January 31, 2006


It is widely accepted that the eleventh century was pivotal in relations between Jews and Christians. Jews became marginalized socially and economically during this time. They were forced to live separately for their own protection, and they were forced into the position of moneylenders. These developments made them literally and figuratively "other" than the rest of society.

Jewish merchants were among the few who were willing to engage in international trade, and they needed to protect themselves from the dangers of such an occupation. They would necessarily band together and work together to increase their security. Jewish communities connected Jews from all over Europe, and provided a place for them to worship and live as they chose. In the eleventh century, they often became fortified communities to protect Jews from hostile Christians.

This physical separation from the Christian majority made the differences between Christians and Jews even more obvious. A number of Jews resettled in Speyer after a fire was set in their neighborhood in Mainz. The local bishop welcomed them and built a wall to protect their area of the village. This example is the first of its kind, and Leonard Glick writes, "But clearly this charter signaled the onset of a new phase in medieval Jewish history; and despite its friendly language, it indicated that many townspeople did not want Jews in their midst." The wall was erected not to protect Jews from Crusaders, but to protect Jews from the townspeople of Speyer. The Crusades did not begin for another decade.

Already physically detached from much of society, Jews were much more vulnerable to attacks when the religious fervor of the Crusades reached its peak. For one thing, they were easily identifiable. If Jews were segregated into walled neighborhoods, it was much easier for an unruly band of traveling warriors to figure out where the Jews were living. If the Jewish people had been living mixed amongst Christians, someone from out of town would not likely be able to distinguish Jewish homes from Christian ones.

The Speyer charter and subsequent charters granted to Jewish communities in Germany show that by the time of the First Crusade, German Jews were definitely "other" than the rest of society. They were "expected to function independently--that is, to establish themselves as a semienclosed community within a town, to attend to their own legal and administrative needs, and to operate for most intents and purposes as a society within society."

Adding to the decline of the Jewish relationship with Christian society was the changing usefulness of Jewish businessmen. Once, trade had been a largely Jewish occupation, but Christian merchants were becoming more numerous and successful. Jews were pushed out of their economic sphere and relegated to the role of moneylenders. Glick wrote, "By the late twelfth century, Jews in France had become so prominent as moneylenders, and so exclusively dependent on moneylending for survival, that anything said about 'usury'--invariably negative--was bound to call Jews to mind." The usury, or interest rate, was comparable to Christian moneylenders, but moneylending was so tied to Jewish identity that it sparked more bitterness towards Jews. This view of Jews has haunted them and added to their plight more than anything other than the accusation of deicide.

The change in economic status from successful merchants to reluctant moneylenders pushed the Jews further into the margins of society. No one likes to be dependent on others, and owing money to Jews caused much resentment. Why would a lord go out of his way to protect someone he owes a great deal of money to? It would be in his better interest to see that person eliminated if he had no further need for their services and capital.

Christianity held the view of money as the root of all evil, and Germanic society had been one of gift-givers. For Jews to charge usury on loans was a sin. Besides the moral weight of the occupation, moneylending was also an impersonal one. As Glick wrote, "Moneylenders move nothing and handle nothing other than money; they are simply sources of liquid capital--'moneybags' on whom others draw for productive enterprises. Moneylending is thus by its very nature a socially isolated and isolating activity; it neither requires nor even permits entry into the larger world of economic activities and relationships." Hence, Jews were being further marginalized in society by their dependence on moneylending for economic survival.

Under the Carolingians, Jews had been economically successful merchants who enjoyed the protection of the kings. Pepin the Short even went as far as granting Jews the right to hire Christians. This reversed Roman and church law. This precedent was followed by his successors. Charlemagne "recognize[d] Jewish religious requirements. When appearing as a litigant or witness in court, a Jew was to wrap himself from head to foot in his prayer shawl, hold a Hebrew Torah in his right hand and declare" a Jewish oath of innocence. Louis the Pious was even better than his father and grandfather had been to the Jews. He went out of his way to protect Jewish merchants, and even allowed Jews to preach publicly.

Two centuries later, Jews were no longer granted such rights. They were necessarily segregated from Christians for their own protection, and were only tolerated as long as they were useful. Their economic status had declined dramatically, and they were relegated to the precarious position of moneylenders. They were expected to operate independently within their towns. They were placed behind walls. They were not only physically, but also emotionally separated from society. They were truly "other" than the Christian majority, and easily identifiable as such to anyone who might want to harm them. When the First Crusade began, there were enough Christians who wanted to harm them, and Jews were massacred by men who claimed to be doing it for the Lord. As the Nazis knew almost a millennium later, it is far easier to kill somebody if you don't think he is your equal. If he is "other" than you, and lesser than you, it's not as hard to mistreat him. The Jews were "other" than the Christian majority, and the Christian majority of medieval Europe had little difficulty in mistreating the Jews. Jews weren't always killed, but they were always pushed farther into the margins.

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Tuesday's Quote

"The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you."

-B.B. King

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January 30, 2006

Quote of the Day

"If there ever comes a day when we can't be together keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever."

-Winnie the Pooh

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January 27, 2006

January 27, 1945

Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army.

The liberation saved about 7,500 sick prisoners who had been left behind by the Nazis:

In mid-January 1945, as Soviet forces approached the Auschwitz camp complex, the SS began evacuating Auschwitz and its satellite camps. Nearly 60,000 prisoners were forced to march west from the Auschwitz camp system. Thousands had been killed in the camps in the days before these death marches began. Tens of thousands of prisoners, mostly Jews, were forced to march to the city of Wodzislaw in the western part of Upper Silesia. SS guards shot anyone who fell behind or could not continue. Prisoners also suffered from the cold weather, starvation, and exposure on these marches. More than 15,000 died during the death marches from Auschwitz.

Upon arrival in Wodzislaw, the prisoners were put on unheated freight trains and transported to concentration camps in Germany, particularly to Flossenbuerg, Sachsenhausen, Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald, and Dachau, and also to Mauthausen in Austria. The rail journey lasted for days. Without food, water, shelter, or blankets, many prisoners did not survive the transport.

The liberation of Auschwitz was especially important because it finally revealed the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis to the world. Well, to the sensible and sane part of the world, anyway. It's something that needs to be remembered.

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Quote of the Day

"A Kiss that's never tasted Is forever and ever wasted."

-Billie Holiday

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January 26, 2006

January 26, 1784

On this date, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter declaring the turkey a better choice than the eagle to represent our country.

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Quote of the Day Month?

"Love, like a river, will cut a new path whenever it meets an obstacle."

-Crystal Middlemas

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January 25, 2006

*Not New, But New to You

The following is a short paper I wrote last semester, which was supposed to be a reaction to this and this, answering the question of whether or not it is ethical for anthropologists to assist the Department of Defense with information about wartime enemies.

In "Anthropology and Counterinsurgency: The Strange Story of Their Curious Relationship", Montgomery McFate aims to illustrate that more anthropologists are needed by the Department of Defense to aid in America's warfare. McFate's stance is that anthropology is a valuable--yet underutilized--tool for the military. He gives an overview of anthropology's successes and failures during wartime, and a brief history of the science as used by the government. The successes are generally found in the first half of the 20th Century, whereas the failures center around the Vietnam War and current era.

In World War II, McFate says that knowledge of Japanese culture was very important to the war effort, and helped immensely in ending Japan's involvement. President Roosevelt was "convinced the Japanese were 'culturally incapable of surrender'", and was able to know enough about their society to realize it was important to "leave the emperor out of the conditions of surrender". In this case, anthropological knowledge helped bring the war to a faster end.

McFate blames the failure to win in Vietnam at least partly on the military's refusal to learn from anthropologists. Marine General Victor Krulak, in particular, was sure the military could force "the peasants (to) do what's necessary". Anthropologist Gerald Hickey was largely ignored by the military establishment, and derided by politicians and soldiers alike as not aggressive enough. In Iraq, McFate blames incomplete anthropological knowledge for Abu Ghraib. It was believed that the Iraqis' sexual humiliation would allow them to be blackmailed for information. Instead, sexual humiliation "only destroys honor, and for Iraqis, lost honor requires its restoration through the appeasement of blood." The blackmail attempt failed.

If Japanese culture had not been taken into account by the United States government, how much longer would World War II have dragged on? How many more lives would have been lost? The answers to these questions are not easy to come by, but it does seem entirely likely that many more people--Japanese and American alike--would have died if anthropological knowledge had been lacking or ignored. The refusal of anthropologists to cooperate with the Department of Defense would not have protected the Japanese. Cooperation in this case helped stop more casualties. The failures of Vietnam from an anthropological standpoint increased the length of the conflict--and therefore increased the numbers of casualties as well.

Since the Vietnam era, McFate says anthropologists have been less likely to sacrifice their ethics in order to help the war strategists. Because anthropologists' studies are supposed to be publicly available, giving the military information on completed studies should not be at all ethically questionable. Performing research at the behest of the military is a gray area. However, I believe that withholding information is more dangerous than releasing information. Withholding information will not prevent war, but it does have the potential to shorten war and save lives. As the AAA's statement on ethics says, it is the anthropologist's responsibility to "do everything in their power to protect the physical, social, and psychological welfare...of those studied." An anthropologist has the unique power to help limit the damage caused by war. Any refusal to divulge information to the military is unlikely to persuade the military to cease operations. Is this choosing the lesser of two evils? Perhaps it is, but it is important to realize that actual human lives are at stake. It is necessary to take a pragmatic view rather than a lofty, philosophical view of the ethical question.

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