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The Jewish Kingdom of Rouen

At Jacob bar Jequthiel's request, the Pope puts an end to the persecution of 1007

For a long time, Jews and Christians had lived side by side rather peacefully. The Jewish religion was recognized and protected by the authorities. The Jews enjoyed extended economic rights and could also possess and inherit land. The Carolingian kings had appointed a Jewish high dignitary at the head of each of the main sections of the kingdom : a King of the Jews, rex judaeorum, in Narbonne, to rule over Septimania, one with the same title in Rouen for Neustria, and a Master of the Jews, magister judaeorum, in Mainz for Austrasia. The King -or Master- of the Jews was in charge of all the affairs of the communities under his jurisdiction and he was their representative when they had to deal with the king or his vassals. After the conquest of the Vikings, the king of France granted them the status of vassals in the treaty of St. Clair-sur-Epte concluded in 911 ; the first dukes of Normandy also relied on the Jews to ensure the development of their new territories.

The first relevant event recorded in history dates back to the year 1007, when Hugh Capet’s son, Robert the Pious, decided three centuries before Philip the Fair that Judaism should be eradicated from France.

The persecution of 1007 is recorded in a Hebrew chronicle of the twelfth century kept in the Bibliotheca Palatina in Parma. Secretly consulting with King Robert the Pious, the noblemen of the kingdom sent him this message : A certain nation gathered among the lands does not obey us ; their statutes and laws are different from those of all other nations. Now let us put an end to them so that the name of Israel be no longer remembered, for they are become a snare unto us.

Following their advice, the king sum-moned some Jewish representatives to a hearing and enjoined them to convert, saying, Return to our law, because it is fairer than yours. If you refuse me, I shall slay you by the sword. Refusing to obey the command to defile the Torah of Moses and to change the religion of the Lord, the Jews were slaughtered and their possessions seized. Others chose suicide rather than accept baptism. Richard II, Duke of Normandy, took an active part in that persecution ; in fact, he needed to strengthen his authority as much as King Robert. One should remember that repressing a peasant rebellion had been his first act as sovereign in 996.

Jacob bar Jequthiel of the city of Rodom travels to Rome in 1007 and obtains the pope’s promise to stop the persecution of the Jews begun by Robert the Pious.

When a certain person named Senior, one of the holy men of the land, a very wise and understanding man was slaughtered, someone from the city of Rodom, named Jacob bar (= the son of) Jequthiel, spoke to the murderers, telling them that they had no authority over the people of Israel forcing them to change their religion or to do any harm at all to them, unless the Pope of Rome confirm this. He consequently offered to travel to Rome in order to seek the Pope’s counsel.

Thereupon Duke Richard seized the man who had spoken in favor of the people of Israel, putting him in jail with his wife and children. He was about to behead him when he wounded himself with the cutting edge of his sword. The bad omen stopped his vengeful arm and he exclaimed, [Now] I know that this is not the time to slay you, but since the persecution has already begun, I am unable to annul it except by command of the chief of the gentiles. Thus he accepted the arbitration of the Pope suggested by Jacob bar Jequthiel and al-lowed him to travel to Rome with his family, while taking one of their four sons hostage so you make not a mockery of me.

Itinerary of Jacob bar Jequthiel.

Jacob left with his wife Hannah, his three other sons -Jequthiel, Isaac, and Joseph- his four servants, and twelve horses. In Rome, the Pope granted him a private audience and, although Jacob neither knelt nor bowed down, he listened to his request : I have come to cry out to you…because of the Jews who dwell in your domain, for wicked men have risen against them without your permission and have slain many of them, and compelled many others to convert. Now, if it be good in your eyes, write to repeal their evil deed ; send your seal, your emissary, and your personal ban… so that no gentile may be free to kill an Israelite for any matter, or otherwise harm him, deprive him of his earnings, or force him to leave his religion.

The Pope allowed himself two weeks’ reflection before letting him know his answer through the Jews who serve me. In the meantime, he left Jacob in the care of three Jewish dignitaries of the city, asking them to treat him with due respect. When the time had come, the Pope informed Jacob and the dignitaries of his decision to accept all that they had requested. He sent an envoy on a mission to put an end to all persecutions. Jacob stayed in Rome for four years, waiting for the apostolic envoy to come back from all the communities, which he visited without exception. When Jacob took leave of the Pope, the latter said to him : If you should have need of anything in your land, send your envoy ; do not trouble yourself anymore, for I shall do all that you desire.

Who was this Jacob that the chronicle describes ? Undoubtedly a wealthy man who could afford, first of all, to give the Pope two hundred pounds -a very large sum of money- to back his request ; secondly, to finance by himself a four years’ mission and give the Pope’s envoy seven gold marks and two hundred silver crowns for his expenses and twelve horses for his chariot, and lastly to provide for his needs and the needs of his family. He was also a very influential person, whose authority extended far beyond the Jewish communities of Normandy, as is indicated by the pas-sage of the chronicle mentioning a letter bearing his seal, which he declared he would give to the Pope’s envoy, and which was to be read to all the Jewish communities, that they might honor him ; a man who could take the liberty of saying to the Pope : I will remain here with you until your envoy comes back safely.

Ten years after his return from Rome, Jacob could be found living with his family in Lorraine. His aura had not faded, as is proved by a personal invitation he received from Baldwin IV, Count of Flanders, who invited him to come and stay in his country where he was greatly honored to receive him and thirty of his confreres.

From this account, Norman Golb concludes that Jacob bar Jequthiel was evidently the spokesman or representative of the Jews in the dukedom of Normandy, one of the four dignitaries who presided over the four Kingdoms (Francia, Lorraine, Burgundy and Normandy) from which the Torah goes out to all Israel.