Over the centuries Diaspora Jews have learned to anticipate danger in times of social stress. The 1929 Great Depression fed the flames of the Holocaust; and the 2009 Great Recession returned Western antisemitism to a level not seen since the Holocaust in Europe. In the Middle Ages the Black Plague intensified paranoia and superstition resulting in the Jews blamed and scapegoated for the spread of the plague.
Also representing heightened danger for Jews are periods of disappointed expectation.
The approach of the first year of the new millennium, the year 1000, brought with it great anticipation, followed by deep disappoint at the failure of Parousia, the long-awaited return of Jesus. Disappointment turned to despair as Europe entered a centuries-long period of social stress made worse by natural catastrophes from hurricane to plague. Anxiety fed superstition as a frightened and helpless continent sought an explanation for nature gone wild, forces outside human control. Satan, considered a living force on earth and long a factor of Christian belief, was blamed. And the Jews, described in Christian scripture as Satan’s children and agents of the antichrist, were believed his instrument of their suffering.
Religion-based anti-Jewish persecution divides fairly neatly into two periods. Before the year 1000 Jews were subjected to persecution, but assault and murder were more generally random and individual. The pre-millennium was a period more characterized by torah burning and proscribed “Jew” clothing and/or badges. The goal was to fulfill scripture by converting, not killing the Jews. But following the failed hopes for the return of Jesus anti-Jewish persecution grew increasingly organized and popular, targeted entire Jewish communities. Massacres appeared and grew more common and, with the Inquisition, a new way of distinguishing Jews from Christians emerged: limpieza de sangre, or “purity of blood.”
Orlean in 1009 was the site of the first recorded Jewish massacre. In 1012 massacres were also committed in Rouen, Limoges and Rome. In 1021 Jews were burned alive in Rome; and massacres spread to Spain in 1063 and, one year before the First Crusade, the Jews of Lorraine were massacred in1095.
With the start of two centuries of crusades beginning in 1095 the holy warriors would begin their journey to Jerusalem to wrest the Holy Land from the infidel Muslims by first murdering the infidel Jews of Europe.
Between the years 1009 and the Orlean massacre, and Germany’s Nuremberg Laws of 1933 estimates of the number of Jews murdered for having been born Jewish is upwards of ten million. At least one historian estimates the number far higher: "[I]n the past thousand years “one out of every two Jews born into the world has been murdered," (Irving Borowski in his Forward to Father Edward Flannery’s 1965 book, The Anguish of the Jews).
Beginning in the eleventh century, Europe entered a period of radical social and political change, of increasing expansion and local autonomy. Kingdoms emerged and Europe’s population grew dramatically. Cities, once located mostly along the Mediterranean, now increasingly began to appear inland. Connected by river and road they grew in population. By the 15th century the Church would face its first significant challenge to its authority, the Protestant Reformation.
Capital was needed to finance the expansion, but Church doctrine forbade Christians to lend money at interest. So it fell upon the stranger at home, the Jews. Forbidden to own or work the land, shut out from most trades and crafts, the Jews were, by default, made Europe’s bankers. And along with their new role the Jews became also collectors of rent and taxes on behalf of the wealthy land owners. The peasants, destitute and forced to surrender their meager wealth as rent and taxes vented their frustration on those nearest at hand, the owner’s representatives.
Borrowing by the Church and aristocracy meant that they would accumulate debt, and it took little time to realize that the easiest way to eliminate the debt was to expel the Jews and appropriate their property. Europe’s expulsions began in the 1100’s and continued for several centuries. Perhaps the two better known were from England in 1290, and Spain in 1492. Jews expelled from the southern regions generally settled in North Africa, while those from Central Europe settled in Poland. (see Grosser, Paul E. & Halperin, Edwin G., The Causes and Effects of Anti-Semitism, 1978, p.103)