Hybridity in a medieval key: the paradox of Jewish participation in self-representative political processes

Articles Image

Jewish legal status, before the emancipation of the modern period, is typically assumed to have been that of non-citizens. It is paired with a second assump- tion - that Jews were treated collectively before emancipation and individu- ally afterwards. As Lois Dubin points out, the "demand by Count Stanislas de Clermont-Tonnerre [that] 'The Jews should be denied everything as a nation, but granted everything as individuals' is often understood to denote a contrasting past."1 This paper extends Dubin's argument beyond the early modern period, back to high medieval Europe, using England as a case study.2 Anglo-Norman Jews, and Western European Jews more generally, are typically imagined in the medieval historical literature as akin to foreign- ers and aliens or to serfs (drawing on the formulation "the king's serfs" which appears in royal documents in the thirteenth century).

Dubin calls for a more variegated legal and political history of pre- emancipation Jews, "one that allows room for intermediate spaces and [unlikely] combinations."3 I respond to the call by challenging the first of these assumptions (non-citizenry) by arguing that Jews were akin to citizens in medieval England. By "citizen" I understand an English freeman with right to use the royal courts and obligation to pay royal taxes. I shall complicate rather than challenge the second assumption, that of collectivity. I propose that a Jewish collectivity (a "commune") emerged only in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries as a legal and political institution, and only as part of the broad legal and political changes in which boroughs emerged as cells for the growth of representative government.4 Therefore the

1 Lois Dubin, "Subjects into citizens", Simon Dubnow Institute Yearbook 5 (2006): 51 . See also her "Between Toleration and Equality", Simon Dubnow Institute Yearbook 1 (2002): 219-34.

2 See the Polish parallel discussed by François Guesnet, "Agreements between neighbors: the 'ugody' as a source on Jewish-Christian relations in early modern Poland", Jewish History 24 (2010): 257-70. The difference between the two cases lies in the role of the royal authorities.

3 Dubin, "Subjects into citizens

4 Kenneth Stow has argued against the notion of a Jewish corporation from late antiquity. I fully agree with him and emphasize that the borough had not yet acquired the legal notion of corpo- ration. I use commune here in the limited sense of communa. Kenneth Stow, "Ha-Kehillah ha-

construction of "the Jews" as a commune was not discrimination in origin, but the mechanism for the integration of Jews in medieval political life. Only later did it perhaps contribute institutional mechanisms that aided the expul- sion of the Jews.

My article will sketch Jewish legal and political status in medieval England from the late twelfth century to the late thirteenth, shortly before the Jews were expelled in 1290. This century was critical in the growth of royal power and administrative centralization. The common law and royal taxation were central sites for the development of processes of representative government on a local level, even as they were the backbone for the extension of central- ized royal power.5 Jews

Become a member to read the full article
Become a member today


24 hour access to JHSE online resources

Instant access to over 700 articles View the original articles as a PDF
Learn More


Annual JHSE Membership

Members are entitled to a free copy of the latest Jewish Historical Studies, free access to our online resources and associate membership of the UCL Library in London.  In addition, they receive the JHSE Newsletter, special offers on books for sale and pay less to attend our series of lectures and other public events.
Learn More


Student Membership

The JHSE want to encourage students to engage with Jewish history.  Apply for a Student Membership with your university email account and once we have verified your status you will soon have all the benefits of being a full JHSE member.
Learn More


Associate your Institution with the JHSE

Give your members access to JHSE online resources and special offers on book sales.  Use your institutional email account when applying, and once your status is verified we will explain the scheme.  Preferred payment is by credit or debit card.
Learn More

Your Cart