On the fast of the Ninth of Av, many Ashkenazi congregations recite an elegy “for the martyrs of York,” who were victims of a wave of anti-Semitic violence that swept through Britain following the coronation of Richard I. Recently uncovered evidence suggests that the beleaguered community swiftly recovered from the calamity. Rosa Doherty writes:
The tranche of information “dispels myths and challenges preconceptions” of what life was like for Jews in the years following the pogrom of 1190, when the city’s entire Jewish community was besieged inside Clifford’s Tower at York Castle by an anti-Semitic mob. The tower was burned down by locals after fabricated stories, which came to be known as the blood libel, spread that Jews were guilty of murdering Christian children and using their blood to perform religious rituals. An estimated 150 York Jews were murdered or took their own lives rather than renounce their faith.
Using documents from the Durham Cathedral Archives, academics have created digital reconstructions of the houses where the York’s most prominent Jewish citizens lived and have pinpointed the location of the city’s first synagogue. They have also traced how leading figures from the Jewish community cooperated with the senior clergy of York Minster in purchasing the large stone building which became the city’s Guildhall.
They include Leo Episcopus, his son-in-law Aaron of York, and Aaron’s nephew Josce le Jovene. Leo and Aaron were representatives of the Jewish community of England, and in the 1230s and 1240s the latter was thought to be the richest man in the country.
York recently welcomed its first resident rabbi since the expulsion of the Jews from England under King Edward I in 1290.