In the medieval Christian world, Jews found themselves driven towards one profession – the world of finance. Christian society at that time was run by the feudal system, with the nobles, who did the fighting, the priests, who did the praying and the serfs, who did the work! There was a vacancy for a “middle class”, for merchants, traders and money-lenders and the Jews fit the bill perfectly. It was ironic that the feudal system, that stifled so many in its all-embracing grip, gave such freedom of movement to the Jews.
Money-lending became the profession that most characterised the Jews of the day and it was all because of their own book, the Bible. You see, Christians of the day felt that the Bible forbade them to lend money to each other with interest, yet there was a growing need for credit in the expanding markets of the day, so someone had to lend the money and take the risks. Enter the Jews.
For some reason the Church paid special attention to the fifth book of the Torah, concerning money-lending.
“Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.” (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)
Suddenly the Christians were Israelites, already! Ignoring the large bulk of the 613 laws that made up the Torah, they focused on this one, reasoning that as they were now Israelites, that made them foreigners to the former Israelites – the Jews. So it was OK for Jews to lend money to Christians, who knew very well that, when push came to shove, they could always refuse to repay the loans, as the Jews were not exactly in a position to enforce any agreements made!
An example of their precarious existence was an edict by Henry III of England in 1253. In it he declared that “no Jew [should] remain in England unless he do the king service, and that from the hour of birth every Jew, whether male or female, serve us in some way.” The same edict severely limited everyday Jewish life. Identifying badges had to be worn in public and Jews could no longer live in towns unless granted special licences by the King. Nor, in the future, could they eat or buy meat during the Lenten season. Henry also ordered that Jews worshipping in their synagogues had to “subdue their voices in performing their ritual offices, that Christians may not hear them.”
But there was worse, far worse. Although the Popes of the day tended to protect the Jews, the Church in general was no friend of the Jew. One reason was fear. Having labeled the Jews as children of the devil, their very survival was an affront to the Church, implying that the devil was gaining ground in the “war against the saints”.
Why didn’t God just destroy them, to show His power? Well, He was committed to their survival, not their annihilation and it�s now clear, looking back with hindsight, to see on whose side the devil was in this particular conflict. While the Jewish “idolaters” were quietly studying the word of God in drab yeshivas in Palestine and Jewish academic centres in the Galut, “Christians” were either arguing among themselves and corrupting themselves and their religion with the most unbiblical practices from the pagan world, or they were kept in ignorance of the true word of God by the Church.
Reading and writing were just for those being groomed in the Church. The vast majority of citizens had never read a Bible for themselves in their life – indeed no Bibles were available in the languages of the common man anyway. So all theology and expressions of Christianity came from whatever the Church of the day wanted them to believe, for purposes that were more about power and greed rather than a desire to educate people on the liberating teachings of the Bible.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book Outcast Nation )
Why did Jews become moneylenders?
Written by: Miriam Emenike
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