In the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. When I wished to
make a city out of the village of Speyer, I Rudiger [...]bishop
of Speyer, thought that the glory of our town would be augmented
a thousandfold if I were to bring Jews.
[...]I have accorded them the free right of exchanging gold and
silver and of buying and selling everything they use [...] throughout
of Speyer, Charter, 1084, from Robert Chazan, Church, State, and
Jew in the Middle Ages (Behrman House, 1980)
From the 8th to the 15th centuries, during the era that later
observers would call the Middle Ages, new centers of civilization
and patterns of life evolved out of the ruins of the ancient
world. During these years, European civilization acquired some
of the basic characteristics that have lasted until our time.
Western civilization in this period was divided between the world
of Islam and the world of Christianity. Islam thrived in Spain
and part of southern Italy. Christianity held sway in England,
France, Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe, and from the late 10th
century, in reconquered Spain.
When the Muslims conquered the Iberian peninsula in 714, they
imported there the radiant Arab culture of Baghdad and other capitals
of the East. Islamic civilization in Spain reached its zenith
in the 9th and 10th centuries, when the Muslim polity, the Caliphate
of Cordoba, declared its political independence. Iberian Jewry
blossomed and enjoyed what later came to be known as "the
Golden Age of Spanish Jewry"an era marked by extensive
Jewish participation in public life and a symbiosis of Arabic
and Jewish culture. This golden age came to an end when Spains
Umayyad rulers were usurped by the repressive North African Almoravid
dynasty. During the 12th and 13th centuries, Spain gradually returned
to Christian rule, as Castile and Aragon, the two preeminent Iberian
Christian states, led the Reconquista (Christian reconquest).
Granada, the last Muslim outpost in Spain, was finally conquered
In the early Middle Ages, the sparsely populated territories of
Northern Europe were organized according to the feudal system,
in which serfs farmed the lands of lords in exchange for protection.
The Church was an integral part of daily life. By the 10th century,
cities were beginning to grow in size and importance. Merchants
and artisans helped develop a new, urban economy. Between the
12th and 14th centuries, Europe enjoyed something of a cultural
renaissance. Architectural advances enabled the construction of
magnificent cathedrals. An intellectual revolution took place
as universities were established and scholars, such as Thomas
Aquinas, sought to reconcile the teachings of Christianity with
the principles of classical Greek philosophy.
Local rulers, seeking to promote commerce in the towns and cities,
invited Jewish merchants to settle in their principalities. Eventually,
Jews were viewed as economic competitors by the rising urban class.
The Church, worried that the Jews' non-acceptance of Christianity
would encourage doubts about Christian doctrine, began preaching
anti-Jewish sermons. Jews became subject to persecution, which
ranged from being forced to wear special costumes and badges to
being massacred (especially during the First Crusade and during
the years of the Black Death). When the state rulers consolidated
their power and the Jews financial services were deemed
no longer necessary, the Jews were expelled en masse from England,
parts of France and Germany, and Spain.