Jewish Culture and Scholasticism

Anti-Semitism in Northern Europe:  the Massacres of the Jewish Communities in 1096.

At the outset of Pope Urban II’s call for the First Crusade in 1095 a fanatical wave of virulent anti-Semitism broke out in the Rhineland in Germany.  Massacres of Jews took place at the cities of Mainz, Worms, Spetz and other locations.  The effect of these waves of anti-Semitism meant that Jewish communities of the 11th and 12th centuries were far safer in the Mediterranean towns than in Northern Europe.

For a first-hand primary source account of these attacks and massacres, go to the Fordham Internet Sourcebook.  Medieval Sourcebook: Albert of Aix and Ekkehard of Aura:  Emico and the Slaughter of the Rhineland Jews

Albert of Aix

At the beginning of summer in the same year in which Peter, and Gottschalk, after collecting an army, had set out, there assembled in like fashion a large and innumerable host of Christians from diverse kingdoms and lands; namely, from the realms of France, England, Flanders, and Lorraine. . . . I know notwhether by a judgment of the Lord, or by some error of mind;, they rose in a spirit of cruelty against the Jewish people scattered throughout these cities and slaughtered them without mercy, especially in the Kingdom of Lorraine, asserting it to be the beginning of their expedition and their duty against the enemies of the Christian faith. This slaughter of Jews was done first by citizens of Cologne. These suddenly fell upon a small band of Jews and severely wounded and killed many; they destroyed the houses and synagogues of the Jews and divided among themselves a very large, amount of money. When the Jews saw this cruelty, about two hundred in the silence of the night began flight by boat to Neuss. The pilgrims and crusaders discovered them, and after taking away all their possessions, inflicted on them similar slaughter, leaving not even one alive.

Not long after this, they started upon their journey, as they had vowed, and arrived in a great multitude at the city of Mainz. There Count Emico, a nobleman, a very mighty man in this region, was awaiting, with a large band of Teutons, the arrival of the pilgrims who were coming thither from diverse lands by the King’s highway.

The Jews of this city, knowing of the slaughter of their brethren, and that they themselves could not escape the hands of so many, fled in hope of safety to Bishop Rothard. They put an infinite treasure in his guard and trust, having much faith in his protection, because he was Bishop of the city. Then that excellent Bishop of the city cautiously set aside the incredible amcunt of money received from them. He placed the Jews in the very spacious hall of his own house, away from the sight of Count Emico and his followers, that they might remain safe and sound in a very secure and strong place.

But Emico and the rest of his band held a council and, after sunrise, attacked the Jews in the hall with arrows and lances. Breaking the bolts and doors, they killed the Jews, about seven hundred in number, who in vain resisted the force and attack of so many thousands. They killed the women, also, and with their swords pierced tender children of whatever age and sex. The Jews, seeing that their Christian enemies were attacking them and their children, and that they were sparing no age, likewise fell upon one another, brother, children, wives, and sisters, and thus they perished at each other’s hands. Horrible to say, mothers cut the throats of nursing children with knives and stabbed others, preferring them to perish thus by their own hands rather than to be killed by the weapons of the uncircumcised.


Massacre of the Jews in the Rhineland by Auguste Migette (1802-1884)


Jewish Scholasticism in Spain, Italy, Egypt and Jerusalem

The prodigious output of scholarly works in poetry, philosophy, medicine and theology by Maimonides and other Jewish scholars in Cordoba in the 11th and 12th centuries is a testament to the vitality of the Jewish community there until the arrival of the Almohads in 1148.  Thereafter we find Maimonides and other prominent Jewish intellectuals were forced to flee, and Maimonides continued his work in Cairo where he died.

Jewish scholars at Toledo in Northern Spain  and Cordoba in Andalusia were prominent in the development of the translation movement.  A prominent center for tranlsation was the Toledo School of Translation that featured prominent Jewish and Christian linguists and translators.  The selection of major texts to be translated were selected by the scholar  Gundisalvi who worked withh the Jewish scholar Avendauth on translating Ibn Sina (Avicenna’s)  De anima.  There was also interest in scientific and mathematics texts at French academies, where among others the future Pope Sylvester was a student and who later studied in Andalusia and possibly at the Qarawiyin University in Fez, Morocco.  The Toledo School of Translation was given financial patronage by the Catholic archbishop of Toledo.

A second important center was in Sicily and southern Italy by several translators associated with the Hohenstaufen or the papal court, where translations of Aristotle and Ibn Rushd (Averroes’s) commentaries in Arabic were made into Latin.  By the late 1200s Aristotle became compulsory reading at European universities.  Much later in the Renaissance period,translation movements were made in the 15th century by Italian Jews from Hebrew texts based on the Arabic original that came from Damascus.