Early Medieval Jewish Policy in Western Europe by Bernard S Bachrach, University of Minnesota Press; 213 pages, 1976.
Excerpt of review from Madole 2/18/2005 :
This is an important work that has largely been overlooked by those concerned with the question of Jewish influence over Western society. Even Prof. Kevin McDonald in his comprenhisive trilogy on the Jewish question appears to have taken no notice of this important study.
The author, Bernard S Bachrach, is a learned and scholarly Jew who writes from a Jewish perspective for a largely academic Jewish audience. Dr. Bachrach was at the time the book was published in 1976 both a Prof. of Medieval Studies and an Associate Director of the Program in Jewish Studiesat the University of Minnesota.
Dr. Bachrach's study concerns itself with Western Europe during the period from 476CE to 877CE a time and place where it is generally believed that Jews were a small, downtrodden and persecuted minority. Dr. Bachrach asserts that although the prevailing conception of the early Middlr Ages is a period in which Jews "were few in number, powerless and easilly victomized though innocent" and that "the rulers of Christian countries, guided by the Church, subjected the Jews to a fitful system of forced conversion and expulsion, backed up by artificially contrived pograms" the reality was far different and adds that the generally accepted "picture of strong monarchs, a powerful Church, and an insignificant Jewry, however does not fit the evidence for early Medieval conditions". Out of 85 major monarchs that Dr. Bachrach concerns himself with he concludes that perhaps 9 persued anti Jewish policies and gloats that "whatever the reason for the persecution, it may have contributed to the utter destruction of those who initiated and enforced it".
Jews were a numerous people in the late Roman Empire and had been for centuries. From the time of Alexander the Great Jewish colonies began to appear in many commercial areas throughout the Hellenistic world. They were often granted special priviliges such as immunity from military service and what amounted to a limited form of self government that in effect constituted a state within a state. The priviliged status that the Jews enjoyed under the Hellenist monarchs was continued by Imperial Rome which annexed Egypt along with much of the Near East, both of which contained a large number of Jews. This policy offended the local Greeks who were often at odds with the Jews but with few exceptions the Jews continued to enjoy the favor of Imperial Power. In the early part of the 2nd Century the geographer Strabo of Amaseia wrote concerning the Jews that "This people has already made its way into every city, and it is not east to find any place in the habitable world which has not received this nation and in which it has not made its power felt". Jewish power, then as now, was based on the cohesive tribal nature of World Jewry as well as the skills that many Jews possessed, traits that made them, then as now, useful to the often self serving Gentile ruling elite. When, in the last part of the 5th Century, the Germanic warlords gained defacto control of most of Wester Europe they inherited along with the large "romanized" population a smaller but very significantJewish population that was tightly organized.
Europe was, after the Imperial capitulation in the West, in a state of flux with various warlords contending for supremecy. The Catholic Church and World Jewry were the only transnational organizations with coherent long range plans and the means to implement them. It was against this background that the embattled warlords sought help and profit where they could get it and as there was little to gain and much to lose by opposing Jewish interests they, for the most part, did what was expedient. Thus although there remained on the books many Church inspired laws that were anti Jewish these laws were generally not enforced. As an example the laws forbidding the ownership of Christian slaves by Jews were almost universally ignored and Jews soon came to dominate the slave trade on the Continent. The occassional monarch that attempted an anti Jewish policy was for the most part unsuccessful in having it implemented. Dr. Bachrach notes that these few rulers passed anti Jewish legislation and then passed it again and then again proving that real power resides not with those that promulgate laws but rather with those that possess the power of enforcement. Dr. Bachrach notes approvingly that "all the anti Jewish policies launched during theearly Middle Ages were failures". Reading of the activities of these tragic monarchs recalls to mind the spector of the not to distant disgraced American president Richard Nixon, titular head of the world's most powerful political entity, privately raving impotently at the reality of Jewish power which is not only beyond even his power to curb but is so powerful that he dares not even to publicly identify it. Even in a strictly religious context the Jews enjoyed an extrodinary privilege. Heathens, heretics, ie. anyone who was deemed to deviate from orthodox Catholicism was mercilessly terrorized until they conformed and if they refusedto be liberated from their error they were destroyed. It was a capital offence for the Saxon to refuse to convert to Catholicism however no such draconian efforts were made to liberate the Jews from their error. They were instead granted a protected legal status.
This book is well worth reading for those with a serious interest in the history of the Jewish rise to power. Unfortunately it is out of print and generally only available used at a high price or through a good University level library.