The image of Jews as “God-killers” and their refusal to convert to Christianity has fueled a long tradition of Christian intolerance, hatred, and violence. Here a few examples of manifestations of Christian anti-Judaism (animus against Jews based on religion) that have occurred over the centuries.
In 1171, in the town of Blois, southwest of Paris, Jews were accused of ritual murder and blood libel, i.e. killing a Christian child and using the child’s blood in a religious ritual. Several adult Jews of the city were arrested and most executed after refusing to convert to Christianity. Over thirty were killed; a number of Jewish children were forcibly baptized. Beginning in the thirteenth century, Jews were among the tens of thousands of people burned at the stake for heresy by the Holy Inquisition. In 1235, thirty-four Jews were burned to death in Fulda, Germany, on a blood libel charge. Several Jews in Röttingen, Germany, were killed in 1298, charged with profaning the host, the bread used during the Christian rite of the Mass.
As it permeated the writings and rhetoric of the Church Fathers, anti-Judaism also permeated the writings and rhetoric of popes as well, a practice which continued into the twentieth century. One example, Innocent III, in 1205 wrote: “…The Jews, by their own guilt, are consigned to perpetual servitude because they crucified the Lord…As slaves rejected by God, in whose death they wickedly conspire, they shall by the effect of this very action, recognize themselves as the slaves of those whom Christ’s death set free…”
Dominican monk Bernard Gui (portrayed by the actor F. Murray Abraham in the 1986 film, The Name of the Rose, based on Umberto Eco’s novel of the same name), who was appointed papal inquisitor in 1307 by Pope Clement V to deal with heretical Cathars around Toulouse, ordered copies of the Talmud and other Jewish books burned publicly, as the Nazis would do in May 1933 within months of coming to power. Over a period of fifteen years, Gui pronounced approximately 630 people guilty of heresy. Like inquisitors before and after him, Gui performed his role with moral certitude in the rectitude of his cause.
In 1411 Vincente Ferrer, also a Dominican monk, reignited anti-Jewish hysteria in Spain by, among other things, characterizing Jews as “cohorts of the Devil and the Antichrist… clever, warped and doomed.”
During the Middle Ages into the nineteenth century, ritual degradation of Jews during Lenten carnival celebrations was commonplace. In the sixteenth century, Pope Gregory XIII (1572–85) initiated the practice of compelling Jews to attend special Masses where they were forced to listen to conversionary sermons delivered by particularly gifted preachers. Additionally, it was customary to perform a ritual while the pope was en route to the basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome during which a copy of the Torah was presented to the pope by Rome’s chief rabbi; the pope then turned the book upside down and returned it to the rabbi with twenty silver coins; as the pope returned the book, he proclaimed that, although he respected the Law of Moses, he disapproved of the hard hearts of Jews. Though officially contrary to canon law, Jews, nonetheless, for centuries were forcibly converted to Christianity.
Jews were expelled en masse from Catholic countries in Europe, including England in 1290, France in 1306, Hungary in 1349, Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497. French and Spanish Jews were required to forfeit ownership of most of their property. Before resorting to the Final Solution, Hitler’s plan to exterminate Jews, drafted at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, the Third Reich attempted to expel Jews from Germany by forced emigration. Those permitted to emigrate, however, were required to forfeit the bulk of their property to the Reich.
In 1498 Savonarola, a Dominican monk and reformer, noted for burning pagan books, was himself burned at the stake as a heretic in Florence for, among other things, criticizing the degenerate lifestyle of Pope Alexander VI. In 1793 the last witch was burned to death in Germany and in 1826 the last heretic burned at the stake in Spain. During the Middle Ages, baseless and vile myths about Jews circulated freely throughout Europe. Jews were crudely stereotyped, ostracized, vilified and demonized. They were forced to live in ghettos, including one erected in Venice in 1517, which figured prominently in William Shakespeare’s play, Merchant of Venice, and another in Rome erected by decree of Pope Paul IV in 1556. Sadly, a review of European history amply demonstrates that for many, many centuries Jews have been routinely denied their civil and human rights, with church approval. The Nuremburg Laws of 1935, for example, stripped German Jews of their civil and human rights. Similar anti-Jewish laws were passed in fascist Italy, Vichy France, fascist Croatia, fascist Slovakia, fascist Romania and other Nazi allied or occupied European countries.
Charges of ritual murder, blood libel and host desecration resulted in the Chmielnitski Massacres of 1648–56, when Catholic Ukrainians (Cossacks) under the leadership of Bohdan Chmelnitsky slaughtered more than one hundred thousand Jews in cities and towns across Poland in the largest mass murder of Jews until the Holocaust. Between 1871 and 1906, especially following the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881, for which Jews were wrongly blamed, close to two hundred pogroms broke out in 160 cities and towns of Russia.
The Kishinev Pogroms of 1903 (photo above) was triggered by the murder of a Christian boy, Mikhail Rybachenko, in the nearby town of Dubossary, Ukraine. Anti-Semitic newspapers accused Jews of the crime, writing that they had done it for a ritual purpose. During the pogrom, 49 people were killed, over 500 injured and some 1.5 thousand Jewish houses and shops were plundered and ruined.