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Preceding -- Following



by Bernard LAZARE

Translated from the French


Chapter Five




THE church reaches its final constitution in the eighth century. The period of great doctrinal crises is at an end, dogma is settled and heresies will not cause it any trouble until the Reformation. Pontifical primacy strikes deep root, the organization of the clergy is henceforth solid, religion and liturgy are unified, discipline and canonic law are settled, ecclesiastic property increases, the tithe is established, the federal constitution of the Churchsub- divided into sufficiently autonomous circuitsdisappears, the movement of centralization for the benefit of Rome is clearly outlined. This movement came to an end, when the Carolingians had established the temporal power of the popes, and the Latin church, strongly hierarchical before, became as centralized, in a comparatively short time, as the Roman empire of yore, which the church's universal authority had thus supplanted. Simultaneously Christianity spread further still and conquered the barbarians. The Anglo-Saxon missionaries had set the examples in Saint Boniface and Saint Willibrod; they had followers. The gospel was preached to the Alamans, the Frisians, the Saxons, the Scandinavians, the Bohemians and the Hungarians, the Russians and the Wends, the Pomeranians and the Prussians, the Lithuanians and the Finns. The work was accomplished at the end of the thirteenth century: Europe was Christianized.

The Jews settled in the wake of Christianity as it kept spreading by degrees. In the ninth century, they came from France to Germany, got thence into Bohemia, into Hungary and into Poland, where they met another wave of Jewsthose coming by way of the Caucasus and converting on their march several Tartar tribes. In the twelfth century they settled in England and Belgium, and everywhere they built their synagogues, they organized their communities at that decisive hour, when the nations were coming out from chaos, when states were being formed and consolidated. They[57] remained outside of these great agitations, amid which conquering and conquered races were amalgamating and uniting one with the other; and in the midst of these tumultuous combinations they remained spectators, strangers and hostile to these fusions: an eternal people witnessing the rise of new nations. However, their role was surely of account at all times; they were one of the active elements of ferment of these societies in the process of formation.

In some countries, as e.g., in Spain, their history is in so high a degree interlinked with that of the peninsula, that, without them it is impossible to grasp and appreciate the development of the Spanish people. But if they had influenced its constitution by the numbers of their converts in that country, by the support they had given in succession to the various masters in possession of its soil they did so by seeking to bring to themselves those among whom they lived and not by letting themselves be absorbed. Still, the history of the Spanish Marranos is exceptional. Everywhere, though, as we shall see, the Jews played a part of economic agents; they did not create a social state, but they assisted after a fashion in establishing it, and yet they could not be treated with favour among the organizations to whose formation they had lent aid. For this there was a serious obstacle. All the states of the Middle Ages were molded by the church; in their essence, in their very being, they were permeated with the ideas and doctrines of Catholicism; the Christian religion gave the unity they lacked to the numerous tribes which had gathered together into nations. As representatives of contrary dogmas, the Jews could not but oppose the general movement, both by their proselytism, and by their very presence as well. As the church led this movement it was from the church that anti-Judaism, theoretical and legislative, proceeded, anti Judaism which the governments and the peoples shared and which other causes came to aggravate. The social and religious state of affairs and the Jews themselves gave origin to these causes. But they had remained ever subordinated to those essential reasons which may be traced to the opposition, then secular already between the Christian spirit and the Jewish spirit, between the universal, and so to say, international Catholic religion, and the particularist and narrow Jewish faith.

Only towards the end of the eighth century the activity of the Western Jews developed. Protected in Spain by the Caliphs, given support by Charlemagne who let the Merovingian laws fall into[58] disuse, they extended their commerce which until then centered chiefly in the sale of slaves. For this they were, indeed, particularly favoured by circumstances. Their communities were in constant communication, they were united by the religious bond which tied them all to the theological centre of Babylonia whose dependencies they considered themselves up to the decline of the exilarchate. Thus they acquired very great facilities for exporting commerce, in which they amassed considerable fortunes, if we are to believe the diatribes of Dagobard,56 and later those of Rigord,57 which, with all their exaggeration of the property of the Jews must not, yet, be entirely rejected as unworthy of credence.58 Indeed, with regard to this wealth of the Jews, especially in France and Spain, we possess the testimonies of chroniclers and the Jews themselves, several of whom reproached their coreligionists for devoting to worldly welfare much more time than to the worship of Jehovah. "Instead of calculating the numerical value of the name of God," says the Kabbalist Abulafia, "the Jews prefer to count their riches."

Parallel with the general advance we really see this preoccupation with wealth grow among the Jews and their practical activity concentrating on a special business: I mean the gold business. Here we must emphasize a point. It has often been said, and it is repeated still, that the Christian societies had forced the Jews into this position of creditor and usurer, which they have for a long time kept: this is the thesis of the philosemites. On the other hand the antisemites assert that the Jews, from time immemorial, had natural inclinations for commerce and finance, and that they but followed their normal disposition, and that nothing had ever been forced upon them. In these two assertions there is a portion of verity and a portion of error, or rather that there is room to comment on them, and especially to give them a hearing.

At the time of their national prosperity the Jews, like all other nations, for that matter, had a class of the rich, which proved itself as eager for gain and as hard to the lowly as the capitalists of all ages and all nations have proven. The antisemites, as well, who make use of the texts of Isaiah and Jeremiah, e.g., to prove the constant eternal rapacity of the Jews, act very naively, and, thanks to the words of the prophets, can but establishand puerile it is the existence, in Israel, of possessors and poor. If they examined impartially the Judaic codes and precepts only, they would acknow[59] ledge that legislation and morals prescribed never to charge interest on debts.59 Taking all in all, the Jews were, in Palestine, the least mercantile of the Semites, in this regard much inferior to the Phoenicians and Carthaginians. It was only under Solomon that they entered into intercourse with the other nations. Even at that time, it was a powerful corporation of Phoenicians that was engaged in the banking business at Jerusalem. However, the geographical position of Palestine prevented its inhabitants from devoting themselves to a very extensive and considerable traffic. Nevertheless, during the first captivity and through the contact with the Babylonians, a class of merchants had formed, and from it came the first Jewish emigrants, who established their colonies in Egypt, Cyrenaica and Asia Minor. In all cities that admitted them, they formed active communities, powerful and opulent, and, with the final dispersion, important groups of emigrants joined the original groups which facilitated their installation. To explain the attitude of the Jews it is, accordingly, not necessary to fall back upon a theory of the Arian genius and the Semitic genius. Indeed, we well know the traditional Roman cupidity and the commercial sense of the Greeks. The usury of the Roman feneratores had no limit any more than had their bad faith; they were encouraged by the very harsh laws against the debtorsa worthy daughter of that law of the Twelve Tables which granted to the creditor the right of cutting pieces of flesh from the live body of an insolvent borrower. In Rome gold was absolute master, and Juvenal could speak of the "sanctissima divitiarum maiestas." 60 As to the Greeks, they were the cleverest and boldest of spectators; rivaling the Phoenicians in the slave-trade, in piracy, they knew the use of letters of exchange and maritime insurance, and, Solon having authorized usury, they never did away with it.

As a nation the Jews differed in nothing from other nations, and if at first they were a nation of shepherds and agriculturists, they came, by a natural course of evolution, to constitute other classes among them. And devoting themselves to commerce, after their dispersion, they followed a general law which is applicable to all colonists. Indeed, with the exception of cases when he goes to break virgin soil, the emigrant can be only an artisan or merchant, as nothing but necessity or allurement of gain can force him to leave his native soil. Therefore, the Jews coming into Western cities acted in no way differently from the Dutch or English when[60] they established business offices. Nevertheless, they came soon enough to specialize in the money business, for which they have been so bitterly reproached ever since, and in the fourteenth century they constituted quite a coterie of changers and lenders: they had become the bankers of the world.

The Middle Ages considered gold and silver as tokens possessing imaginary value, varying at the will of the king, who could order its rate according to the dictations of his fancy. This notion was derived from Roman law, which refused to treat money as a merchandise. The church inherited these financial dogmas, combined them with the biblical prescriptions which forbade loan on interest, and was severe, from its very start, against the Christians and ecclesiastics even that followed the example of the teneratores, who advanced money at 24, 48 and even 60 per cent., when the legal rate of interest was 12 per cent. The canons of councils are quite explicit on this point; they follow the teaching of the Fathers, Saint Augustin, Saint Chrysostom, Saint Jerome; they forbid loans and are harsh against those clerics and laymen who engage in the usurer's business.

At the same time, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the wage system was established, the bourgeoisie developed, grew rich and acquired privileges and franchises: capitalistic power was now born. Commerce having taken on a new form, the value of gold increased and the passion for money grew with the importance which the currency had acquired.

Indeed, on one hand were the rich, on the otherthe peasants, landless, subject to the tithe and prestations; workingmen dominated over by the capitalist laws. To cap it all, perpetual wars, revolts, diseases and famines. Whenever the year was bad, the money gave out, the crop failed, an epidemic came, the peasant, the proletarian, and the small bourgeois were forced to resort to borrowing. Hence, by necessity there had to be borrowers. But the church had forbidden loan at interest, and capital does not choose to remain unproductive, but during the Middle Ages capital could only be either merchant or lender, as money could be made productive in no other way. As far as the ecclesiastical decisions had any influence, a great part of the Christian capitalists did not want to begin an open revolt against their authority; there was also formed a class of reprobates for whom the bourgeoisie and nobility often acted as silent partners. It consisted of Lombards, Caeorsins, to whom the[61] princes, the lords granted the privileges of loaning on interest, gathering a part of the profits which were considerable, as the Lombards lent money at 10 per cent. a month; or of unscrupulous foreigners, like Tuscan emigrants settled in Istria who went in usury to such extremes that the community of Triest suspended, in 1350, all execution for debts for three years. This did not take away the ground from under the usurers, but as I have said they found obstacles which the church placed in the way of their operations (the council of Lyons of 1215 wanted to declare the wills of usurers void).

As for Jews, these obstacles did not exist. The church had no moral power over them, it could not forbid them, in the name of the doctrine and dogma, to engage in money exchanging and banking. Thus a religious conception of the functions of capital and interest, and a social system which ran counter to this conception, led the Jews of the Middle Ages to adopt a profession cried down but made necessary; and in reality they were not the cause of the abuses of usury, for which the social order itself was responsible. If they did not cultivate land, if they were not agriculturists, it is not because they possessed none, as has often been said; the restrictive laws relative to the property rights of the Jews came at a date posterior to their settlement. They own property, but had their domains cultivated by slaves, for their stubborn patriotism forbade them to break foreign soil. This patriotism, the notion which they attached to the sanctity of their Palestinian fatherland, the allusion which they kept alive in them of the restoration of that fatherland and this particular faith which made them consider themselves exiles who would one day again see the holy cityall this drove them above all other foreigners and colonists to take up commerce.

As merchants they were destined to become usurers, given the conditions which the codes had imposed upon them and the conditions they had imposed upon themselves. To escape persecution and annoyance they had to make themselves useful, even necessary, to their rulers, the noblemen upon whom they depended, to the church whose vassals they were. Now the nobleman, the Church despite its anathemasneeded gold, and this gold they demanded from the Jews. During the Middle Ages gold became the great motive power, the supreme deity alchemists spent their lives in search of the magistery which was to produce it, the idea of possessing it inflamed the minds, in its name all kinds of cruelties were[62] committed, the thirst of riches laid hold of all souls; later on, for Cortez and Pizarro, the successors of Columbus, the conquest of America meant the conquest of gold. The Jews fell under the universal charmthe same under which the Templars had fallen and for them it was particularly fatal, because of their state of mind and the civil status imposed upon them. In order to exist, they turned brokers in gold, but this the Christians sought as eagerly as they. More than that, under the constant menace of banishment, always acamp, forced to be nomads, the Jews had to guard against the terrible eventualities of exile. They had to transform their property so as to make it more convertible into money, that is, to give it a more movable form, and they were the most active in developing the money value, in considering it as a merchandise, hence the lending andto recoup for periodic and unavoidable confiscationsthe usury.

The creation of guildsmerchant and craftguilds and their organization, in the thirteenth century, finally forced the Jews into the condition to which they had been led by the social conditions general and specialunder which they lived. All these organizations were, so to speak, religious organizations, brotherhoods which none joined but those who prostrated themselves before the standard of the patron saint. The ceremonies attendant upon the initiation into these bodies being Christian ceremonies, the Jews could not but be shut out from them: and so they were. A series of prohibitions successively shut them out of all industry and all commerce, except that in odds and ends and in old clothes. Those who escaped this disqualification did so by virtue of special privileges for which they often paid too dearly.

However, this is not all; other more intimate causes were added to those I have just enumerated, and all joined in throwing the Jew more and more out of society, in shutting him up in the ghetto, in immobilizing him behind the counter where he was weighing gold.

An energetic, vivacious nation, of infinite pride, thinking themselves superior to the other nations, the Jews wished to become a power. They instinctively had a taste for domination, as they believed themselves superior to all others by their origin, their religion, their title of a "chosen race," which they had always ascribed to themselves. To exercise this kind of power the Jews had no choice of means. Gold gave them a power which all political [63] and religious laws denied them, and it was the only one they could hope for. As possessors of gold they became the masters of their masters, they dominated over them, and this was the only way to deploy their energy and their activity.

Would they not have been able to display it in some other fashion? Yes, and they tried it, but there they had to fight their own spirit. For many long years they had worked in the intellectual line, devoted themselves to sciences, letters, philosophy. They were mathematicians and astronomers; they practiced medicine, and, if the school of Montpellier was not founded by them, they surely helped in developing it; they had translated the works of Averroes and of the Arabic commentators of Aristotle; they had revealed the Greek philosophy to the Christian world, and their metaphysicians Ibn Gabirol and Maimonides had been among the teachers of the schoolmen. 61 Who stopped them in this advance? They themselves.

Their doctors endeavoured to confine Israel to the exclusive study of the law in order to preserve Israel from outside influences, pernicious, it was said, to the integrity of the law. Efforts to this effect had been made since the time of the Maccabees, when the Hellenizers constituted a great party in Palestine. Beaten at first, or, at least, hardly listened to, those who later acquired the name of obscurantists, kept at their task. When Jewish intolerance and bigotry grew in the twelfth century, when exclusiveness increased, the struggle between the partisans of profane science and their opponents became fiercer, it blazed up after the death of Maimonides and ended in the victory of the obscurantists.

In his works, particularly in the Moreh Nebukhim (Guide of the Perplexed) 62 Moses Maimonides attempted to reconcile faith and science. As a convinced Aristotelian, he wished to unite peripatetic philosophy with the Mosaic faith, and his speculations on the nature of the soul and its immortality found followers and ardent admirers as well as fierce detractors. As a matter of fact, especially in France and Spain, the Maimunists were led to neglect the ritual practices and petty ceremonies of worship: bold rationalists, they had allegoric interpretations for the biblical miracles, as the disciples of Philo before them, and thus they escaped the tyranny of religious precepts. They claimed the right of taking part in the intellectual movement of the time and mingling in the society in which they lived without giving up their beliefs. Their opponents clung to the purity of Israel, to the absolute integrity of its worship,[64] its rites, and its beliefs; in philosophy and science they saw the most deadly enemies of Judaism and maintained that the Jews were destined to perish and scatter among the nations, if they did not recover their wits and did not reject everything that was not of the Holy Law.

In 1232, Rabbi Solomon of Montpellier issued an anathema against all those who would read the Moreh Nebukhim or would take up scientific and philosophic studies. This was the signal for the struggle. It was violent on both sides, and all weapons were resorted to. The fanatical rabbis appealed to the fanaticism of the Dominicans, they denounced the Guide of the Perplexed and had it burned by the inquisition. At the instigation of a German doctor, Asher Ben Yechiel, a synod of thirty rabbis met at Barcelona, with Ben Adret in the chair, and excommunicated all those who read books other than the Bible and the Talmud, when under twenty-five years.

A counter-excommunication was proclaimed by Jacob Tibbon, who, at the head of all Provencial rabbis, boldly defended condemned science. All was in vain: those wretched Jews, whom everybody tormented for their faith, persecuted their coreligionists more cruelly and severely than they had ever been persecuted. Those whom they accused of indifference had to undergo the worst punishments; the blasphemers had their tongues cut; Jewish women who had any relations with Christians were condemned to disfigurement: their noses were subjected to ablation. Despite this, Tibbon's followers persisted. It was due to them, that Jewish thought did not completely die out in Spain, France and Italy during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Even such men as Moses of Narbonne and Levy de Bagnols, as Elias of Crete and Alemani, the teacher of Pico di Mirandola, as well as later Spinoza, were all isolated men. As for the mass of Jews, it had completely fallen under the power of the obscurantists. Hereafter it was separated from the world, its whole horizon was shut out; to nourish its spirit it had nothing but futile talmudic commentaries, idle and mediocre discussions on the Law.

Henceforth the Jew thought no longer. And what need had he of thinking since he possessed a minute, precise code, the work of casuist legists, which could give answer to any question that it was legitimate to ask ? For believers were forbidden to inquire into problems which were not mentioned in this codethe Talmud. [65]

The Jew found everything foreseen in the Talmud: the sentiments, the emotions, whatever they might be, were designated; prayers, formulas, all ready-made, supplied the means for expressing them. The book left room neither to reason nor to freedom, inasmuch as in instruction the legendary and gnomical portions were almost proscribedto lay stress upon the law and ritual. True, by the tyranny they had exercised over their flock they developed in each the ingenuity and spirit of craftiness necessary to escape from the net which closed without pity; but they also increased the natural positivism of the Jews by presenting to them as their only idea the material and personal happiness, a happiness which one could attain on earth if one knew how to bind oneself to the thousand religious laws. To attain this selfish happiness, the Jew, whom the prescribed ceremonies rid of all care and trouble, was fatally led on to strive after gold, for under the existing social conditions which ruled him, as they ruled all the people of that epoch, gold alone could give him the gratification which his limited and narrow brain could conceive. He was prepared to be changer, lender, usurer, one who strives after the metal, at first for the pleasures it could afford and then afterwards for the sole happiness of possessing it; one who greedily seizes gold and avariciously immobilizes it. The Jew having become such, anti-Judaism became more complicated, social causes intermingled with religious causes; the combination of these causes explains the intensity and gravity of the persecutions which Israel had to undergo.

Indeed, the Lombards and Caeorsins, for instance, were the object of popular animosity; they were hated and despised but they were not victims of systematic persecutions. It was deemed abominable that Jews should have acquired wealth, especially because they were Jews. Against the Christian who cheated him, and was neither better nor worse than the Jew, the poor wretch when plundered felt less anger than against the Israelite reprobate, the enemy of God and man. When the deicide, even so the object of terror, had become the usurer, the collector of taxes, the merciless agent of the fiscthe terror increased; it became intermingled with hatred on the part of the oppressed and downtrodden. The simple minds did not seek the real causes of their distress; they only saw the proximate causes. For the Jew was the proximate cause of usury; by the heavy interest he charged he caused destitution, severe and hard misery; accordingly, it was upon the Jews that enmities [66] fell. The suffering populace did not trouble themselves about responsibilities; they were neither economists nor reasoners; they only ascertained that a heavy hand weighed upon them: that was the hand of the Jew, and the people rushed upon him. They did not rush upon him alone; when at the limit of their endurance, they often attacked all the rich, indiscriminately killing Jews and Christians alike. In Gascony and southern France the Pastoureaux destroyed 120 Jewish communities, but the Jews were not their only victims; they invaded castles, they exterminated the nobles and the propertied. Only that among the Christians the propertied alone suffered violence at the hands of the rebels, the poor were spared; among the Jews the rich and the poor were exterminated indiscriminately, for, before any crime, they were guilty of being Jews.

At all events, the masses, restrained by authority and law rarely attacked the capitalists in general; to goad them on to revolt a terrible accumulation of miseries was necessary. But with reference to the Jews their ill-feeling was not restrained at all; on the contrary, it was encouraged. This was a means to divert attention, and every now and then kings, nobles or burghers offered their slaves a holocaust of Jews. This unfortunate Jew was utilized for two purposes during the Middle Ages. They employed him as a leech, let him swell up, fill himself with gold, then they made him clear; or, whenever popular hatred was too bitter, he was subjected to corporal punishment which was profitable to the Christian capitalists, who thus paid a tribute of propitiary blood to those whom they oppressed.

To give satisfaction to their wretched subjects, the kings would from time to time proscribe Jewish usury, would cancel debts; but oftenest they tolerated the Jews, encouraged them, being sure to derive benefit from them through confiscation or by taking their place as creditors. Nevertheless these measures were always but temporary, and governmental anti-Judaism was purely political. They banished the Jews either to mend their finances, or to elicit the gratitude of the small fry by partly relieving them of the heavy burden of debt; but they would soon recall the Jews, as they could find no better tax collectors. However, anti-Jewish legislation was, as we have said, most frequently forced upon the royal power by the church, either by the monks or the popes and synods. Even the regular clergy and the secular clergy acted upon different principles.[67]

The monks addressed themselves to the people, with whom they were in constant touch. In the first place they preached against the Deicides, but they represented these deicides as domineering, while they should have been bent forever under the yoke of Christendom. All these preachers gave expression to popular grievances. "If the Jews fill their granaries with fruit, their cellar with victuals, their bags with money and their chests with gold," said Pierre de Cluny: 63 "it is neither by tilling the earth, nor by serving in war, nor by practicing any other useful and honourable trade, but by cheating the Christians and buying, at low price, from thieves the things which they have stolen." They thundered against the "infamous" nation "which lives by pillage," and while their invectives were prompted by zeal in proselytism, they posed especially as avengers, who had come to punish "the isolence, avarice and hardheartedness" of the Jews. And they found a hearing. In Italy, John of Capistrano, "the scourge of the Hebrews," was stirring up the poor against the usury and obduracy of the Jews. He continued his work in Germany and Poland, leading gangs of poor wretches and desperadoes who exacted expiation for their sufferings from the Jewish communities. Bernardinus of Feltre followed his example, but he was haunted by more practical notions, among others by that of establishing mont-de-pietes to counteract the rapacity of the lenders. He traveled all over Italy and Tyrol, demanding the expulsion of the Hebrews, inciting insurrections and riots, causing the massacre of the Jews in Trent.

The kings, nobles and bishops did not encourage this campaign of the regulars. They protected the Jews from the monk Radulphe in Germany; in Italy, they set themselves against the preachings of Bernardinus of Feltre, who accused the princes of having sold themselves to Yechiel of Pisa, the wealthiest Jew of the peninsula; in Poland, Pope Gregory XI stopped the crusade of Jan of Ryczywol. The rulers had every interest to suppress these partial uprisings; from experience they knew that when the bands of starvelings were through slaughtering the Jews, they would kill those who possessed too great wealth, those who enjoyed excessive privileges, or those lords, counts or barons, whose power weighed too heavily on the shoulders of tax-payers.

As for the Church, it kept to theological anti-Judaism, and, being essentially conservative, favouring the mighty and rich, it took care not to encourage the passions of the people. I speak of the official[68] Church, abounding in prebendaries; striving for unity and centralization, cherishing dreams of universal domination; the Church of the Synods, the law-making Church, and not the church of petty priests and monks which was stirred by the same passions as agitated the lowly. But if the church sometimes interfered in behalf of the Jews when they were the object of the mob's fury, it nursed this fury and supplied it with fuel by combating Judaism, even though combating it from different motives.

Faithful to its principles, it vainly persecuted the spirit of Judaism in all its forms. It could not get rid of it, as this Jewish spirit had inspired it in its earliest stages. It was impregnated with it as the beach-sands are impregnated with the sea-salt which rises to their surface, and despite its efforts from the second century on to rebuff its origin, to thrust far away all memory of its original foundation, it still preserved the marks of it. In seeking to realize its conception of Christian states directed and ruled over by the Papacy, the church strove to reduce all anti-Christian elements. Thus it inspired Europe's violent reaction against the Arabs, and the struggle of the European nationalities against Mahommedanism was a struggle at once political and religious.

Still the Moslem danger was external, but the internal dangers threatening the dogma proved quite as grave for the church. Formerly benign and confining itself to canonic penalties, hereafter it appealed to the secular powers, and the Vaudois, Albigenses, Beghards, Apostolic Brothers, Luciferians were treated with cruelty. The limit of this movement was reached in the inquisition which the Pope Innocent III. instituted in the thirteenth century. Henceforth, a special tribunal, backed by civil authority, obedient to its orders was to be the sole judge, and pitiless at that, of heresy.

The Jews could not be overlooked in this legislation. They were persecuted not as Jewsthe church wished to preserve the Jews as a living testimony of its triumphbut because they instigated people to judaization, either directly or unconsciously, by the very fact of their existence. Had not their philosophers sent forth metaphysicians like Amaury de Bene and David de Dinan? What is more, were not certain heretics judaizing? The Pasagians of Upper Italy observed the Mosaic law; the Orleans heresy was a Jewish heresy; an Albigens sect maintained that the doctrine of the Jews was preferable to that of the Christians; the Hussites were supported by the Jews; accordingly, the Dominicans preached[69] against the Hussites and the Jews, and the imperial army that advanced against Jan Ziska massacred the Jews on its way.

In Spain, where the mingling of Jews and Christians was considerable, the Inquisition was instituted by Gregory XI, who gave it its constitution, to survey the judaizing heretics and the Jews and Moors, who, though not subjects of the Church, were subject to the will of the Holy Office whenever "by their words or their writings they urged the Catholics to embrace their faith." More than that, the popes recalled the canonic decisions to the minds of the Kings of Spain, because the fueros, i.e., Castillian customs which superseded the Visigothic laws, had granted equal rights to Jews, Christians and Moslems.

All these ecclesiastic measures reinforced the anti-Jewish sentiments of kings and nations; they were the prime causes; they upheld a special state of mind, which political motives emphasized with the kings; social motiveswith the nations. Owing to it, anti-Judaism became general, and no class of society was free from it, for all classes were more or less guided by the Church or inspired by its teachings, all of them were or thought themselves harmed by the Jews. The nobility took offense at their riches; the proletarians, the artisans and peasants, in a word the small people, were provoked by their usury; as for the bourgeoisie, the merchant class, the dealers in money, it was in permanent rivalry with the Jews, and their constant competition engendered hatred. The modern contest between Christian and Jewish capital assumes shape in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Catholic bourgeois looks with calm eyes on the murder of Jews, which rids him of an often successful rival.

Thus everything concurred to make of the Jew a universal foe, and the only support that he found during this terrible period of several centuries was with the popes, who, while abetting the passions of which they made capital, still wanted to guard carefully this witness of the excellence of the Christian faith. If the Church preserved the Jews, it often was not without schooling and punishing them. The Church forbade giving them public positions that might confer upon them authority over Christians, it instigated the kings to adopt restrictive measures against them; it imposed upon them distinctive badges, the rouelle and hat; it shut them in those ghettoes, which the Jews had often accepted and even sought in their eagerness to separate themselves from the world, to live apart,[70] without mixing with the nations, to preserve intact their beliefs and their race; so that in many points the edicts bidding the Jews to remain confined in special quarters really but sanctioned an already existing state of affairs. But the chief task of the Church was to combat the Jewish religion dogmatically. However, controversies, numerous as they were, did not suffice for this; laws were issued against the Jewish books. The reading of the Mishna in synagogues had already been prohibited by Justinian; after him no laws were passed against the Talmud, until the time of Saint Louis. After the controversy between Nicholas Donin and Yechiel of Paris (1240) Gregory IX ordered to burn the Talmud; this order was repeated by Innocent IV (1244), Honorius IV (1286), John XXII (1320) and the anti-pope Benedict XIII (1415). Moreover, the Jewish prayers were expurgated and the erection of new synagogues was forbidden.

The civil laws expounded the ecclesiastical decrees and were inspired by them, as e.g., the laws of Alfonso X of Castile, in the code of Siete Partidas, 64 the dispositions of Saint Louis, those of Phillip IV, those of the German emperors and the Polish kings. 65 The Jews were forbidden to appear in public on certain days; a personal toll was imposed upon them as if on cattle; they were sometimes forbidden to marry without authorization.

To the laws one must add the customsvexatious customslike that of Toulouse, which made the syndic of the Jews subject to boxing on the ear. The mob insulted them during their holidays and sabbaths; it profaned their cemeteries; on leaving the Mysteries and Passion plays it would lay their houses waste.

Not content with vexing them, with expelling them, as did Edward I in England (1287), Phillip IV and Charles VI in France (1306 and 1394), Ferdinand the Catholic in Spain (1492), they killed the Jews everywhere.

When on their way to liberate the Holy Tomb, the Crusaders prepared themselves for the Holy War by the immolation of Jews; whenever the black plague or a famine raged, the Jews were sacrificed in holocaust to the angered divinity; whenever extortions, misery, hunger, destitution maddened the people, they would avenge themselves on the Jews, who were made victims of expiation. "What's the use of going to fight the Mohammedans," cried Pierre de Cluny ,66 "when we have among us the Jews, who are worse than the Saracens?" [71]

What was to be done against an epidemic unless to kill the Jews who conspired with the lepers to poison the wells? And so they were exterminated in York and London, in Spain at the instigation of St. Vincent Ferrer; in Italy, where John of Capistrano preached; in Poland, Bohemia, France, Moravia, Austria. They were burned in Strassburg, Mayence, Troyes. In Spain the Marranos mounted the scaffold by the thousands, elsewhere they were ripped open with pitchforks and scythes; they were beaten to death like dogs.

What crimes could have deserved such frightful punishments? How poignant must have been the afflictions of those beings ! In those evil hours they cuddled one to the other and felt themselves brethren; the bond that joined them was fastened more tightly. To whom could they tell their plaints and their feeble joys, if not to themselves ? From these general desolations, from these sobs was born an intense and suffering brotherhood. The ancient Jewish patriotism became still more exalted. These outcasts, maltreated all over Europe, and marching with bespattered faces, got it into their heads to feel Zion and its hills brought back to life, to conjure up what a supreme and sweet consolation !the beloved banks of the Jordan and the lake of Galilee; they arrived there through an intense solidarity.

Still, to understand exactly the position of the Jews during these Dark Ages, one must compare it with that of the people surrounding them. The persecutions of the Jews would go on now that their exclusive character would render them more sorrowful. In the Middle Ages the proletarians and the peasants were not much better off; after being shaken up by terrible upheavals, the Jews would enjoy periods of comparative tranquility, of which the serfs knew nothing. Steps were taken against them, but what steps were not taken against the Moriscoes, the Hussites, the Albigenses, the Pastoureaux, the Jacques, against the heretics and the outcasts? From the eleventh to the end of the sixteenth century, abominable years fell out, and the Jews suffered from it not a whit more than did those among whom they lived. They suffered for other reasons, and traces of it were left impressed in a different way. But as the manners had grown softer, hours of greater happiness for them were born. We shall see what changes the Reformation and the Renaissance were to bring about in their position.


56 De Insolentia Iudaeorum (Patrologie Latine, t. CIV).

57 Gesta Philippi Augusti.

58 For the position of Southern Jews at the time of Philip the Fair, cf. Simeon Luce (Catalogue des documents du Tresor des Chartes (Revue des Etudes Juives, t. I, 3).

59 "Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of anything that is lent upon usury: unto a stranger (nokhri ) thou mayest lend upon usury." Deuter. XXIII, 19-20.

Nokhri means a transient stranger; a resident stranger is ger.

"And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him or increase." Levit. XXV, 35-36.

"Lord, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle?... He that putteth not out his money to usury." (Psalm, XV, 1-5). "Even to a non-Jew," adds the Talmudic cominentary (Makkoth, XXIV). Consult also: Exod. XXII 25; Philo, De Charitate; Josephus, Antiquitates Judaeorum, IV, ch. VIII; Selden, VI, ch. IX.

60 The Hebrew Sibyl speaks of "the execrable thirst for gold, of the passion for sordid gain which goads the Latins on to the conquest of the world."

61 Cf. S. Munk, Melanges de philosophie juive et arabe.

62 Guide des Egares (Translated by S. Munk).

63 Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny: Tractatus adversus Judaeorum inveteratam duritiam (Bibl. des Peres Latins, Lyons).

64 Title XXIV.

65 General Statute of Ladislas Jagellon. Art. XIX.

66 Loc. cit.

Preceding -- Following

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This text is chapter 5 of the English translation of L'Antisémitisme, son histoire et ses causes, by Bernard LAZARE (real name: Lazare BERNARD), first published in Paris in 1894, several times republished, lastly by the publishing house La Vieille Taupe (= the Old Mole) in 1982, reprinted in 1985, ISBN 2-903279-09-8. The book is still on sale and may be ordered from the publisher, BP 98, 75224 Paris cedex 05, France. We believe it costs 80 F (around 15 US$) This republication triggered a controversy which is documented in a booklet later published by Les Editions de la Différence, Contre l'antisémitisme, Histoire d'une polémque, Paris, 1983, 127 p. This material will be displayed with the French text of Lazare.

WARNING An English translation, under the title Antisemitism, Ist History and Causes, appeared in London in 1967, by Britons Publishing Company. No name is given for the translator. In fact, this is more an adaptation than a proper translation. Paragraphs are quite often abridged and sometimes altogether suppressed. Serious students should refer to the French original text. Nevertheless, as this book provides a glimpse into an epochal reflexion on antisemtism, we follow this text and do not interfere with the translation itself. A US edition was later done on this English publication: University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1995, 208 pages. pbk $10.

We thank the Australian friend who lent us this rare and deeply thought book.

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