Zionism: Israeli Flag

Judeophobia - History and analysis of Anti-Semitism, Jew-Hate and anti-"Zionism"
Chapter 4: Christian Medieval European Persecution of Jews: I-Proselytism and Ghettos

Zionism Maps history biography definitions about FAQ timeline books Kosher Jobs links contact

Previous - Chapter 3: Judeophobia (Anti-Semitism, Jew Hate) in the Early Christian Church

See also - Anti-Semitism

Chapter 4: Christian Medieval European Persecution of Jews: I-Proselytism and Ghettos


Main Page: Judeophobia ('Anti-Semitism') - A History and Analysis of Jew Hate

Judeophobia ('anti-Semitism',Jew Hate) in the Pagan Ancient World

Judeophobia (Anti-Semitism, Jew Hate) in the Early Christian Church

Medieval Persecution of Jews I - Proselytization, Conversions and Ghettos

Medieval Persecution of Jews: II- Crusades, Expulsions, Inquisitions and Massacres 

Medieval Persecution of Jews: III- Blood Libels and other Myths

Persecution of the Jews Under Islam

Judeophobia ('anti-Semitism') in the Reformation

Judeophobia in the Enlightenment and 19th Century France

Germany: Racism and Judeophobia ('Anti-Semitism')

Conspiratorial Theories and Russian Judeophobia ('Anti-Semitism')

Marxism and Judeophobia ('Anti-Semitism')

Judeophobia ('Anti-Semitism') in The United States

Contemporary Anti-Zionism

Holocaust Denial

Theories of the Etiology of Judeophobia ('Anti-Semitism')

At the end of the last chapter we referred to Jules Isaac’s book, The Christian Roots of Antisemitism.”  Isaac was a chief inspector of history teaching, at the French Ministry of Education. The deportation and death of his family by the Nazis in 1943, motivated him to devote the rest of his life to the research of Judeophobia. He focused on three principal falsehoods in the Church Fathers’ historiography, namely:

a) that the dispersion of Israel was a divine punishment for the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah;

b) that Jews had committed deicide; and

c) that Judaism was corrupt during Jesus’ time.

Isaac refuted each point through historical data. He also describes the Church’s teaching of degradation, which is manifest even in the writings of Thomas Aquinas, the most important Christian medieval philosopher. In 1270 he wrote that Jews “in consequence of their sin, are or were destined to perpetual slavery: so that sovereigns of states may treat their goods as their own property, with the sole provision that they do not deprive them of all that is necessary to sustain life.” These teachings were gradually accepted by secular governments which were influenced by the ecclesiastical establishment. This led to the Jews being subjected to restrictions and exclusions, such as taxes, the obligation of wearing a distinguishing badge, and religious limitations.

Had the Church’s “teaching of contempt” remained within the framework of theology, it might have only caused the Jews humiliation, anger and sorrow. However, Christian Judeophobia transcended mere theory. If a Christian wanted to strike a blow at the devil, he could do so by striking a Jew.

The theology of the Church Fathers was translated into law, which acted as a bridge between theory and practice. The Theodosian Code of 438 (the first official collection of imperial statutes on the subject) sanctioned the civil inferiority of the Jews, defined as “enemies of the Roman laws and of the supreme majesty.” The legislation of Theodosius II became the juridical basis upon which Jewish affairs were regulated.

Numerous medieval bulls (a bull is a Papal edict -”bullum” is Latin for seal) are openly Judeophobic. I’ll give you ten examples:

“Etsi non displiceat “(1205) solicited kings to put an end to “Jewish evils” like usury, arrogance and murder;”

“In generali concilio” (1218) compelled Jews to wear special clothing;

“Si vera sunt” (1239) ordered the seizure and examination of the Talmud and Jewish literature, which were eventually burned;

“Vineam Soreth” (1278) ordered the selection of trained men to preach Christianity to the Jews;

“Etsi doctoribus genium” (1415) was a collection of anti-Jewish laws;

“Numquam dubitavimus” (1482) empowered kings to appoint inquisitors to prevent Jewish practices;

Cum nimis absurdum” (1555) established the ghetto in Rome and forbade contact between Jews and Christians;

“Hebraeorum gens” (1569) accused Jews of magic and expelled them from papal territories;

“Vices eius nos” (1577) ordered Roman Jews to send delegations to the church;

Sancta mater ecclesia” (1584) decreed that each Saturday one hundred Jewish men and fifty women must come to listen to conversionist sermons in the church.

This legislation was not always influential on the kings and rulers it addressed. Around 830, the bishop of Lyons, Agobard, called “the most cultured man of his time,” sensed danger in the relations between his flock and the Jews of the city, because the latter were not considered to be of inferior status as deemed by the Church. Indeed, Jews were prosperous and their religion respected. Agobard brought charges against them before King Louis the Pious and called for a return to the Theodosian Code. However, Louis remained well disposed towards the Jews as had his father Charlemagne before him. Years later Louis’s son Charles the Bald also refused to ratify the Judeophobic canons passed by the Church Council on Meaux in 845, as suggested by Bishop Amulo, Agobard’s successor and disciple. These kings were the last representatives of the Carolingian age during which the Jews enjoyed equal rights.

Around 950 the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII promulgated a special oath called Juramentum Judaeorum, which Jews were compelled to take when involved in lawsuits against non-Jews. This remained the rule in Europe until at least the 18th century. Both the text and the ritual of taking the oath, expressed a self-imposed curse, as we can see in the German “Schwabenspiegel “ of 1275:

“About the goods for which this man sues against thee... help thee God, who created heaven and earth... And that so if thou eatest something, thou will become defiled all over... and that the earth swallow thee... thou art true in what thou has sworn... And so that the blood and the curse ever remain upon thee which thy kindred wrought upon themselves when they tortured Jesus Christ and spake thus: ‘His blood be upon us and our children’: it is true... So help thee God and the oath which thou hast sworn. Amen”.

Oaths, badges and restrictions were but a small part of the medieval Judeophobic repertoire. An all-inclusive summary of the martyrdom of the Jews is complex since different geographies and chronologies are involved. But we will discuss seven practices which were common all over Europe, namely: forced baptism, compulsory sermons, disputations, burning of Jewish books, ghettos, expulsions and genocides.


As Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire, large numbers of Jews were forcibly baptized. The earliest detailed account is on the island of Minorca in 418. Other major campaigns of forced conversions spread through Europe, one in 614 when Emperor Heraclius forbade Judaism in the Byzantine Empire, and another in 873, launched by Basil I.

However, Pope Gregory I (d.604) decided that baptism should be accepted willingly and not imposed by force. This became, on the whole, accepted practice, but “willingly” was subject to interpretation. Was conversion under threat of death now acceptable, or should the anticipated violence be more remote? If so, how subtle must the insinuation be? Take the advise given by the bishop of Clermont-Ferrand to the Jews on May 14, year 576, after a mob had destroyed the synagogue in his town: “If ye be ready to believe as I do, be one flock with us, and I shall be your pastor; but if ye be not ready, depart from this place.” About 500 Jews of Clermont converted, and the Christians celebrated -“candles were lit, the lamps shone...” The other Jews left for Marseilles. Was this “willingly”? Well, in 938 the pope told the archbishop of Mainz he should expel local Jews if they refused to convert... willingly (he claimed force should not be applied).

Children were another dilemma. At what age was a baptism “willing,” as opposed to a gesture cheaply bought in return for some trivial compensation? The aforementioned Agobard assembled the Lyons children who had not been sent out of harm’s way by their parents, and baptized all those who, according to his judgment, appeared to be agreeable. One of the clauses in the “Constitutio pro Judaeis” issued by successive popes between the 12th and 15th centuries, declared categorically that no Christian should use violence to force Jews to be baptized. What it did not say was what should happen if the forced conversion actually took place, whether it was valid regardless of the illegal process, or if the victim was free to return to his former faith.

The answer to these questions is that, on the whole, the church condemnation of forced baptism remained unchanged, but its attitude regarding post facto problems became tougher over the centuries.

In a letter of 1201, Pope Innocent III stated that a Jew who submitted to baptism under threat of force, expressed a conditional willingness to accept the sacrament, and so was not allowed to renounce it thereafter. For medieval Christianity the backsliding of faith was heretical, punishable by death according to the code later elaborated by the Inquisition. As late as 1747 Pope Benedict XIV decided that once baptized, albeit illegally, a child was to be considered a Christian and be thus raised.

Later waves of forced baptisms include one which swept through the kingdom of Naples in the last decades of the 13th century, and one in Spain from 1391, which started with the riots led by the archdeacon Ferrant Martinez. Hundreds of Jews were massacred and entire communities forcibly converted, and it left in its wake the phenomenon of the Marranos (a derogatory term for the ”New Christians” and their descendants). These people continued to live an underground Jewish existence until after the 18th century. The most dramatic case was in Portugal, where thousands of Jews settled, having been expelled from neighboring Spain in 1492.

King Manuel of Portugal found that it was unnecessary to expel his Jewish subjects, who were valuable economic assets, in order to purge his realm of heresy. Instead he embarked on a systematic campaign of forced conversion initially directed against the children, who were seized and dragged from their parents’ arms in the hope that the adults would follow suit, and later against the entire population. This explains both why by the end of 1497 not a single professing Jew remained in Portugal, as well as the greater tenacity of Marranism in this country, up to the present day.

A new chapter in the history of forced baptism began in 1543, with the establishment of the House of Catechumens in Rome, which rapidly took hold in other cities. Any person who, by whatever casuistry, could be considered to have shown an inclination towards Christianity, could be immure in the House of Cathecumens “to explore his intention,” all the while being submitted to unremitting pressure. A popular superstition which claimed that any person who secured the baptism of an unbeliever was assured of paradise, lead to a spate of such procedures throughout the Catholic world.

In the mid-18th century the Jesuits were the main enforcers of this practice. Several cases became infamous. In 1762 the son of the rabbi of Carpentras was pounced upon and baptized in ditch water, and thereafter lost to his family. The kidnapping for baptism of Terracina children in 1783 caused a revolt in the Roman ghetto. In 1858, Edgardo Mortara, aged six, was abducted by papal police from his family in Bologna, and taken to the House of Catechumens. The boy had been secretly baptized five years previously by a domestic servant who thought he was about to die. The parents tried in vain to get their child back. Napoleon III, Cavour and Franz Joseph were among those who protested and Moses Montefiore traveled to the Vatican in an unsuccessful attempt to release the child.

The founding of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in 1860 “to defend the civil rights of the Jews” was partly in reaction to this case. The pope rejected all petitions and by 1870, when his secular power came to an end, the boy had ceased to be Edgardo. He had taken the pope’s name (Pius), and had become a novice in the Augustinian order and an ardent conversionist in six languages. Mortara’s tragic end was his death in Belgium in 1940, weeks before the Nazi invasion, in this way narrowly avoiding an unwilling return to his Jewish roots.

In the Russian Empire during the second quarter of the 19th century, the institution of the Cantonists was introduced. This involved the virtual kidnapping for military service of Jewish male children from the age of 12, or even 8, with the explicit intention of compelling them to abandon Judaism.


On the other hand, the same Pius IX of the Mortara case, abolished Sermons to the Jews after more than a millennia of their practice. The first recorded instance of sermons directed at Jews is related to the aforementioned Agobard of Lyons. His “Epistola de baptizandis Hebraeis” (820) states that on his instruction the clergy of Lyons went to preach in synagogues every Saturday. With the foundation of the Dominican order (1216) this system was regularized. King James I of Aragon himself delivered one of these speeches (1263) and later issued an order enjoining the Jews to listen quietly to the addresses of friars who had come to convert them. In 1278 the compulsory conversionist (evangelist or proselytic)  sermon received papal approval (in the above bull), and was enjoined in England the following year (ten years after which all English Jews were expelled from the country).

With the Judeophobic reaction that accompanied the Counter-Reformation, the sermon became a regular way of abusing Jewish community life; Rome was the worst case. Jews were compelled to send a regular quota of people to churches to listen to the friars, and hear sermons while beadles armed with rods saw to it that they paid attention, and examined their ears to see that they were not plugged. The philosopher Michele de Montaigne records that while in Rome in 1581 he heard such a violent sermon that Jews appealed for papal protection. In 1630 the emperor Ferdinand II instituted conversionist sermons in the auditorium of Vienna university, and the Jesuits initiated the practice in Prague.

The conversionist (evangelist) sermons continued up to the period of the French Revolution, and by the time they were finally abolished in the mid-19th century, the poet Robert Browning attempted to record the Jews’ state of mind during the sermons: “...when the hangman entered our bounds,/ yelled, pricked us out to this church like hounds./ It got to a pitch, when the hand indeed/ Which gutted my purse, would throttle my creed,/ And it overflows, when, even the odd/ Men I helped to their sins, help me to their God.”

The proscription of Jewish literature was another phenomenon of medieval life, established in the 13th century (it had several precedents, such as the attempt by Emperor Justinian to prevent the teaching of the “second tradition” in 553). In 1199 Pope Innocent III declared that since Scripture contained lessons too profound for the layman to grasp, Christians should rely wholly on the clergy for its interpretation. In 1236 a memorandum was submitted to the pope with 35 charges against the Talmud: it was an allegedly blasphemous book which attacked the Church, mocked Jesus, and was hostile to non-Jews. The pope ordered that the confiscation of Jewish books in France take place on a Saturday, while the Jews were gathered in their synagogues. It happened on March 3, 1240, and similar instructions were conveyed to the kings of England, Spain, and Portugal.

In response to the papal circular, the first public disputation between Jews and Christians was staged in Paris on June 25-27 1240. The Jewish spokesman was Rabbi Yehiel of Paris, then the most eminent French rabbi, whose task was to defend the Talmud against its slanderers. (The Talmud was not completely translated before the mid-19th century and therefore very few had any real knowledge of it. Andrea Masio, a Christian Hebraist who repudiated the papal law on the subject, considered that the condemnation of the Talmud was as valid as the opinion of a blind man about differing colors).

Two years after the Paris disputation, an inquisitorial committee again condemned the Talmud, and 24 wagon loads of books totaling thousands of volumes were handed to the executioner for public burning. Subsequently the burning of the Talmud was repeatedly urged by the popes.

Famous disputations and burnings took place in Barcelona in 1263 (after which the king warned the Jews that their holy books were doomed to the pyre unless they censored them), in Toulouse 1319, in Tortosa 1413. Following the Church Council of Basle in 1431, the pope forbade the Jews to study the Talmud.

Italy became a center of burnings during the Counter-Reformation, after the pope had designated the Talmud blasphemous. On Rosh Hashanah of 1553, thousands of Jewish books were burnt in Campo de Fiori, Rome, in a gigantic pyre, followed by others in about ten Italian towns.

Only in 1564 the prohibition of the Talmud was rescinded, but even after that the confiscation of Jewish literature continued for two centuries. The Talmud was possibly the most attacked booked on earth. In order to write his two-thousand page “Endecktes Judemthum” (Judaism Unmasked) in 1699, Johannes Eisenmenger spent twenty years studying in a yeshiva (a Talmudic academy), so deep was his hatred of the book that kept Judaism alive. “Experts” churned out a vast literature exposing the Talmud’s blasphemies in the past two centuries.

The last public burning of the Talmud before the Nazi era took place in 1757 in Poland, when Bishop Nicholas Dembowski ordered the burning of one thousand copies.

Another practice was to establish quarters for Jews, surrounded by a wall separating it from the rest of the city, the gates of which bolted at night. This compulsory place of residence is called “ghetto,” which in Italian means “foundry” (the quarter of Venice enclosed by walls and gates in 1516 and declared to be the only part of the city open to Jewish settlement, was near a foundry). The institution antedates the word, since the idea was raised as early as the 4th century and was legalized in 1179 when the Third Lateran Council of the Church forbade Christians to reside together with Jews. Famous ghettos were set up in London (1276), Bologna (1417) and Turin (1425), always serving to reinforce the stereotype of the Jew, a demoniac figure who, even when he had contact with Christians during the day, would go back to his night residence beyond the walls to practice his absurd rituals and habits.

The walls of the Italian ghettos were demolished by French troops in 1796. After Napoleon’s fall (1815) there was an attempt to rebuild them, but this did not happen until the Nazis assumed power.

The ghetto was another implementation of the objective to separate the Jews from the rest of society, degrade them and oppress them so that they would ultimately convert to Christianity. When he saw the Jew living miserably in his ghetto, the 18th century Catholic publicist G.Roberti called it “a better proof of the truth of the religion of Jesus Christ than a whole school of theologians.” But the worst is yet to come...

Gustavo Perednik

 Next - Christian Persecution of the Jews in Europe: II- Pogroms, Crusades, Expulsions, Inquisitions and Massacres

Start - Judeophobia - A History and Analysis of Jew Hate or so-called Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism

Start - Judeophobia - A History and Analysis of Jew Hate or so-called Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism

Gustavo Perednik


These pages are adapted by the kind permission of Dr. Gustavo Perednik.They  are based on a twelve-lecture Internet course prepared for "The Jewish University in Cyberspace." During 2000 and 2001, the book by Gustavo Perednik "Judeophobia" was published in Spanish. This course summarizes the core ideas of the book. It presents a comprehensive and unique analysis of the development of Jew hate (Judeophobia or anti-Semitism) throughout history. It tries to answer the question "why the Jews?" - why have Jews been particularly singled out for ethnic, racial and religious persecution, and it traces the relationship between anti-Zionism and racist Judeophobia or so-called anti-Semitism.

Zionism and Israel Information Center is grateful to Dr. Perednik for his permission to popularize his works.

History of anti-Zionism External link: Antisemitism


Reproduced by permission. This work is copyright ©1997-2005 by Gustavo Perednik. Please do not copy it in any form without direct permission from the author.  All rights reserved

External Zionism Links

This site provides resources about Zionism and Israeli history, including links to source documents. We are not responsible for the information content of these sites.

Please do copy these links, and tell your friends about  https://zionism-israel.com Zionism and Israel Information Center

 Thank you.

Sister sites Zionism Pages Brave Zionism and Zionism and Israel On the Web

Friends and informative sites:

Zionism - Definition and Brief History - A balanced article that covers the definitions and history of Zionism as well as opposition to Zionism and criticisms by Arabs,  Jewish anti-Zionists.

Labor Zionism - Early History and Critique - Contribution of Labor Zionism to the creation of the Jewish state, and problems of Labor Zionism in a changing reality.

Dvar Dea - Zionist Advocacy

La Bibliothèque Proche Orientale- Le Grand Mufti Husseini

The Grand Mufti Haj Amin El Husseini

Zionisme - israelinformatie- Zionisme Israel/Jodendom Israelisch-Palestijns Conflict Anti-Semitisme Shoa - a Dutch Web site with many useful Jewish, Zionism and Israel links (in English too).

ZioNation - Zionism-Israel Web Log    Zionism & Israel News  Israel: like this, as if History of Zionism Zionism FAQ Zionism Israel Center Maps of Israel Jew Israel Advocacy  Zionism and its Impact Israel Christian Zionism