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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. Saint-Gilles 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, p 38.)


Click on the following link to read a detailed article on the Christian Church and its promotion of anti-SemitismNext.


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Cross of Toulouse.
The Counts of Toulouse and the Jews