The Rhineland Massacres

The first great example of Christian persecution of the Jews is the Rhineland massacres of 1096, when “crusading armies” assembled spontaneously, without waiting for the more rational political leaders to organise. They then showed what can happen when popular passions are unleashed for geostrategic ends; quite reasonably in the light of the “executive summary” of the crusading appeal, namely “Let’s go kill us some enemies of Christ”, ordinary people asked why they had to go all the way to Syria to kill themselves some infidels. In the cities that they afflicted, their attacks on the Jewries were no doubt aided by locals who – not for the last time – discovered that a pogrom is an exceedingly effective method of debt remission. We may add other contributory causes such as general human intolerance of cultural differences; no doubt they said that Jewish cooking smelt bad, and so on and so forth.

What we may not say, of course, was that such prior resentments had been stoked by the Jewish community’s own attitude to the host society, namely that they were inferior and polluting creatures with whom it was forbidden even to break bread, or to have any dealings more intimate than buying, selling and lending. Were a European imam to stand up and say, “Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives”, we would be outraged. We should call it both racism and sexism, and might fear that the “purity” thus achieved would be the first step towards jihadism. However, the quote above is actually Ezra 10:9, so it’s obviously quite all right.

Neither are we permitted to point out that, although the secular and ecclesiastical authorities did their best to protect the Jews from the raging mobs, for both economic and moral reasons, there was a good deal of Christian horror at the way many Jewish leaders slaughtered their families to prevent forced conversion. From the Jewish sources themselves we learn two things: that these killings were carried out as ritual sacrifices to God – or at least, that the survivors found it convenient to portray them in this way – and that a lot of other people thought the whole thing crazy and disgusting. If these actions increased common-or-garden Christian distaste for the Rhineland Jews, even perhaps in people who had opposed the pogroms, such a reaction could only be due to innate gentile depravity and to the seamless garment of causeless anti-Semitism.

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