Robert Chazan, “Emperor Frederick I, the Third Crusade, and the Jews.” Viator 8 (1977): 83–93

Robert Chazan, “Emperor Frederick I, the Third Crusade, and the Jews.” Viator 8 (1977): 83–93

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  EMPEROR FREDERICK I, THE THIRD CRUSADE,AND THE JEWS . by Robert Chazan On 4 July 1187, the forces of Saladin overwhelmed the army of Guy of Lusignan atthe fateful battle of Hattin. In the course of this decisive engagement, he True Crosswas lost and Christian knighthood in the Near East was decimated, laying all ofPalestine open to Moslem reconquest. Saladin was quick to capitalize on his oppor-tunity, sweeping across Galilee to Acre, taking a series of coastal strongholds north ofAcre, then moving southwards towards Ascalon and Gaza. The greatest of hisachievements -symbolically and emotionally at least -came on October 2, whenthe desperately undermanned defenders of Jerusalem capitulated.'News of this appalling catastrophe rapidly spread westward, accompanied bystrident appeals for a new Crusade to aid the beleaguered Christians still holding outand to win back some of the lost ground. This information penetrated the Jewishneighborhoods of western Europe as well, eliciting a mixed reaction of elation andtrepidation. For the Jews, the Christian defeat was in one sense sweet. Havingsuffered grievously at the hands of exhilarated crusaders, he Jews had long despisedthe crusading enterprise and had prayed for a failure which would serve as retributionfor its sins.2 The reports from the East detailed just such a failure, which the Jewscould well view as he longed-for retribution. On the other hand, enthusiasm over theChristian downfall had to give way to serious fears over ts immediate repercussions.For the catastrophe had not broken the power of Christendom; it had in fact rousedthe Christian world to a new Cr\ sade, during which the old pattern of excesses mightwell be reenacted.The Jewish concern was not unwarranted. Along with the Third Crusade came a 'On the crusader defeats in the East, see Steven Runcirnan, A History of the Crusades, vols. (Cambridge 1951-1954) 2.450-473; Kenneth Setton, ed., A History of the Crusades, 2 vols.(Philadelphia 1955-1962) 1.607-621; Joshua Prawer, Toldot Mamlekhet ha-Zalbanim be-ErezYisra'el, ed. 3, 2 vols. (Jerusalem 1971) 1.526-561; Andrew Ehrenkreutz, Saladin (Albany 1972)195-208.2 For some of these prayers for retribution, see, e.g., Adolf Neubauer and Moritz Stern,Hebraische Berichte iiber die Judenverfolgungen wahrend der Kreuzziige (Berlin 1892) 8, 14,16-17, 25, 28,30; Abraham Habermann, ed., Seier Gezerot Ashkenaz ve-:(:arfat Jerusalem 1945)32,40,42-43,52,56,59.  84 ROBERTCHAZAN wave of devastating attacks on the Jewish communities of England.' On the Con-tinent, however, the Jews fared somewhat better. French Jewry, as was generally thecase, suffered little, primarily because of strong governmental protection. InGermany, where the major disasters of 1096 had taken place, the Jews wereprofoundly shaken. Fortunately, however, the authorities were committed to themaintenance of public peace, and serious violence was averted.In view of the complex Jewish response to the new Crusade, the frighteningdangers which threatened German Jewry, and the firm imperial protection extended,it is fortunate indeed that two most useful and revealing sources have survived. TheseHebrew accounts, which have long been known but never fully analyzed, affordimportant information on the Jews of Germany and their fate. They also shedvaluable light on some major developments in Christian society, particularly duringthe famed assembly of March 1188, when Frederick Barbarossa committed himselfto the ill-fated expedition upon which he was ultimately to lose his life. * * * The first of these Hebrew records comes from the pen of one of the greatestluminaries of late twelfth- and early thirteenth-century German Jewry. Its author,R. Eleazar b. Judah, is well known both as an outstanding legalist and a keyspokesman for the new German-Jewish pietism.5 R. Eleazar left, in addition to legaland mystical writings, a brief memoir describing the tumultuous events from fall1187, when the Christian defeat took place in the East, to late April 1188, when theJews who had fled Mainz felt safe enough to return to their homes. It is difficult toestablish precisely when this narrative was composed. Most of it is written in the past tense: I shall write down what befell us in Mainz, in the year 4947 [= 1187] ,during the month of Elul.In 4948 [=1188], during the month of Adar II, we fled to Munzenberg.We left Munzenberg on the twenty-seventh of Nisan [=April 26] .7One observation in R. Eleazar's account suggests he actual recording of events as they occurred: 3 See Cecil Roth,AHistory of the Jews n England, ed. 3 (Oxford 1964) 18-26. 4 See Robert Chazan, Medieval Jewry in Northern France (Baltimore 1973) 36-37.5 On R. Eleazar, see Israel Kammelhar, Rabbenu Eleazar mi-Germaiza (Rzeszow 1930);Ephraim Urbach, Ba'alei ha-Tosafot, ed. 2 (Jerusalem 1955) 321-341; idem, Arugat ha-Bosem, 4vols. (Jerusalem 1939-1963) 4.100-111.6 The text was srcinally published by Neubauer and Stern (n. 2 above) 76-78; it was reprintedby Habermann n. 2 above) 161-164. For the reader's convenience, both editions will be cited.'Neubauer and Stern 76, 77, 78; Habermann 161, 162, 164.  85 MPEROR FREDERICK I AND THE JEWS Today, on Friday, the second of Nisan (=April 1], Eleazar the Smallreached me; he is the secretary of my brother-in-law, R. Moses b. Eleazarha-Cohen he Cantor.8Thus, while R. Eleazar may have kept some notes, his memoir was probably writtenafter the fact. However, little time seems o have elapsed between the return fromMunzenberg in late April 1188 and the composition of R. Eleazar's chronicle. Giventhe Jewish veneration of Emperor Frederick 1 and the deep appreciation for hisprotection, it is inconceivable that R. Eleazar's narrative could have been writtenafter late June 1188, when news reached Germany of the sudden and tragic demiseof the emperor, without some reference to this appalling loss. Our suggestion hen isthat R. Eleazar's brief record was composed in Mayor June of 1188, while memoriesof the incidents of ate 1187 and early 1188 remained quite fresh.'In R. Eleazar's account, a second -and in many ways more significant -sourcehas been embedded. As noted, during March 1188 most of the Jews of Mainz, alongwith neighboring Jewish communities, fled to safety in nearby fortifications. How-ever, important developments were taking place in Mainz, and some Jews braved thedangers nvolved and remained.The court was at Mainz. There the Christians took the Cross by thethousands and the ten thousands -an innumerable host. A small numberof Jews remained in Mainz in their homes.'.The convocation referred to is the famed Court of Christ, held in Mainz during themonth of March 1188 and culminating in Frederick's taking the Cross, along withmany of his followers. Clearly, the decision of some Jews to remain in Mainz wasrelated to developments at the imperial court. On the first of April, R. Eleazarreceived a letter from his brother-in-law, one of those who had stayed in Mainz inorder to carry on negotiations. This letter, which details events in Mainz from theninth through the twenty-ninth of March -the tension-filled days of the imperialassembly -was preserved by R. Eleazar and represents a first-hand and immediaterecollection of this dangerous period. The epistle was composed on eitherWednesday he thirtieth of March or Thursday the thirty-first of March and was sentoff to the Jews in Munzenberg, where it was received on Friday the first of April.There can be no question as to the date or circumstances of the composition of thisvaluable source. ***  Neubauer and Stem 77; Habermann 162.9 Urbach, Arngat ha-Bosem n. 5 above) 101, published a series of R. Eleazar's comments onPsalms, n which the tribulations of 1188 are reflected. He suggests hat these comments are moresignificant than R. Eleazar's chronicle, which was written somewhat later. If our suggestion scorrect, there was very little time lapse between the events of 1188, the observations inR. Eleazar's commentary on Psalms, nd his narrative.' Neubauer and Stem (n. 2 above) 77; Habermann n. 2 above) 162.II Neubauer and Stem 77-78; Habermann 162-164.  86 ROBERTCHAZAN R. Eleazar's record begins witIl a local incident in Mainz, in September 1187. AChristian accused a Jew of attempting to kill him. This allegation was exploited bytIle bishop of Mainz in order to exact from the Jews a substantial sum of money. Theincident was fully resolved on tIle second day of Rosh ha-Shanah, when tIle Jewsappeared at the bishop's palace, swore that tIlere had been no attempt made on theChristian's life, and added a more general oatIl repudiating tIle common charge thatJews murdered Christians during the Easter season.I'At this time, Jews and Christians alike were shaken by an eclipse of the sun. Ittook some time before the disaster normally associated with an eclipse was revealed.After Sukkot and before Hanukah we heard tIlat tIle Moslems had goneforth and conquered Acre, had killed all its inhabitants, and had capturedall the area around Jerusalem -from Acre and Ekron to Jerusalem. Wefurther heard that on the eve of Rosh ha-Shanah, on the day when thesun was eclipsed, the Moslems killed more than four thousand Frankishwarriors. They also captured tIle Cross upon which Jesus -may hisbones be ground up -had been crucified and brought it with them totheir land. They also captured the Holy Sepulcher after Hanukah andslaughtered all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They removed the grave ofthe Crucified from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and ploughed up allthe ground in the church.13R. Eleazar's information, while basically accurate, is marred by vagueness anddistortions. There is no knowledge of the decisive battle of Hattin; there is insteadheavy emphasis on the conquest of Acre. The eclipse of the sun is correctlyassociated with a major Christian setback, but R. Eleazar is not aware of thespecifics. He does not know that it was the important coastal fortress of Ascalon thatfell on 4 September 1187, the day of the eclipse. For R. Eleazar, as for his Christiancontemporaries, the two central developments of late 1187 were associated witIl tIlegreat religious symbols of Christendom -the loss of the True Cross and the HolySepulcher. In his depiction of the fall of Jerusalem, R. Eleazar introduces majordistortion. His suggestion that all the inhabitants of the city were slaughtered maywell have been nfluenced by the widely-known story of crusader behavior in 1099 orby exaggerated Christian reports filtering westward. In any case, his story is inac-curate; in fact Saladin's behavior was unusually humane. The Hebrew account ofdesecration of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher s likewise incorrect. While manyMoslem holy places which had been Christianized were returned to Moslem control,and while some Christian churches were confiscated, the Church of the HolySepulcher was not affected; it was simply turned over to Eastern Christianauthorities.  Neubauer and Stern 76; Habermann 161. On this charge, see Robert Chazan, The BrayIncident of 1192, Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research (PAAJR) 37 (1969) 9-14. 13 Neubauer and Stern 76; Habermann 161.  EMPEROR FREDERICK I AND THE JEWS 87 R. Eleazar's narrative is replete with the normal Jewish animosities of the period.Nonetheless, it is strikingly restrained. When we compare it, for example, to thechronicles of the First Crusade, where crusader defeats in Hungary are gloatinglydepicted,14 we find very little exultation over a defeat far more shattering than anyother suffered by Christian forces during the entire crusading period. The reason forthis restraint is not difficult to discover.Subsequently he news reached all of Germany. Then all the Gentiles saidto the Jews: Behold the day for which we have waited has arrived -theday for killing all the Jews. This happened during Lent. When we heardthis, a very great fear fell upon us, and we took up the arts of ourancestors, decreeing fasting, weeping, and mourning.lsA specific incident was not long in developing. On Friday, 29 January 1188, theJewish quarter of Mainz was nvaded. Fortunately for the Jews, he authorities droveoff the attackers. The Jews, however, were deeply disquieted. They redoubled theirfasts, prayers, and repentance. On a more practical level, the members of thecommunity decided to adopt time-honored techniques and to flee to fortified areas.While such flight had failed during the turbulent months of early 1096, it had provedeminently successful during the Second Crusade. Thus the Jews of Mainz, along withthose of Speyer, Strasbourg, Worms, and Wiirzburg, left their homes and retreated torefuges which they hoped would provide the necessary safety and security.'6At this point, R. Eleazar's memoir comes to a close, except for a brief concludingnote on the return of the Jews to Mainz in late April 1188. While he might havewritten of the ongoing anguish of the Jews huddled together in Munzenberg,momentous developments, from both a Christian and Jewish point of view, weretaking place in Mainz. It is here that the eyewitness account of R. Moses b. Eleazar sso very useful. According to R. Moses, participants in the great assembly began toarrive as early as the ninth of March; the small Jewish group in Mainz felt itself inmortal danger down through the end of the month, particularly during the periodbetween 25 and 29 March. At this point, the emperor announced a resolutelyprotective stance, and tension began to abate.R. Moses's etter divides neatly into two segments. While his interest lies mainly inthe events of March 25 through 29, he prefaces his description of these crucial dayswith a general portrait of mounting animosity during the previous two weeks.I must accord thanks and glory on every sort of stringed instrument tothe Lord who has granted us life and has sustained us. This year, duringthe week prior to Nisan, we were suspended between ife and death. Forthe crusaders gnashed their teeth against us, preparing to swallow us up I Neubauer and Stern 29-30; Habermann 57-59.IS Neubauer and Stern 76; Habermann 161.' Neubauer and Stern 76-77; Habermann 161-162
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