Justinian Code (Corpus Iurus Civilis)

Prohibition on Conversion to Judaism

Passover, Circumcision, and Rabbinical Courts

Justinian I, Roman emperor in the East from 527 to 565, was devoted to the Church. The first book of his Justinian Code (Corpus Iuris Civilis) appeared in 534 and was dedicated to problems arising from religions. Most of the statutes hostile to Jews and their religion are found in two chapters of the first book: “On the Jews and Caelicolae” (1.9) and “That neither Heretic, Pagan, nor Jew May Own or Circumcise a Christian Slave” (1.10). After the publication of the code, Justinian took up the subject of the Jews again in his Novellae (New Constitutions), especially in N. 45 (537) and N. 146 (553).

In his digest 48.8.11, circumcision was allowed only for Jews by birth but prohibited for proselytes and slaves. Judaism ceased to be a permitted religion, although some Jewish practices were still allowed. The purpose of this and other legislation was to induce Jews to convert to Christianity and to show Christians the superiority of the church over the synagogue. Meanwhile, conversion to Judaism was punishable by death and confiscation of the offender’s goods (Code 1.7.1, 1.7.5, 1.9.12). Jews who stoned Jewish converts to Christianity were condemned to be burned alive (C. 1.9.3), and Jewish law could not be applied in matters of matrimony (C.1.9.7). The constitution in Codex 1.9.8 established that

“Jews, who live under the Roman common law, shall address in the usual way the courts in those cases which concern their superstition as well as those that concern courts, laws and rights and all of them shall accuse and defend themselves under the Roman laws. Indeed, if some of them shall deem it necessary to litigate before the Jews in a common agreement in the manner of arbitration and in civil matters only, they shall not be prohibited by public law from accepting their verdict. The governors shall even execute their sentences as if arbiters were appointed through a judge’s award.”

This precept meant that it was no longer an obligation to settle religious issues judicially. At the same time, however, the parties to a dispute were permitted to turn to rabbinical courts, should they mutually agree to do so. Jews were excluded from holding administrative and honorary offices as well as from municipal dignities and legal practice (C. 1.9.19, 1.9.18, 1.4.5 pr., 2.6.8). Justinian also altered the date of Passover so that it did not fall before the Catholic Easter (Procopius, Historia arcane, 128, 16-18).

Source: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution