Establishment of Jewish Rights throughout France, Rabbi Meir Bar Simon’s Milhemet Mizvah


Charlemagne Coin

Charlemagne Coin

[This folk tale is included by Rabbi Meir bar Simon of Narbonne in the thirteenth-century complaint he composed in response to royal anti-usury initiatives.]

First of all, there is an obligation to maintain prior covenants with all men, even if they are not of the king’s faith. Indeed, all who obey him must maintain with us the covenant maintained by his ancestors to our ancestors. For our ancestors, the Jews, spread throughout his kingdom as a result of the [royal] obligation to keep us secure and to protect our persons and our property. We and our ancestors have lived in accord with this promise for a long time, from the days of King Charles [Charlemagne].

He [Charlemagne] conquered many lands and brought them under his control with Jews who were loyal to them in both body and property. They [the Jews] would plunge into the heart of battle and court death in order to save the kings and the barons who were with them. For it is well known and written in many places in our possession and in likewise in the …. that, when King Charles conquered the city of Narbonne at the times of his war with the Muslims who were there, they killed his horse in front of the gate. He fell to the ground and lay at their mercy to be killed. Of all those warriors who were with him, not one of then was willing to dismount from his horse and put him [King Charles] on it. For they feared that, if they were to dismount, they would die there. Until a Jew who was there with them—a valiant warrior—dismounted from his horse and placed him [King Charles] on it. He [the Jew] remained there on foot and was killed by the Muslims. Subsequently, when he conquered the city [of Narbonne], King Charles preserved that great act of faithfulness for his [the Jew’s] descendants. He gave them a large and honorable portion of the Narbonne and its environs. It is an ancient tradition that he gave them a third of the city and its environs. He gave all the Jews good and honorable laws, with the assent of the bishops and priests who were there with him.

After him, the kings who ruled in his stead treated them [the Jews] according to this dispensation until now. All the time they [the kings of France] preserved this covenant and dispensation, they succeeded in their wars and overcame their enemies. There was no other reason fro this treatment another factor, beyond what we have written, that the King Charles was saved from the Muslims by a Jew who sacrificed his life to save him.

Thus, the king and all his descendants are obligated to provide forever many benefits to all the Jews in his realm and to preserve their bodies and property—not that he bring upon them great tribulations and laws and statues that are harsh and unjust and not he that he break the covenant of his ancestors with them and with their ancestors.

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