The Legal Position of Jews in Medieval Germany

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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 famous characteristics of the Medieval period was what could be described as ‘Christian piety’ or ‘religious fanaticism’ (Adler 1969:11). Christianity became the focal point of society and the church held great power. People generally followed the edicts of ecclesiastical councils and pontifical opinions (Cohen 1994:36) lest they risk excommunication, a big and dangerous disgrace in medieval society. So whilst secular law was primary legislation and even though canon law did not always have a direct impact on state Jewry law, it is still important to consider church made law when investigating the legal position of medieval Jews(Cohen 1994:42).

Jewry law was, like German medieval law in general, of a disintegrated nature (Kisch 1935: 69). It also frequently overlapped and contradicted itself, thanks to the wide range of sources from which it derived (Cohen 1994:31). Medieval Jewry law has been described as a ‘law of privilege made up of occasional favours and restrictions of various kinds without re...

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