Scenes from Medieval anti-Jewish Trials
THE two most dangerous and frequent calumnies levelled at the Jews in the Middle Ages were that they indulged in perpetrating the so-called 'ritual murder' and in desecrating the host. These pitiable superstitions became responsible for countless sufferings of the Jewish people in almost all countries of the Diaspora. By an odd coincidence, two trials took place at the end of the Middle Ages simultaneously in the ancient Bavarian city of Ratisbon, each of which was based on one of those accusations. They gave occasion to two memorable letters.
In 1475 almost all Jews of the Tyrolese city of Trent were burned at the stake as victims of the accusation that in the days before Easter they had crucified a Christian boy. Shortly afterwards, upon the instigation of the Bishop Henry of Ratisbon, seventeen members of the Jewish Ratisbon community were put on trial by the city council under the suspicion of having committed a similar crime eight years before. The danger that after exposure to torture they would have to suffer the same fate as the Jews of Trent was imminent. The only hope remaining was that the Emperor Frederick III would intercede on behalf of the guiltless, imprisoned defendants. The Rabbis of Bavaria, at a special convention held at Nuremberg, decided to make every possible effort to rescue the prisoners and to provide the very considerable funds needed for this purpose through a collection from all Bavarian communities. The Rabbis, however, being unable to impose openly the necessary duties and sanctions, turned to an outsider of undisputed authority for support of their action. They asked one of the most celebrated talmudical scholars of the day, Joseph ben Solomon Colon, Rabbi of Pavia, to give his binding opinion on the obligation of the communities to contribute to the rescue work. Rabbi Colon discharged this duty by the following remarkable pronouncement.