hell but in the pit of Hell, as one cannot fall deeper...

Even if they were punished in the most gruesome manner that the streets ran with their blood, that their dead would be counted, not in the hundred thousands, but in the millions, as happened under Vespasian in Jerusalem and for evil under Hadrian, still they must insist on being right even if after these 1,500 years they were in misery another 1,500 years, still God must be a liar and they must be correct. In sum, they are the devil's children, damned to Hell...

The Jews too got what they deserved. They had been called and elected to be God's mouth as Jeremiah says...Open your mouth wide and I will fill it; they however, kept tightly closed their muzzles, eyes, ears, nose, whole heart and all senses, so he polluted and squirted them so full that it oozes from them in all places and devil's filth comes from them.

Yes, that tastes good to them, into their hearts, they smack their lips like swine. That is how they want it. Call more: 'Crucify him, crucify him.' Scream more: 'His blood come upon us and our children.' (Matthew 27:25) I mean it came and found you...

Perhaps, one of the merciful Saints among us Christians may think I am behaving too crude and disdainfully against the poor, miserable Jews in that I deal with them so sarcastically and insulting. But, good God, I am much too mild in insulting such devils..."

Four hundred years after his death the leaders of the Third Reich would come to describe Luther as inspiration and justification for 20th century Christendom’s Final Solution to its Jewish Problem. “At his trial in Nuremberg after the Second World War Julius Streicher, the notorious Nazi propagandist, editor of the scurrilous antisemitic weekly, Der Stumer, argued that if he should be standing there arraigned on such charges, so should Martin Luther.” (Nichols, 1993, pps.270-271)

Nicholls, William, Christian Antisemitism, A History of Hate, 1193, Jason Aronson Inc. Northvale,New Jersey

Grosser, Paul E. & Halperin, Edwin G., The Causes and Effects of Anti-Semitism, the Dimensions of a Prejudice, 1978, Philosophical Library, Inc., New York

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