As European politics, society, economy and religion underwent epoch-making changes between 1400 and 1600, the treatment of Europe's Jews by the non-Jewish majority was, then as in later periods, a symptom of social problems and tensions in the Continent as a whole. Through a broad-ranging collection of original documents, the book sets out to present a vivid picture of the Jewish presence in European life during this vital and turbulent period. This book discusses the history and background of the Jewish presence in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe. As far as the late medieval Church was concerned, the basis for the treatment of Jews, by ecclesiastical and secular authorities, was to be found in the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council of the Roman Church, which were issued in 1215. The book is concerned with Jewish economic activities for their own sake, and Jews' financial relations with Christian rulers. It then concentrates on other aspects of the dealings which went on between European Jews and their Christian neighbours. The book includes the Jews' own economic presence and culture, social relations between Jews and Christians, the policies and actions of Christian authorities in Church and State. It draws upon original source material to convey ordinary people's prejudices about Jews, including myths about Jewish 'devilishness', money-grabbing, and 'ritual murder' of Christian children. Finally, the book demonstrates from the outset that much of the treatment of European Jews, in the period up to the Reformation and thereafter, was to be a practical result of the controversies within 'Christendom' on the subject of authority, whether ecclesiastical or secular.
There is generally an unconscious or else admitted assumption that, as the Reformation changed so many things for Europe's Christians, it must therefore have had a similar effect on Jews. It is clear that, even in the Christian Renaissance, the accurate study of the Hebrew scriptures was still regarded with suspicion, even by apparently 'enlightened' scholars. More interesting, perhaps, are German Hebraist Johann Reuchlin's comments on the mystical Jewish Kabbalah, which turn late medieval Christian approaches to rabbinical Judaism in another direction, towards works which had previously hardly been considered by Christian scholars. Reuchlin's work was condemned by Christian intellectuals at the time, but the notion of Christian Hebraism was to survive through the period of the Reformation and beyond.
The extracts from the authentic Jewish preaching of the period, in Spain and Italy, are set alongside papal attempts to protect, for reasons described in the relevant texts, the continuance of rabbinical scholarship in early sixteenth-century Italy. In view of the history of Jewish residence in a variety of western European countries, it was inevitable that Jews would acquire a wide range of linguistic skills. It is undeniable that there was a tendency for Jewish communities to take on the cultural characteristics of the countries in which they lived. This was particularly true of the Iberian Jews who took their languages into exile after 1492 and 1497 respectively, thus creating what is today known as Ladino, and northern European Jews who gave the world the Yiddish language, based on medieval German.
Jews as Europeans in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries
The chapter provides an historical background to the Jews in Europe in teh fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It discusses the Jewish contribution to European history, Jewish settlement and expulsion, the Church and the Jews and the New Testament and the Jews. It also presents an overview of the sources translated in the book.
The theme of this chapter is what appears to be called, in the 'modern' world, 'ethnic cleansing'. These documents describe some of the actions which were taken, in various European states, and particularly in the Iberian peninsula, as well as Bohemia and Italy, to remove the Jewish presence from their communities. The chapter then focuses on Portugal. In Portugal, 'New Christians' had to suffer a massacre in Lisbon in 1506. The chapter concludes with examples of expulsion decrees from other parts of Europe, where such measures had local rather than national effect. As Jews and converts found themselves wandering around Europe, and in particular the Mediterranean, the rabbis outside the Iberian peninsula were faced with the problem of deciding whether those who avowed their intention of returning to Judaism could be treated as Jews.
This chapter concentrates on aspects of the dealings which went on between European Jews and their Christian neighbours. A Castilian document of 1482 indicates that Jews were subject to violence on the roads, even before the buildup to the expulsion. While the programme of the Fourth Lateran Council continued to be implemented, with varying degrees of efficiency and commitment, in Spain as in other countries, Italy was still able to produce vivid indications of the real nature of Jewish-Christian relations in the period. The chapter is concerned with a false accusation against Jews which went back to twelfth-century England. This was the charge that Jews habitually, and from time to time, kidnapped Christian children and subjected them to torments which were intended to repeat those supposedly suffered by Christ at Jewish hands.
As the very foundation of the medieval Church's attitude to the Jews was Scripture, it is proper to begin with some of the texts which particularly influenced the teaching given to Catholics. This chapter includes some verses from the Gospels and from one of Paul's epistles. The extract from John's gospel purports to be part of a dialogue between Jesus and Jewish religious leaders, in which Jesus appears to link Jews in general with the devil, an idea which was to gain great popularity and influence in later periods. In contrast, the passage from Paul's epistle to the Romans gives a much more positive view of the relationship between Jews and non-Jewish Christians, though one which has only recently come to prominence in the teaching of the Churches.
This chapter considers the main aspects of the involvement of Jews in the European economy of the late medieval and early modern periods. In all western European countries with Jewish populations in this period, there were restrictions on the economic roles which Jews might fulfil. In the great majority of cases, the result of the Church policies was to confine Jews to trade and finance, whatever their personal inclinations may have been. Although examples are given of Jews who performed various economic functions in this period, in public or private capacities, the chapter discusses a contemporary account of how Jews were commonly perceived by the Christian majority. Despite the 1412 prohibition of royal tax collection by Jews, as late as 1488, just four years before the Spanish expulsion edict, a Jew might still obtain a national contract to collect taxes for the Castilian Crown.