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27 Teves 5760 - January 5, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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The Second Millennium Opened With The Crusades

by S. Fried

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.

Conquering Jerusalem

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, oso ho'ish.

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 final redemption.

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 wolves.

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 anticipated.

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 reasons."

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 planned.

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 effect.

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 problems.

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 authorities.

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 centuries.

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 Hashem Echod.'

"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 out.

"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 they succeeded.

"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 Mainz.

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 waters.

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 lives.

Subsequent Crusades

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 fall.

"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 the Crusades."

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 us today.

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