This work of Graetz was the first comprehensive attempt to write the history of the Jews as the history of a living people and from a Jewish point of view. With deep feeling, he describes the struggle of Jews and of Judaism for survival, their uniqueness, the sufferings of the Exile, and the courage of the martyrs, and in contrast, the cruelty of the enemies of Israel and its persecutors throughout the ages. The writing of such a Jewish history in German for a public which in its vast majority identified itself with German nationalism and Christian culture was a heroic achievement.
English readers, to whom the forefathers of the Jews of today—the patriarchs, heroes, and men of God—are familiar characters, will the better understand the miracle which is exhibited in the history of the Jews during three thousand years. The continuance of the Jewish race until the present day is a marvel not to be overlooked even by those who deny the existence of miracles, and who only see in the most astounding events, both natural and preternatural, the logical results of cause and effect. Here we observe a phenomenon, which has developed and asserted itself in spite of all laws of nature, and we behold a culture which, notwithstanding unspeakable hostility against its exponents, has nevertheless profoundly modified the organism of nations.
It is the heartfelt aspiration of the author that “The History of the Jews, from the Earliest Times to the Present Day,” in its English garb, may attain its object by putting an end to the hostile bearing against the Jewish race, so that it may no longer be begrudged the peculiar sphere whereto it has been predestined through the events and sorrows of thousands of years, and that it may be permitted to fulfill its appointed mission without molestation.
This translation, in five volumes, is not a mere excerpt of the “Geschichte der Juden” (like the author's “Volksthümliche Geschichte der Juden”), but a condensed reproduction of the entire eleven volumes. But the foot-notes have been omitted, so as to render the present work less voluminous for the general reader. Historical students are usually acquainted with the German language, and can read the notes in the original.
In this English edition the “History of the Present Day” is brought down to 1870, while the original only goes as far as the memorable events of 1848. The last volume will contain a survey of the entire history of the Jewish nation, together with a comprehensive index of names and events.
The third volume covers the period from the revolt against the Zendik (511 C.E.) to the capture of St. Jean d'Acreby by the Mahometans (1291 C.E.).
Jewish historian and Bible scholar. Graetz was born in Xions (Ksiaz), Poznan, the son of a butcher. From 1831 to 1836 he pursued rabbinic studies in Wolstein (now Wolsztyn) near Poznan. There Graetz taught himself French and Latin and avidly read general literature. This brought him to a spiritual crisis, but reading S. R. Hirsch`s "Nineteen Letters on Judaism" in 1836 restored his faith. He accepted Hirsch`s invitation to continue his studies in the latter`s home and under his guidance. Eventually their relationship cooled; he left Oldenburg in 1840 and worked as a private tutor in Ostrow. In 1842 he obtained special permission to study at Breslau University. As no Jew could obtain a Ph.D. at Breslau, Graetz presented his thesis to the University of Jena. This work was later published under the title Gnostizismus und Judentum (1846). By then Graetz had come under the influence of Z. Frankel, and it was he who initiated a letter of congratulations to Frankel for leaving the second Rabbinical Conference (Frankfort, 1845) in protest, after the majority had decided against prayers in Hebrew. Graetz now became a contributor to Frankel`s Zeitschrift fuer die religioesen Interessen des Judentums, in which, among others, he published his programmatic "Konstruktion der juedischen Geschichte" (1846).
Graetz failed to obtain a position as rabbi and preacher because of his lack of talent as an orator. After obtaining a teaching diploma, he was appointed head teacher of the orthodox religious school of the Breslau community, and in 1850, at Hirsch`s recommendation, of the Jewish school of Lundenburg, Moravia. As a result of intrigues within the local community, he left Lundenburg in 1852 for Berlin, where during the following winter he lectured on Jewish history to theological students. He then began to contribute to the Monatsschrift fuer Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, which Frankel had founded in 1851 and which he later edited himself (1869–88). He also completed the fourth volume (dealing with the talmudic period and the first to be published) of his Geschichte der Juden von den aeltesten Zeiten bis zur Gegenwart ("History of the Jews...," 1853). In 1853 Graetz was appointed lecturer in Jewish history and Bible at the newly founded Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, and in 1869 was made honorary professor at the University of Breslau.
THE DECAY OF JUDÆA, AND THE JEWS IN DISPERSION. (500–628 C. E.)
THE JEWS IN EUROPE. (510–640 C. E.)
THE JEWS OF THE ARABIAN PENINSULA. (500–662 C. E.)
THE AGE OF THE GEONIM. (640–760 C. E.)
RISE OF KARAISM AND ITS RESULTS. (761–840 C. E.)
FAVORABLE CONDITION OF THE JEWS IN THE FRANKISH DOMINIONS, AND THE DECAY OF THE EXILARCHATE IN THE EAST. (814–920 C. E.)
THE GOLDEN AGE OF JEWISH SCIENCE: SAADIAH AND CHASDAÏ. (928–970 C. E.)
THE RISE OF JEWISH-SPANISH CULTURE, AND THE DECAY OF THE GAONATE. (970–1050 C. E.)
IBN-GEBIROL AND HIS EPOCH. (1027–1070 C. E.)
THE FIRST CRUSADE. (1096–1105 C. E.)
ZENITH OF THE SPANISH-JEWISH CULTURE: JEHUDA HALEVI. (1105–1148 C. E.)
PERSECUTIONS DURING THE SECOND CRUSADE AND UNDER THE ALMOHADES. (1143–1170 C. E.)
SURVEY OF THE EPOCH OF MAIMUNI (MAIMONIDES). (1171–1205 C. E.)
MAIMUNI (MAIMONIDES). (1171–1205 C. E.)
NEW POSITION OF THE JEWS IN CHRISTIAN LANDS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY. (1205–1232 C. E.)
THE MAIMUNIST CONTROVERSY AND THE RISE OF THE KABBALA. (1232–1236 C. E.)
PUBLIC DISCUSSIONS, AND THE BURNING OF THE TALMUD. (1236–1270 C. E.)
THE AGE OF SOLOMON BEN ADRET AND ASHERI. (1270–1306 C. E.)
Whilst these internal divisions continued, the poisonous seed that had been scattered abroad by the papacy was producing abundance of evil fruit. Persecutions of the Jews, which had hitherto been merely local, began to spread like a contagion, and became every year more violent and general. Innocent III, it is true, did not aim at the complete annihilation of the Jews, but only at their degradation. He desired to crush them down to a state lower than that of the rustic serfs, for which purpose the whole weight of the society of the Middle Ages, consisting of princes, nobles of high or low rank, the clergy of every degree, burghers and peasants, was to bear heavily upon them, to afflict them grievously, and to reduce them to a most pitiable condition. The humiliation of the Jews afforded great pleasure to the lower grades of the people, who were rejoiced to behold a class of human beings, sunk yet lower than themselves, against whom they could use their clumsy wit and rough fists. This people, which was branded with a distinguishing badge by the Church and society, was regarded by the ignorant mob as a race of outcasts, who might be put to death like filthy dogs, without any feeling of remorse. All sorts of crimes were attributed to the Jews, and credited. Fierce attacks on the Jews were repeated from time to time, and in various places, on the plea of child murder, and with such an air of truth in the charge that even well-disposed Christians were filled with doubts, and were inclined to believe the tissue of lies. It happened once that the body of a Christian was found between Lauda and Bischofsheim (in Baden). Who were the murderers? Jews, of course. On this altogether groundless accusation, the Jewish men, women and children of both towns were attacked by the mob and the clergy, and, without being brought to trial, were put to death. Then eight learned and pious men were brought up to answer for the supposed assassination of a Christian (on the 2d and 3d January, 1235); they were put to the rack, and, probably in consequence of the confessions wrung from them by the torture, they were executed. The plundering of Jewish houses was the invariable accompaniment of such massacres. The Jews in the neighboring districts thereupon implored Pope Gregory IX to grant them a charter, which might protect them against the arbitrary action of the murderous mob and the bigoted judges. In reply, he issued a bull to all Christendom (on the 3d of May, 1235), which repeated and confirmed the constitution of Pope Innocent III. So little sense of justice existed that it was the opinion of many that the Vicar of Christ had allowed himself to be induced to publish this bull by a bribe of a large sum of money from the Jews. However, whether this papal decree had emanated from love of justice, or had been the outcome of bribery, like many previous ones in favor of the Jews, it remained a dead letter. The spirit of intolerance and of Jew-hatred which was taught in the schools, and was preached in the pulpit by the Dominicans, became infused into the very blood of men, and the noblest natures were not able to escape contamination. Of what advantage was it to the Jews that they produced comparatively the largest number of scholars, who first rendered science accessible to Christians, either by means of translations and expositions of didactic writings in foreign languages, or through their own activity and discoveries, especially in medicine? They received no benefit from providing the marts of trade with wares, and the book market with works of genius, for the Christians would acknowledge no thanks to them for their labor, or repaid them by splitting their skulls.
As an eloquent illustration of the attitude of the Middle Ages with regard to the Jews, the conduct of the greatest and most cultured German emperor towards them may be instanced. Frederick II, the last of the Hohenstaufen line of emperors, was the most genial and unprejudiced monarch of the first half of the thirteenth century. A Sicilian rather than a German, he had a liking for the sciences, and supported men of genius with princely liberality. He took an interest in having writings on philosophy and astronomy translated from the Arabic, and for this purpose he employed many learned Jews. The emperor carried on a correspondence with a young Jewish scholar, Jehuda ben Solomon Cohen Ibn-Matka, of Toledo (born in about 1215, and wrote in 1247). His learning produced so deep an impression on Emperor Frederick that he submitted a number of scientific questions to him, and expressed pleasure at the answers returned to them. The emperor then probably induced him to come to Italy (Tuscany). Jehuda Ibn-Matka possessed the right of free entry to the imperial court.
The emperor invited another Jewish sage, Jacob Anatoli (Anatolio), to leave Provence and take up his residence in Naples. He granted the scholar an annual stipend, so that he might be at leisure to apply himself to the translation of Arabic works of a scientific character. This man, whose full name was Jacob ben Abba-Mari ben Simon, or Samson (flourished about 1200–1250), was the son-in-law of the prolific translator but sterile author, Samuel Ibn-Tibbon, who was praised by the Maimunists, and hated by the strict Talmudists. Anatoli resembled him as a son resembles his father, and in a manner continued his work of translation. Like Ibn-Tibbon he did not possess any creative genius, but was, so to speak, a handicraftsman in philosophy, who translated Arabic writings on this subject into Hebrew. He had undergone special training for this work with his father-in-law and his Christian friend, Michael Scotus. He had so exalted a reverence for Maimuni that he placed him in the rank of the prophets, and was naturally full of wrath against those who termed him a heretic. “These malicious bigots,” he remarked, “would have condemned even David and Asaph, had they lived in these times.” By the aid of philosophical catchwords, he interpreted Holy Writ in the spirit of Maimuni. He also tried to refer miracles, as far as possible, to natural causes, and was, in short, one of those men who divested Judaism of much of its mystical character. Following this method, he delivered public discourses on Sabbaths and festivals, which he collected into one volume (Malmed), which, in spite of its mediocrity, became the cherished book of the orthodox Provençal congregations. Frederick II entrusted him with the task of translating the writings of Aristotle, with the commentaries of the Arabic philosopher Averroës (Ibn-Roshd), hitherto unknown to Christians. A Christian doctor, probably Michael Scotus, the court astrologer of the emperor, translated these works into Latin, probably under the supervision of Anatoli.
From all this it might be expected that the emperor Frederick entertained a favorable feeling towards the Jews, especially as, if only a portion of the accusations which his contemporaries leveled against his orthodoxy be true, he was by no means convinced of the truths of Christianity. Pope Gregory IX, his mortal foe, frankly reproached him with having said in public that the world had been deluded by three impostors, Moses, Jesus, and Mahomet, of whom two had died an honorable death, but the third had ended his days on the cross. The emperor can, therefore, hardly be supposed to have taken deep offense at the unbelief of the Jews; yet in spite of all this, the emperor Frederick was no whit less an enemy of the Jews than his antipode, the bigoted Saint Louis of France. A bitter enemy to the papacy, which hindered his undertakings in every possible way, he nevertheless executed in his realm the canonical decree which excluded all Jews from public offices, making an exception only in the case of a certain Jewish clerk of the mint at Messina. In his capital, Palermo, he shut the Jews up in a Ghetto, an act of intolerance which far outstripped that of the popes of the time. In Austria, the Jews were permitted to fill public offices, under the rule of the Princes of Babenberg. The Archduke Frederick I, the Valiant, recognized the worth of the Jews as promoters of wealth, entrusted the care of his finances to Jewish officials, and granted to them titles of honor. Two brothers, Leblin and Nekelo, were officially styled chamberlains of the Duke of Austria. Frederick I of Austria (in 1244) granted a royal decree to the Jews of his domain, which appears to have been inspired by a love of justice and humanity, and which became an example for other similarly disposed potentates who desired to protect their Jewish subjects from injury and violence. This statute, which consisted of thirty clauses, aimed especially at affording protection to the Jewish inhabitants of Austria against murder and assault. If a Christian killed a Jew, he was to suffer the extreme penalty of the law; if he wounded him, he was to be compelled to pay a heavy fine, or lose his hand. If the murderer of a Jew could not be convicted by means of direct proof of the commission of the crime, but strong circumstantial evidence fixed the deed on him, then the relatives or friends of the Jew could appoint a champion to meet the accused in a duel. A Christian who made a murderous attack upon a Jewess was sentenced to the loss of his hand. Grave charges involving the persons or property of Jews were not to be determined by the evidence of a Christian, unless a Jewish witness confirmed the misdemeanor. A Christian who kidnapped a Jewish child for the purpose of compulsory baptism, was to be punished as a thief. The statute of Frederick the Valiant also allowed the Jews to exercise their own jurisdiction, so that the judges of the land could have no power over them. The synagogues and cemeteries of the Jews were also to be respected by Christians, and the latter were liable to heavy punishment for any outrage upon them. The statute further guaranteed to all Jews the privilege of free passage and free trading throughout the country, and the right to loan money on pledges. The rates of interest were limited, but were permitted to be sufficiently high. The right of accepting pledges, which had been granted to members of the Jewish religion, was strictly regulated as an object of vital importance for both the Jews and the Duke. This decree, moreover, shielded them against paying extortionate sums to the Christians for the conveyance of Jewish corpses from place to place. The Archduke Frederick remarked that he conceded these privileges to the Jews, in order that “they also might participate in his grace and good wishes.” This statute also proved beneficial to the Jews of other lands, for within twenty years it was introduced into Hungary, Bohemia, Greater Poland, Meissen, and Thuringia, and later on into Silesia.
A duke of inferior rank thus set the example of protecting the Jews against caprice by means of fixed laws. The powerful emperor Frederick II thereupon censured Frederick the Valiant for his friendly attitude towards the Jews, and he, who himself had been expelled from the Church, published an edict that the Jews of Austria should be rigorously excluded from all public offices lest the race, condemned to perpetual slavery, oppress the Christians through its office-holding members. With particular satisfaction he pronounced the sentence that the Jews, wherever they were located, were the “servi cameræ” of the emperor. He adhered so strictly to the canonical decrees of the Lateran Council against them, that he was even more rigorous than the kings of Spain in executing the law which compelled the Jews in his hereditary provinces to wear a distinguishing badge, and he crushed them under a load of taxes. It is true that he permitted those who had come to Sicily from Africa (whence they had fled before the fanatical fury of the Almohades), to take up their residence under his sway. But whilst he remitted taxes from other colonies for ten years, he at once burdened the Jewish immigrants with heavy imposts, and restricted them to agricultural pursuits. He, indeed, promised his “servi cameræ” especial protection, but nevertheless he treated them as a despised race of human beings. Henceforward the three powers of Christianity, the princes, the Church, and the people, combined to utterly destroy the feeblest of nations.
When Pope Gregory IX gave orders for another crusade to be preached, the warriors of the cross assembled in Aquitania, made an attack upon the Jewish communities of Anjou, Poitou, in the cities of Bordeaux, Angoulême, and elsewhere, in order to compel them to accept baptism. But as the Jews remained steadfast to their faith, the crusaders acted with unprecedented cruelty towards them, trampling down many of them beneath the hoofs of their horses. They spared neither children nor pregnant women, and left the corpses lying unburied, a prey to wild beasts and birds. They destroyed the sacred books, burnt the houses of the Jews, and possessed themselves of their property. On this occasion, more than three thousand persons perished (in the summer of 1236), whilst more than five hundred accepted Christianity. Once again did the surviving Jews complain to the pope of this unendurable cruelty. The pope felt himself obliged to send a letter about the matter to the prelates of the Church in Bordeaux, Angoulême, and other bishoprics, and also to King Louis IX of France (September, 1236), in which he deplored the events that had taken place, and signified that the Church desired neither the utter annihilation of the Jews, nor their compulsory baptism. What, however, could occasional letters of admonition avail against the bitter feeling of abhorrence towards the Jews that had been stirred up by the Church? The otherwise noble and well-disposed monarch, Louis IX, was so ruled by his prejudice that he could not bear to look at a Jew. He encouraged the conversion of the Jews in every way, and permitted the children of converted fathers to be torn away from their mothers, who still adhered to Judaism. The Jews had only one means wherewith to appease the rage that was kindled against them, and that was—money. In England, by its influence, they induced King Henry III to proclaim throughout his territories that no one should offer any injury to a Jew. But this means proved to be a double-edged sword that turned against the very people it was intended to benefit. In order to raise large sums of money, the Jews were compelled to charge extortionate interest, and even to have recourse to fraud. In this way, they incurred the hatred of the populace, and subjected themselves to further outrages. The repeated complaints about their usury prompted Louis IX to fix the rate of interest, and in many cases to remit a portion of the debts owing to Jews. But when this same king determined to repress usury, and called together a number of barons to decide upon the matter, the latter asserted that the peasants and merchants were unable to dispense with loans from the Jews, and that the Jews were preferable to the Christian money-lenders, because the latter oppressed their Christian debtors with still higher rates of usurious interest.
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