From Charlemagne to Charles de Gaulle: the fateful shaping force of Jew hatred on French Jewry Part I.
Webegin with the population numbers listed in the Encylopaedia Judaica (1973), compiled by Salo W. Baron, the ever-insightful dean of American Jewish historians. As of 1300, they depict France as a key center of European Jewry, a community of 100,000, accounting for about one in five European Jews at the time. Two centuries later, in 1501, there are no professed Jews left in the kingdom. France is Judenrein. Its Jews become a significant part of the momentous shift of European Jewry from West to East.
The mystery deepens. Once Jews are gone, it stays that way for a long time. Arthur Herzberg, focusing on a period quite a ways down the road in The French Enlightenment and the Jews, finds that: "In all of France in the year 1700 there were not five thousand Jews." Indeed, in the core areas of France a Jewish presence is not re-established until after the revolution of 1789. The Jewish population of France does not regain its 1300 level until the latter part of the 19th century. That's the bare bones of the mystery.
FLASHING BACK TO ROMAN TIMES:
At the other end, flashing hack, the Jewish presence in medieval France, we quickly discover, was no flash-in-the-pan. The roots of French Jewry trace back to Roman times. To get at that story, I repair to a long-admired historian, Henri Pirenne, whom I had first encountered in his History of Europe, written without access to sources, basically from the storage of what was in his head, animated by a determination not to let dejection get the better of him while interned by the Germans in World War I.
Now the work to consult is Pirenne's Mohammed and Charlemagne (1939), a book on the close of the ancient world and the beginning of the Middle Ages. It's a book with a broad sweep. What is surprising is the prominence of the Jewish presence. Here's Pirenne's take.
The key feature of the Roman Empire was its Mediterranean character. The major group identified with its extensive maritime traffic were the Syrians, "or those who were known as such."
Jews were found in all the cities. They were sailors, brokers, bankers, essential to the economic life of the time. Their literacy also made them desirable agents for government tax farming and as toll collectors. By the time of the barbaric invasions, Jews were almost as numerous as Syrians and Greeks. Jews "had penetrated everywhere before the invasions and there they remained after the invasions."
There are well established Jewish communities in France by the 6th century. Citing Gregory of Tours, 6th century historian and Bishop of Tours, Pirenne notes the presence of Jews in Clermont, Paris, Orleans, Tours, Bourges, Bordeaux and Arles. There are early settlements also in Brittany, Avignon, Metz, Narbonne and Poitiers. Their primary center was evidently Marseilles, already then a great seaport. Synagogues in Paris and Orleans date back to the 6th century.
As an indication of the numbers of Jews, Pirenne cites the conversion of no fewer than five hundred in Clermont. There were many forced conversions in the 6th century, leading to a rebuke of French bishops by Pope Gregory the Great.
Forced baptism, it may be noted, was not unique to France. The Byzantine Emperor Heraclius ordered the conversion of all the Jews in the 7th century but it just didn't take hold. The Jews of Constantinople were hardly disturbed. It introduced a certain ambiguity in Jewish status. Where there was baptism, it was easily washed off. French forced baptism was more serious stuff.
WHO KEEPS THINGS MOVING AFTER THE FALL?:
Jews were a key factor, it appears, in the "singular persistence" of economic life in the Mediterranean region after the fall of the Roman Empire until the Arab conquests of the 7th century. The Western Mediterranean then became, as Pirenne terms it, "a Musulman lake." The Islamic conquest made for a new ball game. Pirenne sees it as "the most essential event of European history which had occurred since the Punic Wars" between Rome and Carthage.
By the early 8th century, with the conquest of Spain in 711, the process was complete. The great port of Marseilles was largely emptied of its international functions. International trade died.
Whatever commerce continued was now dependent on Jews. Pirenne writes: "Under these circumstances the only persons who were still engaged in commerce were the Jews. They were numerous everywhere. The Arabs neither drove them out nor massacred them, and the Christians had not changed their attitude to them. They therefore constituted the only class to make its living by trading." Jews became the only surviving link between East and West, maintaining contact with the Orient.
Medieval markets became increasingly local. Jews played a significant role, to the point that market days falling on Saturday were changed to facilitate Jewish participation. Jews are the professional merchants of the time, so much so, Pirenne notes in his Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe, "that the words Judaeus and Mercator appear almost synonymous."
Jews are key in the trading of goods from a distance, such as pearls, horses, cattle, spices, paper. They provide the incense indispensable to church ritual and "... those rich fabrics of which cathedral treasuries have preserved occasional specimens down to our own day." Jews, apart from some Venetians, were almost the only people who made their living by commerce.
CHARLEMAGNE SENDS ISAAC TO BAGHDAD:
Charlemagne, king of the Franks, crowned Emperor by Pope Leo III in 800, his domain now expanded to much of Western and Central Europe, was well disposed to the Jews. He recognized their autonomy in part of the city of Narbonne, including the role of the head of the community.
He saw the Jew as expert trader and facilitator. When he decides to break the ice in East-West relations, his delegation to Caliph Harun al-Rashid at Baghdad, the first by a Western ruler, includes a Jewish merchant, Isaac, as interpreter. Isaac is the only one to return after a five-year journey, with the Caliph's gifts to Charlemagne, including an elephant.
Pirenne cites the dependence on Jewish merchants by Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne and his successor, who accorded them special privileges during his reign. Louis brought the merchant Abraham of Saragossa into his court.
Jews accumulate wealth, are well regarded in court circles, build new synagogues. They own estates and vineyards. Even the wine for the Mass comes from Jewish vineyards. Wholesale and foreign trade is in their hands. Pirenne concludes: "Here, incontestably, we are dealing with great merchants who were indispensable."
FROM INDISPENSABLE TO ENTIRELY DISPOSABLE:
From indispensable to elimination. That is the trajectory of Jewish fate in medieval France. Throne, Church and Street combine to cook up a poisonous brew--a Zeitgeist--the spirit of the times that forces a narrowing of Jewry's economic and social role and then shifts decisively against the Jewish presence in France. It's a long, complex story that plays out over the centuries of the medieval age.
To guide us through the labyrinth we rely, first, on Salo Baron's magisterial Social and Religious History of the Jews, volumes IX to XI, that deal with the Late Middle Ages and Era of European Expansion (1200-1650), and on two major works by William Chester Jordan, professor at Princeton, a ranking medievalist of our time: The French Monarchy and the Jews: From Philip Augustus to the Last Capetians (1989) and Ideology and Royal Power in Medieval France: Kingship, Crusades and the Jews (2001).
Jews are energetic, resilient, resourceful. They are creative in scholarship. This is the period of the Rishonim and Tosafists. They know how to navigate the system, how to assuage the powers that be, how to play off Throne against Church. They are expert practitioners of the arts of adaptability, how to shift with the changing political and economic tides.
Jews cannot overcome the suspicions that fall on the medieval outsider who sticks to his guns and refuses to convert. Their very existence challenges church, crown and populace. The idea of a "Jewish question" emerges even though Jews comprise less than one percent of the population.
Jews are increasingly exploited for political and financial gain and humiliated. As efforts to convert Jews largely fail, the French monarchy shifts course to fashion, as Jordan puts it: "... a new and enduring ideal of the purified Christian state, an ideal that persisted until the close of the Middle Ages and left its considerable imprint on the powerful state of the early modern period as well."
There are some striking markers of the cataclysm that lies down the road. We begin with what, in its own terms, is only a literary footnote, cited by Jordan, but a signal indicator of the way the wind was blowing. Its subject is a medieval tale that, centuries later, Shakespeare would take up for his Merchant of Venice.
The original version, in Latin, focuses on the pound-of-flesh demand of a wealthy serf. In 13th century France he is transformed, in a vernacular version, into a Jew. It's a characterization that sticks. It carries over to all subsequent versions.
Once picked up by Shakespeare, that medieval shift cascades down the centuries until our own day. Shylock is now embedded in the mind of Western literature as a Jew. The French 13th century conversion is irreversible.
The medieval history of Shylock offers an answer to a question that has puzzled Shakespeareans over the centuries. How did he come upon Shylock?
Shakespeare would hardly have had an opportunity to know about Jews first-hand. Expelled from England long before his time, Jews were not re-admitted until several decades after Shakespeare's death. Even the tiny community of Marranos, about 100 persons, would hardly have been visible in Shakespeare's London, then a city of 200,000.
Now we know. He didn't need to rely on his own experience--the medieval story offered a ready-made plot.
AGOBARD: PIONEER IN JEW HATRED:
As you work your way through the accounts, you find that even under the benign rule of Louis the Pious, Agobard gives early, passionate voice to a counter-narrative. Agobard, Archbishop of Lyon, is the great promoter of Jew hatred in his day.
Starting in 816, he begins to wage a zealous campaign against this group of holdouts who refuse the Christian faith.
According to The Dark Ages: Jews in Christian Europe, 711-1096, edited by Cecil Roth, Agobard denounces Jews as "sons of darkness." He is out to humiliate the Jews and to make them disappear as a community. He instructs the clergy to preach in the synagogues every Saturday. A thousand years later, the idea is revived as a serious proposal in the runup to the Revolution.
He pressures Jews to convert, to the point that many families send their children south to Provence for safety. He orders the children who remain to assemble and, without reference to their parents, proceeds to baptize all those who in his mind accept baptism voluntarily.
To Agobard, the Church should impose its ideas even in opposition to the emperor. He is consequently deposed by Louis the Pious in 835 but makes his peace with the emperor and returns to his position in 837. His ideas continue to percolate. He is significant for formulating the anti-Jewish thinking that is taken up by later generations of churchmen.
Another marker was degrading ceremonies. Two examples of this odious genre are reported in the Roth volume. Easter became an occasion for Jewish degradation.
In Toulouse, in southwest France, a Jew had to appear at the cathedral on Good Friday for the ceremony of "Colaphisation," a blow on the face to avenge what had been done to Jesus. One year, the unfortunate victim was hit so hard that "his brains and eyes ... spilled to the earth." It was only in the 12th century that Jews succeed in having this annual spectacle converted to an annual cash payment.
In Beziers, also in the south, the custom was for the local bishop to exhort the populace to revenge the crucifixion by going on a rampage in the Jewish quarter and letting the blood flow. The practice was only ended in 1161 by Guillaume, Bishop of Beziers, in exchange for a large payment by the Jewish community and a subsequent annual contribution to the cathedral.
Accusations of ritual murder of children by Jews occurred in the middle ages in England and Germany as well as France. They are indicators of the precariousness of the Jewish condition. In modern times, the Kishinev pogrom was sparked by a blood accusation, as was the 1946 Kielce pogrom in post-war Poland.
In France, a notorious case occurred in 1171, when Jews were accused of the murder by crucifixion of a youth in Blois. The Count of Blois took it seriously, overriding the objection of his brother, the Count of Champagne as well as that of the king. In the end, he executed thirty-two of the forty adult Jews in Blois, according to Jordan.
In Troyes, home town of Rashi, there was a blood libel in 1288. Thirteen Jews accused of killing a Christian were burned at the stake.
Blood libels do not fade out of French history. There is the international scandal of the Damascus Affair in 1840.
HOSTILITY IN CRUSADE TIMES:
Anti-Jewish hostility accompanied and heightened in periods of popular excitement. Although the late 11th century massacres associated with the First Crusade took place mainly in the Rhineland and there was little violence in France, they added to French Jewry's feelings of insecurity.
When preachers promoted a new crusade in 1236-39, it led to attacks on Jews in Anjou, Poitou, and Brittany, with some 3,000 Jews killed and five hundred forced to submit to baptism. A Jewish convert, Nicholas Donin, then a Franciscan, was a key instigator of the anti-Jewish agitation. The attacks led Pope Gregory IX, no great friend of the Jews, to write to the bishops of France denouncing the assaults. That wasn't the end of the story.
The following year, 1240, Duke John of Brittany banished all Jews from his domain. Baron cites the decree: "Having in mind the good of all of Brittany, neither We nor Our heirs shall have them in Brittany at any time in the future, nor shall We tolerate that any of Our subjects have them in their lands which are in Brittany."
DESECRATION OF THE HOST:
Catholic dogma holds that the Host wafer consecrated in the Eucharist sacrament, celebrated to commemorate the Last Supper, metaphysically embodies the person of Jesus. Host desecration was an accusation that could reverberate through the centuries. A spectacular case described by Baron, in his volume XI, takes place in Paris in 1290.
The story traces back to a confessed participant, an apostate, Johannes de Thilrode. A Parisian Jew, Jonathan, the story goes, acquires a consecrated wafer for a huge sum just to demonstrate that Christians were simply stupid to take its supernatural qualities seriously.
However, the story continues, when the wafer is finally pierced it divides itself into three parts and begins to bleed. A piece thrown into boiling water turns into blood.
When the news gets around, Pope Boniface VIII is moved to become involved, permits the bishop of Paris to establish the relic in the spacious church of Saint-Jean-en-Grave, subsequently enlarged to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims. The miraculous Host, it is said, is preserved for four hundred years. An annual festive procession to commemorate the miracle is initiated. The upshot: the 13th century happening is still celebrated long after medieval times.
Passion plays, enormously popular, depicted Jews as Christ-killers. There was enthusiastic response to one typical character, sometimes called Stephaton, who gives Jesus vinegar to drink just before his death. The character was depicted as a misshapen, bloated Jew, the last tormentor of the living Christ. Part sinister, part clown, he served as the perfect role model of the accursed Jew in the medieval popular mind.
THE LEPER POISON PLOT:
However farfetched, whatever the problem, it would soon enough hone in on the Jews. Baron cites the case of an alleged plot by lepers, early in the 14th century, to poison drinking water all over Europe in revenge for the wrongs done them by state and people.
The plot was thickened by a fabricated letter from the Muslim king of Grenada, translated by a convert, pointing to Jews as the handlers of the lepers. There is a mass slaughter of French lepers.
Then it's the Jews' turn. Philip VI levies large fines on French Jewry. Then, reflecting popular pressure, he expels the Jews from the kingdom in 1322, only seven years after their readmission to France following a prior expulsion.
Degrading ceremonies, blood libels, accusations of Host desecration, passion plays, the leper poison plot--how can we understand this recourse to the fantastic? In his classic The Devil and the Jews (1943) Joshua Trachtenberg concludes:
"The mythical Jew, outlined by early Christian theology and ultimately puffed out to impossible proportion, supplanted the real Jew in the medieval mind, until that real Jew to all intents and purposes ceased to exist. The only Jew whom the medieval Christian recognized was a figment of the imagination."
MAIMONIDES' GUIDE: INTO THE BONFIRE:
Atedramatic sign of medieval French Jewry's increasingly troubled situation was Church bans on Jewish texts initiated by the holy offices" set up in the late 12th century to go after heretics. Among the first to come under the ban was Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed.
According to Baron, the Dominican inquisitors were alerted to the volume by a Jewish anti-Maimonist, Solomon ben Abraham of Montpellier, in the Toulouse region. They quickly saw Rambam's rationalistic approach as a threat to Christian faith.
How to set matters straight? Why, a bonfire of all the copies they could get their hands on. Did it set the pattern for later wholesale burning of Jewish texts? Baron sees the nexus as unclear. But precedent it was.
ATTACKS ON THE TALMUD:
Attacks on the Talmud followed, traceable to a Jewish convert, Nicholas Donin, the key promoter of anti-Jewish attacks in Brittany, Poitou, and Anjou. Donin, a decade earlier had attacked the authority of the Talmud and was excommunicated by Rabbi Jehiel of Paris, while still clinging to Jewish status. He then converted, and campaigned against the Talmud as a Franciscan.
Church leaders at the time were not too familiar with the Talmud. Donin's denunciations ring a bell. They get him an audience with Pope Gregory IX in 1236. Donin's argument: Jewish adherence to Talmudic law sets up an almost insurmountable barrier to conversion. The Pope is impressed.
That opens the flood gates. The Pope orders an investigation. After three years, he decides to suppress the Talmud. A papal letter to Christian authorities of France, England, Spain, and Portugal orders all Jewish books in synagogues to be seized for examination by Dominicans and Franciscans. The papal instruction is ignored, except by the bishops of France, and particularly of Paris, with the full backing of the reigning monarch, Louis IX.
Louis IX hated Jews from way back. Joinville, his biographer as Saint Louis tells us that the king once said that when a layman heard a Jew slur Christianity the best way to dispute with him was to just run a sword through his belly.
A principal charge against the Talmud was that it blasphemed the Virgin. The blasphemy charge, Jordan finds, was a staple of Christian thought of the time, seeing it as an essential expression of Jewish character.
"Given the strength of the cult of Mary in the Middle Ages and particularly in northern France," Jordan writes, "any confirmation that these expectations were true of contemporary Jews was bound to have enormous consequences."
THE TALMUD IS BURNED:
The Talmud is put on trial. There is a public disputation between Donin and Rabbis Yehiel of Paris, Moses of Coucy, Judah of Melun, and Solomon ben Solomon of Chateau-Thierry. It's a stacked deck. The inquisitorial commission proceeds to condemn the Talmud. In June 1242, twenty-four carloads, some 12,000 volumes, are seized and consigned to public burning. The burning is repeated in 1247 and 1248. It gets to be a habit.
King Louis IX bans the Talmud by royal ordinance in 1254, an action confirmed by Philip HI in 1290 and 1299, and Louis X in 1315. It's a telling example of top-down anti-Semitism. It signals the widening rift between Christians and Jews.
The Church continues its campaign against the Talmud under John XXII and Alexander V. It keeps going in the 14th and 16th centuries. Jewish converts, filled with hate, add fuel to the fire. Pope Pius IV orders the Talmud burned in the mid-16th century.
The anti-Talmud agitation arouses popular feelings against the Jews. The burnings, Baron notes, were limited to France and, later, Counter Reformation Italy. In other lands, Jews generally manage to avert confiscation of the Talmud with cash.
CATHOLIC CHURCH POLICY AND PRACTICE:
How did Church actions fit in with Church doctrine on the Jews? The 787 Second Council of Nicaea lays out the policy: Jews were to live by their religion unless they voluntarily turned to Christianity in confession of their error. That left enough room to run a truck through. For example, forced conversion was never defined. The threat of banishment was within the bounds of the permissible.
The Church had a continuing interest: to encourage Jews to convert and to prevent them from proselytizing the faithful. To that end, there were restrictions on chanting psalms in the street during funeral processions, for example, and on expanding synagogues or building new ones. Encouraging Jews to convert by various inducements was OK. Gregory the Great, back in the 6th century, figured that even if converts would not make great Christians, their children would be better.
Papal policy early on in the Middle Ages was to leave the specifics to the local bishops. Popes might intervene on request, at times to defend Jews from persecution. Roth cites a case illustrating how the workings of church policy could pose hard choices for Jews.
In the 10th century, Leo VII was consulted by Frederick, Archbishop of Mainz, on forcible baptism versus expulsion. The pope was all for taking every opportunity to encourage conversion. But forced conversions were out. Expulsion was OK. It would protect the faithful from their enemies.
THE SHIFTING POLITICAL FRAMEWORK:
French Jewry, whatever the impediments, makes its way, building economic strength. It is part of medieval society. As time goes on, the political, economic, and social environment changes. Jordan finds that at the turn of the 13th century," ... a fundamental negative shift in Christian attitudes toward the Jews occurred around 1200."
On the political side, the Carolingian Empire did not long survive Charlemagne. It broke up into three kingdoms.
The new French royal line is the Capets, starting near the end of the 10th century. It has enduring impact on French kingship until the revolution. While the Capetians run out of direct male heirs in the 14th century, the succeeding royal homes of Valois, Bourbon, and Orleans are all descended from the Capet male line.
The king initially has little power. It's the heyday of feudalism. Lorraine, Burgundy, and Provence, substantial chunks of territory, split off, and local barons, some fifty of them, get to be a lot more important. The royal domain in the 12th century is a small strip of today's France, running from Pontoise and Saint-Denis at its north end, through Paris and Orleans, to Bourges, halfway south of what is today's France.
There is a good deal of anarchy and chaos, heightened by incursions from the outside. It is well described in the Roth volume. Somebody has to get the blame and this role falls to the Jews. They are seen as the Devil's allies and as allies of France's enemies (Norsemen, Saracens and Magyars).
But there are offsets. When the going gets too rough for Jews in one place, there is a place of refuge relatively nearby.
The expansion of royal power later on is not good for the Jews, in Baron's view. Here we're talking 13th century, when the south of France, though not Provence, is added to the royal domain. At that point, the kingdom runs from the English Channel to the Mediterranean Sea.
It's a multiple threat to Jews, since the vast majority lived in Mediterranean coast cities noted for their commercial, cosmopolitan culture. They engaged in a broad range of economic activities, including as fiscal agents for local governments, in contrast to the story in the north where Jews are increasingly confined to money-lending. The royal expansion meant greater fiscal exploitation, more restrictions on Jewish economic activity and, finally, complete elimination from French territory.
KING, CHURCH, AND POPULACE:
The political environment is increasingly decisive as it combines and reflects the multiple threads of royal initiative, church policy, the attitude of the French street, and how these force changes to narrow Jewry's economic and social role.
There are complex interactions. The feelings and perceptions of the street were a significant factor. Baron writes: "Popular tensions magnified the effects of discriminatory policies of Church and state." Over time, the feelings of the street also affect public policy. It would reflect folkloristic elements even as it shaped the popular view of the "ever puzzling Jewish minority."
There was highly discriminatory legislation, the ghetto existence of Jews, the badges they had to wear, other measures designed to underscore Jewish inferiority--all to shore up a somewhat insecure Christianity in a period of heresy and internal opposition. Baron writes: "By pointing up Jewish inferiority and erecting a thick wall of separation," the Church hoped to insulate Christians from Jewish influence. It succeeded in heightening whatever suspicions and hatred of Jews were afloat in the public mind. If king and church consider them bad people, there must be something to it.
Kings then had a free hand. Their Jewish governance was unpredictable, erratic, turning on a dime attacks on synagogues, massacre, exile, re-admission, arrests followed by periods of uninterest. Jordan writes: "But as soon as any climate of normalcy re-emerged--or so it seems--it would always be shattered by the rage or moral posturing or greed of a king whose will, at least with respect to the Jews, had the force of law in the royal domain."
The names shift from Louis to Philip to Charles to Henry and back again, in numbered sequence. The polities are variations on a theme--make life for Jews tough, then impossible.
A TEENAGER'S FIRST ACT OF STATE:
Philip II Augustus is yet a teenager of fifteen when he becomes king of France. He is out, from the start, to make a statement, to assert his role, to show who's boss. Some options: a foreign policy innovation, changing advisers, a domestic claim of supremacy over lords or barons. Jordan argues that "doing something extraordinary to the Jews or with Jewish policy" is a safe option to impress elites that he is a decisive guy. Other kings follow Philip's lead.
Philip's first act of state, reported by Rigord, a chronicler of the kingdom cited by Jordan, is to order a Saturday attack on Jews in 1181. They are seized in synagogue, their homes ransacked. He then permits Jews to redeem the items of value taken. It's a fast buck. It yields the king one and a half times what he might make from their regular payments in a whole year. In a subsequent action Jews are held for ransom and, in a further twist of the screw, Philip permits Christian debtors to repudiate their loans.
THE JEWISH ORIGIN OF THE CHURCH OF MADELEINE:
Philip's fixation on the Jews still at work, he orders Jews expelled in 1182, their lands and houses seized without compensation. Jewish presence in the royal domain comes to a dead end, the first of many. Philip would have liked to have the lords and barons outside the royal domain follow suit, but his influence does not reach that far. Jews who convert are exempt from the new exactions.
Synagogues are converted into churches. A major synagogue is turned over to the bishop of Paris who converts it into the church of Madeleine. The site occupies a high point in the 8th arrondissement to this day.
DEAD END: EXPULSION AND RETURN:
Where do the expelled Jews go? They disperse, to Normandy and Maine, to Champagne and Burgundy. Philip keeps stewing about them. In time he misses the income he has lost out on and rethinks the expulsion.
Sixteen years later he reopens the royal domain to Jews, followed by a special decree on the status of Jews providing for the registration and enforcement of loans made by Jews, a major prop for the financial affairs of the community. Not many return.
In 1202-04, Philip defeats the English in a war. The royal domain, and France, are now enlarged with the addition of Normandy, Maine, Anjou, Touraine and northern Poitou, a substantial chunk of western France. Now there is a significant increase in the Jewish population of the kingdom. And Jews get a breather, as Philip is then busy digesting the conquest.
But his anti-Jewish animus doesn't let up. There is a new wave of exploitation in 1210. A lot of people are in debt to Jews. Philip seizes Jews and then permits them to be redeemed by turning over to the crown the debts owed them. Jews are thus stripped of a large part of their capital. Many choose to flee.
LOUIS VIII DOESN'T SKIP A BEAT:
After a 40-year reign, Philip is succeeded by his son, Louis VIII. The new king issues his first royal edict on All Saints Day. It's an ordinance on the Jews, also subscribed to by 26 lords who have Jews in their domains and are ready to follow the king on Jewish issues. In one stroke, Louis reverses a key Philip II decree, issued to attract Jews back to the kingdom in 1198, and repudiates his father, with whom he had been on the outs. Philip had barred Louis and his wife, Blanche of Castile, from the court.
Philip's decree, it will be recalled, provided for the registration and enforcement of loans made by Jews. This banking function was key to Jewish economic life at the time. It was the main occupation Jews had access to for participating in the broader economy. And of course it was an important function, making credit available, even as it aroused popular hostility.
The reliance of Jews on money lending is attested to by a quite fascinating detailed study of Jewish economic life, Richard Emery's The Jews of Perpignan in the Thirteenth Century: An Economic Study Based on Notarial Records (1959).
Focused on a Jewish community of about 400 in southern France, Emery examined registers of various economic transactions, including debt contracts. He finds Jews engaged in foreign trade, sales of goods on credit, a variety of retail activities, but mostly in lending money.
Louis really sticks it to the Jews. Existing debts owed to Jews are to cease incurring further interest. The loans are to be repaid over a three-year period--not to the lenders, but to the king. The decree also prevents Jews from further access to the official seals certifying the debts owed them. Louis VIII effectively collapses a key structure of the Jewish economy.
THE MAKING OF A SAINT:
Louis IX takes the throne at age 12, under the guardianship of his mother. For a number of years, the crown limits its interest in Jews to the cash flow they generate for the royal treasury. As Louis comes into his own, he articulates the notion of the ideal Christian king as crusader and ruler dedicated to strengthen Catholic faith. This means not only a vigorous stance against blasphemy, usury and other sins, but getting Jews to convert. As we have seen earlier, he takes a key role in the condemnation of the Talmud and its burning.
Ill in 1244, Louis vows to undertake a crusade. The preparations go on for several years, with grave effects on Jews. There are renewed denunciations of the Talmud, debt relief for crusade signups, confiscation of Jewish property, ransacking of synagogues and accusations of ritual murder, though none of the 13th century kings took the accusations seriously.
In the 1250's there are new pressures on Jews to convert, with lots of financial inducements and pensions offered male converts. Louis gets personally involved, sponsoring and attending christenings. He serves as godfather on occasion. He provides subsidies to many child converts. The records cited by Jordan identify 25 such children in Bourges, 14 in Laon, 25 in Orleans, 17 in Amiens and 56 in Tours.
By 1260, there are so many converts that special orders are issued to facilitate their integration into Christian society, Jordan reports. There were tax exemptions for converts, all with an idea of persuading Jews to become assimilated. Those who revert to Judaism are condemned by Church courts and burned. A number of Jews flee.
Louis IX is seen as the very model of a king. He is elevated to sainthood in 1297. His cultural memory persists over the centuries. A Catholic religious order is named in his honor. So is St. Louis, Missouri, the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in California and the Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. His portrait hangs in the United States House of Representatives!
The pressures against French Jewry continue under Louis's son, Philip III, including hostile mobs, requirements for distinct badges on clothing, no new synagogues or repair to existing ones, and the increasingly tightening economic screws that lead to progressive impoverishment. It's all a major stimulus to leaving France.
GOING FOR A TRIPLE PLAY--PLUS:
Anew king, Philip IV, the Fair, succeeds to the throne in 1285. He views France as a special holy land and himself as the scion of a holy dynasty. Those feelings get a major boost when his father, Louis IX, is canonized. Philip is increasingly frustrated. The vast majority of Jews continue their adherence to Judaism. He puts on the pressure; they hold out.
Things begin to come to a head in the late 1290's following a war Philip provokes with Gascony, then an English possession. The war turns out to be inconclusive, but the financial costs are huge. The taxes imposed on the Jewish community are extremely heavy, more than ten times the usual. Jordan writes: "We must imagine that French Jewry was close to financial ruin as a result of this event."
Meanwhile Philip is considering how to get out of his bind. He's got financial problems big time. He's desperate. What about expulsion of the Jews? England did it in 1290. The number of Jews involved in France is larger by a factor of 20. It's a complicated undertaking, but what a great way to bolster the royal coffers!
Expel the Jews, seize their real estate, their money, and their loans to Christians, and you're way ahead of the game. It will enhance your reputation for piety and as a promoter of Christianity. It will demonstrate your power over the whole of France and your supremacy over the barons. A triple play with a fringe benefit: it will also take the steam out of the people's resentment over your debasing the coinage.
In initiating expulsion, Philip follows a by-now well worn path. In the 1190's a number of barons expelled the Jews in their jurisdictions. In the 13th century, Jews are expelled from Brittany in 1240, from Gascony in 1287-88; Anjou and Maine, 1289; Niort, 1291; Nevers, 1294. And there was, of course, the expulsion ordered by Philip Augustus in 1182, but the royal domain then was a small strip of land.
THE EXPULSION OF 1306:
Jordan puts the number of Jews now subject to expulsion at 100,000, widely dispersed in territory stretching from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, from the Atlantic coast on the west to the Rhone, plus the baronies that come under Philips' wing, such as Burgundy and Champagne.
It's a vast undertaking. It meant intricate planning for mass arrests, identifying and inventorying property and goods, as well as debts owed to Jews. The administrative apparatus of the time is severely strained. It takes years to sort it all out. But the mission gets done: the Jews of the French realm are expelled. A remnant is cleared out in 1311.
From our present vantage point, we are hard put to even imagine the hardships imposed on Jews. How to provide for the aged, the sick, children, pregnant women in a primitive time when journeys are not lightly undertaken? It wasn't like getting a bus from the Port Authority in Manhattan or a train from Grand Central Station. Jews had only the clothes on their backs and some traveling money. The toll must have been substantial. And there was the distance factor: for those leaving from the center of France, the nearest frontier was two hundred miles away.
Where did they go? Each town or region of potential refuge had its own circumstances, its own story. In many places there were few Jews, or none at all, to offer refugees help for a fresh start. In others, like Brittany, the Jewish position was shaky. The potential was better in Provence, Aragon, Majorca.
The refugees were not easily absorbed: at this point, they were mostly poor. They would not be viewed as immediate sources of revenue to local princes. And popular opinion was hardly welcoming to displaced Jews. Jews begin to look further out, head for Central and Eastern Europe. They pioneer the shift from West to East. A century later, there are Jews in Budapest still speaking French, Jordan tells us.
REVERSING COURSE: A FAILED EXPERIMENT:
Louis X becomes king of France in 1314. From the get go, he is out to show that he is different from his father. The two had not gotten along for many years. He reduces taxes, quiets rebellion.
He reverses course on the Jews, at a hefty price and a requirement for yearly payments. He allows Jews to collect on old debts not previously seized by his father, on the condition that the royal treasury receive two-thirds of the proceeds. What a bargain!
Jews are permitted to repurchase or lease synagogues and cemeteries from their new owners. Sforim, (sacred Jewish books), excluding the Talmud, in the government's possession, are returned. There are many restrictions, including where Jews may live and what they can do. For example, they can only sell goods and services to other Jews.
The re-admission is seen by the king as a projected 12-year experiment, to be renewed if things work out. It falls apart after seven. It continues the French story, Jordan concludes, "of the Jews as objects to be manipulated in young men's assertion of a style of rulership." The king's message is, look at me, I'm different, I'm decisive, stand in awe! He uses the Jews to make the point.
The returnees, mostly from Spain, are only a small part of those expelled in 1306, about 30,000, according to Jordan. They return mainly to places they lived in before, to increasing harassment. There is an effort to stem that by a royal ordinance issued by the new king, Philip V the Tall, who succeeds his prematurely deceased brother.
But things never do straighten out. There's no indication that the French welcomed a Jewish return. The "Jewish problem" was solved by the expulsion, people reasoned. The Jewish return, as Jordan puts it: "... would be seen by many as a betrayal, the capricious re-creation of a problem that had effectively been solved." To top it off, the Jewish return coincided with flooding, rising food prices, and political instability as one king after another died after only a brief reign.
Jews began to feel that enough was enough. They start to flee the country, to Lorraine, Alsace, also to what is now Belgium. Popular feelings against Jews run high. The outflow of Jews accelerates. By early 1322, the number of Jews is down to several thousand.
PLUS CA CHANGE, PLUS C'EST LA MEME CHOSE:
Late that year, another new king, Charles IV the Fair, decides that the return is a failure, expels the Jews once again. There is renewed confiscation of property. It's all over.
Jordan concludes: "The point is that the history of the Jews of France was at an end. After 1322, there really was no turning back." For practical purposes, the Jewish presence in the French kingdom has been eradicated.
Some Jews remain in borderlands until 1395, when Charles VI orders a final expulsion of the few hundred or few thousand remaining. He is lauded in a play "La Vengeance Jhesucrist" by Eustache Mercade, for hating the Jews and hating their nation.
Jordan's comment: 'Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.'
Over the next century, there are some shifts back and forth in royal and popular opinion. Some Jews drift back. But the basic trend is to get rid of the Jews, particularly with the arrival of many refugees after the 1492 expulsion of the remaining Jews from Spain.
EXPULSION FROM PROVENCE:
During all this time, almost to the end of the 15th century, the Jews of Provence are insulated from the storms battering their brothers in the French kingdom. Provence is pretty much on its own. Then, after a series of dynastic shifts, Provence is incorporated into the French royal domain in 1486.
That's bad news for the substantial Jewish communities of Provence, including Marseilles, Aix, Cannes, Orange, Arles, and dozens of other cities. They lose the vital protection long afforded them by Charles of Anjou and his descendants.
Marseilles, for example, with a high degree of self-government, was respectful of Jewish religious requirements. While a 1363 ordinance required that all homeowners dean the street in front of their houses every Saturday, Jews were specifically permitted to meet the requirement by doing so on Friday. When residents were required to carry lights when out at night, Jews were exempted on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Most Marseilles government proclamations were addressed to both its Christian and its Jewish citizens, the historian Salo Baron found.
Now, having come under the rule of the crown, the Jews of Provence are soon at the end of the road. They are expelled. By the beginning of the 16th century, 1501, France is Judenrein, except for Jews living under papal control in Avignon and Comtat Venaissin, both in the south, which continues until the French Revolution.
On May 20, 2008, Samuel Ehrenhalt sent a lengthy article to Midstream on the history of French antisemitism in their treatment of the Jewish minority in their midst. It was addressed to the editor. Mr. Ehrenhalt's e-mail note said simply, "Attached is an article which might be of interest to you for publication. I look forward to hearing from you." I placed the article in back of other articles waiting their turn to be considered. Exactly two weeks later, I read Margalit Fox's obituary in The New York Times about a career civil servant of unusual fame, Samuel M. Ehrenhalt, who had died on May 31, 2008 at the age of 83. My laggard mind did not make the connection.
Mr. Ehrenhalt was the regional commissioner for New York, New Jersey, and some other U.S. territories of the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 1980 to his retirement in 1995. He had worked for the Bureau (an arm of the U.S. Department of Labor) since 1955. As the reigning authority responsible for gathering and interpreting current labor statistics, his fame grew far and wide--from Wall Street to large corporations and small businesses to individual citizens making life fulfilling decision based on their crucial inquiries. Former Mayor of New York Ed Koch called his work more art than science and added that Sam Ehrenhalt was an artist! (His bureau responded to mare than one hundred thousand queries each year under his leadership.) He was a ga'on, a genius of statistics.
Something finally clicked in my mind. I retrieved his manuscript, a massive 20,000-word masterpiece of historical research and interpretation that Mr. Ehrenhalt had undoubtedly worked on during his retirement and had apparently completed and sent to Midstream ten days before his passing.
We, at Midstream, are proud to present this "work of art" to our readers as a memorial to this mighty "scholar in hiding" on the first anniversary (yortsayt) of his death. Read, be aghast at the many villainies of enlightened France against the Jewish people throughout the ages, and be comforted on what one brave and brilliant man can do for his people through study, research, and incisive writing.
We have divided Mr. Ehrenhalt's essay in two parts. Part I follows; Part H we hope to publish in an upcoming issue. We'd like to thank the Jewish Press that printed a very abbreviated version of this lengthy essay at an earlier date. We would also like to thank Mr. Ehrenhalt's devoted wife Eleanor for permitting us to publish this essay.
SAMUEL M. EHRENHALT was born in Krakow, Poland in 1925, moved with his family to Germany in 1930 and immigrated in 1936 to the United States, settling in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. He received a B.A. degree from Brooklyn College in 1949 and a M.S. in economics at Columbia University. He taught at several colleges and then joined the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1955. In 1975 he was chief of a U.S. economic mission to Sierra Lame. (See the Editor's note above for more information.)