Demographic Movement


King William I (The Conquerer)

King William I (The Conquerer)

Perhaps the most striking feature of Jewish life during our period was the growing mobility of the Jews and the adventurous spirit that moved some of them to seek new areas in which to settle. While the roots of southern European Jewry were old, during our period some Jews broke the prior boundaries of prior Jewish settlement and ventured forth into areas of northern Europe previously uninhabited by Jews. The process of moving in search of new opportunities continued all through the medieval centuries. The Jews of northern France were willing to respond to the overtures of the Norman duke turned English king and to venture westward into England. Jews of the German lands were enticed into settling further eastward, at the behest of rulers like the dukes and kings of Poland and Hungary. To be sure, eventually some of the mobility of the Jews of medieval Europe was forced upon them, as a result of the banishments already noted. However, even those Jews who suffered expulsion benefited from the initiative of prior Jews who had opened up new territories for Jewish settlement.

Jewish mobility involved more than simply moving from domain to domain. Even within particular domains, Jews tended to fan out in search of economic opportunity. Where Jews specialized economically, especially in northern Europe, there were normally limitations to the number of merchants or moneylenders that any given town could absorb. Thus, the relatively abundant evidence for twelfth- and thirteenth- century English and northern-French Jewry shows steady movement from initial centers of Jewish settlement, usually in major towns, out into lesser and outlying towns. This is a reflection of the ongoing Jewish quest for new markets in which to ply their limited business affairs.

Secondary Literature

  1. R. Chazan, The Jews of Medieval Western Christendom (Cambridge- Cambridge University Press, 2006), 129-208.
  2. S. W. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (2 nd ed.; 18 vols.; New York- Columbia University Press, 1952-83), 11-192-283.
  3. D. Iancu-Agou, “Provence- Jewish Settlement, Mobility, and Culture,” in The Jews of Europe in the Middle Ages (Tenth through Fifteenth Centuries), ed. Christoph Cluse (Turnhout- Brepols, 2004), 175-190.
  4. M. Toch, “The Formation of a Diaspora- The Settlement of Jews in the Medieval German Reich,” Aschkenaz 7 (1997)- 55-78.
  5. N. Behrend, At the Gates of Christendom- Jews, Muslims and “Pagans” in Medieval Hungary, c1000-c.1300 (Cambridge- Cambridge University Press, 2001).


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