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February 13: A Blood Libel in Germany, 1195

February 13, 2016

800px-Judenbad_Speyer_3_First_Room_viewIn the wake of the Third Crusade, the Jews of Speyer, Germany were subjected to a blood libel (charges of ritual murder) and pogrom that took nine lives on this date in 1195. The first record of Jews in Speyer (from which the names “Shapiro” and its other variants derived) date to the 1070s, though it is assumed that Jews had settled there by the 4th century. Charters were granted to Jews of Speyer in 1084 and 1090, granting them rights and privileges that were often denied to Jews throughout Europe. (The photo shows a room in the mikvah of Speyer, built in 1128.) However, after the First Crusade and the arrival of plague in 1096, Jews along the Rhine, including in Speyer, suffered a wave of pogroms -- although Speyer’s Jews managed to bribe the area’s bishop for protection and fared significantly better than other German Jewish communities. One century later, in 1195, Isaak ben Ascher Halevi the Younger and the daughter (unnamed) of Speyer’s Rabbi Halevi were accused of ritual murder, killed, and had their corpses displayed in the market. The rabbi was then killed trying to recover his daughter’s body. Homes were plundered and set fire, and the synagogue was destroyed. Another wave of plague-related pogroms decimated the Jews two centuries later, and the Nazis wiped out all remnants in 1940.

“There was a Gentile woman found murdered three parasangs from the city of Speyer. And the Gentiles rejoiced for no reason to accuse the Jews of killing her.” —Sefer Zekhirah, quoted in Two Nations In Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, by Israel Jacob Yuval