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“beyond The Fine Print: Discovering Hidden Benefits Of Legal Expertise” – Clifford’s Tower, site of a massacre in which nearly the entire Jewish population of York, England, was killed in 1190. But even after the massacre, Jews returned to York and thrived under protection Credit… Andy Haslam for The NY Times
One bright morning, as I was walking down Aldwark, a narrow street in York, England, looking for a historic site, a delivery truck came by. The driver, a man in his 60s, got out and asked if he could help.
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I hesitated at the stroke. As in the West, antisemitism is on the rise in Britain: According to the London-based Community Security Trust, incidents of antisemitism have increased by more than 400 percent since 2013. However no, I answered: it will be a synagogue again. Until the 1970s.”
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I wasn’t sure what to expect—a bewildered gesture, or perhaps what an English acquaintance called “the sneer,” a look that conveys the sentiment, held by some in Britain, but not really. Jews are English. But what I got was a solemn look.
In March 1190, the Jews of York heard that a mob would come to kill them and rob their homes. They took refuge in the storehouse of York Castle, but the mob surrounded it and demanded that the Jews surrender and be baptized, or die. Most chose death. But those who agreed to be baptized were killed after they left. The entire Jewish community of York, about 150 people, was destroyed in one day.
You might hope, like that truck driver, that the Jews never return. But they did – fast. And they prospered.
“In the first 30, 40 years of the 13th century, society was richer and more powerful than it was in 1190,” says John Oxley, a researcher of the city of York.
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Jews in medieval York lived where they pleased – there were no ghettos, or illegal Jewish quarters, known as Jews. They built their synagogue on Coney Street, which is like the center of the town today. In many ways, the events of York eight centuries ago encompassed the entire history of medieval England’s Jews, thousands of whom were scattered throughout the community. dozens. They have suffered unimaginably, but they have also grown enormously; cannot be separated from the wealth of the country, but most of it is now forgotten. Their story was amazing, and overwhelming – and ended once and for all.
The stained glass windows of Lincoln Cathedral show Jews wearing the distinctive pointed hats that were required of them in medieval Europe.Credit… Andy Haslam for The New York Times
It’s strange to think that any aspect of the past – let alone a deep one – could remain obscure in a history-crazy place like Britain. But when I visited a few months before the pandemic, Sally Dixon-Smith, then curator of collections at the Tower of London, told me: “Most English people do not know whether regardless of religion, there was a Jewish community here in the Middle Ages. ” Even the tower — which played an important role in the life of medieval London’s Jews, and is full of historical markers and kiosks — had almost nothing on display to address the subject. “We’re trying to do something about it,” explained Dr. Dixon-Smith, “but like all Heritage sites, it won’t be fast.”
The history of medieval Jewish communities in England, he says, “has not yet been considered ‘important’ for mainstream academia, if you will, to be part of that narrative.” It saddens him: “You can’t talk about the English economy in the Middle Ages without talking about Jewish society,” he says. “It’s ridiculous to exclude them from this story.”
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Jews probably began to visit Britain in ancient times, but it was not until William the Conqueror lured some from Normandy after his victory at Hastings in 1066 that they took root in the Jewish community in England. William needed capital to conquer the country and build its economy; The Jews had it. To encourage them, William provided special protection. They will be the “chief of the king”, and the king will be responsible only. Destroying them can be a violation of the crown. They could take refuge in any palace, if necessary, including the Tower of London.
Their first English century was very consistent. “The relationship between Jews and Christians was very good at first,” says Yorkshire historian John Rayne-Davis. “They were drinking at each other’s houses and hanging out and things like that.”
Medieval Jews in England did not only work in finance. “Some sell wine, food, cheese,” said Marcus Roberts, director of J-Trails, an Anglo-Jewish heritage organization. “There was a Jew who was a ladder builder. There was a Jew in Essex who had a successful business selling firewood. But some Jews also fought.” Jewish learning flourished in England in the Middle Ages, sometimes in collaboration with Christian theologians. Jews and Christians lived together. Someone got married.
But as the decades passed, the Jews’ special status and material prosperity – and the fact that many people were deeply indebted – created resentment. An increasingly anti-Semitic Vatican, and the rise of Christian religious fervor, have only created tensions. There were more pogroms. Meanwhile, successive kings stripped the Jews of their rights and protections and extorted more money from them – not only through loans but personal taxes, extortion and the funding – to fund their lavish lifestyles and for pet projects, such as war. and building palaces, churches and other historic sites such as Westminster Abbey.
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But there was no plaque on the abbey, said Dr. Dixon-Smith, detailed his Jewish roots. There is also nothing in the Tower of London to confirm that most of it was built with Jewish capital, as noted by Dr. Dixon-Smith and other historians. London’s medieval Jewish community was, by far, the largest and wealthiest in England, but today the only visible evidence that it even existed is the original street named that Old Jewry – proof that it existed nine centuries ago.
This is not to say that there are no remnants of Jewish communities in medieval England. But you have to get out of London to see it.
Lincoln Cathedral, the tallest building in the world for many centuries, was, like many other English medieval buildings of its kind, built with Jewish funding.Credit… Andy Haslam for The New York Times
Clifford’s Tower, the site of the 1190 York pogrom, is perhaps the most famous Jewish pilgrimage site in England. But if you’re looking for something less tragic, there are a few other places to visit.
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In Norwich, for example, there is a house of a Jewish man named Jurnet, in the 12th century, who is said to be one of the richest people in England at that time; Today, it is part of the adult education system. At Bury St. Edmund’s, another 12th century building known as Moyse’s Hall – “Moyse” is believed to be a version of “Moses” – houses a wonderful local museum which includes, among other things , my first mummified cat.
The Northampton Museum and Art Gallery even has a 13th century Jewish grave marker. Its Hebrew letters are carved into the golden brown limestone. Although most of the inscription is missing, Mr. Roberts of J-Trails believes it originally read: “This is the tombstone of the scholar Shlomo ben Rav Moshe.” Possibly the oldest tomb in the country, it was found in a 14th-century ruin that was demolished in 1842. It was looted from Northampton’s medieval Jewish cemetery and used to build the foundation of the house.
The foundations of the now ruined shrine belong to Little Hugh, a boy from Lincoln who was falsely said to have been kidnapped and murdered by Jews in 1255, leading to the massacre of 18 Jews in ‘the Tower of London. Credit… Andy Haslam for The New York Times
Start with the city’s cathedral, once the tallest building in the world, which, like others in England in the Middle Ages, was built with Jewish funding. Among the many figures in the stained glass window, you will see – a kind of “Where’s Waldo?” practice – the jews in the unique pointed hat that was required of them in Europe in the Middle Ages.
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The southern entrance to the cathedral is known as the Judgment Portal. Carved around eye level on the right (or “right”) side is an angel supporting a perch, on which is a glowing statue representing the Church. On the left side, however, there was another image of a person, which shows the Synagogue, standing, blindfolded and sad, on a platform standing on the back of a suffering Jew. “You’d never see it if you didn’t know it was there,” explained Richard Dale, president of the Lincolnshire Jewish Association. “It’s like antisemitism – until you know it, you don’t necessarily know it.”
Pilgrims have historically passed through this door on their way to the grave of the boy who, although not venerated, is still called St. killed. Although many Christians condemned the
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