Historic Jewish Enmity


Ecclesia and Synagoga

Ecclesia and Synagoga

Jews who were convinced to remain in areas of Italy and Spain that fell under Christian domination and Jews who immigrated into older areas of Jewish settlement in the south and into newer areas of Jewish settlement in the north encountered considerable animosity on the part of the Christian majority. In part, this animosity was a normal human reaction to those who dissent from the majority vision; in areas where Jewish presence was new, the animosity was the normal human reaction to newcomers; in part, the skewed Jewish economic profile triggered resentment. However, the most potent source of majority animosity was undoubtedly the legacy of Christian anti-Jewish teachings that pre-dated the Middle Ages. While Paul insisted on an eventual reconciliation between God and the Jewish people, the Gospel portraits of Jewish enmity and malevolence had much deeper impact on popular thinking. Given the centrality of the Crucifixion to the annual Christian calendar, Jewish enmity and malevolence were regularly and widely recalled and commemorated.

While there are early hints of the impact of imagery of historic Jewish enmity on European Christians, the first major outbreak of violence rooted in such imagery came as an offshoot of the First Crusade. The call of Pope Urban II in 1095 to a holy military mission against the Islamic enemy electrified western Christendom. While the papal vision of a unified army operating under ecclesiastical control was thwarted, effective baronial militias coalesced, made their way eastward, and during the summer of 1099 achieved a stunning victory with the conquest of Jerusalem. The call to the crusade galvanized many elements in Christian society and aroused diverse views and commitments. In certain sectors of the crusading population and among some burgher sympathizers, the notion of a sacred struggle against the Islamic foes of Christendom was translated into the sense that the battle against “the enemy” should be generalized and should begin with the local and more heinous enemy—the Jews. While this sense ran counter to ecclesiastical teachings, the exhilaration of the call to battle evoked radical ideas that the Church could by no means control. Significant anti-Jewish violence along the Rhine River was grounded in this sense of the Jews as historical enemies of Christ and Christianity.

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