Christendom

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Another aspect of Church doctrine concerned the social inferiority and subordination of the Jews. The rule of denying them power applied not only to public office but to every social relationship of asymmetrical nature (master‑servant, physician‑patient), and to all daily‑life situations which placed the Jew in a position of authority over a Christian.

And since all contact between Christian and Jew posed the danger of undue influence, the Church recommended a policy of segregation. The obligation of wearing distinguishable garments or a special badge wasimposed on Jews in order to prevent sexual relations between them andnon‑Jewish women. Popular fears of the Jew, although deriving from very different emotions than those guiding the theologians, were thus sanctioned by the official policy of the ecclesiastical authorities.

Throughout the High Middle Ages, Jews were considered to be the responsibility of the central secular authority in each country. The protection offered to the Jews by European monarchs while the crusading spirit was whipping up anti‑Jewish propaganda and riots only increased their dependence. Emperor Frederick II, borrowing from the Church the notion of Jewish servitude, defined the condition of the Jews as that of slaves, or serfs, of the imperial treasury--a formula later used both in their defense as well as to justify the money exacted from the Jews, "belonging" to the sovereign.

Some kings and princes, however ultimately became scrupulous, fearing that revenue extracted from the Jews implicated them in the sin of usury. Hence the attempts at legislation intended to urge the Jews to forgo financial involvement in favor of "honest" manual labor or lawful trade. In 1230 Louis IX of France issued the Ordinance of Melun which forbade Jews to engage in moneylending. The King of England, Edward I, forbade the taking of interest in 1275.

These anti‑usury laws undoubtedly contributed to the impoverishment of the Jews, perhaps to the extent that they were no longer useful to the crown. The decisions to expel the Jews from England in 1290 and from France in 1306 (in circumstances which are still obscure) were the first steps in the process of purging Catholic Europe of Jews.

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Eli Barnavi is the Director of the Morris Curiel Center for International Studies and a Professor of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University