Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/June 1882/The Jews in Europe I
|THE JEWS IN EUROPE.|
THE Academy celebrates to-day the birth of its royal head and gracious protector. Such a festival is, first of all, devoted to feelings the simplest, purest, and most elevating—love, reverence, gratitude. But it is also an occasion on which we are glad to think of our sovereign as weighing and pondering the affairs of his people, and the general condition of Germany; and passing under review the most important events of the time, carefully measuring their gravity. And so our thoughts turn naturally to the most recent events, to the serious problems, which are now pressing with so loud and urgent a voice upon our attention.
Not the least of these is the Semitic question, which has been agitating Germany for some years. The parties stand sharply over against one another, and as, in the thirteenth century, the cry was "Here Guelph, there Ghibelline," so now there sounds through the German lands, "Here Semite and friend of the Semite, there anti-Semite." With no little astonishment have we perceived that the conflict rages most violently just in the principal city of the empire, and even among those belonging to the aristocracy of culture. And, although the south of Germany is thus far much less involved in the agitation than the north, the forces in motion there are not without influence in our own vicinity. In our days, science may no longer, as was formerly the case, keep aloof in self contented attitude from the great mart of life; rather has it the strongest reasons for participating, with the ripest results it has reached, in the solution of the problems of our age and nation, and for allying itself, to the end of mutual advantage, with all clarifying and quickening social forces.
So let one of the offerings presented by the Academy, on this the natal day of its royal protector, be an attempt to show how these things have come to be: how the knot, the manner of whose loosing no one is now able to indicate, has gradually twisted itself; and how History, wise guide of life that she is, holds up to the new errors that, are threatening us the warning mirror of the errors of the past.
The fortunes of the Jewish people make, perhaps, the most impressive drama in the history of the world.
The Greek tragedians dwell with predilection on the Hybris, the arrogant misuse of power, as the dark fate that draws men on to destruction. In the fortunes of this people we encounter, as it were, an Hybris made up of religious fanaticism, vulgar avarice, and instinctive race-aversion. It was the result of that moral and intellectual infirmity which, for many centuries, has affected the highest as well as the lowest classes, and which still to some degree exists in wide circles, although kept in bounds by custom, fear, and public opinion. This infirmity was and is, in a word, a lack of the sense of justice.
We know well the powers that still to-day, in every possible form, whether open or disguised, are constantly repeating this one thought: "We alone are in possession of the full and saving truth, and therefore everything must be conceded to, and everything permitted us, that is necessary or serviceable in spreading and putting forward this truth." Where this principle prevails, and it did prevail in the entire thousand years from 500 to 1500 a. d., and is still affirmed by those who adhere to the mediæval view of things—there even the idea of justice must appear as a damnable illusion. Such justice, we mean, as enables us to judge of men according to their education, inclination, and prejudices; as leads us to enter into the circle of their thoughts and sympathies, and to treat them accordingly; as leads us to excuse and bear with their departure from the lines of our own thinking, believing, and doing, and to respect their independence. The Christian religion has comprehended this justice in the command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves; but, by the rulers as well as the asses, by the teachers as well as the taught, by the educated as well as the ignorant, this supreme command has been misunderstood, ignored, and transgressed to an almost immeasurable extent.
As to the present condition of affairs in this regard I do not propose to speak. It is, however, easy to see that the civilization of a nation ranks the higher, the greater the number of those in it who are permeated by this higher spirit of justice, and the more calculated its institutions are to protect and manifest it. Where the relations of men to one another touch the religious field, we are accustomed to call the lack of this virtue fanaticism; and there have been times when even the best men and the noblest characters have thought and acted in a fanatical spirit. And so it has come about that, in judging of the past, we, on our part, are now called upon to display this justice to just those who were untrue to it in life, and denied it to their fellow-men.
Already, before the destruction of their capital and national sanctuary, the Jews were the most wide-spread of all peoples, and, when Strabo said that there could not be found one place in the world which did not harbor Jews, he spoke of a world comprising all the lands about the Mediterranean, and extending, in Asia, as far as into the Perso-Parthian Empire. By reason of transportations en masse, of half free, half-compulsory colonization, of wars, and commerce in slaves, and gradually also because their spirit of enterprise took the direction more and more of commercial pursuits, they had become a diaspora, which, while numerous particularly in the sea-towns, using for the most part the Greek language, and influenced on many sides by Greek culture, still everywhere held firmly together, and preserved its existence as a distinct community. Like other inhabitants of the empire, they enjoyed the benefit of the protection of the Roman law. In general, they were esteemed and even given preferment, rather than mistreated, by the emperors. Their elders, indeed, received certain immunities; firmly holding together, and helping and advancing one another, they were successful competitors in all branches of industry, therefore—hated. And if their rite of circumcision, their celebration of the Sabbath, their laws respecting food, and their shy habits of seclusion, excited much derision and contempt, there was still in their cultus of the one purely spiritual God, who was represented by no image, a powerful attraction for the minds of pagans, who were surfeited with the numberless divinities of their religion. "Enemies are they of the gods as well as men"—such was the frequently pronounced judgment of the pagan populace on this nation, whose character was so mysterious to them. About the time of the Roman war in Judea, they fell, not seldom by thousands, as a prey to the fury of the heathen populace.
They won again, however, a center of religious life and a head: in the little town of Jamnia, in Palestine, the sanhedrim formed itself, whose presiding officer was honored and recognized as the patriarch of the whole nation; so there was at once a supreme authority and an academy.
But just at this time, and in consequence of the powerful influence of the zealots, which had been enormously increased during the late wars, Judaism withdrew convulsively within itself, the Pharisaic way of thinking became exclusively predominant, and cast out every foreign element, such as Hellenism and Essenism; while the Talmud, which held all the members of the Jewish body together and lay like an iron band about the nation, completed the separation, and all the more surely since the Roman laws forbade any to be circumcised who were not of Jewish birth.
However, the question of vital moment was, what attitude those who carried the future in their bosom—viz., the Christians—would assume toward the Jews. The earliest Church remained true in this respect to the example and word of its Master and the teaching of the apostles. It believed and taught: 1. That the death of Christ, for which the leaders of the Jews and a part of the people at Jerusalem were responsible, involves in no way the continuous guilt of the whole nation. On the contrary, Christ himself asked for the forgiveness of his crucifiers, and his prayer was heard. Peter, too, like his Master, excused their transgression on the ground of their ignorance. 2. The people is by no means outcast from God, even if their dispersion, the downfall of their state, and the destruction of their temple and capital, may be regarded as a divine punishment. Israel remains the chosen people of God, since God can not retract his choice and promise. At some future day, when the "fullness of the Gentiles" shall have come, the fullness of Israel will also believe, and make an harmonious fellowship along with Gentile believers.
Starting from this view drawn from the New Testament, the wisest and most eminent teachers of the Church exhorted that the Jewish people must be regarded as a brother who has for the time gone astray, but will sooner or later return to the Father's house, and in the mean time is always and will remain the bearer of irrevocable promises. Hence, they marked out the duty for Christians of indulgent and patiently enduring love toward the race, of which both Christ and the apostles were members, and from which they did not wish to be separated. The most learned and original of the older fathers, Origen, declared: "They are and remain our brothers; but they will only unite with us when we, by our faith and our life, have stirred them to emulate our example." Even Augustine frequently said: "In the hearts of Christians the confidence lives, and is expressed by them continually, that the children of the present Jewish generation will some day melt into one faith with the Christians." This view of the earliest Church disappeared, however, when Christianity became the state religion, and Roman heathenism en masse, with its hate and contempt for the Jews, became converted, in part freely and in part through direct or indirect compulsion, to Christianity. Soon the synods forbade eating with a Jew; and Ambrose, who, while still unbaptized, was elevated to the bishopric of Milan, styled the burning of a synagogue in Rome by the populace an act pleasing to God, and called the Emperor Maximus, who desired its rebuilding, derisively a—Jew. There comes to be, with infrequent exceptions, a more hostile strain in the writings of Christians, and the name of brother vanishes; their remaining without the Church is explained no longer by ignorance, but by an ill-meant obduracy on their part. The hope of a future reconciliation is, indeed, held; but the reconciliation is placed as it were in the most distant corner of the future, in the last days before the final catastrophe and the judgment of the world. It seemed as if the prospect of living in community with Israel (when, moreover, according to the Biblical doctrine, Israel would retake the ancestral primacy) was so little to the taste of the Christians that they were anxious to restrict so unwelcome and vexatious a condition to a few days or months.
The Christian emperors had changed nothing of importance in their laws respecting the rights and liberties of the Jews until the year 439, when Theodosius II excluded them from all public, even municipal, offices. This law passed over into Justinian's Codex, and regulated their status in Europe as well as in the Eastern Empire.
In the West we encounter at the end of the sixth century the first forced conversions in the Frankish Empire; Avitus, in Clermont, and the kings Chilperic and Dagobert set the precedent. It was followed in the kingdom of the Spanish Visigoths on a large scale. There, where the bishops ruled the state, King Sisibut in the year 612 allowed the Jews only the choice of emigrating or being baptized. Many chose the latter, but turned back after a time to Judaism; and, as the result, there began a series of violent measures to keep them in the Church against their will, and to avenge their lapsing. This was in accordance with a decree of the national synod of Toledo—a fatal decree, which has cost more blood and tears than any law of heathen antiquity, since it served as a norm for innumerable deeds in subsequent time.
In the Frankish Empire the ordinances of the Episcopal councils, remained for a long time within the circle defined by the Emperor. The Jews were forbidden marriage with Christians, the ownership and sale of Christian slaves, and jurisdiction in court over Christians; further, Jews and Christians were not allowed to take a common meal, and the employment of a Jewish physician was forbidden. Bitter hostility against the Jewish people is breathed first in the Frankish Empire in the writings of the Archbishops Agobard and Amolo, of Lyons, about the year 848; the latter recommended Sisibut's action as one acceptable to God, and worthy of imitation—a bad sign of what was to come. However, these writings also indicate, first, that at that time the charge of a usurious fleecing of the Christians by the Jews was not yet brought forward; and, further, that the Emperor, the officers of state, and even the agricultural population, were well-disposed to the Jews, and that the state still protected them.
But with the end of the eleventh century a turn of things began, which proved full of disaster to the Christians as well as to the Jews and the pagans. The highest authority in the Western world had announced the principle of the religious wars, and found the means to foster them and continuously excite them anew. It had become an expiatory and saving work to conquer non-Christian peoples, and to plunder and destroy those who resisted; hence, it was unavoidable that the condition of the Israelitish people should take a much worse shape than before; and, although in general Europe was making steady progress in the formation of orderly civil governments, this progress was of no advantage to the Jewish people; rather did each century, until the Reformation, bring an increase of their misery. For the Israelite was in the eyes of the then existing Christians worse than an unbeliever; he was called in the official language of the Church perfidus i. e., a man who deserves neither truth nor confidence. "Oremus et pro perfidis Judais" stood in the Liturgy for Good Friday, and all theologians and canonical writers of that time used the expression. The Jew should be avoided like one afflicted with a plague, even whose breath contaminates, or like a dangerous tempter, whose words hide the poison of doubt and unbelief. The laity were forbidden to speak even one word with him on the subject of religion.
When, therefore, the hosts of the Crusaders went out to war against the Mohammedans in Asia, they began slaying the Jews at home, and plundering their houses. And the kingdom of Jerusalem began its existence by burning the Israelites who lived there, together with their synagogues.
Those were acts of fanatical and untamed bands. For princes and peoples, for priests and laymen, the utterances of the Popes and councils respecting the rights and duties of Christians to the Jews were naturally accepted as giving the law. Before this, the Roman bishops had not concerned themselves about the Jews; their epistles and enactments during the first six centuries contain nothing about them, the imperial laws appearing to have satisfied them. Gregory the Great protected them unweariedly against the acts of violence common in Southern Italy, and forbade forcing them into the Church. On the other hand, he sought to procure their conversion by vouchsafing privileges to them, and set up the doubtful principle, which was often evoked later on when forcible conversions were attempted, viz., if the Church does not win thereby those who have been bought over, it certainly wins their children.
From that time on, for nearly three centuries, the Popes are silent respecting the Jewish people. After the middle of the ninth century the first considerable assumption of power on the part of the Papacy took place under the Pseud-Isidore, Nicholas I, and his nearest successors. When Stephen VI (885-891) broke the long silence, a strong hostile feeling had already taken the place of the earlier mildness in Rome. The Pope wrote to the Archbishop of Narbonne, that "he had been plunged into deadly anxiety by the news that the Jews, those enemies of God, had become possessed there by royal permission of property in land, and that Christians lived together with these dogs, and even performed service for them, although, as a punishment for the death of Christ, all the pledges and promises which God had confirmed to them were canceled." With this the signal was given, and the new path entered upon on which men now proceeded to advance. It is true that the Jews were not seldom successful in obtaining Papal letters of protection. The injunction not to force them to baptism, or to rob or kill them, was often repeated; but, while on other occasions, even in matters of little consequence, banning, interdicting, outlawing, and other drastic means were threatened and applied, these bulls for the protection of the Jews consisted of general exhortations, and were of little use, because the penal sanction was wanting. The kings and high nobility set everywhere the example of lawlessly oppressing, abusing, and plundering the Jews, and we do not find that the Popes called them to account for this, or took the part of the oppressed against them. On the contrary, when Philip Augustus robbed and banished the Jews of France, Cœlestin III declared that the king in doing this had shown his ardent zeal in the cause of God; and when any temporal ruler, who was also an official in the Church, in order to be sure of his right to do so, asked for Papal authorization to drive out the Jews from his dominion, it was readily granted him. The declaration of Innocent III, that the whole people was condemned by God, on account of its guilt, to perpetual slavery, became the oft-cited Magna Charta for all those who lusted after the gains and possessions of the Jews; in accordance with it rulers and peoples acted. Nor could the impression it made be greatly diminished by the circumstance that the Popes supported the letters, which they from time to time gave for the protection of the Jews, by referring to the prophecy about a remnant of the people that should remain over, in order to be converted in the last days. Such a remnant of the Jews, it was thought, would be preserved, if not in Europe, at all events in Asia.
The succeeding Popes held firmly to the principles and demands of Innocent III. If the Jews built a new synagogue, it must be torn down; the only thing allowed was to repair the old ones. No Jew could witness against a Christian; the bishops were to insist, even with the use of force, upon their wearing of the distinctive badges, the hat or the yellow cloth. This law respecting badges was particularly hard and cruel; for, in the frequent uprisings and tumults in the cities, the Jews fell so much the easier into the hands of the infuriated mob, which in this way recognized them at a glance; and in traveling they became the prey, without hope of rescue, of the robber-knights and highwaymen, who naturally looked upon every Jew as an outlaw. In Spain, permission was therefore given them to wear every kind of clothing in traveling, but the permission was soon taken back.
Especially did Eugene IV, who annulled the humane concessions made by Martin V, add to the sharpness of the ecclesiastical legislation, already pitiless enough, and the question was perforce raised how, if all this was fully carried out, could these men maintain their piteous existence at all.
Whatever ground the Popes had left untouched, was covered by the councils of the different countries; they forbade, for example, that a Christian should let or sell a house to a Jew, or buy wine of him. In addition to all this, came the oft-renewed orders to burn all copies of the Talmud and its commentaries—i. e., by far the largest part of the Jewish literature—on account of the passages hostile to Christianity that were said to be found therein. And then came again tortures, persecutions, and imprisonments in abundance. It seemed as if the mighty of the earth had only stones instead of bread for the afflicted people, and were disposed to give no answer to their entreaties and inquiries, other than that which the ancestors of the Jews once gave to the tyrant Herod, viz., when he asked what, then, he should do for them, they replied, to hang himself.
The new theory of the slavery of the Jews was now adopted and elaborated by the theologians and canonical writers. Thomas of Aquinas, whose views pass as unimpeachable in the whole Church, decided that the princes could dispose of the property of these men, who were condemned to perpetual bondage, just as they would of their own goods. A long series of writers on the canon law built upon the same foundation the assertion that princes and lords could forcibly dispossess the Jews of their sons and daughters, and cause them to be baptized. That a baptized child of a Jew should not be allowed to remain with its father was universally taught, and still is a demand of the Church. The princes, in the mean time, had greedily adopted the papal doctrine of the divinely ordained slavery of the Jews, and the Emperor Frederick II based thereupon the claim that all Jews were his property as the Emperor, according to the then prevailing logic, that the master's rights over them had been transmitted from the old Roman emperors to him as their successor. His son, Conrad IV, already used the expressions, "servants of our chamber," and the Schwabenspiegel professed to know that "King Titus had given them over to be the property of the imperial chamber." King Albrecht demanded from King Philip of France that the French Jews be handed over to him, and later the Jews themselves said, in a memorial to the Council of Ratisbon, that "They belonged to the Emperor, in order that he might preserve them from entire destruction at the hands of the Christians, and keep them as a memorial of the sufferings of Christ."
After the fourteenth century, this servitude to the exchequer came to be understood and applied as a complete slavery: "You belong," says the Emperor Charles IV, in a document addressed to the Jews, "to us and the empire with your lives and possessions; we can order, do, and act with these as we like and as seems good to us." In fact, the Jews frequently went, like an article of merchandise, from one hand into another; the Emperor declared, now here, now there, that their claims for the payment of debts were annulled, and caused a large sum of money, generally thirty per cent, to be paid by the debtors into his own treasury.
The protection which emperor and empire were supposed to accord to the servants of the exchequer was often illusory, even when they were granted special privileges; as a matter of fact, they were without civil rights. Only where self-interest dictated, not to allow men in so many ways useful and profitable to utterly perish, did the governments step in. Otherwise everybody's hand was against them, from emperor down through all ranks of society to the very rabble. Often protection was assured them only for a limited time, at the end of which they were as good as outlawed, unless they immediately bought with large sums of money a renewal of the letter of protection. They were used like sponges—allowed to completely fill themselves, in order to be then as completely squeezed out. What happened in the year 1390 deserves to be kept in the memory of Germans as a constant warning. King, princes, nobles, and cities were, by reason of long wars, all alike in debt; then the example that had been already given by France was copied. At the Imperial Diet held in Nuremberg, all money-claims by Jews were annulled, and, instead of paying their rightful creditors the debtors paid in fifteen per cent of their indebtedness to the royal treasury! In this way, for example, the Duke of Bavaria, the Count of Oettingen, and the city of Ratisbon, each won one hundred thousand gold florins.
If a prince ever showed a disposition to favor the Jews of his land or any single individual, by bestowing perhaps a piece of land or an office upon him, a papal letter soon appeared warning and threatening with punishment, and reminding the prince that a son of the hand-maid should never be preferred to a son of the free-woman. Cardinal legates of the Pope had it decided at councils (as at Vienna, in 1267) that no Jew should be permitted in a bath-house or drinking-saloon or an inn; that no Christian should dare buy meat of a Jew, since he might thus be treacherously poisoned. The Synod of Salamanca, of the year 1335, declared that physicians of the Mosaic faith offered their services only because they wished to destroy, as far as they could, the Christian people, and so, in effect, the population of all Europe.
In this way the seeds of hate and detestation were sown, and wholesale murder was the harvest. Accustomed to the view that every Jew is a born enemy and debtor to the Christians, the nations, in a time when what was cruel and unnatural was credulously laid hold of with a kind of predilection and even eagerness, held the Jews to be capable of every crime, even the most improbable and impossible. After the twelfth century, the story went about that the Jews craved Christian blood, some imagined for their festival of the passover, others as a remedy against a secret hereditary disease; and, to get it, that they put a boy to death every year. In addition, a pretense was made of knowing that they crucified a Christian every year in mockery of the Redeemer.
If a corpse, on which there were signs of violence, or a dead child, was found anywhere, a Jew must have been the murderer; generally, the crime was supposed to have been committed by a number jointly, and torture was continued till it extorted confessions. Then followed horrible executions, and in many cases a general butchering of the whole Jewish population in town and country. An orderly, unprejudiced judicial procedure was not to be thought of. The judges and magistrates trembled themselves before the rage of the populace, which had its mind made up from the start, and held fast to the presumption that the most infamous deeds might be expected of every member of this murderous people. Occasionally, it was an image of Christ, which a Jew was said to have pierced with a knife or mutilated, that gave the signal for a massacre. After the year 1290, rumors of maltreated and miraculously bleeding Hosts were added. From Paris, where the first case had happened, the news spread to the neighboring countries. Very soon the possession of a similar miraculous treasure was coveted elsewhere; and now it appeared as if the Jews, seized by a demoniacal frenzy, at once believed and disbelieved an ecclesiastical dogma, and had an irrepressible desire for an agonizing death—so frequently were these ostensible outrages revenged upon them.
In London the Jews were murdered because they were suspected of plotting to burn the great city with Greek fire. The great plague, which in 1348 swept over and depopulated all Europe, could only, it was easily known, proceed from the Jews. The fact that the sober and temperately living people were much less affected by the plague than the Christians, converted the bare suspicion into a certainty. They had everywhere, in consequence of a great conspiracy, in which the houses of lepers had also taken part, poisoned the springs and wells, and even the rivers. In Zofingen it was pretended that actual poison was found in one of the wells. On the rack some Jews and lepers confessed to the deed. There hence burst forth a storm of fanaticism, of bestial revenge and vulgar avarice, such as has never before nor since been seen in Europe. The victims were counted in single towns by thousands. Many anticipated the rage of the mob by taking their own lives. To no purpose did Pope Clement VI declare in two bulls that the Jews were innocent. Those who saved them-selves by a swift flight found an asylum only in distant Lithuania.
Still, not merely on account of religion and the fictitious crime did the popular hatred direct itself against the Jews; there was in addition a third motive, acting just as, if not more strongly. The Jews loaned money on interest, they were usurers; they carried on an indeed indispensable but none the less sinful business, and fleeced, so the saying was, the Christians. The accusation was not untrue, and yet unjust.
Popes and councils, supporting themselves upon an incorrect interpretation of Luke vi, 35, have since the end of the eighth century with one voice and with a continually increasing rigor, condemned and visited with ecclesiastical penalties all taking of interest, in whatever form, on loaned capital. In the early Church, only the clergy were forbidden to take interest; but, as the influence of the Papal chair increased, the prohibition was extended to the laity also.
No distinction was made between interest and usury, but every stipulation for or taking of the slightest amount over and above the capital that had been loaned was forbidden by the Popes and councils, a prohibition from which there could be (as Alexis III, in 1179, declared) in no case a dispensation. To this Clement V at the Council of Vienna added the decision that it is heresy to assert that the taking of interest is not a sin.
Unendurable fetters were thereby placed upon all commerce and business; and Pope Gregory IX declared even the money advances, with interest stipulated, which maritime traffic requires, to be damnable usury. The Church had thereby placed itself in contradiction with the nature of things, with the indispensable requirements of civil life and of general trade; she might, indeed, prevent her own members from taking interest, but she could not command or compel them to loan out their money without interest. On account of the general lack of ready money in a time when the supply of gold and silver metal was continually decreasing, and a currency to take their place had not been devised, everybody from the highest to the lowest came very frequently to a pass where they must borrow money; and since trade in money was strictly forbidden to the Christians, and could only be carried on by them when veiled under other forms of business or in roundabout ways, the Jews, who were excluded from other branches of industry and positions in life, entered upon it. An industrious people the Jews have ever been. As long as they formed a state of their own, their principal occupations were agriculture, horticulture, and the trades. In their hands Palestine had become one of the best cultivated and most fruitful lands of the earth. The Mosaic legislation was intended to encourage the improvement of the soil, and to further the cultivation of grain, wine, and oil. Further, in the first centuries after Christ, and after the destruction of the Jewish state, the people remained faithful to their old customs. Josephus, in the beginning of the second century, still praises the industry of his countrymen in their trades and in agriculture.
There is no evidence to be found in the Roman literature and the laws of the emperors that the Jews had given themselves up to shrewd bargaining and small trading, or in general had become a commercial people. The numerous Jews that lived in Rome appear to have been poor. Further, the violent and extremely bloody risings of the Jews in Egypt and Cyrene, and on the islands (of the Mediterranean) indicate that they did not form a commercial population or one dealing in small wares, for such a class of people do not often take up arms. Even as late as the tenth century, they formed a stationary population in Spain, Southern France, and even in Germany. This condition, however, they could not maintain in face of the hostility of the Church and of the people, and moreover, after the rise of the Italian maritime and commercial cities with their merchant-fleets, they lost their hold upon the commerce between the West and the Orient. The concentration of trade in the guilds and the exclusion of the Jews from ordinary intercourse with Christians made it impossible for them to become artisans. Just as little could they live on agriculture, since they were almost everywhere forbidden to own land. Cardinal James, of Vitry, who knew the Orient well, observes in the year 1244, "Among the Mohammedans the Jews ply handicrafts, although it is only the lower and despised branches that they occupy themselves with, but among the Christians they live on the business of loaning money." The thought forces itself upon us, how great a benefit would have been conferred upon the world, Christian and Jewish alike, if a cardinal or a Pope at that time had reflected upon this contrast between the Jews under the Crescent and the Jews under the Cross, and had drawn from it the practical inferences that lie so near at hand.
In addition, the physician's calling was as a rule closed to the Jews, although in Mohammedan countries it was precisely as physicians that they won high distinction; for the councils forbade a sick person, on pain of excommunication, to take medicine from a Jewish physician—it being better, as they declared, to die than to be healed by an infidel? They were further excluded from all schools, high and low. Whoever had a desire for knowledge must become a rabbi, and if, as a very rare exception, a prince, like Alfonso X of Castile, made use of Jewish mathematicians and astronomers, the education of these men was obtained in lands where the Koran ruled. The taking of interest on loans from strangers was permitted to the Jews by their law, and the supposed prohibition by Christ was believed at first by both parties not to be binding upon the Jews. The matter changed, however, after Innocent III. At the end of the twelfth century, theologians and canonical writers taught that, in accordance with natural law as well as the divinely revealed law of the Old and New Testaments, the taking of interest in general is forbidden and is a sin. Innocent III ordered, therefore, that the Jews should be compelled to give back the interest they had collected, and to this end introduced an expedient that had not been used before, viz., that Christians should be compelled, on pain of excommunication, to break off all intercourse with those Jews who refused to make the returns. This amounted, in case the programme was strictly carried out, to delivering them over to death by starvation. Hence arose sad confusion and conflicts of many kinds. The bishops, whose duty it was to pronounce excommunication, were disposed often to execute their task in good earnest; and the synods (for example, that at Avignon in 1209) urged them to do so. The princes, on the other hand, in whose interest and as whose servants the Jews carried on their money-lending, protected them; or, on the other hand, as happened in not a few cases, confiscated their entire property for their own use, on the plea that it had been gained by taking interest. Sometimes they even compelled Christian debtors to pay the outstanding interest into their own treasury.
Interminable confusion to clergy and laity was the result of the action of the hierarchy in forbidding the taking of interest, and the canonical writers vexed themselves to invent distinctions and find ways of escape out of the labyrinth. In innumerable cases they found them-selves helpless in face of the actual circumstances and practically abandoned the principle, although in theory no one could attack it on pain of death. In real consistency, the Christians should have been forbidden to borrow on interest, since by so doing they enticed the Jews to sin. But Popes, bishops, clergy, were themselves often in a situation in which they must seek for a loan and pay the interest; in fact, the whole organization of the curia, the management of the system of benefices, the taxation of the clergy by the Popes, were calculated to make bishops, clergy, monasteries, and chapters liable to the payment of interest to Jewish capitalists. Under these circumstances the canonical writers finally decided that, being in any case lost, it was immaterial whether the Jews committed a few more or a few less sins; the borrowing Christians, however, were excused by their necessities.
The interest demanded by the Jews was, it is true, exceedingly high, and often beyond the power of the debtor to pay, but this was a result of the value of money at the time, of the scarcity of coin, and above all, of the oppressive amounts which the Jews were obliged to pay to princes and town authorities. The Caorsines and the great Italian bankers put their demands just as high as the Jews, and where they got the trade in money into their own hands the desire arose, as for example in Paris at the beginning of the fourteenth century, to have the Jews back again, since their activity as money-lenders was, on the whole, in many ways beneficial, and at that time irreplaceable. They did for the northern countries and for Spain what was done for Italy by the bankers' associations of the so-called Lombards, and by the money-brokers of Asti, Sienna, Florence, and other cities, who were partly patronized and partly silently tolerated (and in either case frequently called into requisition) by the Popes and bishops. In France and England there was even at times competition between Lombard and Jew. The Emperor Louis's son, Louis the Brandenburger, issued in the year 1352 a public invitation to the Jews to settle free of taxation in his land, because "since the time when the Jews were destroyed (referring to the great massacre of 1348), there has been every-where, both among rich and poor, a deficiency in ready money."
- Anniversary Address before the Academy of Sciences at Munich, delivered July 25, 1881. Translated Mr. W. M. Salter.
- The book containing the statute-and feudal-laws of South Germany. Translator.
- St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, iv, 22-31. (Translator.)
- The revised translation reads, "and lend, never despairing," in place of the old translation, il and lend* hoping for nothing again." (Translator.)