Article

Jews and Judaism in Medieval Europe

Yechiel Schur and Robert Chazan

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online September 2016 | | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0214
Jews and Judaism in Medieval Europe

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy
  • Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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In the year 1000, Christian-controlled areas of Europe housed only a tiny proportion of world Jewry. The majority of Jews lived in the Islamic world. Indeed, the largest Jewish communities on European soil were found in those areas of southern Europe under Islamic rule. At the turn of the millennium, western Christendom began a process of invigoration destined to transform this area of weakness, relative to its Byzantine and Islamic competitors, into the most powerful religious-political bloc in the Western world by the year 1500. One of the results of this invigoration was the steady growth of the Jewish population of western Christendom. As Christian armies eliminated the Muslim enclaves in Europe, Jews who had lived under Islamic rule by and large opted to stay on under Christian hegemony. In addition, areas of northern Europe that had no prior Jewish population began to attract Jewish settlers. In both cases, Jewish perceptions of the newly-found vigor of Christian Europe were reinforced by overtures from the rulers of western Christendom. In the south, kings and barons offered Jews benefits for remaining in their former homes; in the north, governmental authorities extended protection and support to Jewish immigrants. The result was a rapidly increasing set of Jewish settlements. The Jews of medieval western Christendom encountered difficult circumstances—broad societal hostility, grounded in the sense of these Jews as newcomers and in traditional Christian anti-Jewish imagery; constricted economic opportunities; serious church pressure for limitations on Jewish life and significant church-sponsored missionizing campaigns; and overdependence on the governmental authorities, which could eventuate in despoliation and expulsion. By the end of the 14th century, the Jews of England and France had been banished, and the Middle Ages closed with the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492. At the same time, the Jews of medieval Europe benefitted markedly from the vibrancy of their environment. On the most basic level, the number of Jews in Europe expanded continuously, eventually bringing European Jewry to parity with the older Jewish communities of the Islamic sphere and then subsequently, in the early modern centuries, to demographic dominance in the Jewish world. These Jews of medieval Europe fashioned effective structures of self-government and created a rich new Jewish culture, deeply rooted in their creative medieval European ambiance.

Article.  14744 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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