Synods of the Roman Catholic Church, possessing legislative power in matters pertaining to doctrine and discipline. The Apostles' synod at Jerusalem (Acts xv.) is regarded as the oldest example of such an assembly. Besides the general (ecumenical) councils, of which the Catholic Church recognizes twenty, there are nationaland provincial councils and diocesan synods. The decisions of these lesser synods were naturally authoritative only within their own particular districts; but as they were sometimes recognized by other provincial synods, or even by a general council, they acquired a more or less general validity. Many of the Church councils have concerned themselves with the Jews, with the object of removing Judaizing institutions and teachings from among Christians, destroying any influence which Jews might exercise upon Christians, preventing, on the one hand, the return to Judaism of baptized Jews, and devising, on the other, means to convert Jews to Christianity. It is characteristic of the decisions of these councils in respect to the Jews that up to the end of the Middle Ages they became ever harsher and more hostile, a few isolated instances only of benevolent resolutions standing on record. Many of the Church decrees, however, were enforced only after they had been several times confirmed; while some of them were never enforced at all.

Spanish Synods.

The Jews are mentioned for the first time in the resolutions of the synod at Elvira, at the beginning of the fourth century, immediately after the persecutions under Diocletian. The synod opposed the custom existing among Christians of having the fruits of their fields blessed by Jews, and forbade all familiar intercourse, especially eating, with Jews (canons 49, 50). The spirit of intolerance, arising almost before the persecution of the Christians themselves had ended, remained characteristic of the Spanish Church. When the Arian creed was exchanged for the Catholic by the third Toledo Synod held under Reccared in 582, resolutions hostile to the Jews were passed. The synod forbade intermarriage with Jews, and claimed the children of mixed marriages for Christianity. It disqualified Jews from holding any public office in which they would have power to punish Christians, and forbade them to keep slaves for their own use (canon 14). Still more severe are the decrees of the fourth Synod of Toledo, in 633 (canons 57-66), directed more especially against the pretended Christianity of those converted by force under Sisebut. Though it was decreed that in the future no Jew should be baptized by force, those who were once baptized were obliged to remain Christians. Whoever protected the Jews was threatened with excommunication. The sixth Synod of Toledo, in 638, confirmed King Chintila's decree providing for the expulsion of the Jews, and demanded that every future king on his accession should take an oath to observe faithfully the laws concerning the Jews. The twelfth Synod of Toledo, in 681, went furthest, and adopted in its resolutions (canon 90) King Erwig's laws in reference to Jews ("Leges Visigothorum," xii. 3): celebration of the Sabbath and of feast-days, observance of dietary laws, work on Sunday, defense of their religion, and even emigration were forbidden. One generation later Spain was under Moorish dominion.

Other Synods

More comprehensive were the measures adopted by the councils outside of Spain. Before 450 they confined themselves to the prohibition of familiar intercourse with Jews; of the celebration of their feast-days, especially the Passover; of resting from labor on their Sabbath; of entrance into their synagogues, etc. The General Council of Chalcedon (451) went a step further, though only as a result of previous resolutions, in forbidding intermarriage—at first only in the case of the children of lectors or precentors (canon 14). The synods of Orléans (in 533 and 538) and the above-mentioned Spanish synods forbade marriages between Jews and Christians altogether, and this legislation was repeated. by the Synod of Rome in 743. As the Jews themselves were opposed to such marriage, there was no difficulty in the enforcement of these decrees. Only in countries where Christianity had not yet gained entire mastery was there a repetition of these marriage prohibitions, as in Hungary (1092) and in Spain (1239). The Quinisext Synod of Constantinople, in 692, and a number of later synods forbade Christians to receive treatment from Jewish physicians. In spite of this interdiction (repeated several times, at Avignon as late as 1594), even popes often employed Jews as court physicians.

Third Lateran Council, 1179.

After the Synod of Orléans, in 538, the councils turned their attention to the Christian slaves in the service of Jews, at first merely prescribing the protection of the slaves' persons and religious belief, but later prohibiting absolutely the possession of Christian slaves. Together with this decree, which only repeated a law in the Theodosian Code, came laws forbidding Jews to have free Christians in their employ. By a general decree of the third Lateran Council of 1179 (canon 26), Christians were strictly forbidden to act as servants to Jews, with so little effect, however, that nearly all later Church councils had to renew the interdict; for instance, the Synod of Milan in 1565 (canon 14). Jews of all lands were in great fear of the third Lateran Council ("Shebeṭ Yehudah," ed. Wiener, p. 112). Their fears, however, proved groundless; for, aside from the decree in respect to the employment of Christian servants, especially of nurses and midwives—a decree due to the fear of the common people's apostasy to Judaism—the following are the important decisions of the council: (1) Christians must not live together with Jews (a repetition of an old decree). (2) new synagogues must not be built; old ones may be repaired only when dilapidated, but on no account may they be beautified; (3) the testimony of Christians against Jews must be admitted, since Jews are accepted as witnesses against Christians; (4) neophytes must be protected against the fanaticism of the Jews, and Jews are forbidden to disinherit baptized persons (compare "Codex Theodosian.," xvi. 8, 28). A characteristic clause states that Jews may be protected only for reasons of common humanity.

Fourth Lateran Council, 1215.

The fourth Lateran Council, in 1215, was of crucial importance. Its resolutions inaugurated a new era of ecclesiastical legislation in regard to the Jews, and reduced them virtually to the grade of pariahs. In the south of France an assembly of Jewish notables, which was held at the demand of Isaac Benveniste, sent a delegation to Rome to try to avert the impending evil. The last four resolutions or canons which the council adopted were concerned with the Jews.Canon 67 adopts measures against usury by the Jews. A synod at Avignon had anticipated the Lateran Council in this respect, and it was imitated by other councils of the thirteenth century. At the same time very strict regulations were made against Lombard usurers, who, according to Matthew of Paris, were much worse than the Jews. For houses and landed property Jews were obliged to give a tithe to the Church, and besides each Jewish family had to pay at Easter a tax of six denarii. Canon 68 ordains a special dress for Jews and Saracens, ostensibly "to prevent sexual intercourse, which has occasionally occurred by mistake," but in reality to make a sharp distinction between Jews and Christians. The Jewish badge and hat exposed the Jews to scorn and ridicule, and their complete abasement dates from this time. Later councils, even up to comparatively modern times, have renewed these regulations, fixing the form and color of the Jewish badge in various countries, or forbidding the Jews to wear certain costumes (see Badge; Head, Covering of).

Because many Jews were said to parade in their best clothes during Holy Week (in which the Feast of the Passover usually falls) on purpose to mock the Christians, the Jews were not thenceforth allowed to leave their houses at all during those days. This Draconian decree, however, supported by similar decrees of French and Spanish synods of the sixth century, was not without its advantages for the Jews, as many subsequent synods (for instance, at Narbonne, 1227; Béziers, 1246) were obliged expressly to protect the Jews against ill treatment during Holy Week. Other synods of the thirteenth century forbade Jews to eat meat on Christian fast-days (Avignon, 1209), or to carry it across the street (Vienna, 1267). The synods of Narbonne (1227), Béziers (1246), Albi (1255), and Anse (1300) forbade altogether the sale of meat by Jews. Canon 69, which declares Jews disqualified from holding public offices, only incorporated in ecclesiastical law a decree of the Holy Christian Empire. As has been mentioned, the synods of Toledo, and the French councils also, had debarred Jews from the office of judge, and from any office in which they would possess the right to punish Christians. The fourth Lateran Council simply extended this statute over the whole Roman Catholic world, referring to the synods of Toledo in support of its decision. Canon 70 takes measures to prevent converted Jews from returning to their former belief.

Vienna Synod of 1267.

The concluding act of the fourth Lateran Council—the Crusades decree—compelled Jewish creditors to renounce all claim to interest on debts, and facilitated in other ways the movements of the Crusaders. Similar ordinances were adopted by the first Council of Lyons (1245). The decisions of the Synod of Vienna, in 1267, were practically the same as those of the fourth Lateran Council, but were more severe in some points. For example, Jews were forbidden to frequent Christian inns or baths; they were ordered to stay at home with closed doors and windows when the host was carried past, etc. Nevertheless, these decrees did not succeed in making entirely unbearable the position of the Jews in Austria (see Bärwald, in "Jahrbuch für lsraeliten,"1859). The same may be said of the decrees of the Hungarian Council at Ofen, in 1279 (Grätz, "Geschichte," vii. 139 et seq.).

The later councils went a step further in restricting and humiliating the Jews by limiting their freedom in the choice of dwelling-places. The Synod of Bourges, 1276, ordained that Jews should live only in cities or large towns, in order that the simple country folk might not be led astray. Similarly the Synod of Ravenna, 1311, ordained that Jews should be allowed to live only in cities that had synagogues. The Synod of Bologna, 1317, forbade renting or selling houses to Jews, and the Synod of Salamanca, 1335, forbade Jews to live near a churchyard or in houses belonging to the Church. Finally, the Spanish Council of Palencia, 1388, under the presidency of Pedro de Luna, demanded separate quarters for Jews and Saracens, a demand afterward renewed by many Church councils.

Council of Basel.

The compulsory conversion of Jews was often forbidden by the councils (for instance, Toledo, 633; Prague, 1349). Toward the end of the Middle Ages the General Council of Basel, in its nineteenth sitting (1434), adopted a new method of moral suasion by compelling the Jews to listen periodically to sermons for their conversion, a decision renewed, for instance, by the Synod of Milan in 1565.

A last attack on the scanty freedom of the Jews was brought about directly by the art of printing. The committee on index of the General Council of Trent (1563) decided to refer to the pope the question of placing the Talmud on the list of forbidden books; and although the Italian Jews succeeded with bribes in preventing the absolute prohibition of the work, it was permitted to be printed only on condition that the title "Talmud" and all passages supposed to be hostile to Christianity be omitted (Mortara, in "Hebr. Bibl." 1862, pp. 74, 96; see Censorship of Hebrew Books).

Vatican Council, 1869-70.

The General Vatican Council of 1869-70 did not concern itself at all about the Jews beyond inviting them, on the suggestion of the convert Léman, to attend the council (Friedberg, "Sammlung der Aktenstücke zum Ersten Vatikanischen Concil." pp. 65 et seq.).

Regarding a supposed synod in Rome in 314-324, directed against the Jews (Jaffe, "Regesta Pontif. Roman."), nothing is known. Untrustworthy also is the report that a synod, summoned at Toulouse in 883 by the Frankish king Carloman, on the complaint brought by Jews of their ill treatment, ordained the corporal chastisement of a Jew before the church door on Christmas Day, Good Friday, and Ascension Day, and that the degradation was increased by compelling the Jew to acknowledge his punishment as just (Mansi, "Concilia," xvii. 565).

  • Hardouin, Conciliorum Collectio, Paris, 1715;
  • Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, Florence, 1759-98:
  • Hefele. Conciliengeschichte, Freiburg, 1890-93;
  • Binterim, Pragmatische Geschichte der Deutschen National,-Provinzial-und Vorzüglichsten Diözesanconcilien;
  • Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, Index, s.v.
G. H. V.
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