Communal Organization: Combating Oppression and Violence



Blois. By Jörg Braukmann – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The authorities of both state and church were key to Jewish safety, and the Jewish communal leadership had to arouse these authorities to fulfillment of their responsibilities. Maintaining good relations with the rulers of Europe and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and turning to these two sets of authorities in times of peril was a major responsibility of the Jewish leadership.

Numerous instances of Jewish intervention with the governing authorities are available, some successful and some unsuccessful. As the crisis of 1096 developed, with early assaults in Speyer and Worms, the leadership of the Jewish community of Mainz negotiated effectively with the archbishop and his courtiers, who made the following suggestion- “Bring all your moneys into our treasury and into the treasury of the archbishop. Then you and your wives and your children and all your retinue bring into the courtyard of the bishop. Thus will you be able to be saved from the crusaders.” The new allegation of Jewish murder in the French town of Blois in 1171, which we have
earlier noted, elicited immediate and effective Jewish intervention in many directions, culminating in a successful meeting with the king of France himself. The king is described in the surviving Jewish letter as moved by the Jewish pleas and angered by the arbitrary anti-Jewish actions of the Count of Blois; he reassured the frightened Jews that the charge backed by the count of Blois would never be accepted in his domain.

Jewish leaders likewise intervened with the leadership of the Church on numerous occasions. A curious narrative—of questionable veracity—tells of an effort at forced conversion in early-eleventh-century northern France, which moved a leader of that community to make his way to the papal court in Rome. Purportedly aided by the Jews of Rome, this Jew supposedly obtained an audience with the pope and elicited a document of protection that included basic stipulation of the later Constitutio pro Judeis. Far better documented are later Jewish interventions with the papacy in the face of the new anti-Jewish allegations and in the wake of the French condemnation and prohibition of the Talmud. The Jewish negotiations produced papal insistence on return of the Talmud to the Jews, with offending materials deleted. Such interventions with the officials of church and state were critical to Jewish well-being in medieval Europe.

Secondary Literature

  1. R. Chazan, European Jewry and the First Crusade (Berkeley- University of California Press, 1987), 85-99.
  2. R. Chazan, “The Blois Incident of 1171- A Study in Jewish Intercommunal Organization.” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 36 (1968)- 13-31.
  3. R. Chazan, “Emperor Frederick I, the Third Crusade, and the Jews,” Viator, 8(1977)- 83-93.
  4. R. Chazan, “The Blois Incident of 1171- A Study in Jewish Intercommunal Organization,” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, XXXVI (1968)- 13-31.
  5. Y. Baer, A History of the Jews in Christian Spain, trans. Louis Schoffman et al. (2 vols.; Philadelphia- Jewish Publication Society, 1961-66). 2-110-130.

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