Jewish Life Main Points

1. Since the 2nd Century, Jews lived in many places.
2. Jews weren't really accepted in the community.
3. Jews did many things for a living during the middle ages such as artisans, blacksmiths, and other hands-on work
4. Jewish traditions have a long history.
5. The expulsion of Jews from Spain was a dark time.

A Jewish man studying Torah
Daily Life

During the Middle ages in the 2nd Century Jews lived in Rome, Naples, Venice, Bologna, Ferrara, Ravenna, Genoa, Milan, Capua, Salerno, Pompeii, and many other places. There were no Jews in Jerusalem at the time.There was a Jewish quarter in each city and the Jew’s Bridge connected the Jewish quarter with the rest of the city. They all lived in the same neighborhoods because they were not allowed to live in neighborhoods with non-Jews.
Acceptance in the community
There was continuing and restless pressure from both the Church and the State to bring the Jews to the baptismal font. Jews lived in their own quarters in the cities . Wherever they went they were eventually expelled. The Jews were looked down upon in their communities until they were finally allowed to settle in Amsterdam where they were respected. In the 13th Century Jewish rights weren't very important. Jews had to take an oath of humiliation recited before a Christian judge. In some places before taking this oath, Jews were required to put a wreath of thorns on their heads in the memory of the Crucifixion of Jesus. The Jews were forced to stand in ankle deep water and recite aloud: "In the name of the Lord Zebaoth I swear truthfully... but if I swear falsley, may my descendants be cursed, may I grope along the wall like a blind the same time, may the earth open up and swallow me as it did Dathan and Abiram." Another way of taking the oath of humiliation included the Jews standing on the skin of a sow, an animal forbidden to Jews, and reciting the oath. Another example would include making the Jews the oath while struggling to keep balance on a three legged stool while standing with bare feet wearing a kippa, a religious hat, and a talit, a holy prayer shall.
Some of the jobs Jews had were craftsmen, weavers, medicine practitioners and dyers. Many Jews were artisans or merchants like tailors, jewelers, minters, dealers in old clothes, blacksmiths, and carpenters. They also dealt in money with jobs like pawnbrokers, street hawkers, money lenders and changers. Jews were forced to engage in the despised occupation of money lending. During the 9th Century Jews became a distinguished line of Hebrew grammarians, Talmudists, mathematicians, astronomers, physicians, philosophers, and poets. These types of cultural jobs stayed with the Jews for many centuries on.


Jewish religious thought has had two major aspects. One involved rationalism by the Talmud and the other has the literature of the Cabala. While Talmudists sought to apprehend God, the Cabalists sought the means of hidden wisdom. It was thought of that the first medieval Cabalist was Isaac the Blind, who lived in France during the 12th Century. There were even "scientific" Cabalists who tried to bring their ideas into the world during the Middle Ages. The Cabala changed a lot from province to province. In Germany the Cabala was different from the one in Spain because in Germany it was entirely practical and without much philosophy but in Spain Cabala lacked emotional motivation. In the 13th Century a Cabalist named Abraham Abulafia wanted to impress his followers by announcing himself as the Messiah. As soon as Church authorities found out about his plan they arrested him and put him in a dungeon. Another Cabalist that claimed to be the Messiah was Asher Lammlein who said that he was Elijah the Prophet. Many Jews believed him and fasted, prayed, and gave away their possessions to the coming of the Messiah. When no Messiah came the Jews abandoned Judaism and became Christians.

Expulsion of Jews from Spain

The Grand Inquisitor Torquemada finally came to a conclusion to expel the Jews from Spain in 1411. The Pope rejected the proposal but Torquemada would not give up. Finally the king and queen signed the edict of expulsion on March 31, 1492. The Jews were then allowed four months to prepare for their departure to Portugal. They were also forbidden to have any gold, silver, or jewels. Expulsion from Spain was so overpowering that it caused some Jews to get Baptised. During the 17 and 18 centuries the shadow of the Spanish Inquisition spread quickly over Europe. The Jews became poor and some chose to go over to the Church. Fearing poverty some Jews set sail for Holland because there were many Jewish communities in Amsterdam. These communities were full of culture and the city then acquired the name, 'New Jerusalem' among European Jews. At first the Amsterdam Jews had no synagogue, so they held services in the home of Samuel Palache, a former Spanish Jew who had been acting as a consul to Morroco. Since the Inquisition had very secretive ways in Portugal, they now held services in secret. When a group of Jews were caught praying on Yom Kippur they were accused of practicing 'Papist' religion by the magistrates of Amsterdam. Jacob Tirado pleaded that the Jews were allowed to stay and practice Jewish religion freely and openly in Amsterdam, to the magistrates. He then promised the magistrates that the Portuguese Jews would be people of means, education, and business ability who would bring Amsterdam commercial and cultural benefits. Cultural and commercial benefits proved worthy to the magistrates but before they approved the proposal they asked an opinion from jurist Hugo Grotius. In 1615 the Jews were officially granted permission to settle in Amsterdam as a community. In Amsterdam the Jews were free, however authorities laid down only two restrictions upon them: Jews were not allowed to marry Christians, and Jews were not to make attacks on the state religion. The Dutch enjoyed the settlement of the Jews because from the Jews came different languages, commercial prosperity, and ties with Jewish communities in Persia, North Africa, India, Arab Lands, Turkey, and Greece. Most importantly they established shipping branches in Livorno, Genoa, Venice, and Naples.


Country in Europe
Jewish Acceptance in that Country
Jews were accepted until the Spanish Inquisition was established by The Grand Inquisitor Torquemada
The Netherlands
The Dutch were very happy about the Jewish settlement in Amsterdam
Jews were very happy in France until expulsion in 1306
In 1215 the barons of London revolted against the king and invaded London’s Jewish quarter, killing many Jews
Under the reign of the Carolingian kings the Jews were very privileged members of Germany
Vienna and Prague
Jews were treated very similar to German Jews
Jews were accepted in Polish communities


Information -Ausubel, Nathan. Pictorial History of the Jewish People. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 1953

Image of Jewish Man studying Torah -Armstrong, Dave. "Rembra And Rabbi". [Online] Available

Historical Fiction

My Gaurdian Angel