The Christian world has just celebrated the beginning of its
third millennium. Sadly, many Jews are joined in the revelry.
A thousand years ago, at the opening of the second
millennium, when all of the Christian predictions of
"redemption" had proven false, seeds of hatred were sown
which led to the infamous Crusades. Just over 900 years ago
in the summer of 1099, the Crusaders reached Jerusalem and
captured it from the Moslem "infidels."
The European Jews, who were not supposed to be the target of
the Crusades, paid a heavy price and many large Jewish
communities throughout Germany were totally destroyed.
In Eretz Yisroel, the Crusaders didn't differentiate much
between Jews and Moslems and murdered them all, mercilessly.
Over a period of 200 years, nine Crusades were held and tens
of thousands of Jews were massacred and gave up their lives
al kiddush Hashem.
For five weeks, the Crusaders besieged Jerusalem. At first
they hoped for a miracle and thought that the walls would
fall. They blew horns, surrounded the city barefooted, fasted
and held processions as was their custom. They hungered for
bread, lacked water, but did not give up. Jerusalem was their
goal, and they wouldn't withdraw.
The Egyptian Moslems reigned within the city. Inside, there
was also a small Jewish community, which had come during the
years of the Moslem rule.
Several hundred years earlier, under the rule of the
Byzantine Empire, Jews were forbidden to live in Jerusalem.
Then Moslems took over and they allowed the Jews to reside
there. During the rule of the Crusades, the prohibition
against Jewish residence was renewed. For a hundred years,
there were no Jews in the city. But bit by bit, a few
returned to the city.
On the 12th of Av, 4859 (July, 1099) the walls of
Yerushalayim were breached. The conquerors who swooped into
the Jewish residential quarter in the northwest (today the
Moslem Quarter) over the bridge built above the city, burst
into its lanes and corridors, attacked its market place,
murdered and butchered all they encountered. The streets were
strewn with huge piles of corpses. Blood flowed ankle-high,
all the way to the Shiloach well. They stormed the houses,
satiated their hunger on the meager amount of food which
remained, plundered everything in sight, and affixed knightly
symbols on the doors, as a sign of ownership. They pitied
neither suckling nor grandsire, pierced the falling with
their swords, while singing the praises of yimach shemo,
The morning after, when they were weary of the blood, they
began to gather the living capital: the captives. They were
tradable goods, to be sold in the slave market which awaited
them, on the shores of Africa and Europe. Many were later
redeemed by the Jewish communities of Italy and elsewhere.
On the third day, their murder lust, which was fanned by the
fire of their hatred of the heretics, still hadn't subsided.
This time, they discovered the majority of the Jews, gathered
in the synagogue, fasting, weeping and praying. They didn't
bother to burst inside, but simply set it ablaze, burning the
synagogue along with those inside it.
Yudenrein, was their rallying cry, just like their
descendants 840 years afterward. Only a land free of Jews
could sate their lust.
It occurred on Friday morning the 15th of July 1099 at 9 a.m.
The Crusaders captured Jerusalem and the first Crusade had
reached its peak. Godfrey of Bouillon, Baldwin of Bologna,
Robert of Normandy, Raymond of Toulouse and Tankard of
Trenton, freed Jerusalem from the rule of the "infidels," the
Moslem Seljuks, and purged it of the "heretical" Jews.
Nine hundred years since the capture of Jerusalem by the
Crusaders is a date worth noting, but an even more important
reason for taking note of it is the frenzy in the Christian
world as the beginning of their third millennium -- the year
2000 -- approached.
Some historians claim that the excitement about the beginning
of the second millennium (the year 1000) sparked the idea of
the Crusades almost 100 years later. Then, like today and
perhaps even more so, Christian doomsday-seekers found signs
that, in their opinion, pointed to the resurrection of their
leader and the end of the world or, alternatively, to its
The disillusionment which ensued when this did not occur on
the expected date continued to ferment in the minds of the
spiritual leaders of Christianity, and among the farmers who
were groaning under the yoke of the noblemen. As a result, it
was easy to incite the masses and to lure them with promises
of unprecedented happenings.
Jews do not need round dates in order to recall bloody epochs
such as the Crusader period. The kiddush Hashem of the
Jews of that period remains in the collective memory of Am
Yisroel, in its liturgical odes, in its prayers. The story of
R' Amnon of Mainz, author of Unesaneh Tokef, though it
did not take place during one of the Crusades, is
characteristic of those times.
Persecutions have been the lot of the Jews in all
generations, all lands. In the east, they were caused by the
Moslems, in the west by the Christians. One lamb amidst 70
The Beginning of the First Crusade
Nonetheless, the Crusades marked a special crisis along the
thorny and rocky path of the golus. The first Crusade
opened a wide chasm between Jews and Christians.
"And a large mass assembled, women and children the poor and
the rich, princes, and noblemen with their kings, priests and
monks with their bishops and patriarchs . . . " relate the
Christian chronicles about the beginning of the Crusades. It
touched some nerve in the population, as the numbers who
undertook the journey were much larger than anyone had
The writer also analyzes the reasons the Crusades evolved:
"The masses had varying objectives. Some craved adventure,
and had come in order to see the world. Others were motivated
by their poverty, and were willing to fight even
Christianity's friends if this could alleviate their poverty.
Others were oppressed by their debts or hoped to rid
themselves of their servitude to their masters, or to escape
expected punishment for various crimes. All of these feigned
zeal. However their true aim was to eliminate their
pressures. A very few, though, were motivated by sincere
This quote shows the cynicism of the author, writing only 50
years after the first Crusade. Historians say that the
Crusades were really rooted in an error, and that they were
The idea of the Crusades originated at a priests' conclave
held in Clermont-Ferrand in 1095, at which Pope Urban spoke
about the need to fight the Turkish infidels who had
conquered the Holy Land. He did so in response to calls for
help he had received from the Byzantine Empire -- the Eastern
Christian Church and political empire -- which was at odds
with the Moslems. The original aim was to help the Oriental
Christians and pilgrims who were said to have been mistreated
by the Moslem rulers of the Holy Land. Pope Urban was said to
have been a skilled orator, and his words had a strong
The Pope was captivated by the idea, and continued to call
urgently to redeem the Holy Land. The masses were drawn after
him. For them, the idea of a Crusade, far from the difficult
life back home, seemed like a good solution for internal
Those who responded to the call affixed crosses to their
outer garments, which led to their being called "crusaders."
Their cry was dieu le veult! -- god wills it. A
religious fever swept the countryside.
The historians also claim that the call of the Pope was made
on the background of a hidden struggle between the church and
the Empire (which was supposedly secular) over the issue of
who would dominate. The Crusade, as a religious campaign,
gave the Church the upper hand and helped it dominate. The
ruling powers weren't happy about taking second place. Those
masses who went on a crusade, explicitly put themselves under
the protection and control of the Church, and not the secular
Even though many of the nobility participated in the
Crusades, there were others -- dukes, princes and even
Christian spiritual leaders -- who sternly opposed the
pogroms against the Jews, opened the gates of the fortresses
to them, and sometimes even endangered their own lives while
defending the Jews.
At first the plan was to go only to fight in the Holy Land,
and not to do anything to Jews in Europe. However, many Jews
sensed danger at the outset. As soon as the call went out,
the Jews of France sent emissaries to the communities in
Germany to warn them of the threat. At first the German
communities thought that the greater threat was in France,
but as the mobs assembled in April of 1096 (4856) in Germany,
they began to take the threat more seriously.
The masses set out on their quest, which for many was also a
final journey. The first Crusade took three years, from 1096
to 1099, and only a very few of the tens of thousands who set
out on the Crusades reached the Holy Land. Far fewer returned
to their homes in Europe.
Why Not Kill the Jews at Home?
"Why should we pursue the enemies of the Christian hope at
the other end of the world, while people such as the Jews who
are far worse than the Moslems, are allowed to blaspheme, to
condemn and to castigate all that is holy to Christianity,
with brashness, while no one protests? How can zeal burn in
the hearts of the Christians as long as the avowed enemies of
our leader and his believers live at peace before our very
eyes?" a monk of that period asked rhetorically.
This very same question was asked of those who joined the
Crusade. Their very numbers, with the atmosphere of the
times, enhanced and increased the religious frenzy.
Before their very eyes were Jews, who were said to be cursed
killers of their founder. Aside from the religious motives,
which were quite strong, many also resented the fact that
Jews were always lending money to Christians, in part because
they were often barred from doing much else.
While the monarchy insisted on law and order and obligated
the farmers and the poor to return their debts to the Jews,
the Popes promised that whoever joined the "Holy Crusade"
would be forgiven his debts. The Jews were near at hand, or
near at sword, while "the holy city" -- that very city which
until then had been considered an ethereal, celestial, barely
real city, was somewhere over the dark mountains.
"As they passed through the villages where Jews lived, they
said to each other: `We are going on a long pilgrimage, in
order to search for the house of the anathema and to destroy
the Moslems. First let us take revenge on the Jews among us,
whose forefathers killed [oso ho'ish] and crucified
him. Let us first destroy them, so that either the name of
Israel is wiped out (cholila) or they become like us,"
related Reb Shlomo ben Reb Shimon in his memoirs about the
gezeiros of the year 4856 ("Tatnu" -- 1096).
The Jews of the Rhineland (the border region between France
and Germany), which was the traditional route to Orient,
suffered the first blow. They also weathered the first shock.
Even though the Jews were persecuted in all generations,
Europe's Jews until then had not suffered the massive type of
assault which characterized the pogroms of the beginning of
the second millennium. The decrees and the restrictions until
that time were more the initiative of the ruling authorities
than spontaneous unorganized outbursts.
Several German communities were severely hit in the period
between Pesach and Shavuos of that year (1096): Speyer on 8
Iyar, Worms on 23 Iyar, Mains on 3 Sivan and Cologne on 6
Sivan. Massacres followed at Trier, Regensburg, Metz, Prague
and many small communities throughout Bohemia. It was not
until Tammuz that the butchery stopped, and then only because
the Hungarians (non-Jewish) crushed the crusaders.
Those who had been forcibly baptized were often not allowed
to return to Judaism openly. Many continued to practice in
secret, but they had to live as Christians outwardly. In some
cases they were allowed to return to Judaism.
In this case, the authorities for the most part were not
against the Jews and tried to help. Even the Christian
officials such as bishops tried to protect the Jews. However
they were often unable to stop the power of the mob.
Reb Shlomo ben Reb Shimon, who related these accounts from
the viewpoint of pure emunah, explains that all of the
prayers, fasts and supplications went unanswered. "And their
Father in Heaven did not answer them. He blocked their
prayers, and enshrouded them in a cloud, because it was a
decree from Him.
"This is the generation," says Reb Shlomo. "It was chosen
before Him because it had the strength and the courage to
stand in His heichal, to do His will, and to sanctify
His great name in His world.
"One great and pious woman chose slaughter al kiddush
Hashem. She was the first of the slaughtered in all of
the communities. The remaining survivors were saved by the
Bishop, without being baptized."
This took place in Speyer on 8 Iyar. The Jews hid in the
synagogue, and the mob could not break in. Those they found
outside they offered a choice of baptism or death. One famous
woman chose death, and inspired many more over the next two
She was the first and after her, scores of communities --
hundreds and thousands of Jews -- slaughtered themselves or
were slaughtered lema'an Shemo be'ahavo.
"The pious man asked his sons: `Do you want me to sacrifice
you to Hashem our G-d?'
"They replied: `Do what you please with us.'
"And Yitzchok Hatzaddik took his sons and daughters and led
them by way of the courtyard in the middle of the night
[Shavuos night]. He then brought them to the synagogue before
the aron hakodesh and slaughtered them al kiddush
Hashem hagodol, Keil rom veniso.
"Some fulfilled `eim al bonim rutsha,' by themselves
and the father fell on his children, because they were
slaughtered over them. Each one slaughtered his fellow, his
brother, his kin, his wife and his sons -- chassonim
and their fiancees, compassionate women and their only
children, all with a complete heart, accepted din
Shomayim, reconciling themselves to the will of their
Maker, and shouting, `Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu
"The enemies removed their clothes and dragged them away, not
leaving even one of them behind, except for a very few whom
they forcibly baptized in their ugly waters.
"Speyer, Mainz and Worms -- kehillos kedoshos,
kehillos of talmidei chachomim, the Baalei
HaTosfos, the authors of liturgical odes, the righteous of
the world -- were liquidated, destroyed, totally wiped
"On the third day of Sivan, which was a day of sanctification
and abstinence for Israel when they prepared to receive the
Torah -- on that very day on which Hashem told Moshe Rabbenu
olov hasholom: `Prepare yourself for three days,' the
communities of Mainz, men of supreme piety, were separated in
sanctity and purity, and consecrated to go up to Hashem
together, because they were pleasant in their lifetimes and
during their deaths did not part . . . Hashem was angry at
His people and fulfilled the design of the Christians, and
"No amount of money helped, no fasts, no shouting, no
outcries. Even the Torah hakedosha didn't shield those
who studied it. The Daughter of Zion -- Mainz -- was divested
of all its glory. The voice of the adirei hatzon
ceased, and the voice of the heroes, who fought back and
brought the many to righteousness -- the city of my praise,
the city of my joy which gave so generously to the poor, and
where Torah and greatness, wealth and honor, wisdom humility
and good deeds prevailed, and where fences upon fences were
erected to preserve the words of the sages. Its wisdom has
ceased, and its people have been destroyed, like those of
Yerushalayim in their destruction.
Appalling, hair-raising and shocking descriptions. Reb Shlomo
ben Reb Shimon, and a number of other historians of those
days, don't judge, don't attempt to find halachic
justification for the self-slaughter of the people of
It seems as if the members of these sacred communities were
not afraid of the punishment and the tortures they were
destined to suffer. Physical suffering didn't frighten them.
They feared being forced to convert to Christianity. They
feared that they might be killed and that their tender
children would remain prey to the wretched baptismal
Regarding the souls of their children, they took no chances.
They maintained that it was permissible to kill them as Jews,
in order to prevent them from converting to the enemy faith.
Yehoreig ve'al ya'avor. Of course before taking the
final step, they attempted every possible means of escape:
bribery, fleeing to the fortresses, by seeking the help of
the secular ruling power, and by begging for mercy.
When all these attempts proved futile, they took their own
This occurred during the first Crusade. After that, there
were two more major Crusades: the second in 1144 (4904) and
the third about 70 years later. There were other minor
Crusades as well. Some count up to nine. Not all of them
reached their final destination -- the Holy Land. But on the
way, all of them wreaked havoc on to the Jewish communities
which had tried to restore themselves between Crusade and
Crusade hoping, each time, that the evil had passed.
The communities which suffered most were those of France and
Germany. But other communities were also the objects of the
destruction caused by the supposed religious zeal of the
bearers of the Christian symbol.
The Third Crusade
The third Crusade, headed by Richard the Lionhearted, the
King of England, resulted in the destruction of the Jewish
communities of that country, in London, Norwich, Stamford,
Lincoln and especially York where there was a great massacre
on erev Pesach, and which became a symbol for hatred
of the Jew and the symbol of kiddush Hashem. England
had not participated much in the first two Crusades but,
unfortunately, they made up for it in the Third Crusade.
The entire story was related in very detailed form by a
Christian writer, William Maniober, who was alarmed by the
cruelty and treachery of his coreligionists and awed by the
mesiras nefesh of the Jews. In York the motive was
clear -- the avaricious rioters were jealous of the vast
wealth of two Jews, Benedict and Yosetzi, whose lifestyles
were a bit opulent and flamboyant. Some Christian nobility
also sought an easy way out of their debts to the Jews. Thus,
in the name of the cross, they began a pogrom. The Jews fled
to the fortress at the top of the mountain, the Castle Keep,
taking their money with them. Whoever was caught outside was
either forcibly baptized or killed.
They could not simply storm the fortress, so they laid siege
to it. After a prolonged siege, the fortress seemed about to
"Among them was an elderly man known as a great Torah sage
[HaRav Yom Tov ben Yitzchok of Joigny]. They say that he had
come from the coastal countries in order to spread Torah
among England's Jews.
"It was he who determined: `You see that death awaits us. [Do
not] think, that for the sake of these brief earthly days, we
must abandon our sacred Torah and choose to live a life of
heresy, a life which is more difficult than death . . . We
must choose the more honorable manner of death. If the
Creator Himself demands that we return Him the life He gave
us, let us do so willingly and as a sacrifice."
That is what they did. They set fire to their possessions and
slaughtered each other and themselves. Whoever tried to flee
was trapped by the fire set by the martyrs. More than 150
died this way. The remaining Jews, who tried to surrender to
the rioters, were murdered in various ways. The sights of the
city were horrifying. Corpses were strewn beside the
fortress, while the rioters, after completing the massacre,
approached the cathedral and forced the terrified guard, by
means of threats, to cancel the promissory notes which
oppressed the Christians. The rioters then burned the
register of all the debts in a festive bonfire in the church.
"And in that manner they freed themselves and many others
from these debts, which the monarchy had said should be paid.
Immediately afterward, they donned the cross and set out on
Led by a goose and a goat to guide them on the way
(especially when they searched for Jews), headed by the kings
of France, Germany, England and other countries, and followed
by a motley crowd of riffraff, fanatic monks, glory-seeking
knights and slave traders, the Crusaders set out on the long
trek toward the Holy Land.
In the end, millions of Crusaders also died due to internal
wars, the strains and strife of the journey and in their
fights with the Moslems. One estimate puts the final toll at
about 2 million, in addition to untold misery. The only
result was a Crusader kingdom in the Holy Land that lasted
for about 100 years. Tripoli fell in 1289 (5049) to the
Moslems and Acco, the last Christian city, was taken by the
Moslems in 1291 (5051).
After that the West had no control of the Holy Land until
General Allenby took it from the Turks in 1917, while
fighting the First World War.
The Christians remember them as gallant campaigns in pursuit
of an ideal. We remember the martyrdom of our brethren and
savage butchery. The Av Horachamim prayer said every
week before musaf on Shabbos is in memory of the
terrible suffering of the Jews at the hands of the Crusaders.
In the German communities that were rebuilt on the ruins of
the destroyed communities they said Av Horachamim only
twice a year: on Shabbos Chazon before Tisha B'Av and the
Shabbos before Shavuos in memory of the Crusades which took
place (in the first Crusade) between Pesach and Shavuos.
In truth, our strongest "memories" of that era are the
priceless treasures that we have from the Baalei
Tosafos, many of whom lived and learned in those
communities (Rabbenu Tam was attacked during the Second
Crusade and saved miraculously). The Torah still lives with