Popular Violence


Clifford's Tower, York

Clifford’s Tower, York

The attacks of 1096 represent something a turning point in the history of anti- Jewish persecution. Whereas the instances of Jewish suffering in antiquity all stem from the actions of duly empowered governments—like those of Babylonia, Seleucid Syria, and Rome—the assaults of 1096 were utterly popular, the result of potent anti-Jewish imagery that stimulated anti-Jewish actions. Not all medieval Christians accepted the images detailed in the past few sections, and even those who accepted them were not necessarily moved to anti-Jewish behaviors. The transition from anti-Jewish views to overt violence was complex and normally involved a societal crisis of one kind of another. Such societal crises normally involved twin negative developments from the Jewish perspective. First, the crisis activated radical views, and—in addition—such crises generally resulted in the suspension of normal societal constraints.

The crisis of 1096 activated in a few crusading circles a heightened sense of Jewish enmity. Equally important, although in most areas of Christian Europe normal societal controls remained firmly in place, in the Rhineland the authorities proved incapable of meeting the challenge posed by radical thinking. The subsequent crises faced by the Jews of medieval western Christendom—for example the attacks in Germany of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, the pan-European anti-Jewish violence associated with the Black Death, and the anarchic assaults that spread across the Iberian peninsula in 1391—all involved the heightening of anti-Jewish thinking, on the one hand, and the collapse of the normal constraints that protected Jews and in fact all of society on the other.

Secondary Literature

  1. R. Chazan, European Jewry and the First Crusade (Berkeley- University of California Press, 1987), 50-84.
  2. R. B. Dobson, The Jews of York and the Massacre of 1190. (York- University of York, 1974).
  3. J. Muller, “Erez gezerah—‘Land of Persecution-’ Pogroms against the Jews in the Regnum Teutonicum from c. 1280 to 1350,” in The Jews of Europe in the Middle Ages (Tenth through Fifteenth Centuries), ed. Christoph Cluse (Turnhout- Brepols, 2004), 105-121.
  4. Y. Baer, A History of the Jews in Christian Spain, trans. Louis Schoffman et al. (2 vols.; Philadelphia- Jewish Publication Society), 2-95-138.


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