By Susan L. Einbinder
While Crusader armies on their approach to the Holy Land attacked Jewish groups within the Rhine Valley, many Jews selected suicide over dying by the hands of Christian mobs. With their defiant deaths, the medieval Jewish martyr was once born.
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Extra info for Beautiful Death: Jewish Poetry and Martyrdom in Medieval France (Jews, Christians and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World)
In a series of miniature tableaux, the martyrs offer up their lives. They represent a community as well as individuals: Each martyr is depicted in an individual vignette, and midway through the poem a stanza describes them burning together. The vernacular poem in particular demonstrates that the poets, and presumably their audiences, drew from the reservoir of attitudes and values that nourished the imaginations of their Christian friends and foes. Jacob’s martyrs forfeit wealth, family, and honor—the foundations of courtly valor—for love of their God.
The story of young Yom Tov, the son of Moses of London, a great and wealthy scholar of thirteenth-century England, describes a popular young student who commits suicide rather than yield to a “demon” entreating him to convert. 30 Erosion from these ranks was a serious problem, as illustrated in the case of Nicholas Donin, the former Jew who launched the ecclesiastical attack on the Talmud in 1240. Donin himself was an adolescent convert, as the Jewish account of the Talmud trial of 1240 mentions that R.
The preference for individual vignettes, and a wider range of martyr types, permit a glimpse of a new, more personal model of martyrdom. It is a model in keeping with literary and cultural trends in the Christian world, as well as an echo of the disintegration of centralized rabbinic authority. 40 The catalyst was the claim of a Christian servant that he had seen a Jew cast the corpse of a Christian child into the Loire River. Long-simmering resentments between a local Blois lord and a prominent Jewish woman named Pucellina (to whom we return in chapter 2) escalated tensions and resulted in the mass arrest of the Blois Jewish community, totaling some forty adult men and women.