Church and Synagogue in the Middle Ages

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The conventional picture of the relations between Christians and Jews in the Middle Ages is dominated by the immense disparity in power and numbers between the two groups. Jewry appears as a tiny and dispersed minority, constantly the object of political and economic discrimination, of ecclesiastical hostility and of mob violence, all of which Jews were powerless to resist. In the political and economic fields this picture is true ; and it is useless to attempt to whittle it down by exaggera? ting either the financial power of Jewry or the anecdotes of friendly intercourse even with ecclesiastics of the highest rank. The power of money is severely limited when its owner is not in a position to decide whether to give or to withhold it ; and no friendship with individual ecclesiastics moved the wheels of religious intolerance to reverse their direction for a single moment. Besides, the conventional picture is amply confirmed by the tragic position in which Jewry is revealed at the end of the period. Poverty-stricken, expelled from almost every country of western Europe, their centres of culture destroyed, their numbers reduced by compulsory or semi-compulsory baptisms, carrying the burden of solidarity and of sympathy with the thousands of unwilling and suspect marranos left behind, they would prove, had no document survived of the medieval story, that their experiences in those centuries had been tragic and destructive.

But they survived. Fugitives along new roads of exile in Poland, North Africa, and the Levant, seeking new occupations among people materially less advanced and still unfamiliar with the charges western Europe had *aid against them, yet they carried with them a Judaism which, if narrowed and hardened by its experiences, was unimpaired, and a social structure which had weathered all assaults and remained the foundation of their national survival. They survived. It was the powerful medieval Christendom they had left behind which was in ruins.

To offer some explanation of this extraordinary paradox is the purpose of this paper. Their survival had no physical explanation. Even if they could profit from the conflicts between different authorities over their possession, and even though the dispersion of their communities often secured them advantages, yet physically they could, without difficulty, have been exterminated from Europe, especially when the brief period of their semi-monopolistic money-lending terminated in the emergence of Christian money-lenders far richer and under far more powerful protection than they had enjoyed. They could have been compulsorily baptized, and their children weaned from the older faith, while those who backslid could have been crushed in the fires of the Inquisition. The Middle Ages were not squeamish, and the massacre of heretics provoked little humanitarian protest. But neither of these fates befell them ; and to approach the reasons for this strange survival we must turn from the political and economic scene to the religious.

Once we turn from contemplating Christians and Jews to examining Judaism and Christianity we pass from a picture of two unequal combatants to that of two religious systems confronting

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