Soloman bar Samson:
The Crusaders in Mainz, May 27, 1096
[Marcus Introduction] In the year 1095 the Catholic Church, aroused by the Muslim
encroachments in Palestine, proclaimed a crusade against the Saracens to recover Jerusalem
and the Holy Sepulcher. The following year, in the spring of 1096, bands of zealous crusaders led
by Monks and soldiers set out for the Holy Land. Many of the crusaders were pious; but there can
be no question that many also were runaway serfs, ambitious business men, adventurers, and
criminals. As they passed through Germany on their way to Jerusalem this motley crew killed
thousands of "infidel" Jews in the larger cities such as Speyer, Worms, Mayence [Mainz], and
In May, 1096 a band of crusaders led by Emico, a German noble, forced its way into the city of
Mayence and finally into the archiepiscopal palace where the Jews had taken refuge. The
slaughter and suicide of the Jews in this palace with all the attendant horror and hysteria are
graphically described in the following two selections taken from a Hebrew historical account by
Solomon bar Samson - of whom we know very little - who wrote about 1140.
It was on the third of Siwan.... at noon [Tuesday, May 73], that Emico the wicked, the enemy of the
Jews, came with his whole army against the city gate, and the citizens opened it up for him. Emico
a German noble, led a band of plundering German and French crusaders. l Then the enemies of
the Lord said to each other: 'look! They have opened up the gate for us. Now let us avenge the
blood of 'the hanged one' [Jesus]."
The children of the holy covenant who were there, martyrs who feared the Most High, although
they saw the great multitude, an army numerous as the sand on the shore of the sea, still clung to
their Creator. Then young and old donned their armor and girded on their weapons and at their
head was Rabbi Kalonymus ben Meshullam, the chief of the community. Yet because of the many
troubles and the fasts which they had observed they had no strength to stand up against the
enemy. [They had fasted to avert the impending evils] Then came gangs and bands, sweeping
through like a flood until Mayence was filled from end to end.
The foe Emico proclaimed in the hearing of the community that the enemy be driven from the city
and be put to flight. Panic was great in the town. Each Jew in the inner court of the bishop girded
on his weapons, and all moved towards the palace gate to fight the crusaders and the citizens.
They fought each other up to the very gate, but the sins of the Jews brought it about that the
enemy over. came them and took the gate.
The hand of the Lord was heavy against His people. All the Gentiles were gathered together
against the Jews in the courtyard t blot out their name, and the strength of our people weakened
when they saw the wicked Edomites overpowering them. [The Edomites were the traditional foes
of the Jews; here, Christians are meant.] The bishop's men, who had promised to help them, were
the very first to flee, thus delivering the Jews into the hands of the enemy. They were indeed a
poor support; even the bishop himself fled from his church for it was thought to kill him also
because he had spoken good things of the Jews.... [Archbishop Ruthard had been paid to remain
and defend the Jews. He was later accused of having received some of the plunder taken from
When the children of the covenant saw that the heavenly decree of death had been issued and
that the enemy had conquered them and had entered the courtyard, then all of them-old men and
young, virgins and children, servants and maids-cried ,out together to their Father in heaven and,
weeping for themselves and for their lives, accepted as just the sentence of God. One to another
they said: "Let us be strong and let us bear the yoke of the holy religion, for only in this world can
the enemy kill us-and the easiest of the four deaths is by the sword. But we, our souls in paradise,
shall continue to live eternally, in the great shining reflection [of the divine glory]." [In Jewish law
the four death penalties were: stoning, burning, beheading, strangulation.]
With a whole heart and with a willing soul they when spoke: "After all it is not right to criticize the
acts of God-blessed be He and blessed be His name-who has given to us His Torah and a
command to put ourselves to death, to kill ourselves for the unity of His holy name. Happy are we
if we do His w. ill. Happy is anyone who is killed or slaughtered, who dies for the unity of His name
so that he is ready to enter the World to Come, to dwell in the heavenly camp with the
righteous-with Rabbi Akiba and his companions, the pillars of the universe, who were killed for His
names sake. [The Romans martyred Akiba during the Bar Kokba revolt, about 135 CE] Not only
this; but he exchanges the world of darkness for the world of light, the world of trouble for the
world of joy, and the world that passes away for the world that lasts for all eternity. Then all of
them, to a man, cried out with a loud voice: "Now we must delay no longer for the enemy are
already upon us. Let us hasten and offer ourselves as a sacrifice to the Lord. Let him who has a
knife examine it that it not be nicked, and let him come and slaughter us for the sanctification of
the Only One, the Everlasting and then let him cut his own throat or plunge the knife into his own
body." [A nick in the slaughterer's knife would make it ritually unfit.]
As soon as the enemy came into the courtyard they found some of the very pious there with our
brilliant master, Isaac ben Moses. He stretched out his neck, and his head they cut off first. The
others, wrapped by their fringed prayingshawls, sat by themselves in the courtyard, eager to do
the will of their Creator. They did not care to flee into the chamber to save themselves for this
temporal life, but out of love they received upon themselves the sentence of God. The enemy
showered stones and arrows upon them, but they did not care to flee, and [Esther 9:5] "with the
stroke of the sword, and with slaughter, and destruction" the foe killed all of those whom they
found there. When those in the chambers saw the deed of these righteous ones, how the enemy
had already come upon them, they then cried out, all of them: "There is nothing better than for us
to offer our lives as a sacrifice." [The outnumbered Jews had no chance to win: Emico is reported
to have had about 12,000 men.]
The women there girded their loins with strength and slew their sons and their daughters and then
themselves. Many men, too, plucked up courage and killed their wives, their sons, their infants.
The tender and delicate mother slaughtered the babe she had played with, all of them, men and
women arose and slaughtered one another. The maidens and the young brides and grooms
looked out of the Windows and in a loud voice cried: "Look and see, O our God, what w e do for
the sanctification of Thy great name in order not to exchange you for a hanged and crucified
Thus were the precious children of Zion, the Jews of Mayence, tried with ten trials like Abraham,
our father, and like Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah [who were thrown into a fiery furnace, Daniel
3:21]. They tied their sons as Abraham tied Isaac his son, and they received upon themselves
with a willing soul the yoke of the fear of God, the King of the Kings of Kings, the Holy One,
blessed be He, rather than deny and exchange the religion of our King [Isaiah l4: 19] "an
abhorred offshoot [Jesus]....' [Christians al Jews of those days often spoke contemptuously of
each others religion.] They stretched out their necks to the slaughter and they, delivered their
pure souls to their Father in heaven. Righteous and pious women bared their throats to each
other, offering to be sacrificed for the unity of the Name. A father turning to his son or brother, a
brother to his sister, a woman to her son or daughter neighbor to a neighbor or a friend, a groom
to a bride, a fiancé to fiancee, would kill and would be killed, and blood touched blood, The blood
of the men mingled with their wives', the blood of the fathers with their children's, the blood of the
brothers with the sisters, the blood of the teachers with their disciples', the blood z the grooms with
their brides', the blood of the leaders with the cantors', the blood of the judges with their scribes',
and the blood of infants and sucklings with their mothers'. For the unity of d honored and
aweinspiring Name were they killed and slaughtered.
The ears of him who hears these things will tingle, for who h ever heard anything like this? Inquire
now and look about, was there ever such an abundant sacrifice as this since the days of the
primeval Adam? Were there ever eleven hundred offerings on one day, each one of them like the
sacrifice of Isaac, the son of Abraham?
For the sake of Isaac who was ready to be sacrificed on Mount Moriah, the world shook, as it is
said [Isaiah 33:7]: "Behold their valiant ones cry without; [the angels of peace weep bitterly]" and
[Jeremiah 4.28] "the heavens grow dark." Yet see what these martyrs did! Why did the heavens
not grow dark and the stars not withdraw their brightness? Why did not the moon and the sun
grow dark in their heavens when on one day, on the third of Siwan, on a Tuesday eleven hundred
souls were killed and slaughtered, among them g many infants and sucklings who had not
transgressed nor sinned, g many poor, innocent souls?
Wilt Thou, despite this, still restrain Thyself, O Lord? For thy sake it was that these numberless
souls were killed. Avenge quickly the blood of Thy servants which was spilt in our days and in our
II. Rachel and Her Children
Now I shall recount and tell of the most unusual deeds that were done on that day [May 27, 1096]
by these righteous ones.... Who has ever seen anything like this? Who has ever heard of a deed
like that which was performed by this righteous and pious woman, the young Rachel, the daughter
of Rabbi Isaac ben Asher, the wife of rabbi Judah? For she said to her friends: "I have four
children. Do not spare even them, lest the Christians come, take them alive, and bring them up in
their false religion. Through them, too, sanctify the name of the Holy God."
So one of her companions came and picked up a knife to slaughter her son. But when the mother
of the children saw the knife, she let out a loud and bitter lament and she beat her face and
breast, crying: Where are Thy mercies, O God?" In the bitterness of her soul she said to her
friend: "Do not slay Isaac in the presence of his brother Aaron lest Aaron see his brother's death
and run away." The woman then took the lad Isaac, who w as small and very pretty, and she
slaughtered him while the mother spread out her sleeves to receive the blood, catching it in her
garment instead of a basin. When the child Aaron saw that his brother Isaac was slain, he
screamed again and again: "Mother, mother, do not butcher me,'' and ran and hid under a chest.
She had two daughters also who still lived at home, Bella and Matrona, beautiful young girls, the
children of her husband Rabbi Judah. The girls took the knife and sharpened it themselves that it
should not be nicked. Then the woman bared their necks and sacrificed them to the Lord God of
Hosts who has commanded us not to change His pure religion but to be perfect with Him, as it is
written [Deuteronomy 18:13]: "Perfect shall you be with the Lord your God."
When this righteous woman had made an end of sacrificing her three children to their Creator,
she then raised her voice and called out to her son Aaron: "Aaron, where are you? You also I will
not spare nor will I have any mercy." Then she dragged him out by his foot from under the chest
where he had hidden himself, and she sacrificed him before God, the high and exalted. She put
her children next to her body, two on each side, covering them with her two sleeves, and there
they lay struggling in the agony of death. When the enemy seized the room they found her sitting
and wailing over them "Show us the money that is under your sleeves," they said to her. But when
it was the slaughtered children they saw, they Struck her and killed her, upon her children, and
her spirit flew away and her soul found peace at last. To her applied the Biblical verse [Hosea
10:14]: "The mother was dashed in pieces with her children." . . .
When the father saw the death of his four beautiful, lovely children, he cried aloud, weeping and
wailing, and threw him upon the sword in his hand so that his bowels came out, and wallowed in
blood on the road together with the dying who were convulsed, rolling in their life's blood. The
enemy killed all that who were left in the room and then stripped them naked; [Lamentations 1: 11]
"See, O Lord, and behold, how abject I am become." Then the crusaders began to give thanks in
the name of "the hanged one" because they had done what they wanted with all those in the room
of the bishop so that not a soul escaped. [The crusaders now held a thanksgiving service in the
archbishop's palace where the massacre took place.]
REFERENCES TO TEXTBOOKS
Elbogen, pp. 102ff.; Roth, pp. 180 188; Sachar, pp. 186192.
READINGS FOR ADVANCED STUDENTS
Graetz, 111, pp. 297310; GraetzRhine, III, pp. 166229; Margolis and Marx, pp. 356 373
Abbott, G. F., Israel in Europe, pp. 83104.
The Chronicles of Rabbi Joseph ben Joshua ben Meir, the Sephardi, tr. by Bialloblotzky, contains
materials on the Crusades which this sixteenth century Jewish historian drew from older and
contemporary sources: I, pp. 29ff.
Lowenthal, M., The Jews of Germany, pp. 36ff.
Milman, H. H., The History of the Jews, 11, Book xxiv.
Zunz, L., The Sufferings of the Jews during the Middle Ages. This short work chronicles the major
(and many of the minor) persecutions of the Jews throughout the Middle Ages in many lands. This
survey was written to explain and to justify the bitterness that characterizes many medieval Jewish
JE, "Crusades, The"; "Mayence."
ADDITIONAL SOURCE MATERIALS IN ENGLISH .
Halper, B., PostBiblical Hebrew Literature, "The Crusaders Massacre the Jews at Meurs," II, pp.
235239. This is a description of a massacre during the first Crusade, 1096, by the same Joseph
Ludwig Lewisohn in The Island Within, pp. 327339, reproduces a Jewish i chronicle of the first
crusade. Although his translation is made from a i rather bold reconstruction of a German
translation of the original Hebrew chronicle, it is still close enough to the original to give a good
picture of some aspects of the crusade as it affected the Jews.
SOURCE: Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York:
JPS, 1938), 115-120.
Later printings of this text (e.g. by Atheneum, 1969, 1972, 1978) do not indicate that the copyright
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© Paul Halsall October 1997