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April 7: Justinian’s Code

April 7, 2012

The Code of Justinian, the first of four parts of the Corpus Juris Civilis (“Body of Civil Law”) compiled by command of Justinian I, the Emperor of Rome, was issued on this date in 529. Among its principles was Servitus Judaeorum (“Servitude of the Jews”), enforced by new laws that would further reduce the status of Jews beyond the century-old discriminatory edicts of the Theodosian Code. Jews (and other non-Christians) were now denied citizenship and disqualified from holding public office; they could not testify in court against Christians. Hebrew prayer was banned, the Sh’ma was condemned as being anti-trinitarian, and synagogues were liable to confiscation. Passover seders were banned if they preceded Easter. Conversion to Christianity was encouraged through inheritance laws and taxation policies; conversion to Judaism became a capital offense, as did the ownership of Christian slaves by Jews. The Corpus Juris Civilis summarized centuries of Roman jurisprudence and completed the merging of church and state in Roman lands. It was not immediately influential in the collapsed western provinces, but was rediscovered in the Late Middle Ages and would strongly affect the Canon Law of the Catholic Church as well as civil and international law throughout Europe.

“[C]ircumcision was allowed only for Jews by birth but prohibited for proselytes and slaves. Judaism ceased to be a permitted religion, although some Jewish practices were still allowed. The purpose of this and other legislation was to induce Jews to convert to Christianity and to show Christians the superiority of the church over the synagogue.” —Richard S. Levy, Anti-Semitism: A Historical Encyclopedia