Expulsion and Readmission

Medieval European Jewry repeatedly faced banishment for both economic and religious reasons.

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The following three examples of medieval Jewish expulsions include specific instances of the general circumstances outlined above.

In England, Jews Are Officially Out by 1290

Jews arrived in England from northern France shortly after William of Normandy’s 1066 conquest of the island.  Under the reign of Henry I (1100-1135), Jews were granted a charter of protection, guaranteeing them certain liberties including freedom of movement, exemption from tolls, and recourse to royal justice.  Despite the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment in the 12th century, most notably a ritual murder accusation in the case of William of Norwich in 1144, English kings continued to extend a charter of residence to the Jews.

Beginning with the reign of Richard the Lion-Hearted in 1189, the situation of England’s Jews declined.  Constant warfare between England and France meant the Jews were taxed heavily. The situation grew worse for the Jews during the reign of Edward I (1272-1307), who forbade lending on interest in England, thereby depriving the Jews of their primary livelihood. 

When the economy did not improve, Edward was confronted with a choice: confess the failure of his anti-Jewish policies or banish the Jews from England.  He chose the latter: on July 18, 1290 (Tisha B’Av in the Jewish calendar), he issued an edict of expulsion.  The Jews had to leave England by November 1, 1290.  They were permitted to take their money and personal property; all of their real estate was turned over to the crown.  The official Jewish presence in England ended.  However, Jewish merchants soon returned and were tolerated because of the financial benefit they provided.

France: Four Centuries, at Least Five Expulsions

Establishment and rapid growth of French Jewry occurred between the 10th and 12th centuries. By the end of this period, French Jewish communities faced popular animosity, increased pressure from the Catholic Church, and higher taxes.  The situation came to a head in April, 1182, when King Philip Augustus ordered all of the Jews to leave the royal domain (in this case, the area around Paris). 

The Jews were permitted to sell their movable goods, but their real estate went to the crown, and synagogues became the property of the Church.  Most Jews moved elsewhere in northern France.  (The northern French Jewish communities were under the control of regional authorities.) In 1198 the Jews were permitted to return, but an additional tax was imposed on their activities.

From then on, French Jewish life was continually subjected to regulation and exploitation, primarily in the form of taxation to fund royal spending.  Louis IX (1227-1270) forbade the Jews to lend money at interest, ordering them to live solely by their own labor in business.  He also attacked Jewish intellectual life, outlawing the study of the Talmud on the grounds that it offended Christianity.  Louis’s son, Philip III, maintained Louis’s policies and enforced ecclesiastical restrictions aimed at protecting Christians from Jewish influence.

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Joshua Levy is a doctoral candidate in the department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, studying medieval Jewish history. His dissertation, "Sefer Milhamot Hashem, Chapter Eleven: The Earliest Jewish Critique of the New Testament," is an examination of medieval Jewish criticisms of the Gospel of Matthew.