The Papacy, Crusading, and the Jews in the Central Middle Ages

The Papacy, Crusading, and the Jews in the Central Middle Ages

By Rebecca Rist

Paper given at the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies (2011)

Professor Rist spoke on various aspects of relations between the Papacy and European Jewish communities and how it was effected by the crusades. She remarked that “crusading was one of the many reasons for the decline of Christian/Jewish relations in the High Middle Ages.”

Rist notes that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries many Jewish communities appealed to the Pope to issue letters asking for the Jews to be protected from crusaders, and several Popes starting with Alexander III even threatened to excommunicate Christians if they harassed the Jews.

But the Papacy, and Pope Innocent III in particular, were eager to end the practice of Jewish moneylending/usury with Christians, and issued edicts that Jews had to remit interest to Christians who went on Crusade. Rist also notes that we increasingly see in Papal correspondence and canon law that Jews were being depicted to be the same as Muslims and heretics, a view which would have reinforced the popular perception of Jews being an enemy within Europe.

Rist also talked in her paper about Hebrew chronicles and the crusades, focusing on the work of Ephraim of Bonn. He described how during the Second Crusade there were mob attacks against Jewish communities in France and that local officials only intervened after they had been bribed. He also commends Bernard of Clairvaux, calling him a “decent priest” because he preached against violence towards the Jews, and acted to help their communities without being bribed. Ephraim seems to have been unaware or uninterested in the fact that Bernard was also preaching against Jewish usury and had asked the King of France to rescind interest owed to Jews by crusaders.

Rist ends her paper by noting that we need to look at other sources, such as disputation literature and anti-Jewish polemics, to see what more information can be found about Jewish-Papal relations.

Click here to go to Rebecca Rist’s page on the University of Reading website

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