Martyrs of York

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Less than a year after the coronation of King Richard I (Richard the Lion-heart) in September 1189, anti-Jewish rioting broke out in the city of York, despite the king's orders that the Jews were not to be molested. The sheriff allowed the Jews to take refuge in the royal castle, Clifford's Tower, where a tablet marks the spot. Suspecting the intentions of the sheriff, the Jews expelled him from the castle which was surrounded by a mob intent on killing the Jews and plundering their possessions. The Jews of York, among whom was the famous scholar Yom Tov of Joigny, one of the Tosafists (see TOSAFOT), committed mass suicide on the Sabbath before Passover, corresponding to 6 March 1190. The few who did not give their lives pleaded that they be allowed to escape death by converting to Christianity. Being reassured, they left the castle and were massacred. In the later Halakhah the martyrdom of the Jews of York was used as proof that suicide is permitted if it is in order to escape torture or conversion. The community of York was later reestablished and continued until the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290. The belief is unfounded that a herem exists against Jews living in York, and a small community has existed there since the nineteenth century.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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