La Haine à travers les générations (Suite)
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The Medieval Period
The Medieval Period of European history is also known as the Dark Ages. This was exactly what the Medieval Period was for the Jews. During this period the church had widespread influence over all aspects of life in Europe. The stereotype set by previous generations - of the Jew with negative characteristics, who strives to harm the very basis of society and its rulers - continued and strengthened in this period. The theory which developed from the earliest days of Christianity - of a nation which killed Christ, rejected the revelation and prevented others from gaining salvation - became firmly entrenched as one of the central factors of life in Medieval Europe.
The influence of Christianity encompassed all strata of society and all aspects of life. Christian heritage, with its anti-Semitic aspects, was passed on in the preaching and sermons of the church. Cultural life also reflected these beliefs:
Anti-Semitism had considerable effect on the daily lives of Jews. The Fourth Lateran Council of the Church, in 1215, decreed that "Jews shall be distinguished from Christians in terms of dress". In different countries the distinguishing dress was different: a pointed hat in England and Italy, a heart shaped badge of shame in certain areas in Germany, a red and white circle in France and even a yellow (!) patch in Frankfurt and other areas in Germany. Jews were sent to live in specially designed quarters and the term "ghetto", which we know from the period of the Holocaust, has its source in the Jewish quarter of Venice.
- Art - Art contributed greatly to the
spread of the negative image of Jews in pictures of Jews
with horns and a tail (depicting Satan), Jews breastfeeding
from a pig, Jews performing rituals which harm Christians
and many more suchlike. Most of the famous artists of the
period painted and sculpted creations stemming from Christian
heritage. The focus of this artwork was the suffering of
Jesus with an ever present accusing finger pointed at the
- Literature - Literary characters and
works strengthen the negative stereotype, for example Shylock
in Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice'. It is interesting
to note that this work was written in England at a time
when Jews were not allowed to reside in the country at all
and despite this the anti-Semitic overtone is blatantly
- Theatre - In Medieval times it was very
common to present religious plays which were seen by all
strata of society. The 'Passion' was one sort pf play which
dramatized, in detail, the suffering of Jesus, with the
Jews playing a significant (negative) role.
- Archaeology - Many churches have displayed
in front, symbols emphasizing Christianity's victory over
Judaism. A famous example that exists till today - in the
cathedral in Strasbourg, France, there are 2 statues - one
stands erect and beautiful, representing the church, upright
and proud, and next to her an image of the "Synagoga", eyes
blindfolded and head downcast, to emphasize the blindness
and humiliation of Judaism.
- Language - Language is a means of transferring
messages and ideas. This is very apparent when looking at
the word 'Jew'. In European dictionaries the word Jew is
equivalent to exploiter, an untrustworthy person or a liar.
'Jew' has also become a verb meaning to swindle. In a thesaurus,
the word 'Jew' appears together with the expressions 'interest
bearing loan' and 'miser'. It is important to note that
definitions such as these appeared in the widely used Oxford
Dictionary up till the middle of the twentieth century!
This period is characterized by decrees against the Jews, which forced them to live in cities under the protection and mercy of the local ruler. Jews were forbidden from working the land (and obviously also forbidden to own land) and therefore they were forced to earn their living from commerce and usury. Undoubtedly this necessity raised to new levels the description of Jews as thieves, misers and villains who are trying to take control of the world financially.
One of the most outstanding expressions of the influence of religion on all aspects of society and state, were the crusades. The crusades were meant to conquer the sites in the land of Israel which were holy to Christianity, from their Moslem conquerors,. However, in the midst of the religious frenzy - the Jews, who were also heretics, were seen as easy and worthwhile prey. The prevailing atmosphere was described by a Jew of that period by the name of R' Ephraim son of Yaakov of Bonn:
"And he went back and forth shouting out [=the
preacher] … to travel to Jerusalem to fight Ishmael, and in
every place he came to, he spoke evil of the Jews who lived
in the land, and incited every snake and dog against us, saying:
take revenge of the crucified one against his enemies who
stand before you and afterwards you can fight against the
The Middle Ages were also the period of the Inquisition during which Jews were accused of heresy and burnt at the stake. Various European countries expelled the Jews from their territories - including Spain, Portugal, Britain and other countries.
These were also the years of blood libel in which entire communities
were punished due to false accusations of Jews murdering for
the sake of some imagined ritual. This happened in the blood
libel of 1475 when Jews of the city Trent were burnt at the
stake as a result of the discovery of the body of a child names
Simon. In this case, as with many other similar cases, Jews
were accused of murdering the boy in order to use his blood
for baking matzoth (unleavened bread). Another famous
blood libel case was the false accusation that Jews poisoned
the wells of the Christians and caused the outbreak of the plague
which caused the death of a quarter of the population of Western
Europe of those days.