Monday, 11 July 2016

#39 Joseph Ziegler, ‘Reflections of the Jewry Oath in the Middle Ages’ in Diana Wood (ed.), Christianity and Judaism, Studies in Church History, 29 (London, 1992), pp. 209-220.

This entry and the list in the appendix is based upon a section of MA dissertation and I would, as a consequence, ask that it not be reproduced or used without my permission.

Academic Entry:

A discussion of the ‘Jewry Oath’ which draws on evidence from the Holy Roman Empire considering the way in which the oath was enacted and developed.

General Entry:

For my MA dissertation I am writing about the moneylending practices of 13th century Anglo-Jewry which involves discussing the 1194 ‘Form of Pleas’ which includes a discussion of how Jewish moneylending is to be conducted. There is a section in that which is much underrepresented in the historiography about Jews swearing an oath. I’ve made several comments upon this in a general context, which I’ve based this review on (though expanded). I had not, however, thought that this might be of significance more generally until I attended a talk last week at the Leeds IMC which argued from a legal history perspective and demonstrated, convincingly, that swearing was a much more prominent in the courts than I had realised. I should note, that this does not change the way that I discuss the entry in my dissertation because I am arguing from a purely moneylending perspective, but I suspect that the paper that I heard will be the beginning of the end of the traditional scholarship. One of the pieces of scholarship which I use in my dissertation is this essay by Joseph Ziegler which is basically focused upon the Holy Roman Empire, but it touches on English and French Jewry so I include it in this blog. In his essay Ziegler provides an interesting discussion of the ‘Jewry Oath’, which is truly fascinating. In Germanic  examples, he demonstrates that historians have often focused on the sensational (even bizarre) examples of the oath, which could be very long and intense. Attempting to move away from this to highlight a point of legal context which has been lost within these traditional narratives and, in the case of the Holy Roman Empire, this is an engaging argument. In particular, the ways that this oath developed so as to be supported by Christians and the way that it was perceived in the Jewish sources is fascinating, to me at least. In addition, the way that changes are explained within terms of contemporary contexts is handled well.

One point in this essay that I strongly disagree with is his assertion that the ‘Jewry Oath’ was not enforced in England during the thirteenth-century based upon the fact that no formulae specifying it can be found. This is, I think, to misunderstand the English evidence. As a number of examples from the end of the twelfth-century demonstrate (listed in the appendix below), the oath that the Jews were expected to take in courts and business transactions was effectively the same as the Christian oath with the Torah or the Pentateuch substituted for the Bible. As a consequence, there was little need to write this down for perpetuity – it was not so much a ‘Jewish oath’ as an ‘English Oath’ – and there is evidence in the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews demonstrating that this continued during the thirteenth century. Moreover, Ziegler struggles to determine what the corresponding consequence for perjury would be – for Christians it was excommunication but for Jews, as the 1194 Chapters illustrate, in the case of England the consequence could be just as severe: forfeiture of goods and property. Thus it would seem that if the conclusions reached in this essay are accurate then the Jews of medieval England operated according to a different model than is true for Germany and France. This also hints at a level of integration and cross-cultural exchange (even trust) which was not present on the continent. That being said, there is a very talented PhD student who, on the basis of a 20 minute paper, I get the impression would argue that this relationship was less beneficial. That viewpoint is formed on the basis of Augustinian perspective, but as I have said repeatedly I don’t really see this from a socio-gendered perspective. However, unlike my thoughts on Ziegler’s paper, I find this point to be a historiographical rather than a factual dispute.


Charter granted to Isaac son of Rabbi Josce by Richard I – Church, State and Jew in the Middle Ages, ed. Robert Chazan (New York, 1980), p. 68.

Charter granted Rabbi Joseph by King Richard I – TNA C 52/21 (my apologies the membrane number is omitted from my notes)

Chapters of the Jews, 1194 Form of Pleas – Chronica Magistri de Houedene, 3, ed. William Stubbs (London, 1870), p. 267.

Charter of Liberties to the Jews by King John – Select Pleas, Starrs and Other Records from the Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, A.D. 1220-1284, ed. J. M. Rigg (London, 1902), p. 1.

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