1090 AD to 1110 AD, Psalm 102: The First Crusade.

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premiere-croisade-shutterstock_122932558This generation is that of the 1090s and 1100s.

This generation marks a radical change in the nature of exile, the religious radicalism initiated during this third guard of the night matures in the Muslim world and in Christian world.
Muslim side, we witness the stranglehold on Muslim Spain by the Almoravids. On the Christian side, this generation is marked by the first crusade in 1096. This crusade is a breaking point in European Jewry:
  • Resigned [1] to their exile (the Jewish victims of the West and East of the Crusades), they had never conceived of a political project and were expecting from divine benevolence a return to the Holy Land that they wished for, but for which they were not disposed to employ. They did not even conceive that they could do it; they would wait patiently for the advent of Messianic times. The shock they suffered in 1096 was all the more violent. […] (The relatively recent awareness) of the Jewish suffering (during the first crusade has only recently allowed) an awareness of their tragic magnitude and so the year 1096 suddenly changed into a fateful date: the dividing line of the Jewish history of the Middle Ages is revealed in all its grandeur. There will now be before 1096 and after 1096.
The sudden deterioration of the condition of the Jews simultaneously in Christian and Muslim Europe justifies the title of the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 102 associated to this generation, verse 1 )

  • A prayer for a poor man when he enwraps himself and pours out his speech before the Lord.
This psalm is indeed in sharp rupture with previous psalms corresponding to relatively serene periods of Jewish history.

Almoravid_Empire annoteThe conquest of Toledo in 1085 pushed the Muslims of Spain to appeal to the Almoravids, an external force that has just emerged in North Africa. At first largely reducing their taxes, the Muslims supported the invader with enthusiasm. The economic situation is deteriorating, the tax pressure is increasing. This associated with the exactions of the newcomers involves a rejection of the population:

  • To the 2] charges imposed by the army and the organization of the defense were added a corruption that spread rapidly, and abuses of power throughout the hierarchy of the army and the civil service. Insolent, plunderers, generals behave as in conquered countries. They seize everything that makes them want, money, women, jewelry, etc. All means are good for them to enrich themselves, from the thefts to the influence trades. As mediocre as dishonest, they are unable to exploit a victory, to command their soldiers – as thieves as themselves. The state is rapidly falling apart. The roads are less and less safe, invaded by thieves and bandits. Princes and Princesses cover everything because they often participate in the benefits of exactions and power grabs.

Saint_Urbain_II_prêchant_la_croisadeWhile the future darkens for the Jews of Spain, the awakening is even more painful in Christian Europe where religious excesses have nothing to envy to those of the Almoravids. Having initially not reacted to the Byzantine calls for help, Pope Urban II decided to save the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem from the hands of the Turks who had forbidden the city to Christian pilgrims.

juda haleviJudah Halevi who fled to Christian Spain after the arrival of the Almoravids and during the period of the first Crusade, witnessed the deterioration for the Jews on both sides of his refuge:

  • Born [3] in Tuleda around 1070 or 1075, Judah Halevi lived an adventurous existence, against the background of the wars and troubles of his time. The first half of his life was spent in the Muslim kingdoms of the north-east and south of the Peninsula, where he practiced medical art; the invasion of Andalusia by the Almoravids from Morocco pushed him, at the beginning of the 12th century, to seek refuge in Christian Castile. In a letter that dates from this time of his life (later, in 1108, he will return to Muslim Andalusia), he describes the Christian lords, “gigantic and hard”, to which he deals; “I am caring for Babel, but she remains disabled. “. Moreover, many are the elegies in which the sensitive soul of the poet sought to interpret the peregrinations of Israel through his own wandering life. “Is there one place to the east or west where we can rest our heads? … How long, my God, will I be devoured by the burning flames between Edom and Ishmael? Which did you make my judges? “
The beginning of the psalm echoes this concern of the poet illustrating well the resentment of the Jews of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 102 associated to this generation, verses 2 to 4 )

  • O Lord, hearken to my prayer, and may my cry come to You.
  • Do not hide Your countenance from me; on the day of my distress extend Your ear to me; on the day I call, answer me quickly.
In 1096, the first crusade is constituted in full improvisation. The Crusaders decided, like the pilgrims, to go to the Holy Land, to take the old Roman roads.

Carte_de_la_premiere_croisadeIt was first necessary to go to Constantinople through the center of Europe, which included many important and prestigious Jewish communities.

The Jews of France were the first to realize the preparations of the Crusaders who were heading for the Rhine Valley. They prepared and tried to warn the German Jewish communities of imminent danger but visibly unsuccessful.
The lucidity of the Jews of France may have spared them, indeed, historically there are no traces of real persecution of Jewish community in France during the first crusade. This was not the case for German communities who had to face the obvious when the Crusaders approached their cities. The latter then ordered in their turn long periods of fasting and contrition which were not sufficient for their rescue.
The first city to suffer the exactions was Metz, where twenty-two Jews found death, the other Jews found their salvation in a conversion they could later cancel.

Godfrey_of_Bouillon,_holding_a_pollaxe._(Manta_Castle,_Cuneo,_ItalyMainz, like Cologne, had been able to deflect the ardor of Godefroy de Bouillon by largely financing his troops and also thanks to the intervention of Henry IV who had taken it firmly. This denier did not want any harm to its Jews who were his major asset in the development of new German cities.

However, the danger did not come either from the organized troops, but from the immense improvised army that had gathered in it. The Jews of Mayence, realizing the threat, made a fast of twenty-four hours and recited lamentations and cloistered themselves at home when the Crusaders entered the city.

Glaspalast_München_1901 rogne _052The Jews of Trier also managed to avoid the threat of another “regular” troop led by Peter the Hermit for large sums of money, indicating at the same time their vulnerability to the bourgeois of the city who then attacked them and more precisely to their scrolls of the law:

  • The Jews [4] of Trier carried the rollers to a fortified house. Their enemies managed to penetrate through the roof and did their rich clothes and silverware. They then threw the scrolls of the Law on the ground, lacerated them and trampled them underfoot. Later the Jews managed to recover them at the risk of their lives, with the help of the archbishop’s men – the latter was absent from the city – and to carry what was left of it in the episcopal palace. The Jews of the city proclaimed a period of mourning over it, distributed alms, and observed a daily fast from the day after Pesach to the eve of Shavuot (April 9 to May 29, 1096).
The situation of the Jews in the new cities of Central Europe in anticipation of the arrival of the crusaders marks a new stage in exile. Far from the promised land, the Jews are now defenseless against an enemy who targets them and who fights them simply because they are Jews without any political interest.
This situation, which will unfortunately be repeated in future generations, is the subject of the following of the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 102 associated to this generation, verses 5 to 11 )

  • Beaten like grass and withered is my heart, for I have forgotten to eat my bread.
  • From the sound of my sigh my bones clung to my flesh.
  • I was like a bird of the wilderness; I was like an owl of the wasteland.
  • I pondered, and I am like a lonely bird on a roof.
  • All day long my enemies revile me; those who scorn me swear by me.
  • For ashes I ate like bread, and my drinks I mixed with weeping.
  • Because of Your fury and Your anger, for You picked me up and cast me down.
To wear mourning will not be enough for this generation, the new communities will suffer the cracks of the Crusaders. The eleventh century saw the creation of new neighborhoods where Jews gathered in the booming cities of Europe. They were encouraged in this by Kings or even by some clergy who thought thus accelerate the expansion of these cities through the cultural and economic contribution of the Jews.
This has allowed the emergence of large European communities, but it is also becoming a dangerous trap that cloaks on the Jews. By separating from Christians to regroup in separate neighborhoods that are not yet ghettos, Jews become an easy target for recurring pogroms in Christian world, the first of which occurred in the First Crusade of 1096.

Among [5] the martyr communities, the communities of Speyer, Mainz and Worms whose reputation was such that they were called “Kehilot Schoum”, the “communities of Schoum” (word formed from the initials of the three names). On the sidelines of the great Crusade, another property more prejudicial to the Jews was organized by a little lord:

  • Count  [6] Emicho de Flonheim succeeds at this time to gather around him some noble German and French, and a large number of popular elements. Anti-Jewish incidents had already occurred before, but it was Emicho who really set fire to the powders. His crusade was just as badly organized as the other popular crusades and he did not hesitate to attack the large Jewish communities he encountered on his way. […]
  • The bands that had gathered around him began to move towards Spire towards the beginning of May 1096. The chronicler (Jew) reports that “the eighth of the month of Iyyar, the Sabbath (May 3) 1096) the divine justice began to strike us.
  • (The Emicho gang had planned to trap the Jews during the Sabbath service, but the warned Jews were able to avoid it. Emicho took revenge by killing the Jews who had ventured outside, and eleven Jews were killed. Spire religious reacted positively to these abuses, disinterestedly, refusing any “gift” material)
  • Johann, who had succeeded Rudiger as bishop of Speyer, was quickly informed of the violence. He was unwilling to tolerate them and therefore gathered a large troop to help the survivors. He found refuge in the halls of the Episcopal Palace and managed to save them from the hands of their aggressors. He seized several bourgeois who had associated with Emicho and had them cut off a hand. “He was a righteous man among the nations.” (..) On the instructions of the king, the bishop helped the rest of the community find a refuge in the fortified towns that belonged to him. He hid them there until after the crossing of the Crusaders. The Jews multiplied fasts and prayers.
The Spire events caused the worst fear of the Worms community, which was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Crusaders. Some trusted the townspeople of the city, who only dreamed of deceiving them, thinking to keep the money the Jews entrusted to them. These were not long in revealing their real intentions.
The survivors, to escape the massacre, converted while waiting for better days. The majority of the Jews, well inspired, who preferred to take refuge with the bishop rather than to trust the bourgeois of the city, could escape this first attack. The respite was short-lived, the Crusaders and their allies attacked the episcopal palace. Despite a fierce fight, the Jews understood that they would not escape their enemies. Many preferred to kill themselves and their loved ones. Nearly eight hundred Jews died, which is a considerable number compared to the small population of the European Jewish communities of the time.
After Speyer and Worms, it was the turn of Mainz, the third and last community of “Kehilot Schoum,” to suffer the outrages of the Crusaders.
Here again, the Jews tried to take refuge with Archbishop Ruthard. But when Emicho’s troops attacked the episcopal palace, the Archbishop and the guards abandoned him, leaving the Jews who had taken refuge there in their disastrous fate. Some tried to resist, but most preferred to sacrifice themselves. As in Worms, the result was terrible.
Despite the adversity, the Jews of the communities crossed by the hordes of Crusaders prefer the sacrifice to the renunciation of their faith, knowing that if this generation suffers, there will come the time when God will come back to his people, no matter if today it lies naked in the streets of Europe, his prayer will eventually be granted, rather than save the current generation by abandoning his faith, better sacrifice so that survivors pass on their faith to future generations.
This is the meaning of the following of the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 102 associated to this generation, verses 12 to 19  )

  • My days are like a lengthening shadow, and I dry out like grass.
  • But You, O Lord, will be enthroned forever, and Your mention is to all generations.
  • You will rise, You will have mercy on Zion for there is a time to favor it, for the appointed season has arrived.
  • For Your servants desired its stones and favored its dust.
  • And the nations will fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth Your glory.
  • For the Lord has built up Zion; He has appeared in His glory.
  • He has turned to the prayer of those who cried out, and He did not despise their prayer.
  • Let this be inscribed for the latest generation, and a [newly] created people will praise Yah.
Prayer shared by those who are only spectators “safe” from these Crusades. Like Judah Halevi, a refugee in the Christian kingdoms of northern Spain before returning to Toledo once the Almoravid pressure lightened. He will try at the end of his life, as he wishes in this poem to return to the Holy Land:
  • My [7] heart is in the East, and I in the depths of the West,
    How would I taste for food? How could she be sweet to me?
    How will I keep my promises and fulfill my wishes?
    While Zion is under the yoke of Edom and me in the Arabian chains?
    It would be easy for me to leave all the benefits of Spain,
    For it would be so precious for me to see with my own eyes the dust of the desolate sanctuary.
After the trials suffered by the three communities of “Kehilot Schoum”, only Speyer managed to cross almost unscathed. Other European communities also suffered Crusader abuse. The crusaders were now heading for Cologne. The Jews of this city, aware of the danger, decided to take refuge with their Christian friends. They were thus able to remain safe, only three deaths were to be deplored, until the bishop decided to distribute them, to preserve them, in neighboring localities. This choice was not wise because the Crusaders pursued them in each of these cities of refuge. Apart from those who had accepted a temporary conversion, most of the Jews of Cologne found death either by the Crusader sword or by giving themselves their own death in order to avoid falling into their hands.
The Jews of Trier, who had survived the passage of Peter the Hermit, suffered a new attack from the Crusaders who had devastated the Rhineland communities. They took refuge with the Archbishop helpless to save them. As a result, the atrocities against European Jews by uncontrolled Crusader troops were to be reduced.

730px-Gustave_dore_crusades_the_massacre_of_antiochOnly seasoned Crusader troops arrive in Constantinople, they are heading to the Holy Land. Their only goal is to reach and liberate Jerusalem, they do not linger in search and destroy Jewish communities in their path. Despite heavy losses, they are successful, Antioch falls in 1098.

The Jewish communities of the Holy Land who heard about the massacres perpetrated in Europe preferred to disperse rather than face the cross army.
Before the arrival of the Crusaders in Jerusalem, the ancient Talmudic school of the Holy Land that was previously established in Tiberias had moved to Jerusalem. She was miraculously spared thanks to the Seljuk invasion of 1070, which forced her to move to Tire, sheltered from the invasion of the Crusaders.

Counquest_of_Jeusalem_(1099)Despite this, a Jewish community remained in Jerusalem when the Crusaders became masters of it:

  • Jerusalem [8] was definitely conquered July 15, 1099. The fight was fierce and the victims were very numerous. There followed a terrible massacre of the city’s Muslim inhabitants, who were generally disarmed: the blood flowed, reaching the kidneys of the horses, as reported by at least one historian.
  • The Jews were not forgotten. The district that had been assigned to them – the Jewry – was at that time between the Damascus Gate and the Valley of Jehoshaphat, sheltered from the walls that had just been crossed by Godefroy de Bouillon’s troops. These gathered the Jews in the synagogue and set them on fire. However, they were all massacred: some of them were able to join the governor of the city, who finally obtained, in return for the capitulation of the Tower of David where he had thought to find a last refuge, the safe conduct that would allow him to surrender, with his men, in the city of Ascalon (which passed into the hands of the Crusaders only half a century later). Numerous Jews then fell into captivity and an association of Egyptian Jews was formed, who sought their release. She collected the necessary funds to pay their ransom and pass them to their country. She had to thank at length the donors for their help to “our fellow prisoners, the people of Jerusalem”:
    • “A number of those who have been redeemed from the Franks and who have remained in Ascalon are at risk of starvation, lack of clothing and scarcity. Among those who remained captive, some were put to death by the eyes of their companions, who were later killed in torture aimed at appeasing the mood of their persecutors. If we happened to learn such things from a Jew, we would take them to heart and do everything we could to save him. […] (among those who fled) Some experienced a total shortage, so much so that they went to this country (Egypt) without food and without protection from the cold and they died en route . Others, en route to Egypt, lost themselves at sea in the same way. Some of those who have arrived here have been exposed to climate change: they have come to the brink of the epidemic and many have died. “

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The sequel to the psalm of this generation evokes the arrival of the Crusaders in Jerusalem and recalling the rescue of the Jewish captives who saved them from certain death:

(extract of the psalm 102 associated to this generation, verses 20 and 21  )


  • For He has looked down from His holy height; the Lord looked from heaven to earth,
  • To hear the cry of the prisoner, to loose the sons of the dying nation;


This conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders puts Jerusalem back in the center of the world, and since then, in addition to the Jews, Muslims and Christians have continued to covet this city.
This is evoked by the following verses of the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 102 associated to this generation, verses 22 and 23  )


  • To proclaim in Zion the name of the Lord and His praise in Jerusalem.
  • When peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to serve the Lord.


But the conquests of men are only temporary, empires can each conquer the Holy Land, the latter remains the property of the Jewish people, for it is God who definitively attributed this land to the Jewish people. This is perfectly summarized by Rashi (1040-1105) who ends his life during this generation after being a spectator of the Crusaders’ fury, without apparently having himself been a victim:
  • Rashi  [9] was fifty-five years old, in 1095, during the preaching in Clermont of the crusade by the Champenois Eudes de Lagery, Pope Urban II. To the monk Peter of Amiens, says Peter the Hermit, bringing in Champagne the call that launches the Christians on the road to the Holy Land, Rashi answers. Commenting on the first verses of Genesis: Why begin with ” In the beginning ” ?, he interprets: – God has made known to His people the power of His works to give them the inheritance of nations. If the peoples of the world came to tell Israel: “You are thieves, it is by violence that you have conquered the lands of the seven nations (the land of Israel)! They would answer, “All the earth belongs to the Holy One, be it. He created it and gave it to whomever he pleased. By an act of His will. He gave it to these peoples, and by another act of His will, He took it back to give it to us “».
The end of this generation’s psalm echoes Rashi’s speech reaffirming that the Jewish people, despite the sufferings of exile, will eventually regain possession of the land promised to them by God:

(extract of the psalm 102 associated to this generation, verses 24 to 29 )


  • He has afflicted my strength on the way; He has shortened my days.
  • I say, « My God, do not take me away in the middle of my days, You Whose years endure throughout all generations.
  • In the beginning You founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands.
  • They will perish but You will endure, and all of them will rot away like a garment; like raiment You will turn them over and they will pass away.
  • But You are He, and Your years will not end.
  • The children of Your servants will dwell, and their seed will be established before You. »



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[1] Simon Schwarzfuchs: “Jews in the time of the Crusades”. (French: « Les Juifs au temps des croisades ». (p. 10) ).

[2] André Clot: “Muslim Spain”. Chapter: “The reyes of taifas”. (French: « L’Espagne musulmane ». Chapitre : « Les reyes de taifas ». (p.199) ).

[3] Leon Poliakov: “History of anti-Semitism, I – The age of faith”. Chapter: “Spain of the three religions”. (French: « Histoire de l’antisémitisme, I – L’âge de la foi ». Chapitre : « L’Espagne des trois religions ». (p. 109) ).

[4] Simon Schwarzfuchs: “Jews at the time of the Crusades / The First Crusade”. (French: « Les Juifs au temps des croisades / La première croisade». (p. 52/53) ).

[5] According to: Simon Schwarzfuchs: “Jews at the time of the Crusades / On the eve of the Crusades”. (French: « Les Juifs au temps des croisades / A la veille des croisades». (p. 16) ).

[6] According to: Simon Schwarzfuchs: “Jews at the time of the Crusades / On the eve of the Crusades”. (French: « Les Juifs au temps des croisades / La première croisade». (p. 53 à 55) ).

[7] Chaim Potok: “A story of the Jewish people”. Chapter: “Islam: The Nightingales in the Sandstorm”. (French: « Une histoire du peuple Juif ». Chapitre : « L’Islam : Les rossignols dans la tempête de sable ». (p. 429) ).

[8] Simon Schwarzfuchs: “Jews at the time of the Crusades / In the Kingdom of Jerusalem”. (French: « Les Juifs au temps des croisades / Dans le royaume de Jérusalem». (p. 99 à 102) ).

[9] (Directed by Jean Baumgarten) “A thousand years of Ashkenazi cultures”. Gérard Nahon: “The wise men of France and Lotharingie”. (French: « Mille ans de cultures ashkénazes ». Gérard Nahon : « Les sages de France et de Lotharingie ». (p.35) ).