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Religious People I Admire: The Rhineland Jewish Martyrs of the People’s Crusade

June 5, 2013

After Pope Urban preached the first Crusade, a group of Christians took it upon themselves to march to Jerusalem.  This became known as the People’s Crusade, though it was not an official crusade, strictly speaking, because it was not sponsored by a French king (and in fairness, it was not exactly what Pope Urban had in mind when he preached a Crusade).

When the People’s Crusade took place, the crusaders took it upon themselves to kill Jews in nearby communities.  They used the threat of death and violence to convince Jews to convert to Catholicism and receive baptism.

File:Massacre of Jews.jpg

Massacre of the Jews by Auguste Migette

When I took my class on the Crusades in college, I read a description of the massacre by Solomon bar Samson, who described the event in 1140.  He specifically speaks of the Jews of the city of Mayence (in what is now Germany) who took it upon themselves to commit suicide rather than be forced to convert.   The mothers and fathers even slew their own children rather than permit the Christians to baptize them.

In fairness, our professor told us that Jewish scholars have argued for centuries over whether or not the Rhineland Jews did the right thing in killing their children and then committing suicide.  However, I can’t help but admire them, as well as pity them.  They wanted to live and die in Jews, despite living among people who were hostile to their culture and their faith.   They were given the choice between baptism and death.  They chose death.

Solomon Bar Samson says it best.

“The maidens and the young brides and grooms looked out of the Windows and in a loud voice cried: “Look and see, O our God, what w e do for the sanctification of Thy great name in order not to exchange you for a hanged and crucified one….”


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