Origins of Anti-Semitism III
Jude Wanniski
November 24, 1999


Why would we run in the "Memo on the Margin" a three-part series on the origins of anti-Semitism? Today, especially when measured against a generation ago, Jews are well-integrated into every facet of America: academia, arts, finance, government, media, popular culture, etc. Where a generation or so ago Jews faced admission quotas regarding enrollment at universities, for example, today, many of those same institutions now have Jewish presidents. A similar story prevails throughout all other facets of American society.

Anti-Semitism has always had an economic foundation. In Volume Four (1951) of his Story of Civilization, Historian Will Durant explains the peculiar role of Jews as financiers because of Christian and Muslim prohibitions against usury. His examination of the tie between anti-Semitism and millenniarism is especially appropriate today, as the world enters the next millennium. Many minorities have suffered inordinately when economies have collapsed or become chaotic: Chinese merchants in Southeast Asia, Lebanese shop keepers in West Africa, Indians in Uganda, for example, but none so ruthlessly and persistently as the Jews who have borne the brunt of adverse consequences from economic disruption throughout the ages, but especially since the first millennium. There is no guarantee it will not happen again if the new millennium brings with it the seeds of another global depression. The continued savagery in the Balkans, where there are no Jews to blame, is a reminder of the brutality of men to one another, men who profess to pray to the same Creator. When there is an excuse among Christians to blame Jews, the savagery is always the greater.

The fact that Jews were allowed to be usurious toward non-Jews but proscribed from practicing the same with Jews simply underscores the dislike with which they were regarded by gentiles. Jews rarely found need to borrow from Christians or Muslims, generally raising capital among themselves, but Christians and Muslims often relied on Jewish loans. Nothing malicious is implied here, but for the gentile debtor two rates of interest - one almost at the level of a mere service charge among Jews and another at exorbitant rates for Christians -- always seemed a case of victimization by Jewish money-lenders. In this last entry from Durant's review, we pick up on the medieval history and see there were attempts in several instances of the total eradication of Jews from Europe.

[This memo on the margin will run through the weekend. Students of Supply Side University will get a well-deserved Thanksgiving break, with next week's lecture the third part of the series by Ibn Khaldun. Happy Thanksgiving!]

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The Second Crusade (1147) threatened to better the example of the First. Peter the Venerable, the saintly Abbot of Cluny, advised Louis VII of France to begin by attacking the French Jews. "I do not require you to put to death these accursed beings...God does not wish to annihilate them; but, like Cain the fratricide, they must be made to suffer fearful torments, and be preserved for greater ignominy, for an existence more bitter than death." Abbot Suger of St. Denis protested against this conception of Christianity, and Louis VII contented himself with capital levies on rich Jews. But the German Jews were not let off with mere confiscation. A French monk, Rodolphe, leaving his monastery without permission, preached a pogram in Germany. At Cologne Simon "the Pious" was murdered and mutilated; at Speyer a woman was tortured on the rack to persuade her to Christianity. Again the secular prelates did all they could to protect the Jews. Bishop Arnold of Cologne gave them a fortified castle as refuge, and allowed them to arm themselves; the Crusaders refrained from attacking the castle, but killed any unconverted Jew that fell into their clutches. Archbishop Henry at Mainz admitted into his house some Jews pursued by a mob; the mob forced a way in, and killed them before his eyes. The Archbishop appealed to St. Bernard, the most influential Christian of his time; Bernard replied with a strong denunciation of Rodolphe, and demanded an end to violence against the Jews. When Rodolphe continued his campaign Bernard came in person to Germany, and forced the monk to return to his monastery. Shortly thereafter the mutilated body of a Christian was found at Würzburg; Christians charged Jews with the crime, attacked them despite the protests of Bishop Embicho, and killed twenty; many others, wounded, were tended by Christians (1147); and the Bishop buried the dead in his garden. From Germany the idea of beginning the Crusades at home passed back to France, and Jews were massacred at Carentan, Rameru, and Sully. In Bohemia 150 Jews were murdered by Crusaders. After the terror had passed, the local Christian clergy did what it could to help the surviving Jews; and those who had accepted baptism under duress were allowed to return to Judaism without incurring the dire penalties of apostasy.

These pogroms began a long series of violent assaults, which continued till our time. In 1235 an unsolved murder at Baden was laid to the Jews, and a massacre ensued. In 1243 the entire Jewish population of Belitz, near Berlin, was burned alive on the charge that some of them had defiled a consecrated Host. In 1283 the accusation of ritual murder was raised at Mainz, and despite all the efforts of Archbishop Werner, ten Jews were killed, and Jewish homes were pillaged. In 1285 a like rumor excited Munich; 180 Jews fled for refuge to a synagogue; the mob set fire to it, and all 180 were burned to death. A year later forty Jews were killed at Oberwesel on the charge that they had drained the blood of a Christian. In 1298 every Jew in Röttingen was burned to death on the charge of desecrating a sacramental wafer. Rindfleisch, a pious baron, organized and armed a band of Christians sworn to kill all Jews; they completely exterminated the Jewish community at Würzburg, and slew 698 Jews in Nuremberg. The persecution spread, and in half a year 140 Jewish congregations were wiped out. The Jews of Germany, having repeatedly rebuilt their communities after such attacks, lost heart; and in 1286 many Jewish families left Mainz, Worms, Speyer, and other German towns, and migrated to Palestine to live in Islam. As Poland and Lithuania were inviting immigrants, and had not yet experienced pogroms, a slow exodus of Jews from the Rhineland began to the Slavic East.

The Jews of England, excluded from landholding and from the guilds, became merchants and financiers. Some waxed rich through usury, and all were hated for it. Lords and squires equipped themselves for the Crusades with money borrowed from the Jews; in return they pledged the revenues of their lands; and the Christian peasant fumed at the thought of moneylenders fattening on his toil. In 1144 young William of Norwich was found dead; the Jews were accused of having killed him to use his blood; and the Jewish quarter of the city was sacked and fired. King Henry II protected the Jews; Henry III did likewise, but took £422,000 from them in taxes and capital levies in seven years. At the coronation of Richard I in London (1190) a minor altercation, encouraged by nobles seeking escape from their debts to Jews, developed into a pogrom that spread to Lincoln, Stamford, and Linn. In York, in the same year, a mob led by Richard de Malabestia, "who was deeply indebted to the Jews," killed 350 of them; in addition 150 York Jews, led by their Rabbi Yom Tob, slew themselves. In 1211 300 rabbis left England and France to begin life anew in Palestine; seven years later many Jews emigrated when Henry III enforced the edict of the badge. In 1255 rumor spread through Lincoln that a boy named Hugh had been enticed into the Jewish quarter and there had been scourged, crucified, and pierced with a lance, in the presence of a rejoicing Jewish crowd. Armed bands invaded the settlement, seized the rabbi who was supposed to have presided over the ceremony, tied him to the tail of a horse, dragged him through the streets, and hanged him. Ninety-one Jews were arrested, eighteen were hanged; many prisoners were saved by the intercession of courageous Dominican monks.

During the civil war that disordered England between 1257 and 1267, the populace got out of hand, and pogroms almost wiped out the Jewish communities of London, Canterbury, Northampton, Winchester, Worcester, Lincoln, and Cambridge. Houses were looted and destroyed, deeds and bonds were burned, and the surviving Jews were left almost penniless. The English kings were now borrowing from the Christian bankers of Florence or Cahors; they no longer needed the Jews, and found it troublesome to protect them. In 1290 Edward I ordered the 16,000 remaining Jews of England to leave the country by November 1, abandoning all their immovable realty and all their collectible loans. Many were drowned in crossing the Channel in small boats; some were robbed by the ships' crews; those who reached France were told by the government that they must leave by Lent of 1291.

In France, too, the spiritual climate changed for the Jews with the Crusades against the Turks in Asia and the Albigensian heretics of Languedoc. Bishops preached anti-Semitic sermons that stirred the people; at Béziers an attack upon the Jewish quarter was a regular rite of Holy Week; finally (1160) a Christian prelate forbade such preaching, but required the Jewish community to pay a special tax every Palm Sunday. At Toulouse the Jews were forced to send a representative to the cathedral each Good Friday to receive publicly a box on the ears as a mild reminder of everlasting guilt. In 1171 several Jews were burned at Blois on a charge of using Christian blood in Passover rites. Seeing a chance to turn a pious penny, King Philip Augustus ordered all the Jews in his realm to be imprisoned as poisoners of Christian wells, and then released them on payment of a heavy ransom (1180). A year later he banished them, confiscated all their realty, and gave their synagogues to the Church. In 1190 he had eighty Jews of Orange killed because one of his agents had been hanged by the city authorities for murdering a Jew. In 1198 he recalled the Jews to France, and so regulated their banking business as to secure large profits to himself. In 1236 Christian crusaders invaded the Jewish settlements of Anjou and Poitou -- especially those at Bordeaux and Angoulême -- and bade all Jews be baptized; when the Jews refused, the crusaders trampled 3000 to death under their horses' hoofs. Pope Gregory IX condemned the slaughter, but did not raise the dead. St. Louis advised his people not to discuss religion with Jews; "the layman," he told Joinville, "when he hears any speak ill of the Christian faith, should defend it not with words but with the sword, which he should thrust into the other's belly as far as it will go." In 1254 he banished the Jews from France, confiscating their property and their synagogues; a few years later he readmitted them, and restored their synagogues. They were rebuilding their communities when Philip the Fair (1306) had them all imprisoned, confiscated their credits and all their goods except the clothes they wore, and expelled them, to the number of 100,000, from France, with provisions for one day. The King profited so handsomely from the operation that he presented a synagogue to his coachman.

So crowded a juxtaposition of bloody episodes scattered over two centuries makes a one-sided picture. In Provence, Italy, Sicily, and in the Byzantine Empire after the ninth century there were only minor persecutions of the Jews; and they found means of protecting themselves in Christian Spain. Even in Germany, England, and France the periods of peace were long; and a generation after each tragedy the Jews there were again numerous, and some were prosperous. Nevertheless their traditions carried down the bitter memory of those tragic interludes. The days of peace were made anxious by the ever-present danger of pogroms; and every Jew had to learn by heart the prayer to be recited in the moment of martyrdom. The pursuit of wealth was made more feverish by the harassed insecurity of its gains; the gibes of gamins in the street were ever ready to greet the wearers of the yellow badge; the ignominy of a helpless and secluded minority burned into the soul, broke down individual pride and interracial amity, and left in the eyes of the northern Jew that somber Judenschmerz -- the sorrow of the Jews -- which recalls a thousand insults and injuries.

For that one death on the cross how many crucifixions!