How Medieval France Became Convinced That Jews Were Poisoning Its Wells

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.

Read more at Lapham’s Quarterly

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


Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship