The shifting perceptions of 1096, particularly when seen against the backdrop of the historical
"reality, have much to teach us."
The development of the Rhineland Massacres, often looked at in history as a linear first example of official Jewish mass persecution by the Christians, wavers in importance to the modern scholar, as well as the modern Jew and Christian. Was it a warm up for mass persecution, or a warm up for crusade actions against the Muslims? Historically it is safe to say that it is all of these things, an important period in Jewish and Christian history. One that would have served as a good lesson for detractors of reinvigoration of anti-Semitism that pervaded not only the Nazi mentality but that of much of western thought, notorious anti-Semites existed all over the world during the rise of the Nazi regime. In fact the WWII genocide could be seen as a modern reincarnation of the mob mentality that pervaded the crusade period, a cyclical resurgence of hatred, rather than a linear one.
We can also learn much by studying the place of 1096 within the history of anti-Jewish behaviors and attitudes. Does the Rhineland tragedy supply the key to understanding subsequent Christian persecution and Jewish suffering? Does crusader hostility serve as an archetype of Christian animosity, as a harbinger of the hatreds that punctuate the nine centuries between then and now? Does it represent a classic case of Christian antisemitism, whatever that vexing term might mean? Quite reasonably, contemporary students of the Jewish past maintain that the Jews whom they study were not simply victims. Rather, these Jews must be understood as active agents on the world scene, responding vigorously -- often within fairly constricted parameters -- to the challenges confronting them. The behaviors of 1096 constitute an important, albeit extreme example of activist Jewish response to persecution. Does it provide us with a paradigm of Jewish reaction to a hostile environment? Is it fair to see the Jewish martyrs of 1096 as models for Jewish behavior? Should we condemn those Jews who did not achieve the heroic level of Rhineland Jewry? These are some of the larger questions raised by the crusading attacks in the Rhineland during the spring months of 1096 and by the remarkable Jewish responses to crusader violence. A nine-hundredth anniversary provides a reasonable and appropriate occasion for recollecting the realities of 1096 and for probing the multiple meanings of the brief but intense events of that Rhineland springtime.
The role of the Rhineland Massacres of 1096 in the history of Judaism and anti-Semitism in general has varied over the years, as scholars, retrospectively attempt to source the nature of the anti-Semitism of the 20th century that ended with the loss of more than half of the Jewish population in Europe during the Nazi regime's cruel and destructive attempt to wipe them off the face of the earth. Scholars have sought to demonstrate that the thread of anti-Semitic ideologies runs deep in the history of the Western world and many see a direct connection between the first crusade and the Rhineland Massacres of 1096 as one of the first officiated examples of Semitic hatred applied in physical terms. While others argue that the period was a logical demonstration of tensions between the three major faiths of the period, when Christianity and Islam and the conflict between them, as well as their demonstrative ruling interests culminated into an all out assault on all who deviated from each one's message and legal standing. While some have chosen to view the period as the beginning of the Jewish ideology as "other" supporting both the negative aspects of anti-Semitic acts, such as the establishment of fear and instability while at the same time stressing the cohesive power of a new Jewish ideology of persecution.
In the view of Ben-Sasson, the unifying characteristic of this millenium-long period was the rule of Islam and Christianity and the inevitable conflict that such rule created with the Jews. In this lengthy period, the events of 1096 loomed very large. For Ben-Sasson, the second sub-period of the Jewish Middle Ages was initiated by the Rhineland massacres. The impact of the events of 1096 was purportedly twofold, external and internal: "The massacres of 1096 considerably changed the political status of the Jews and affected their religious and social thinking." Externally, 1096 signaled the onset of insecurity, enhanced limitation, and growing tension between the Jews and their Christian neighbors. Rationalism, which according to Ben-Sasson had flourished during the prior period, gave way increasingly to mystical tendencies; the election of the Jewish people and the meaning of exile came to occupy a larger place in Jewish thinking; categorical rejection of competing faith systems became a more pressing priority.
According to Ben-Sasson, reiterated in Chazan's full length discussion of the period surrounding 1096 and the First Crusade, is one note that is demonstrative of the changing ideologies of the Jews and the fact that those who lost their lives and were therefore venerated in the period became the spine of Jewish ideologies of persecution and served to cohere the faith together, even today. This sentiment is upheld by Jewish tradition, that marks the Rhineland massacres as a central demonstrative period where Jewish martyrdom became a cohesive social ideology. "Hebrew sources call one group of cities where large and important Ashkenazic communities were annihilated 'cities of blood,' (82) and the commemoration of these martyrs became an important source of Jewish solidarity, as it had in the aftermath of the Crusade massacres of 1096. (83)"
Particularly noteworthy is the veneration for the martyrs of 1096. They represent to Ben-Sasson, and more generally to Zionist historiography, exemplars of the most intense commitment to Jewish life and Jewish peoplehood. Their extreme affirmation of the faith of Israel and their concomitantly unflinching rejection of any and all alternatives represent a high point in historic expression of Jewish identity and perserverance.
The attitudes of the early Christian fathers and the reformers who inspired the crusades against the Infidels (Muslims) were decidedly mixed, while on the one hand being demonstratively apposed to attacking Jews directly as a result of the fact that the Christian tenant affirms that such men will eventually convert and accept Jesus and also because the Jews unlike the Muslims had not taken up arms against the Christians. Yet, at the same time the reformer Bernard Clairvoux, stressing all of the above makes mention that in a practical sense the Jewish practice of money lending for interest (usury) was attacked as inappropriate and unsupportable. The mixed messages as the fervor of the period likely stressed the differences between the Christians and Jews and reiterated action rather than restraint, on the part of Christians.
Before and after the Rhineland Massacres of 1096, there have been those who have strong buy in to persecution (or at least debate) mentality and restraint and self-reflection for ills.
But when the preaching against the evils of usury extended itself to anti-Jewish activity and a court priest (court of Champagne?) involved in Fulk's campaign against the Jews asked Adam c. 1198 to supply him with suitable material, he turned down the request in exceedingly harsh terms. 62 Adam berates his correspondent for wanting to combat Jews while he himself is so utterly devoid of the qualities his sacerdotal condition demands of him.
Adam, demonstrates a consistent stand, on the part of reason to look closer at what the individual is trying to prove by debating Jewish faults, when in reality he should be inciting self-reflection and paying closer attention to his own role, which he is obviously neglecting, if he has nothing better to do than pick a fight with Jewish doctrine.
According to Adam, disputing Jews was an obvious waste of time. God in his justice had punished Jews with internal blindness. Their hearts are obdurate and until the day that the plenitude of peoples would enter the kingdom, they will remain blind. Discussing truth with Jews constitutes a blindness equal to theirs. People who take on debates with Jews do so for their own vainglory. Priests should know better than to indulge in such inane vanity. They should seek to regain the image of God's likeness. They should not just mouth Christian doctrine, they should practise what they preach and be an example of good Christian living. Their unrighteous behaviour and impious handling of the sacrament make them worse than Jews. The Jews killed Jesus out of ignorance; these Christians were killing the Christ they feigned to worship. Adam ends by claiming that his correspondent should leave…