Diaspora : Medieval France and Germany
There had been Jews in France in from the first century CE. Their communities were under the cultural and religious influence of their brethren in Spain, and later in Italy. In the 10th and 11th centuries a distinctive and productive Jewish culture developed in Northern France and on the eastern bank of the Rhine. The atmosphere there for Jews was very different from that in more southern area; they were tolerated, but in no manner was society or government open to them. They thus developed on more internalised lines. During this period the Crusades brought indescribable horrors onto the Jewish population, including torture, rape and pillage. On their way to liberate the Holy Land from the Saracens the brave knights destroyed entire communities of peaceful Jews. Martyrdom became commonplace.
Even under these most adverse conditions, Jewish cultural life flourished. Rashi (1040 -1105) produced his commentary to the Bible and most of the Talmud, which to this day has remained standard for the study of those subjects. The carious schools among whom Rashi's grandsons figured prominently completed the work with their additional scholarly commentaries.
A distinctive type of pietism was developed by a group known as the Hasidim of Ashkenaz, the Hebrew name for the whole area , with considerable stress on ethics and asceticism. Even today Western Jews are known as Ashkenazim, being still under the influence of this age. There is also a great deal of demonology and other folk beliefs in their teachings, no doubt due to the influence of the surrounding culture.
At this time the Jews were mainly traders and peddlars, having only marginal contact with their gentile neighbours. They were barred from landowning and from the professions, and forced into money lending because the church did not consider it fitting for Christians to be so engaged. Later the Jews were blamed and persecuted for being employed in what was forced on them. Under the influence of the Church, local rulers steadily reduced any rights Jews had. They were often legally considered the ruler's personal property.
During the Black Death which in 1348 killed off at least a third of the population of Europe, Jews were falsely accused of poising the wells. The Blood Libel, by which Jews were falsely accused of killing Christian children to use their blood for ritual purposes also became wide spread. Such absurd accusations became the standard excuse for pogroms and persecutions. Yet Jewish society showed its great resilience, and communities were reconstructed in the very places that massacres had taken place only a few years before.
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