Perhaps for no group of people were ‘the dark ages’ so aptly named as for the Jews. Over the span of one thousand years life changed wildly for the Jewish people and not in a positive way. At the start of the 5th Century the future looked bright but by the 15th century life was engulfed in darkness. This essay will investigate exactly how the legal position of the Jews was able to deteriorate so badly.
When we are considering the legal position of Jews in Medieval Germany, the question we need to ask is what was Jewry law like at that time? We can understand Jewry law as being Christian legal material and documents concerning Jews (Cohen 1994:30). Jewry Law was executed by two main bodies the monarch and the church. One of the most
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The rulers viewed the Jews as their own personal property, at their disposal for better or worse. The German emperors justified this view by stating that as ‘successors of the emperors of Rome, they were lords of their Jewish captives and the Jews were serfs of the imperial chamber’ (Goodman 1911:103). This is known as the concept of chamber serfdom. Adler (1969:13) quotes a German prince as saying ‘The Jews belong to us in body, soul and earthly goods. We can do with them as we please and as we find convenient’. This attitude of convenience is evident in the way that kings used their powers over Jews, going from protection to degradation to expulsion. The concept of chamber serfdom itself can be seen as a ‘mix of protectionism and cavalier exploitation, all geared to ensure the financial utility of the Jews to the state’ (Cohen 1994:45). How the Kings decided to use their power depended on financial incentives. When the Jews were of economic benefit they were protected and when they no longer provided benefits to the crown they were treated badly.
The first appearance of legalisation regarding chamber serfdom appears in Henry IV’s imperial land peace of 1103 (Kisch 1935:68). Made in reaction to the crusade threats, it enabled him to give special protection to the Jews (Brenner 2008: 100).As nice as it might be to claim this as a kind humanistic act it probably had to more to do with