There are events in history that serve as catalysts for big changes across the world. In our kosher cruises, we explore the contexts of such events in how they intersect with Jewish history, from the battle of Normandy in France to the development of Spain in the Iberian Peninsula. Europe in the 11th century was affected by one event, the First Crusade. However, this call to war in the Holy Land would have tragic repercussions for the Jewish people, especially those in the Rhineland.
The Scars of the Crusades
The First Crusade was initiated by Pope Urban II in 1095, calling for the Christians of Europe to rally together and take Jerusalem from the Seljuk Turks. While many knights and aristocratic folk answered the call, there were also poorer and less experienced Christians who wanted to join. Such was the case of Peter the Hermit and his People’s Crusade, who rallied a mass of peasants and ill-equipped fighters towards Jerusalem. However, with the thought of fighting non-Christians in mind, the People’s Crusade turned their ire towards the nearby Jewish people of the Rhinelands, namely the communities in the three cities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz. The massacres that ensued were horrific. Even with the Church condemning the killings and certain officials facilitating measures of safety (such as decreeing the prohibition of hurting Jews), the three cities suffered casualties. Some were even coerced into baptizing, and many decided to take their lives instead of converting.
The Cities and Its Communities Remain
The brutality of the People’s Crusade through the Rhinelands would end in the Battle of Civetot, where the Turks routed and soundly defeated the mass of vagabonds that were terrorizing the countryside. In the wake of the Rhineland Massacres, the communities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz eventually rebuilt. These three cities would later tighten their allegiances with each other, and would later become influential to the shape of Ashkenazi Jewry moving forward.
The past is fraught with saddening events, but learning about such things is important. Some of our Glatt Kosher tours travel through the Rhineland. We hope to learn more about the Jewish history there, when we return one day.