On This Day in Jewish History March 16, 1190: 822 years after some 150 Jews were massacred in York’s Clifford Tower

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Centuries later, York comes to terms with the worst anti-Semitic attack in Britain

Now, 822 years after some 150 Jews were massacred in York’s Clifford Tower, a commemoration hopes to dispel the myth of the Cherem of York – the prohibition of resettling the city since the mass-murder.

Source: Haaretz, 3-16-12

Eight hundred and twenty-two years after some 150 Jews were massacred in York’s Clifford Tower, the most comprehensive commemoration of the worst anti-Semitic attack in the British Isles will take place today (Friday) in England’s ancient Capital of the North. The event will be the culmination of an academic project chronicling the York Massacre using advanced technology and dispel, the organizers hope, one of the most pervasive myths of Anglo Jewry, that of the Cherem of York – the prohibition of resettling the city following the mass-murder of its Jews.

Clifford’s Tower, also known as York Castle, is the most distinct landmark dominating the city’s skyline and has served for centuries as York’s symbol. First built as a Norman fort in 1068, it has been rebuilt many times and served as a military keep, prison, law court and today serves as a museum, but the only mention of the most bloody episode in its nine and a half centuries of history is a plaque at the foot of the tower unveiled by the Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Lord Mayor of York in 1978.

York - IPUP York Image Galleries - March 16, 2012 Professor Helen Weinstein at the plaque commemorating the massacre.
Photo by: IPUP York Image Galleries

The York Massacre was just one of a wave of anti-Jewish riots that began eight months earlier at the coronation banquet of King Richard I, when a group of Jews who arrived to pay their respects were forbidden entry. Despite being under the King’s protection, the Jews who had prospered for over a century as money-lenders, became the target for attacks by local noblemen who were anxious to wipe out their large debts. Murderous attacks began in London and spread to other Jewish settlements throughout England.

Richard, who had initially humiliated the Jews at his coronation, was concerned that the attacks were a challenge to his own rule and had a number of the perpetrators executed, while issuing orders to protect the Jews. This, however, put him on a collision course with the church, which he was eager to appease, and in early 1190 the new king embarked on a crusade to the Holy Land while not taking measures to enforce his order. The riots reached the northern towns of Norwich, Lincoln and Stamford in March; homes of Jews in York were attacked, forcing the 150 Jews of the town to take refuge in the royal castle. But as there was no force defending the tower, and the local knights and clergy were leading the attack, the Jews preferred to kill themselves rather than accept forced baptism. Those who did not commit suicide were killed when the castle was set on fire.

The rioters next burned all the records of the Jews financial affairs, thereby absolving them of their debts which would have been payable to the King following the death of the Jews.

The King’s representatives held an inquest and fined the city, but none of the murderers were ever brought to trial, many of them later joining Richard on his crusade.
No memory was left in the city of the killings, but archaeological digs have revealed burnt remnants of the original structure beneath the tower.

“When I first arrived in York in 2006,” says Professor Helen Weinstein, “as a Jew I was shocked to find that there was almost no public reference to the massacre.” Weinstein, who had arrived at the University of York as the founding director of its Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP) had of course heard of the massacre – her grandmother had even warned her that there was a Cherem, a rabbinical prohibition from living in York, and she took it upon herself to assemble a modern narrative….READ MORE

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