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Outlines of Jewish history from B.C. 586 to C.E. 1885 online

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religiously indifferent, to turn persecutors for con-
science sake. They lived in great state, and were
intent on extending their political as well as their
spiritual sovereignty. In these superstitious Middle
Ages, which recognised in the Pope the actual ' infal-
lible ' agent of God, the most effectual weapon in the
Popish arsenal would have been powerless against
Jews. Jews would have cared nothing for that most
dreaded of all punishments in Catholic countries, the
Papal malediction. Thus, their money and their
souls alike insignificant in the sight of the Popes, the
Jews throughout the Papal dominions were mostly
let alone. In the northern parts of Europe, where
the influence of ]\Iahomedanism had hardly pene-
trated, the Jews were subject to the old Roman law.
They might not enter military service, and had to
pay largely for local ' protection ' from the lords of
the soil. In our own England, Jews up to this period
have no history. There are but two very slight men-
tions of them in all the Saxon Chronicles. They
would seem not to have settled in England in any
numbers before the Conquest, when probably some
came over from France in the train of AVilliam the
Norman. The interest centres now in Southern
Europe, and chiefly in Spain, where the kaliphs at-
tained to their greatest state, and whei'e the Jews at-
tained to their greatest prosperity since the captivity.
4. The Policy of the Early Kaliphs.— When the
empire that had been founded by help of the Koran
and the sword was once firmly established, the sword


was slieathed, and the Koran ceased to be flourislied
as a weapon. The kaliphs resolved to uphold their
sovereignty by the seductive arts of peace rather than
by the exterminating process of war. They aspired
to something beyond barbarian chieftainship. They
aimed at becoming leaders of men and patrons of
learning, and of controlling the thoughts as well as
the destinies of nations. To this end they cultivated
the Jews. The Arabian rulers had the keenness to
appreciate the reserves of patience, of loyalty, and of
scholarship in the Jewish people. They desired to
graft these valviable qualities on their own rather
rough and ready followers. They wanted the arts of
civilisation to adorn their new dominion ; they longed
to be as great in the schools and in the marts of the
world as they had proved on its battle-fields. ' The
teachers of wisdom are the true luminaries and legis-
lators of the world,' was a saying of the Kaliph Al-
Mamun, who ruled from 813 till 832. The Maho-
niedan rulers knew how much of all that they desired
could be learned from the Jews in their midst. And so,
throughout the kaliphate, political and social equality
was granted to its Jewish subjects, and the energies
and the capacities of the nation were given room to

5. Some Effects of this Policy. — The Empire of
the Kaliphs was of immense extent. By the tenth
century it had three separate seats of government —
at Bagdad, at Cairo, and at Cordova, and the influ-
ence of each of these three kaliphates was felt even
beyond its own immediate boundary. The Carlo-
vingian dynasty in France caught for a while some-


tiling of the enlightened spirit of the Mahomedan
rulers, and in France as in Spain, Jewish physicians
and Jewish teachers and Jewish merchants became
quite the fashion. Not only did there come to be
crowded colleges presided over by Jewish Rabbis in the
sunny southern cities of Europe, but fleets of trading
vessels, commanded by Jewish captains, were to be
seen sailing in the Mediterranean. The sight awoke
some slumbering enmities. In the ninth century a
certain Archbishop of Lyons was as concerned for
the worldly interests of his countrymen as the most
zealous of Church dignitaries could have been for their
spiritual ones. This Archbishop Agobard presented a
petition, in 829, to his royal master, Louis le Debon-
naire, praying that the commerce of good French Chris-
tians might be protected against the wicked Jews.
Conscience would have been a safer cry than commerce
to have raised, and a fairer one to have invoked
religious legislation about. King Louis refused to
receive the worthy archbishop's petition. He was
evidently in favour of free trading, and so long as the
vessels were seaworthy, and the freight honest, he did
not appear to consider the religious opinions of the
supercargos to be any of his business, or of his arch-
bishop's either. King Louis had a Jewish physician,
and it seems as if this doctor — Zedekiah was his name
— managed to keep his royal patient healthy in mind
as well as in body. At any rate, whether from
nature or from ' treatment,' this King of France was,
certainly, possessed of fine principles. ' Divine law,'
we find him writing in one of his despatches, ' bids
me protect my subjects who share my belief; but it



nowhere forbids me to be just towards those who
differ from me.' His acts matched his convictions,
and under the more tolerant treatment, which had
been first introduced by the Mahomedans, the Jewish
position in all the south of Europe improved greatly
in the eighth and ninth centuries. Not only were
commercial operations extended, but Jews were
largely employed in public and in private positions
of trust. They were often made collectors of revenue,
and stewards in the great households of the nobles.
They were allowed to serve in the army, and there is
evidence that at least in one province, that of Lan-
guedoc, they were permitted to be landowners. In
Narbonne, for years, one of the two annually elected
prefects or mayors of the town was a Jew. Their
synagogues and their schools multiplied, and those of
Salerno, and Montpelier, and Toulouse, and Marseilles,
and, a little later on, of Paris, produced some famous
Rabbis, and many crops of diligent students.



1. ' Like a dream in the night.' — Life in Spain,
for the four centuries during which the dynasty of
Ommeyade kaliphs ruled, was to the Jews like a
brilliant dream breaking in on the long night of
their history. There was to be by-and-by a ter-
rible awakening, but while the dream lasted they
gave themselves up to its delight. ' An earthly


paradise,' ' a garden of Eden,' Spain is fondly called
by old Jewish writers of those days. The liberty it
gave was so new, so wonderful, so sweet. Men
might work and might worship at their will.
Women might be fair without fear. Children might
grow up clever, and find no locked doors, labelled
' conversion,' barring their pathway to success.
Wealth might be honestly won and pleasantly
enjoyed, taking its rightful place as a means for
diffusing happiness. Each country, says a recent
writer,^ has the Jews it deserves. Mahomedan Spain
deserved good Jews, and it had them, and it was
richly repaid in its own generous coin. In the
Middle Ages, Spain led the van in culture and in
commerce, and in her loyal Jewish subjects she
found, literally, her guides, philosophers, and friends.
They stood by her as loyally on the field of battle as
in the council-chamber and in the mart. Jews must
have been also a valuable contingent of the army, for
in 1086 we find the generals on both sides, on the eve
of a decisive engagement, agreeing so to fix the day
that it might not interfere with the Sabbath of their
Jewish soldiers. The kaliphs took, too, an intelligent
interest and a keen pride in their scholarly Jews, and
there was plenty of space in that beautiful land for
every one to enjoy his little corner and his little book.^
The memory of the sunny skies and the gracious
leisure of Spain took deep root in grateful Jewish
hearts. The long dream of liberty was so sweet

' Franzos.

' The literary portion of the liistory of this period will be
found in Book III., ' Starlight.'

K 2


that the sharp awakening to persecution was for-
gotten, or, at least, the fragrant shade of the orange
groves would seem to have been remembei'ed longer
than the fierce heat of the fagots and the stake.
It is good to be able to ' write injuries in dust, and
kindnesses in marble.' In 1492, the Jews were
wickedly expelled from the land in which they had
been, for centuries, so happy, and 200 years later
we hear of descendants of those cruelly exiled Jews
sending secretly to Spain and Portugal for citrons
and branches of the palm, that their niS-lD might
look ' homelike ' in the bleak north lands in which
their lot was cast.

2. The Schools. — Once given a fair field and some
choice, Jewish activity showed itself, as of old, in an
intellectual direction. The schools of Spain soon
became as famous as the kallahs of Babylon. Cordova
and Granada and Toledo took the place of ancient
Sora and Pumbaditha, and of yet more ancient
Jamnia and Tiberias. Cordova under the kaliphs was
the Athens of the Middle Ages to Southern Europe ;
and as for Toledo, a Hebrew poet ^ shall speak for him-
self on the subject of its charms :

' I found that words could ne'er express
The half of all its loveliness ;
From place to place I wandered wide,
With amorous sight unsatisfied,
Until I reached all cities' queen,
Tolaitola,^ the fairest seen.'

And among the fairest of the sights in these fair
cities were the crowded colleges in which Jew and

» Alcbarisi. ' n'p-1D''^1D. Hebrew for Toledo.


Arab learned often side by side, and from which
Jewish Arabic professors turned out students by the
score, wise in literature and in philosophy and in medi-
cine, as well as in their own especial theological line.
It is said on good authority, that at this period,
nearly a thousand years before the era of Board
schools, there was not a Jew in Spain who could not
read the Bible in Hebrew and in Arabic.

3. The First Nagid of Spain. — One day in the
year 948 there was a sudden stir and commotion m the
famous college of Cordova. A knotty point had come
on for discussion, and puzzled silence had ensued in
place of ready answers, when, from an unnoticed
corner, a very shabby-looking stranger quietly got up
and solved the difficulty. All eyes were turned on
the ragged scholar, and the president rose impetuously
from his high seat, and in tones of earnest admiration
exclaimed to the astonished assembly, ' Yon slave in
sackcloth is my master, he must be yours.' It was a
hasty decision to come to, but it was fully justified by
the facts of the story. The stranger in the mean
garments was in truth an escaped slave, or, to speak
quite accurately, a captive redeemed. In the lately
closed schools of Babylon he had been one of the
most learned of the Rabbis. He had had thrilling
adventures since those quiet days at Sora, which place
he had left, accompanied by three other scholars,
for the purpose of collecting contributions for the
maintenance of the schools in Babylon. His wife and
his young son had travelled with Rabbi Moses ben
Hanoch, and all of them had fallen into the hands
of pirates, and had been carried on board a privateer-


ing vessel engaged in the slave trade. In dread of
worse than captivity, the wife had thrown herself
overboard during the voyage, the three companions
had been sold at ports at which they touched,' and
Eabbi Moses and his son were exposed for sale in
the slave market in Cordova. It was considered, in
those days, a paramount duty of every congregation
to redeem captive brethren, and a kind-hearted Jew,
seeing two co-religionists in such evil plight, had at
once bought them at the current price, which was
not high, for their attainments were not known, and
were therefore not counted in, and had set them free.
Then father and sou, sad and yet grateful, had
wandered through the stately streets of Cordova,
and some instinct had led them to the doors of
the synagogue and the schools, with the result we
have seen. ' Moses clad in sackcloth,' as he was
called, became quite a celebrated character in Cor-
dova. The reigning kaliph, Abderahman III., was a
very enlightened ruler, and took a scholarly, as well
as a kind-hearted, interest in the learned Rabbi.
Abderahman had, too, a Jewish minister named
Hasdai ben Isaac, whom he greatly valued ; and it is
quite possible, since the whole Jewish nation is often
judged by single specimens, that the kaliph's expe-
rience of the upright Hasdai influenced his general
policy towards the Jews in his dominions. Moses
ben Hanoch lived long as president of the schools, and
his son, Hanoch ben Moses, succeeded him. Hanoch
ben Moses' powers and privileges were considerably ex-

' One of these Eabbis subsequently founded a college at
Cairo, another in Kairuan, and the third, it is said, at Narbonne.


tended, and he was given the title of Nagid, or prince,
of the Jewish community in Spain. It became an office
somewhat more honorary and less official than, but
yet very similar to, that held of old by the Sn-I?! C'n.
Head of the captivity, in Babylon, and thus the dignity
that had died out in the East was revived in name,
at least, in the AVest.

4. Another Nagid : Troubles in Granada. — Another
famous Nagid was Samuel ha-Levi ibu-Nagrela,
who was born in Cordova nearly fifty years later
(993). In 10 13 -the kaliphate of Cordova had suf-
fered from a barbarian invasion, and many of the
great people had moved into other cities of the Penin-
sula. The colleges at Granada gi-ew famous, and
Samuel ha-Levi, or Samuel ha-Nagid, as he is
generally called, who was at their head from about
1025 till 1055, was not only a first-rate theologian
and a tolerable poet, but a clever statesman and a
very charming companion. Like Hasdai ben Isaac,
Samuel ha-Nagid held the post of minister at the
court of the kaliph, and like Mm again, he held it to
the benefit of his sovereign and of his co-religionists.
His son Joseph inherited his honours, but not all
his fine qualities. He had not good manners, and he
was imprudent. During his Nagidship there was a
very serious riot in Granada (1066). The Jews were
accused of converting their neighbours. This was a
fault of which they were so very unlikely to be guilty,
that one has to look deeper for the cause of the
disturbance. One may find it perhaps in the fact
that the populace spent their wrath not on the syn-
agogues, but ou the houses and warehouses of the


Jews. That looks as if plunder had more to do with
the matter than religion. It is, however, quite pos-
sible that the Nagid Joseph, through want of
tact, had managed to excite some ill feeling. If it
were so, he paid the penalty. He was killed in the
course of the riot. A gTeat deal of property was de-
stroyed and more stolen, and some fifteen hundred
Jewish families had to leave Granada, and to find an
asylum in the other provinces of Spain. This riot in
Granada was the first inten-uption to the 350 years
of pleasant and peaceful relations which had existed
between the Mahomedans and the Jews. But the
Granada riot was like the ' little cloud ' that Elijah's
servant saw ' rising up out of the sea,' after the long
drought. The cloud was at first, we read, no bigger
than a man's hand, yet very soon ' the heavens were
black with clouds and wind, and there was a gi'eat

5. Revival of Catholicism in Spain. — Two causes
helped to bring about the change that was impending
on the Jews, and the first, sad to say, was the gradual
return of Spain to Christianity. From the time of
the Mahomadan conquest in 711, a small remnant of
the Visigoths, who were Christians, had managed to
keep their hold on some of the mountain passes in
the north of Spain. From the very first this tiny
settlement had never ceased trying to win back their
country from the Moors. The little Christian remnant
had grown bigger and stronger by degrees, and one by
one, very slowly, but very surely, several Mahomedan
states had been won from Islam, and separate crowns
had been set on the heads of Catholic sovereigns.


By 1060, Castile, Leon, Asturias, Arragon, Navarre,
and Portugal were all independent kingdoms, sepa-
rate from the Kalipliate in politics and in religion.
In 1085 the important city of Toledo was added to
the confederation under the presidency of Alfonso VI.,
and became the capital of his kingdom of Castile,

6. Effect on the Jews. — So long as the Maho-
medan power was paramount in the Peninsula, the
partial return to Catholicism made little difference in
the position of the Jews. The Catholic kings did not
like their Jewish subjects in the same way as did the
Mahomedan kaliphs, but, in their newly established
kingdoms, they found Jews too serviceable and too
much respected to make it either safe or politic to ill-
use them. Their own footing was hard to win and hard
to keep. It needed constant fighting, and even then it
was not too secure. Meanwhile, the whole business
of life could not be carried on by soldiers. People
had to be fed, to be taught, to be healed ; and all
these very necessary functions were most admirably
filled by Jews. It would not have done for the kings to
snub such useful subjects, and it was hardly possible
at that stage to persecute them. One wants both hands
free for earnest work of any sort. Catholicism was
not yet strong enough in Spain to strike out a
different line of action from Islam. It is even pos-
sible that the kings learnt some lessons from the
kaliphs, and got to see, as they did, something of the
value and of the virtues of Judaism. It is quite
certain that at the close of the eleventh century, when
crusades came into fashion, neither Alfonso (VI.) of
Castile nor Peter of Arragon, who were both good


Catliolics, would allow the cry of Hep^ ^^Pi^ to be
raised in their dominions. And it is equally certain
that this same king Alfonso put down with a strong
hand an outburst at Toledo, in 1108, which threatened
Jewish peace and Jewish property. The early kaliphs
of Spain practised toleration as a principle; the early
kings, perhaps, more as a habit ; but the result to the
Jews was the same. Whilst the Ommeyade dynasty
yet maintained its supremacy in Spain the Jews still
prospered, and Judaism was unmolested.

7. The Almohade Dynasty of Kaliphs. — The second
cause of the change in Jewish fortunes was the re-
sult of a change in the Mahomedan succession to the
Kaliphate. The Ommeyade kaliphs were enlight-
ened, just, and liberal rulers, enthusiastic in their
belief, and therefore tolerant in upholding it. The
Almohade dynasty, which came into power about
1150, introduced a quite different state of things. The
Almohades were a sect of fanatic warriors. They
had already conquered Barbary, and it was an evil
day for Jews and Christians both, when, flushed with
their barbarian successes, they succeeded in governing
Spain. One of the earliest edicts of Abdel-Mumen,
the founder of this line of Mahomedan sovereigns,
was directed to the conversion of his subjects. Very
soon, Islam or exile was the only choice given to
Jews or to Christians. Some took upon them the

• HEP, supposed by some to be the initial letters of the
three words Hierosolyma est perdita, meaning Jerusalem is lost,
was the war-cry of the Crusaders. The object of the Crusaders
was to regain Jerusalem. Hep, Hep, was their signal for murder-s
ing and plundering Jews en route. It grew to be a most familiar
sound in the Middle Ages.


.disguise of the alien faith and held their own in
secret, but many more chose the harder and nobler
course of exile, preferring ' dreary hearths to desert
souls.' Numbers of Jews left the country altogether,
and joined their co-religionists in Egypt and in the
Mediterranean islands. There were schools at this
date in Egypt, uninterfered with by the tolerant
Mahomedan sultans, whose seat of government was at
Cairo. Of one very celebrated student, whose family
sought refuge in that country from the Almohade
persecution in Spain, we shall hear later. ^

JEWS IN SPAIN (continued).


1, Under Catholic Kings in Spain. — Most of the
Jews who were driven into exile by the Almohade
persecutions, travelled no further than those pro-
vinces of Spain which had seceded from Mahomedan
rule. The Catholic kings were ready, for their own
sakes, to give a welcome to the learned, useful Jews.
Alfonso VIII., who reigned in Castile from 1166
till 1214, was particularly well affected towards them.
It was said that he loved a beautiful Jewess of Toledo
named Rachel; the poor girl, at any rate, was mur-
dered by good Catholics on the suspicion of it. For
the next hundred and fifty years after the Almohade
persecution, the position of the Jews in Spain was
still seemingly, and on the surface of things, a posi-

' See Maimonides, Book III., chap. sxis.


tion with which to be satisfied. They were rich, they
were at ease, and they were of use to their country-
men in a hundred ways. But as Spain grew, by sure
degrees, less and less Mahomedan, and more and
more Catholic, the Popes began to take a more active
interest in its affairs. The head of the Church disliked
the sight of so many synagogues in Christian Spain,
and in respect to heresy in general, and to the Jews
as special examples of heresy, the clergy were often
more Papist than the Popes. The earlier Catholic
kings, however, were too alive to their own interests
to be tempted into persecution from religious motives
only. They needed the Jews. They depended on
Jewish loyalty in their armies, and on Jewish brains
in their offices. They could not afford to alienate
such service. When, in the middle of the thirteenth
century, Pope Gregory IX. tried hard to stir up
Alfonso the Wise to join in the general European
craze of the time against the Jews, we find Alfonso,
proving one of his claims to that surname of his,
by refusing to be stirred up. Alfonso's predecessor,
Ferdinand the Saint, had shown a like wisdom
under similar circumstances. The Popes notwith-
standing, the kings of Spain continued to personally
employ Jews as physicians and as ministers of
finance, and in every branch of culture and of com-
merce in their kingdoms, remained well content to see
Jews come to the front. So life went on smoothly
under those sunny skies, but the volcano was only
slumbering, and every now and then ominous little
rumbles gave forth a warning of the explosion that
was in store.


2. The Toledo Synagogue. — Toledo, tlie capital of
Castile, had become in the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries a second Cordova. In 1360, when Pedro
the Cruel was king, very serious trouble arose for
the Jews of Toledo. Pedro earned that surname of
' Cruel ' from his own subjects, and not from his treat-
ment of the Jews. To them he meant to be kind,
but he was . a bad man, and even the tender mercies
of the wicked, we read, are cruel. Like most of his
predecessors, Pedro had a Jew, Samuel Levi, for his
finance minister. One of the duties of such a minister
is to raise taxes. This office Samuel Levi performed
with such a will for his royal master that he became
most unpopular with the people. Whilst they were
groaning under their imposts, they saw this favoured
Jew living in great state, accumulating a large fortune,
and building at his own expense a magnificent synr-
gogue in Toledo. They looked on this synagogue as
built with their money, and grew to detest the sight
of the worshippers in it. In an illogical sort of way
they hated the man, and his religion, and his wealth
altogether. It was but a step from feeling the hatred
to expressing it. One sad day the Jews lost their
beautiful synagogue, and poor Samuel Levi was
tortured to death. His fortune was confiscated, and
King Pedro, his sympathy notwithstanding, took a
large share of it. Personally, however, Pedro seems
always to have done his best to protect and be plea-
sant to the Jews, and they were wonderfully faithful
to him. In a long struggle which he had with his
brother Henry of Transtamare for possession of the
crown, the Jews fought loyally for their liege lord


Pedro. Henry triumplied in the end, and both
during the civil war, and at the close of it, there was
more slaughter and plunder of the Jews than could
be put down to the strict account of the war. Reli-
gion was made the excuse for a great deal of the

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Online LibraryKatie MagnusOutlines of Jewish history from B.C. 586 to C.E. 1885 → online text (page 10 of 26)