The Counts of Toulouse and the Jews of the Languedoc
In mediaeval Christendom, Jews generally lived outside the
feudal system, being regarded as the personal property of
their sovereigns. The Church allowed them only certain professions,
notably money lending and the rag-and-bone trade. It limited
their rights, disqualifying them from universities, from marrying
Christians, from employing Christians, from possessing Hebrew
scriptures, and so on. Many Crusades started by a massacre
of local Jews, usually encouraged by priests, friars or monks.
The position in the territories of the Counts of Toulouse
was very different. Important and powerful Jewish communities
flourished in Saint-Gilles,
Toulouse, Verdun, Nîmes, Lunel and Posquières.
even supported a rabinical school. Discrimination against
Jews, encouraged by the Roman Church, was less widespread
than elsewhere in western Christendom. Abrahan ben Jehuda
held the high office of Baile (governor) of Saint-Gilles
in 1143 under Count Alphonse. Rabi Abba Mari ben Isaac held
the office of Intendant at Saint-Gilles
around 1165. That Jews should hold such high office was not
uncommon. Other examples can be cited: Isaac Baile of the
County of Magio in 1175, Bonjuda Baile of Montferrand in 1190,
Pierre-Durant under-Viguier at Nîmes
in 1194 and Baile at Vallbregues in 1202, Bonad Baile of Pont-Saint-Esprit
in 1202, and so on.
The Counts of Toulouse took pains to protect the Jews in
their territories. The Easter tradition called "Strike the
Jew", popular throughout western Christendom, had been abolished
in Toulouse in the middle of the twelfth century despite
the protests of the clergy. Similar toleration was exercised
by the Kings of Aragon and the Trencavels. Ramon-Roger Trencavel,
Viscount of Beziers, had evacuated all Jews from Béziers
in 1209, knowing that the Catholic Crusaders would murder
them if they fell into their hands.
Toleration and favour shown to the Jews was one of the main
complaints of the Roman Church against the Counts of Toulouse.
Following the Crusaders' successful wars against Raymond VI
and Raymond VII, The Counts were required to discriminate
against Jews like other Christian rulers. In 1209, stripped
to the waist and barefoot, Raymond VI was obliged to swear
in front of a relic-laden alter, in the presence of nineteen
bishops and three archbishops, that he would no longer allow
Jews to hold public office. In 1229 his son and heir, Raymond
VII, underwent a similar ceremony where he was obliged to
prohibit the public employment of Jews, this time at Notre
Dame in Paris. Explicit provisions on the subject were included
in the Treaty of Meaux (1229).
By the next generation a new, zealously Catholic, ruler was
arresting and imprisoning Jews for no crime, raiding their
houses, seizing their cash, and removing their religious books.
They were then released only if they paid a new "tax". As
an English historian of the Cathar crusade puts it:
"Organised and official persecution of the Jews became a normal
feature of life in the south only after the Crusade because
it was only then that the Church became powerful enough to
insist on the application of positive measures of discrimination".
(Michael Costen, The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade,
Click on the following link to read a
detailed article on the Christian
Church and its promotion of anti-Semitism