Final Assignment: Analysis of Passage from Church, State and Jew in the Middle Ages
The letter written by James II, ruler of the Kingdom of Aragon, referred to an incident referring the loss of a young Christian boy, as reported by his mother, in the city of Saragossa. The Christians dominating the whole of Aragon that time blamed the Jews in Saragossa for the loss of the young boy. The whole incident indicated in the letter written by James II involves somewhat a conspiracy set up by the Christians against the Jews in Aragon. Given that the Christians form the majority of Aragon that time, there is an understanding that they favored any form of discrimination against the Jews, although the letter written by James II noted that they were bereft of any such benefit over the matter in question. The Jews understood that they no one in their defense but themselves, as they have been put under duress by the slanderous findings coming from the connivance of the magician and the young Christian girl summoned by municipal authorities,. Such has led the Jews to conduct a search on the young boy independently to prove that the accusation hurled against them has no substantial bearing. After quite some time, the Jews found the young boy under the custody of an alms-bearer, contrary to the accusation fuelled by the magician and the young Christian girl that a group of Jews brought the young boy inside a house of a Jew and killed there with his heart and liver extracted from his body. The safety of the young boy, while having relieved the municipal authorities, prompted James II to write the letter to indicate that he and the ruling authorities of Aragon would no longer tolerate any fraudulent instance against the Jews in the future, alongside the prohibition of using magic for such investigations. The announcement made by James II, which he addressed to all people in Aragon, served as a redeeming point for the Jews in the kingdom which, while not being completely free from the persecution of Christians thereinafter, received substantial protection as subjects. From the foregoing, it is clear that the ruling authorities of Aragon did not seek to discriminate the Jews in the kingdom, despite pressure coming from the Christian majority (Chazan 127-128).
Written by James II in 1294, the letter depicting the slanderous accusation against the Jews in Aragon over the loss of a young boy serves as somewhat a welcome departure from the overall characterization of the kingdom that time. Christians have dominated Aragon that time, and they did not hesitate to exert their power as the majority by discriminating and antagonizing Jews from many aspects of life in the kingdom. In response, the Jews in Aragon sought to seclude themselves from the Christian majority by forming aljamas, or communities, intensely engaged in the improvement of their social, political and economic lives as recognized subjects of the kingdom. Whereas there is a sufficient showing that the ruling authorities of Aragon, particularly James II, did not discriminate against the Jews, the persistence of the Christian majority proved a strong source of pressure. Understandably, the Jews in Aragon did not lead comfortable lives when they dealt with Christians, but they were able to prosper among themselves and thrived further under the balanced protection provided by the ruling authorities of the kingdom. Therefore, the letter written by James II is an important historical document proving that the pressures brought forth by the Christian majority in Aragon during the time of its writing did not influence the ruling authorities of the kingdom. In return, such has portrayed the Jews as a protected, albeit not necessarily favored, minority whose constraints due to their religion were social, rather than institutional, in nature (Chazan 127-128).
Much about the turbulent past of the Jews in Aragon, now part of modern-day Spain is derivable from the brief yet commanding letter written by James II. As the letter has argued, James II condemned slander as an offense in the eyes of the ruling authorities of the kingdom, without biased reference to the religious groups involved – the Christians and Jews. Moreover, the letter written by James II did not ignore the greater reality on the rift between Christians and Jews that time, with the ruling authorities of the kingdom apparently portraying themselves as neutral towards the desire of the former to dominate over the other. Although anyone with a keen mindset on history may find it difficult to conceive the possibility of neutrality in state affairs concerning religion at any point in the pre-modern era, the letter written by James II serves as a rare, if not completely esoteric, historical document confirming the foregoing (Chazan 127-128).
As the letter written by James II has stated, the ruling authorities of Aragon are more concerned with the abidance of all subjects of the kingdom to rules against slander and use of magic than on favoring either the Christians or Jews from one another. Paramount to the concerns of the ruling authorities of Aragon is the security and order of the kingdom, which is clearly emphasized through the way James II have condemned both slander and the use of magic for the dangerous implications both could cause unto the already fragile and divided social relations within the kingdom. Despite pressures from the Christians, the letter written by James II served as a rightful exposition aiming to water down the overconfidence they have as they seek to dominate the Jews – one that has implications disastrous to the security and order of the kingdom. At the same time, it is readily observable as well that the protection endowed by the ruling authorities of Aragon to the Jews was not a form of preferential treatment, but is more of a manifestation of their desire to keep security and order in place within the kingdom (Chazan 127-128).
On the part of the Christians, the letter written by James II has effectively shown their cunning stance against the Jews. The mother of the lost young boy, who is Christian, has effectively attracted the sympathy of her fellows from the Christian majority in Aragon. Given the considerable difficulty involved in finding the lost young boy, the Christians found a viable opportunity in the form of an express, albeit illegal, permission granted by the municipal authorities to use magic as a means of solving the problem. The Christian girl that connived with the magician in searching for the lost young boy through magic unabashedly claimed the direct involvement of Jews in the incident. In fact, the Christian girl went as far as claiming to have seen the lost young boy die under the murderous hands of the Jews that kidnapped him, who in turn also took his heart and liver before having his corpse buried in a specific location. Ultimately, the municipal authorities effectively disproved the accusations made by the Christian girl, as they took matters into their own hands by visiting the locations she has envisioned with the help of the magician. With no corpse of the lost young boy found nor any trace of bloodshed in any of the locations the Christian girl and the magician have envisioned together, the municipal authorities came to see the Christians in contempt, with their conspiracy to pin down the Jews through the incident becoming more apparent towards the end (Chazan 127-128).
The Jews stand as the undisputed victims of the case depicted in the letter written by James II, although the problem itself does not involve a Jew as the victim. Instead, the Christians used the Jews as their inevitable scapegoats on case of the lost young boy, seeing that their ultimate goal is to dominate all of Aragon by fully establishing Christianity within the kingdom. In fact, there is a sufficient showing from the letter written by James II that the Jews have taken the matter to themselves preemptively by choosing to conduct their own investigation on the case of the lost young boy. The Jews did the foregoing despite the falsity of the allegations made by the Christian girl and the magician. Although the Jews prevailed by being the ones who have found the lost young boy, one could see through the intensity of the pressure inflicted by the Christians unto them from the moment they prompted to conduct an investigation independent of any orders coming from the municipal authorities. There is no showing as well that any of the Jews ever believed the allegations coming from the Christian girl and the magician, which were dubious at best coming from the methods the two have used that are exploitable for the purpose of the larger conspiracy of Christians to dominate Aragon. The letter of James II has clearly shown from the onset that the Jews have readily accepted their status as the scapegoats of Christians in Aragon; the fact indicating their seclusion into aljamas from the beginning of the controversy has clearly shown their protective nature within the kingdom (Chazan 127-128).
In sum, it is crucial to emphasize the fact that the letter written by James II featured the strong frictions between the Christians and Jews in Aragon through the microcosmic case of the lost young boy. Divisions among actors – Christians and Jews alike, further made the letter written by James II more important as a historical document accurately describing the time of its writing in Aragon. With the immense influence imparted by the Christian majority across Aragon and its neighbors that form part of present-day Spain, one could easily turn down the appealing assumption of an outright bias on the part of the kingdom towards the Christians. Nevertheless, the letter written by James II sought to show the impartiality of the ruling authorities of Aragon through the resolution of a particular controversy, which it deemed as one filled with violations of slander and use of magic on the part of the Christians. Those who are even made more skeptical of the ultimate turn of events by seeing that James II placed undue favor unto the protection of the Jews have to realize as well that the main concern of the ruling authorities of Aragon centered on the maintenance of security and order within the kingdom. From the onset, it is clear that the Christians unjustly maligned the Jews with weak and illegally made accusations. The neutrality of the ruling authorities of Aragon only gave the Jews the justice due unto them, despite the prevailing dominance Christians have exerted over the kingdom during that time (Chazan 127-128).
Given the significant implications on the tense relationship between the Christians and Jews in Aragon, the letter written by James II stands as a historical document that poses a strong significance on Jewish life within a non-Jewish setting. As the letter written by James II has portrayed a Christian-dominated setting, the Jews within Aragon that time were struggling with having to live normally within an environment that is particularly unsettling for them. Needless to say, the Jews in Aragon at the time of the letter written by James II had to resort to modes of protection that are not reliant on anyone outside their contingent, given their understandable paranoia provided by the permeating presence of the Christians. The ruling authorities of Aragon, however, have successfully proven to the Jews that they are upright in implementing their laws, in that they did not pin down any of the parties at fault based on their religion but more on the offenses forbidden under their legal system. The ruling authorities of Aragon did not make the verdicts of slander and use of magic, both of which are heavily attributable to the Christians, based on any prevailing bias. Rather, the ruling authorities of Aragon did so in full consideration of the attendant facts written in the letter by James II. The facts pointing to slander and the use of magic were highly apparent, to the point that even the Jews were frightened enough to call on an independent investigation on the lost young boy as a matter of great urgency on their part. The Jews did so just to show that they played no part in the controversy, despite constant accusations of kidnapping and murdering the hapless victim thrown against them. In sum, one could emphasize that the letter written by James II exhibited the systematic persecution of Jews by their religious rivals, the Christians. Although the ruling authorities of Aragon, particularly James II, did not seek to institutionalize such form of persecution, the sheer dominance of Christians in Aragon has allowed them to sway the opinion of the majority against the Jews with poorly substantiated claims. The foregoing stands as a harmful form of persecution against the Jews, which has prevailed and developed further to threaten their existence throughout history (Chazan 127-128).
With a lengthy history of persecution, the Jews have since struggled to withstand all the harsh conditions they have thrived in over time, particularly those set against them by the Christians. From that premise alone, one could treat with great significance the letter written by James II as a historical document. The letter written by James II is an invaluable aid to identifying the Jews beyond impressions of being a persecuted religious group, in that their resilience and integrity have emanated amidst pressure coming from the Christians in Aragon given the controversy. By congregating in aljamas, the Jews in the letter written by James II were able to exhibit their developed sense of collective self-reliance, the success of which being not just limited to the case of the lost young boy in Aragon, but also to other notable historical examples as well. As a persecuted group, the Jews carried with them the unnecessary yet compelling burden of proving themselves right in any scapegoating instance thrown against them. In the case of the letter written by James II, they not only proved themselves innocent, but also compelled the ruling authorities of Aragon to exercise their prudence in acting against the slanderous and legally offensive acts of the Christians without highlighting their beleaguered status in the kingdom characterized by persecution. The extraordinary character shown by the Jews in the letter written by James II, which otherwise would have placed them in a perilous position within a historically disadvantageous period, is reminiscent of their general character under more disastrous situations. The non-Jews in the letter written by James II, the Christians, has paled in comparison to the Jews, in that their resort to slander and the use of magic has placed them in a less honorable position indicative of their clear intentions on persecution (Chazan 127-128).
Chazan, Robert. Church, State, and Jew in the Middle Ages. Springfield, NJ: Behrman House Publishers, 1979. Print.