VI - WHERE FROM?
But they feel less certain about the extent of this
contribution — the size of the Khazar immigration compared with the
influx of Western Jews, and their respective share in the genetic
make-up of the modern Jewish community. In other words, the fact
that Khazars emigrated in substantial numbers into Poland is
established beyond dispute; the question is whether they provided
the bulk of the new settlement, or only its hard core, as it were.
To find an answer to this question, we must get some idea of the
size of the immigration of “real Jews” from the West.
Thus we have records from the ninth century onwards of Jewish communities in places all over France, from Normandy down to Provence and the Mediterranean. One group even crossed the Channel to England in the wake of the Norman invasion, apparently invited by William the Conqueror, because he needed their capital and enterprise. Their history has been summed up by Baron:
The English example is instructive, because it is exceptionally well documented compared to the early history of the Jewish communities on the Continent. The main lesson we derive from it is that the social-economic influence of the Jews was quite out of proportion with their small numbers. There were, apparently, no more than 2500 Jews in England at any time before their expulsion in 1290. This tiny Jewish community in mediaeval England played a leading part in the country’s economic Establishment — much more so than its opposite number in Poland; yet in contrast to Poland it could not rely on a network of Jewish small-towns to provide it with a mass-basis of humble craftsmen, of lower-middle-class artisans and workmen, carters and innkeepers; it had no roots in the people.
On this vital issue, Angevin England epitomized developments on the Western Continent. The Jews of France and Germany faced the same predicament: their occupational stratification was lopsided and top-heavy. This led everywhere to the same, tragic sequence of events. The dreary tale always starts with a honeymoon, and ends in divorce and bloodshed. In the beginning the Jews are pampered with special charters, privileges, favours.
They are personae gratae like the court alchemists, because they alone have the secret of how to keep the wheels of the economy turning. “In the ‘dark ages’,” wrote Cecil Roth, “the commerce of Western Europe was largely in Jewish hands, not excluding the slave trade, and in the Carolingian cartularies Jew and Merchant are used as almost interchangeable terms.” But with the growth of a native mercantile class, they became gradually excluded not only from most productive occupations, but also from the traditional forms of commerce, and virtually the only field left open to them was lending capital on interest. “…The floating wealth of the country was soaked up by the Jews, who were periodically made to disgorge into the exchequer…”
The archetype of
Shylock was established long before Shakespeare’s time. In the
honeymoon days, Charlemagne had sent a historic embassy in 797 to Harun al-Rashid in Baghdad to negotiate a treaty of friendship; the
embassy was composed of the Jew Isaac and two Christian nobles. The
bitter end came when, in 1306, Philip le Bel expelled the Jews from
the kingdom of France. Though later some were allowed to return,
they suffered further persecution, and by the end of the century the
French community of Jews was virtually extinct.
One of the earliest records of such a community in Germany mentions a certain Kalonymous, who, in 906, emigrated with his kinsfolk from Lucca in Italy to Mavence. About the same time we hear of Jews in Spires and Worms, and somewhat later in other places — Trèves, Metz, Strasbourg, Cologne — all of them situated in a narrow strip in Alsace and along the Rhine valley. The Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tudela (see above, II, 8) visited the region in the middle of the twelfth century and wrote: “In these cities there are many Israelites, wise men and rich.” But how many are “many”?
In fact very few, as will be seen. Earlier on, there lived in Mayence a certain Rabbi Gershom ben Yehuda (circa 960-1030) whose great learning earned him the title “Light of the Diaspora” and the position of spiritual head of the French and Rhenish-German community. At some date around 1020 Gershom convened a Rabbinical Council in Worms, which issued various edicts, including one that put a legal stop to polygamy (which had anyway been in abeyance for a long time). To these edicts a codicil was added, which provided that in case of urgency any regulation could be revoked “by an assembly of a hundred delegates from the countries Burgundy, Normandy, France, and the towns of Mayence, Spires and Worms”.
In other rabbinical documents too, dating from the same period, only these three towns are named, and we can only conclude that the other Jewish communities in the Rhineland were at the beginning of the eleventh century still too insignificant to be mentioned. By the end of the same century, the Jewish communities of Germany narrowly escaped complete extermination in the outbursts of mob-hysteria accompanying the First Crusade, AD 1096. F. Barker has conveyed the crusader’s mentality with a dramatic force rarely encountered in the columns of the Encyclopaedia Britannica:
The Jews of the Rhineland were caught in that winepress, which nearly squeezed them to death. Moreover, they themselves became affected by a different type of mass hysteria: a morbid yearning for martyrdom. According to the Hebrew chronicler Solomon bar Simon, considered as generally reliable, the Jews of Mayence, faced with the alternative between baptism or death at the hands of the mob, gave the example to other communities by deciding on collective suicide:
Turning from gore to sober statistics, we get a rough idea of the size of the Jewish communities in Germany. The Hebrew sources agree on 800 victims (by slaughter or suicide) in Worms, and vary between 900 and 1300 for Mayence. Of course there must have been many who preferred baptism to death, and the sources do not indicate the number of survivors; nor can we be sure that they do not exaggerate the number of martyrs.
At any rate, Baron concludes from his calculations that “the total Jewish population of either community had hardly exceeded the figures here given for the dead alone”. So the survivors in Worms or in Mayence could only have numbered a few hundred in each case. Yet these two towns (with Spires as a third) were the only ones important enough to be included in Rabbi Gershom’s edict earlier on. Thus we are made to realize that the Jewish community in the German Rhineland was numerically small, even before the First Crusade, and had shrunk to even smaller proportions after having gone through the winepress of the Lord.
Yet cast of the Rhine, in central and northern Germany, there were as yet no Jewish communities at all, and none for a long time to come. The traditional conception of Jewish historians that the Crusade of 1096 swept like a broom a mass-migration of German Jews into Poland is simply a legend — or rather an ad hoc hypothesis invented because, as they knew little of Khazar history, they could see no other way to account for the emergence, out of nowhere, of this unprecedented concentration of Jews in Eastern Europe. Yet there is not a single mention in the contemporary sources of any migration, large or small, from the Rhineland further east into Germany, not to mention distant Poland.
Thus Simon Dubnov, one of the historians of the older school:
However, a few lines further down he has to admit:
Yet we do possess abundant information of what these battered Jewish communities did during the first and subsequent crusades.
Some died by their own hands; others tried to offer resistance and were lynched; while those who survived owed their good fortune to the fact that they were given shelter for the duration of the emergency in the fortified castle of the Bishop or Burgrave who, at least theoretically, was responsible for their legal protection. Frequently this measure was not enough to prevent a massacre; but the survivors, once the crusading hordes had passed, invariably returned to their ransacked homes and synagogues to make a fresh start.
We find this pattern repeatedly in chronicles: in Treves, in Metz, and many other places. By the time of the second and later crusades, it had become almost a routine:
One of the main sources is the Book of Remembrance by Ephraim bar Jacob, who himself, at the age of thirteen, had been among the refugees from Cologne in the castle of Wolkenburg.
Solomon bar Simon reports that during the second crusade
the survivors of the Mayence Jews found protection in Spires, then
returned to their native city and built a new synagogue. This is the
leitmotif of the Chronicles; to repeat it once more, there is not a
word about Jewish communities emigrating toward eastern Germany,
which, in the words of Mieses, was still Judenrein — clean of Jews —
and was to remain so for several centuries.
He exacted from them payments of 100000 livres in 1292, 215000 livres in 1295, 1299, 1302 and 1305, then decided on a radical remedy for his ailing finances. On June 21, 1306, he signed a secret order to arrest all Jews in his kingdom on a given day, confiscate their property and expel them from the country. The arrests were carried out on July 22, and the expulsion a few weeks later. The refugees emigrated into regions of France outside the King’s domain: Provence, Burgundy, Aquitaine, and a few other frudal fiefs. But, according to Mieses, “there are no historical records whatsoever to indicate that German Jewry increased its numbers through the sufferings of the Jewish community in France in the decisive period of its destruction”.
And no historian has ever
suggested that French Jews trekked across Germany into Poland,
either on that occasion or at any other time. Under Philip’s
successors there were some partial recalls of Jews (in 1315 and
1350), but they could not undo the damage, nor prevent renewed
outbursts of mob persecution. By the end of the fourteenth century,
France, like England, was virtually Judenrein.
After being accused earlier on of the ritual slaughter of Christian children, they were now accused of poisoning the wells to spread the Black Death. The legend travelled faster even than the rats, and the consequence was the burning of Jews en masse all over Europe. Once more suicide by mutual self-immolation became a common expedient, to avoid being burned alive. The decimated population of Western Europe did not reach again its pre-plague level until the sixteenth century. As for its Jews, who had been exposed to the twofold attack of rats and men. only a fraction survived. As Kutschera wrote:
Yet, next to the first crusade, the Black Death is most frequently invoked by historians as the deus ex machina which created Eastern Jewry. And, just as in the case of the crusades, there is not a shred of evidence for this imaginary exodus. On the contrary, the indications are that the Jews’ only hope of survival on this, as on that earlier occasions, was to stick together and seek shelter in some fortified place or less hostile surroundings in the vicinity.
There is only one case of an emigration in the Black Death period mentioned by Mieses: Jews from Spires took refuge from persecution in Heidelberg — about ten miles away. After the virtual extermination of the old Jewish communities in France and Germany in the wake of the Black Death, Western Europe remained Judenrein for a couple of centuries, with only a few enclaves vegetating on — except in Spain. It was an entirely different stock of Jews who founded the modern communities of England, France and Holland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries — the Sephardim (Spanish Jews), forced to flee from Spain where they had been resident for more than a millennium. Their history — and the history of modern European Jewry — lies outside the scope of this book.
We may safely conclude that the traditional idea of a mass-exodus of Western Jewry from the Rhineland to Poland all across Germany — a hostile, Jewless glacis — is historically untenable. It is incompatible with the small size of the Rhenish Communities, their reluctance to branch out from the Rhine valley towards the east, their stereotyped behaviour in adversity, and the absence of references to migratory movements in contemporary chronicles.
Further evidence for this view is provided by linguistics, to be discussed in Chapter VII.