The Black death (Black plague, Great Pestilence) first visited Europe about 1348, killing between 30 and 60% of Europe's population (about 25-50 million deaths). Usually lost in the descriptions of the catastrophe is the fact that it was also an occasion for horrific pogroms that killed large numbers of Jews. Even where records exist, it is impossible to determine what percentage of Jews who died were victims of the plague, and how many died in persecutions and pogroms.
Repeated outbreaks of plague, of lesser virulence, occurred every century or so thereafter until the 19th century. The last big outbreak took place in the 17th century, but apparently none was as devastating as the first. The persecution of the Jews we For a long time, the Black plague was thought to have been caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, carried by fleas (xenopsylla cheopis) on the backs of rats in the holds of ships, a disease commonly known as Bubonic Plague, which infected Asia in the 19th century. More recently, it has been suggested that it may have been a plague of viral hemorrhagic fever, similar to Ebola, carried by humans.ref ref
The Black death of 1348 caused a massive upheaval in European society. Towns and villages were left without rulers and effective police. Fields lay fallow for want of workers. There was no understanding of the causes of illness, and no intellectual or philosophic framework for dealing with any aspect of life other than religion. Accordingly, the plague could be viewed as punishment for sins, or blamed on lepers or Jews.
The Black Death rendered the forces of law and order helpless. As it did not occur to the Jews to undertake their own self-defense, the results of the pogroms of this period were especially catastrophic.
On Oct. 3, 1348, during the summing up of a trial, an allegation providing a motive for the total destruction of Jewry was made; it was asserted that "before their end they said on their Law that it is true that all Jews, from the age of seven, cannot excuse themselves of this (crime), since all of them in their totality were cognizant and are guilty of the above actions:"
These "confessions" were sent to various cities in Germany. The accusation that the Jews had poisoned the wells spread there like wildfire, fanned by the general atmosphere of terror. The patricians of Strasbourg attempted to defend the Jews at a meeting of representatives of the Alsatian towns at Benfeld, but the majority rejected their plea, arguing:
The defamation, killings, and expulsions spread throughout Christian Spain, France, and Germany, to Poland-Lithuania, affecting about 300 Jewish communities.
On September 26, 1348, Pope Clement VI issued a bull in Avignon, Quamvis Perfidiam, denouncing this allegation, stating that "certain Christians, seduced by that liar, the devil, are imputing the pestilence to poisoning by Jews." This imputation and the massacre of Jews in consequence were described by the Pope as "a horrible thing". He tried to convince Christians that "since this pestilence is all but universal everywhere, and by a mysterious decree of God has afflicted, and continues to afflict, both Jews and many other nations throughout the diverse regions of the earth to whom a common existence with Jews is unknown (the charge) that the Jews have provided the cause or the occasion for such a crime is without plausibility."
The emperors Charles IV and Peter IV of Aragon also tried to protect the Jews from the accusation. The physician Konrad of Megenberg in his Buch der Natur stated:
However, all these appeals to reason were ineffective. The massacres of the Jews continued, and Jewish property was confiscated.Despite his policy of protecting the Jews, in 1350 the emperor Charles IV formally absolved the burghers of Cheb (Eger) in Bohemia for the killings and robbery they had committed among the Jewish population. In doing so, he stated:
By this time it was understood by nearly everyone that the accusation that Jews had spread the plague was false.
Mainz had been the site of massacres during the Crusades. Now the massacres returned. To avoid torture, the Jews reportedly set fire to their homes and to the Jewish streets. About 6,000 Jews reportedly perished in the flames. This also occurred at Frankfurt am Main. In Strasbourg, 2,000 Jews were burned on a wooden scaffold in the Jewish cemetery. (Source: Encyclopedia Judaica: Black Death)
The well poisoning libel was added to the repertoire of anti-Semitic lore. As with the Crusades, the aftermath of the black death massacres only increased the vehemence of anti-Semitism. Many Jews migrated to Poland and Lithuania, others remained in Central Europe and stubbornly rebuilt their communities.
March 31, 2009
Synonyms and alternate spellings:
Further Information: pogrom
Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:
'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.
ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."
u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.
a- sounded like a in arm
ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.
'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.
o - close to the French o as in homme.
th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.
q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.
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