How Medieval France Became Convinced That Jews Were Poisoning Its Wells

Aug. 22 2022

In the 14th century, the Jews of northern Europe—who had already suffered from massacres during the crusades and wholesale expulsion from England in 1290—faced a new problem: they were accused of spreading disease among Christians by poisoning the wells. Tzafrir Barzilay suggests that this libel began with rumors that lepers were deliberately spreading their condition through the water supply, which in turn gave rise to similar accusations against Jews:

In France the allegations convinced officials and rulers to change course and move from defending minority groups to acting against them. The accusations were a phenomenon unique to the later Middle Ages, appearing, flourishing, and declining during a single century.

Toward late June [1321], a month before the king ordered their arrest, such rumors triggered violence against Jews in the county of Anjou. Count Philip of Valois (later King Philip VI) described the events in a letter sent to Pope John XXII shortly afterward. He wrote that June 26, 1321 was an ominous day; a major solar eclipse was seen in Anjou and Touraine, turning the sun red as blood. This report is corroborated by other sources and astronomical data. Philip, who apparently accepted the eclipse as an apocalyptic sign, added that thunderstorms and earthquakes struck, fire rained down from the sky, and even a dragon flew through the air and killed many with its foul breath. He stated that “the inhabitants of the land believed that the end of the world had just come.”

In their panic, the people of Anjou suspected that local Jews had something to do with these ominous signs: “On the next day [June 27], in the said county [Anjou], our people began to attack Jews, because of sorcery that they performed against Christianity.” These suspicions may have been related to well-poisoning accusations, which were already widespread in the Touraine, close to Anjou. However, Philip insists that evidence for Jewish involvement in the plot was found only when suspicious Christians “examined carefully the houses of specific Jews,” probably in search of signs of sorcery.

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Read more at Lapham’s Quarterly

More about: Anti-Semitism, French Jewry, Jewish history, Middle Ages

What Israel Can Offer Africa

Last week, the Israeli analyst Yechiel Leiter addressed a group of scholars and diplomats gathered in Addis Ababa to discuss security issues facing the Horn of Africa. Herewith, some excerpts from his speech:

Since the advent of Zionism and the birth of modern Israel, there has been a strong ideological connection between Israel and the African continent. . . . For decades, [however], the notion that the absence of peace in the Middle East was due the absence of Palestinian statehood prevented a full and strategic partnership with African countries. . . . The visits to Africa by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—in 2016 to East Africa and in 2017 to West Africa—reenergized the natural partnership that was initiated by Israel’s Foreign Minister Golda Meir in the 1960s.

There is much we share, many places where our interests converge. And I don’t mean another military base in Djibouti. . . . One such area involves the safety of waterways in and around the Red Sea. Curtailing contraband, drugs, arms smuggling, and other forms of serious corruption are all vital for us. . . . But the one critical area of cooperation I’d like to put the spotlight on is in the realm of food security, or rather food insecurity.

Imagine Ethiopia’s cows producing 30 or 40 liters of milk a day instead of the two or three that they produce today. Imagine an exponential rise in (organic) meat exports to Middle Eastern and even European countries, the result of increased processing, storage, and transportation possibilities. Cows today can have a microscopic chip behind their ears that sends messages to the farmer’s computer or mobile phone that tracks what the cow ate, what its temperature is, and what care it might need. Imagine a dramatic expansion of the wheat yield that can make Ethiopia a net exporter of wheat—to Egypt, perhaps in the context of negotiations over the waters of the Nile.

Israel has proven technology in all of these agricultural areas and we’re here; we’re neighbors. We are linked to Africa, particularly the Horn of Africa, in so many ways.

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Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Africa, Ethiopia, Israel diplomacy, Israeli agriculture, Israeli technology