Before the institution of the mendicant friars the monastic orders did not play a prominent part in Jewish persecutions. The Cistercian Bernard of Clairvaux actively supported the Jews at the time of the Crusaders' massacres in 1147. On the other hand, it was the Cistercian Arnold who led his Crusaders to the massacre of the Toledo Jews in 1212. The establishment of the Dominicans and Franciscans early in the thirteenth century changed the whole aspect of affairs; the former order constituted themselves the sword of the Church, and from that time Dominicans were in the forefront of nearly every persecution for four hundred years. Even the Franciscans, who were not so aggressive, showed in many ways their antipathy to Jews. Thus on first going to Cambridge they obtained possession of the synagogue (Brewer, "Monumenta Franciscana," pp. 17, 18). But it was the Dominicans who came more often in conflict with the Jews, to procure whose conversion Gregory IX. arranged for a distinctive propaganda on the part of the Dominicans.Dominican Raymund de Peñaforte.
The chief agent of Gregory IX. in Aragon and Castile was the Dominican general Raymund de Peñaforte, the confessor to James I. of Aragon; he began by erecting seminaries for the teaching of Hebrew, in the hope of subduing his adversaries with their own weapons. Among his disciples was a baptized Jew named Pablo Christiani, who held a public disputation with Moses Naḥmanides at Barcelona in 1263. Naḥmanides was afterward banished for publishing an account of the disputation, and the consequence was that Christiani was appointed a traveling missionary to the Jews at their own expense. His efforts meeting with small success, in the following year a commission of Dominicans and Franciscans was appointed by the papacy to examine the Talmud. On this commission were Peñaforte, Pablo Christiani, and three other Dominicans, one of whom, Raymund Martin, was the author of several anti-Jewish works, the "Pugio Fidei" being the most important. The result of this commission was the censorship and extirpation of offending parts of the Talmud, and holocausts of copies.Action of Franciscans.
In every country subject to Rome the Dominicans were entrusted with the execution of her policy. In England the Dominicans had equal malice but less power. Ever since the time of the first Norman kings the English monarchs had resisted papal aggression, and, furthermore, the Franciscans, elsewhere ready to assist the Dominicans in their zealous works, appear to have been in a state of rivalry toward the latter. When a number of Jews were imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1255, awaiting execution for the supposed murder of Hugh of Lincoln, the Franciscans ("for a consideration," says Matthew Paris) interceded for them; nevertheless eighteen were hanged (the "Annals"of Burton, however, attribute this intervention to the Dominicans). A few years later the Franciscans figure again in the history of the English Jews, this time in opposition to them. In the year 1270 the Jews petitioned the king and council that they might retain the right of advowson with their estates. This request was being favorably considered when one of the Franciscans cried out that it was contrary to the honor of God that Christians should be subject to Jews, at the same time accusing the Jews of plotting secretly against the Church. The result of this was that fresh anti-Jewish legislation was adopted (see England).
The English Dominican Robert de Reddinge, studying Hebrew for the purpose of better opposing Judaism, became converted, took the name of "Haggai," and a few years afterward married a Jewess. Edward I. handed him over to the Archbishop of Canterbury for punishment, but in some manner he escaped. Enraged at this, the Dominicans persuaded the queen-mother to inaugurate a series of persecutions and expulsions of Jews from various cities under her influence, notably Cambridge.
In France and England the persecutions came mainly from, the crown, in Germany from the populace, but in Spain it was the papacy that directed the attack. The rise of the Flagellants had been attended by Jewish massacres. Among these fanatics was the Dominican Vicente Ferrer (since canonized), who had given up a life of case to wander through Europe with his bands of ascetics. The Spanish Jews, then at the height of their power, he completely humbled by compelling the issue of humiliating restrictions. In the years 1412 and 1413 he caused the conversion of about 20,000 Jews in Aragon and Castile. Don John I. of Portugal, however, stood out resolutely against him and threatened him with death should he cross the frontier.
In Bohemia the crusade against the Hussites was made the excuse for a fresh attack upon the Jews by the Dominicans. The alleged crucifixion of a Moor in Majorca was the excuse for the persecution of the large Jewish community in that island. A mixed court of Franciscans and Dominicans investigated the affair, and the Jews saved themselves from death only by going over in a body to Catholicism (1391).
But the Dominicans were not the only fanatics. In the later years of the fifteenth century Bernardinus of Feltre, a Franciscan, went up and down Italy denouncing the Jews. In Holy Week of 1475 the body of a child was found caught in a grating in the River Adige, close to a Jew's house. The usual story of ritual murder was set afloat, and all the Jews were burned, except four who accepted Christianity; this was brought about by Bernardinus, aided by the Franciscans and Dominicans. In other parts of Italy he was not so fortunate. The Duke of Milan forbade him to preach. In Florence and Pisa, and then in Venice and Padua, he was also prohibited, and ordered out of the country.
Another Franciscan who devoted his life to Jewish persecution, was John of Capistrano, a man of the same type and life as Ferrer. He visited all the provinces of Germany, and incited the fanatical dukes Louis and Albert of Bavaria to the issue of fresh laws against the Jews. Even in Ratisbon, where the Jews had long been almost on a footing with their fellow citizens, his influence was felt. Bishop Godfrey of Würzburg, who had granted the Jews most favorable treatment, was constrained to expel them from his diocese. Capistrano thence went to Silesia. A host-tragedy was immediately bruited abroad; all the Jews of Breslau were imprisoned, of whom forty-one were burned and the rest banished (1454). Even in Poland, where the Jews had long enjoyed exceptional privileges, they were degraded to the level of their coreligionists in the rest of Europe, through the influence of Capistrano. For the part taken by the Dominicans in Spain after the capture of Granada see Inquisition. The chief Dominican actors were Alfonso de Ojeda, one of the chief agents in its establishment; Miguel Morillo, the inquisitor of Roussillon; and Thomas de Torquemada. For the share of the Dominicans in the Reuchlin-Pfefferkorn controversy see
- Graetz, Hist. iii. 519 et al.;
- Liber de Antiquis Legibus.