The Roman Catholic Church—Policies—Segregation


Jewish Ghetto of Rome

Jewish Ghetto of Rome, Illustration from Brockhaus and Efron Jewish Encyclopedia (1906—1913)

Jews were prohibited from inflicting harm on Christianity and harm on Christians as well. The most obvious harm that Jews could inflict of Christians was to wean them away from their faith. Jews might under no circumstances entice Christians out of the Christian fold. One of the pre-medieval legacies of the Church was insistence that Jews be prohibited from positions of power over Christians, since power often translates into influence. With the passage of time, the concern with Jewish influence moved from power to contact. Increasingly, the Church began to enact ecclesiastical legislation that called for segregation of the Jews, so that they not enjoy the proximity to Christians that might engender religious influence. The Church demanded that Jews be forbidden from living in small villages, where Christian-Jewish contact would be inescapable, and that Jews be restricted to certain sectors of towns, again in an effort to diminish Christian-Jewish contact.

The most radical of these efforts at segregation came in 1215, at the Fourth Lateran Council, where the assembled leadership of the Church enacted a stipulation that Jews be readily distinguishable from Christian neighbors by virtue of their garb. Distinguishing garb eventually took many forms, the most common of which involved badges sown on the outer garments of Jews and special Jewish hats. All these efforts at enhanced segregation of the Jews were ultimately dependent on the lay authorities for enforcement. Many of the lay authorities of medieval western Christendom were slow in supplying the requisite enforcement, but the pressure of the Church was unremitting and over time Jews of Europe were in fact increasingly segregated.

Secondary Literature

  1. S. W. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, 11-77-106
  2. S. Simonsohn, The Apostolic See and the Jews- History, 130-156
  3. A. Toaff, “The Jewish Badge in Italy during the 15th Century.” Die Juden in ihrer mittelalterlichen Umwelt (1991) 275-280
  4. A. Toaff, Love, Work & Death- Jewish Life in Medieval Umbria (London- Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1998), 173-194


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