In 1095, Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade to wrest Jerusalem from Muslim rule. To some Christians, it seemed unnecessary to travel great distances to fight infidels when there were infidels to attack in their own towns and villages. Thus in 1096 brutal mob violence was unleashed on the Jews of northwestern Europe, and especially the Rhineland. Leading rabbis among the survivors later composed kinot, or dirges, replete with complex biblical and talmudic allusions, to commemorate the resulting destruction. These have since been incorporated into the liturgy of the Ninth of Av—observed this coming Sunday—on which Jews mourn the destruction of the two temples and other national calamities.
In conversation with Nachi Weinstein, the historian Ephraim Kanarfogel explains the context and background of the massacres of 1096, how rabbis addressed the halakhic and moral predicaments they created, the kinot literature they gave rise to, and the ways they were interpreted through the theological lens of the binding of Isaac. He also dismantles the myth that European Jews went like proverbial lambs to the slaughter; in fact, there were instances where Jews—sometimes led by their rabbis—took up arms against their oppressors. (Audio, 62 minutes.)