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Introduction: Popular Violence

Medieval W. Christendom
The attacks of 1096 represent something a turning point in the history of anti-
Jewish persecution. Whereas the instances of Jewish suffering in antiquity all stem from
the actions of duly empowered governments—like those of Babylonia, Seleucid Syria,
and Rome—the assaults of 1096 were utterly popular, the result of potent anti-Jewish
imagery that stimulated anti-Jewish actions. Not all medieval Christians accepted the
images detailed in the past few sections, and even those who accepted them were not
necessarily moved to anti-Jewish behaviors. The transition from anti-Jewish views to
overt violence was complex and normally involved a societal crisis of one kind of
another. Such societal crises normally involved twin negative developments from the
Jewish perspective. First, the crisis activated radical views, and—in addition—such
crises generally resulted in the suspension of normal societal constraints.

The crisis of 1096 activated in a few crusading circles a heightened sense of
Jewish enmity. Equally important, although in most areas of Christian Europe normal
societal controls remained firmly in place, in the Rhineland the authorities proved
incapable of meeting the challenge posed by radical thinking. The subsequent crises
faced by the Jews of medieval western Christendom—for example the attacks in
Germany of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, the pan-European anti-
Jewish violence associated with the Black Death, and the anarchic assaults that spread
across the Iberian peninsula in 1391—all involved the heightening of anti-Jewish
thinking, on the one hand, and the collapse of the normal constraints that protected Jews
and in fact all of society on the other.

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