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March 18: King of Jerusalem

Lawrence Bush
March 17, 2017
Frederick II (1194-1250) declared himself King of Jerusalem on this date in 1229 while leading a nearly bloodless Sixth Crusade. The Holy Roman Emperor had four years earlier married Isabella II (Yolande of Brienne), the Italian-born Queen of Jerusalem (so-called because of Christian conquests made during the Third Crusade), but was so slow to launch the Sixth Crusade that Pope Gregory IX excommunicated him. In 1236, Frederick issued a declaration against the blood libel that stated, in part, “it was not indicated in the Old Testament or in the New that Jews lust for the drinking of human blood. Rather, precisely the opposite, they guard against the intake of all blood, as we find expressly in the biblical book which is called in Hebrew, Bereshit, in the laws given by Moses, and in the Jewish decrees which are called in Hebrew, ‘Talmud.’ We can surely assume that for those to whom even the blood of permitted animals is forbidden, the desire for human blood cannot exist . . .” Frederick had a wide-ranging intellect, spoke nine languages, and is thought by modern scholars to have been deist, or perhaps an atheist. “Unlike most of Europe at this time,” writes Justin Dmitri at, “Frederick had a reputation for being tolerant of both Jews and Muslims living in his kingdom, even allowing Jewish businessmen to charge interest on loans,” which was forbidden to non-Jews. “This was at a time when, in places like Christian Spain, for instance, both Muslims and Jews were forced to convert, expelled or outright killed.” “He had indeed had the good fortune to have grown up in Sicily in a mixed culture that uniquely combined elements of antiquity, Arabic and Jewish wisdom, the Occidental spirit of the Middle Ages, and Norman realism. The intellectual life of his court reflected this heritage. A courtly ‘republic of scholars,’ it nurtured and fostered the natural sciences as well as philosophy, poetry, and mathematics, and translations as well as original writing, both in Latin and in the vernacular. The pursuit of knowledge without special respect for traditional authorities was characteristic of Frederick and his court.” --Encyclopedia Brittanica

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.