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March 30, 1990 - Image 37

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-03-30

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

long years before Jews
would have the satisfaction
and solace of hearing words
of painful Christian contri-
tion such as those spoken
last week by the Dean of
York, the Reverend John
Southgate who spoke of
Christians and Jews
meeting together "in tearful
recollection of March 1190,
whose events we face in
truth, penitence and
forgiveness . . . "
In fact, British Jews learn-
ed almost as much from the
commemoration at York,
organized primarily by B'nai
B'rith and the Council of
Christians and Jews, as did
British Christians.
One Jewish historian,
Rabbi Jonathan Romain,

"This runs counter
to the prevailing
image of England
as a land of
tolerance where
Jews can be at
ease."
Rabbi
Jonathan Romain

suggests that British Jews
have traditionally shied
away from events like the
massacre at York out of a
sense of unease. It is one
thing, he said, for an enemy
of the Jews to be a Roman,
quite another for the enemy
to be "fellow Englishmen,
descendants of whom are
known to be alive today.
This runs counter to the
prevailing image of England
as a land of tolerance where
Jews can be at ease."
Certainly the Jews of
medieval York would have
rubbed their eyes in utter
astonishment to see
clergymen, nuns and Chris-
tian schoolchildren atten-
ding Sabbath services at
Clifford's Tower, the great
stone stronghold which
replaced the wooden keep
where the Jews met their
doom. Their ears would
scarce have believed the
words of reconciliation and
mutual respect spoken by
leaders of both faiths.
For the Jews of medieval
England, life under the
Angevin kings was a hazar-
dous business indeed. There
were up to 6,000 Jews living
in England in the middle of
the 12th century, their
forebears having arrived in
the wake of the victorious
William the Conqueror a
century earlier. They had
settled in the major towns of
London, York, Winchester,
Lincoln, Canterbury and Ox-
ford where, denied access to

trades, commerce or the pro-
fessions, most became
money lenders.
Since it was illegal for
Christians to engage in
usury, the Jews played a
vital role in England's
expanding economy. Even as
it carried on its relentless,
hate-filled propaganda
against the Jews, the church
turned to Jewish financiers
for the building of great
abbeys — including York
Minster itself. Loans were
even raised on the security
of holy relics.
The Crown, however,
mounted an operation so ex-
tensive that it can only be
described as usury by proxy.
Like the church leaders, the
monarch was unable to lend
or borrow money, but as
England desperately needed
capital to finance a period of
great expansion, it turned a
blind eye to the money len-
ding activities of the Jews.
Indeed, an office in
Westminster Hall — now
part of Britain's Houses of
Parliament — was known as
the Exchequer of the Jews
and from there the Crown
ran a network that recorded
every transaction by any
Jew anywhere in the realm.
In this way the king knew
exactly how much interest
the Jews were earning —
and how much could be
legally confiscated whenever
the need arose. Nonetheless,
Jewish communities began
to thrive and individual
Jews amassed great for-
tunes.
By the mid-1100s, however,
the Jews found themselves
trapped in a vortex of regal,
clerical and popular anti-
Semitism that was to lead to
disaster.
The Jewish century of
tragedy began in 1144 when
the Jews of Norwich were
accused — for the first time
anywhere — of murdering a
Christian child in order to
use his blood for their
Passover bread.
A convert from Judaism,
Theobald of Cambridge,
alleged that a congress of
Jews in Spain picked out by
lot the town where the ritual
murder was to take place
each year and in 1144, the
lot fell on Norwich.

The idea of ritual murder
captured the imagination of
the Christians, who erected
elaborate shrines over the
graves of the sanctified
"child victims." The Jews.
meanwhile, quickly found
themselves cast in the role of
scapegoats for unsolved
child murders in many parts
of the country.



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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

37

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