The Jews in Western Europe

Through most of Western Europe the Jews remained an unassimilated minority, largely city dwellers and keeping to their ancestral faith. There was much popular feeling against them and from time to time mobs attacked them. Some of the Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land slaughtered men, women, and children. Through the centuries there was a trickle of conversions which occasionally became a substantial stream. Many of these were forced and some were from motives of prudence, but others were from religious conviction. In general the Popes condemned the use of violence to bring conversions, but declared that if a Jew had been baptized he had thereby been made a member of the Church and was subject to its discipline if he reverted to the religion of his forefathers.

Jews were especially numerous in Spain. Throughout most of these centuries, with the exception of occasional spasms of persecution, they were treated with leniency by both Moslem and Christian rulers. Indeed, in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries they often rose to high positions in the government and the administration of the finances of the Christian states was largely in their hands. Gradually, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries prejudice against them mounted and official measures were taken to compel them to attend sermons presenting the Christian faith. Presumably some baptisms followed. Not until 1391, however, does toleration seem to have ended.

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