Home Dialogika Resources Texts on History of Relations THE CHRONICLES OF RABBI ELIEZER BAR NATHAN, "The Massacres of Jews by the First Crusaders" (1096)
THE CHRONICLES OF RABBI ELIEZER BAR NATHAN, "The Massacres of Jews by the First Crusaders" (1096) Print E-mail
Written by Rabbi Eliezer Bar Nathan   
[Excerpted from Shlomo Eidelberg, trans. and ed., The Jews and the Crusaders (KTAV, 1996), pp. 79-93.]

In the year four thousand eight hundred and fifty-six, according to the chronology of the creation of the world: the year one thousand twenty-eight of our exile, in the eleventh year of the cycle Ranu, the year in which we anticipated salvation and solace, in accordance with the prophecy of Jeremiah: "Sing with gladness for Jacob [and rejoice at the head of the nations]" [Jer 31:7] - this year turned instead to sorrow and groaning, weeping and outcry. Much hardship and adversity befell us, the like of which had not occurred in this kingdom from the time it was established till the present. All the misfortunes related in all the admonitions written in the twenty-four books, those enumerated in Scripture as well as those unwritten befell us and our souls [Lev 26:14-45; Dt 28:15-69]. Our sons and our daughters, our elders and our youth, our servants and our maidservants, our young and old alike were all stricken by this great vicissitude.

There arose arrogant people, a people of strange speech, a nation bitter and impetuous, Frenchmen and Germans, from all directions. They decided to set out for the Holy City, there to seek their house of idolatry, banish the Ishmaelites [Muslims], and conquer the land for themselves. They decorated themselves prominently with their signs, by marking themselves upon their garments with their sign-a horizontal line over a vertical one-every man and woman whose heart yearned to go there, until their ranks swelled so that the number of men, women, and children exceeded a locust horde; of them it was said: "The locusts have no king [yet go they forth all of them by bands]" [Prov 30:27].

Now it came to pass that as they passed through the towns where Jews dwelled, they said to themselves: "Look now, we are going to seek out our profanity and to take vengeance on the Ishmaelites for our messiah, when here are the Jews who murdered and crucified him. Let us first avenge ourselves on them and exterminate them from among the nations so that the name of Israel will no longer be remembered, or let them adopt our faith and acknowledge the offspring of promiscuity."

When the Jewish communities learned of this, they were overcome by fear, trembling, and pains, as of a woman in travail. They resorted to the custom of their ancestors: prayer, charity, and repentance. They decreed fast days, scattered days as well as consecutive ones, fasting for three consecutive days, night and day. They cried to the Lord in their trouble, but He obstructed their prayer, concealing Himself in a cloud through which their prayers could not pass. For it had been decreed by Him to take place "in the day when I visit," [Ex 32:34] and this was the generation that had been chosen by Him to be His portion, for they had the strength and the fortitude to stand in His Sanctuary, and fulfill His word, and sanctify His Great Name in His world. It is of such as these that King David said: "Bless the Lord, ye angels of His, ye mighty in strength, that fulfill His word" [Ps 103:20].

That year, Passover fell on Thursday, and the New Moon of the following month, Iyar, fell on Friday and the Sabbath. On the eighth day of Iyar, on the Sabbath, the foe attacked the community of Speyer and murdered ten holy souls who sanctified their Creator on the holy Sabbath and refused to defile themselves by adopting the faith of their foe. There was a pious woman there who slaughtered herself in sanctification of God's Name. She was the first among all the communities of those who were slaughtered. The remainder were saved by the local bishop without defilement.

It is about these pious ones that I will now lift my voice in lamentation:

Lament, O surpassing community, that bore witness to the Oneness of its Rock, like the ten martyrs.
You appointed her Your sentinel and with one heart and one consent she extended her neck.
You are most lovely among the celestial and lower beings, O band of Speyer; beauteous is your heritage,
Community of exultation, ever-pleasing, destined for expiation, guardian of the vineyards [Sg 1:6].
The holy couple, in the month of Ziv, is vested in its glory, to be cited in the Book of Life. Recorded and sealed, a treasured crown, by the King's decree.
As it is said: "... occupied in the work of the King" [1 Chr 4:23].

On the twenty-third day of Iyar the steppe-wolves attacked the community of Worms. Some of the community were at home, and some in the court of the local bishop. The enemies and oppressors set upon the Jews who were in their homes, pillaging, and murdering men, women, and children, young and old. They destroyed the houses and pulled down the stairways, looting and plundering; and they took the holy Torah, trampled it in the mud of the streets, and tore it and desecrated it amidst ridicule and laughter. They devoured Israel with open maw, saying: "Certainly this is the day that we hoped for; we have found, we have seen it" [Lam 2:16].

They left only a few alive and had their way with them, forcibly immersing them in their filthy waters; and the later acts of those thus coerced are testimony to this beginning, for in the end they regarded the object of the enemy's veneration as no more than slime and dung. Those who were slain sanctified the Name for all the world to see, and exposed their throats for their heads to be severed for the glory of the Creator, also slaughtering one another-man, his friend, his kin, his wife, his children, even his sons-in-law and daughters-in-law; and compassionate women slaying their only children-all wholeheartedly accepting the judgment of Heaven upon themselves, and as they yielded up their souls to the Creator, they all cried out: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One" [Dt 6:4].

Seven days later, on the New Moon of Sivan, the very day on which [the children of] Israel had arrived at Sinai to receive the Torah, those Jews who were in the court of the bishop were subjected to great anguish and the enemy dealt them what they had dealt the others, tormenting them and putting them to the sword. The Jews, inspired by the valor of their brethren who had sanctified the Name of their Creator, did likewise. They took their own lives; mothers were dashed to pieces with their children, fathers fell upon their sons and were slaughtered upon them. The enemy stripped them naked, dragged them along, and then cast them off. On this day of the New Moon a few were permitted to remain alive. The number of those slain for the sanctification of God's name during the two days was about eight hundred," and they were all buried. It is of these that the Prophet Jeremiah lamented: "They that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills" [Lam 4:5].

There arose then a young man named Simha ha-Cohen. When he saw that they were bringing him to the house of their idolatry, he remained silent until he arrived there. When he arrived there, he drew a knife from his sleeve and slew a knight who was a nephew of the bishop. They immediately cut his body to pieces. And it is of him and his like that it is said: "They that love Him shall be as the sun when it goes forth in its might" [Jdg 5:31].

For these righteous people do I wail and lament bitterly:
[...]

On the third of the week, the third of the month of Sivan, a day of sanctification and abstinence for Israel in preparation for receiving the Torah-the community of Mainz, saints of the Most High, withdrew from each other in sanctity and purity, and sanctified themselves to ascend to God all together, young and old. Those who had been "pleasant in their lifetime . . . were not parted in death," for all of them were gathered in the courtyard of the bishop.

The enemy arose against them, killing little children and women, youth and old men, viciously-all on one day-a nation of fierce countenance that does not respect the old nor show favor to the young. The enemy showed no mercy for babes and sucklings, no pity for women about to give birth. They left no survivor or remnant but a dried date, and two or three pits, for all of them had been eager to sanctify the Name of Heaven. And when the enemy was upon them, they all cried out in a great voice, with one heart and one tongue: "Hear, O Israel," etc.

Some of the pious old men wrapped themselves in their fringed prayer shawls and sat in the bishop's courtyard. They hastened to fulfill the will of their Creator, not wishing to flee just to be saved for temporal life, for lovingly they accepted Heaven's judgment. The foe hurled stones and arrows at them, but they did not scurry to flee. Women, too, girded their loins with strength and slew their own sons and daughters, and then themselves. Tenderhearted men also mustered their strength and slaughtered their wives, sons, daughters, and infants. The most gentle and tender of women slaughtered the child of her delight.

Let the ears hearing this and its like be seared, for who has heard or seen the likes of it? Did it ever occur that there were one thousand 'Akedot on a single day? The earth trembled over just one offering that occurred on the myrrh mountain. Behold, the valiant ones cry without; the angels of peace weep bitterly. But the heavens did not darken and the stars did not withhold their radiance! Why did not the sun and the moon turn dark, when one thousand three hundred holy souls were slain on a single day-among them babes and sucklings who had not sinned or transgressed-the souls of innocent poor people? Wilt Thou restrain Thyself for these things, O Lord?

Sixty people were rescued on that day in the courtyard of the bishop. He took them to the villages of the Rheingau in order to save them. There, too, the enemy assembled against them and slew them all. For because of our sins, the slayer had been given permission to injure. Wherever a Jew would flee to save his soul-there the rock would cry out from the wall [an idiom meaning there were betrayers everywhere].

Two pious men were spared on that day because the enemy had defiled them against their will. The name of one was Master Uri, and the name of the second was Master Isaac-the latter being accompanied by his two daughters. They, too, greatly sanctified the Name and now accepted upon themselves a death so awesome that it is not recorded in all Biblical admonitions. For on the eve of Pentecost, Isaac, the son of David, the Pamass, slaughtered his two daughters and set his house afire. Thereupon he and Master Uri went to the synagogue before the Holy Ark, and they both died there before the Lord, wholeheartedly yielding to the consuming flames. And it is of them and their like that it is written: "He who offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me" [Ps 50:23].

For the pious ones of Mainz I shall let out wailing like a jackal:

Woe is me for my calamity, severe is my wound, I declare:
"My tent has been pillaged and all my ropes have been broken: my children have left me [Jer 10:20]."
My heart goes out to the slain of Mainz, those valued as gold and as scarlet.
My heart ails for them while I must suppress my cries of woe,
Erudite as "the families of scribes that dwelt at Jabez: Tirathites, the Shimeathites, the Sucathites" [1 Chr 2:55; B. Sota 11a interprets this biblical verse as referring to renowned scholars].
They were exterminated for my sins, men that had wisdom and understanding to comprehend the Torah.
It is for them that I weep, that tears drop from my eye;
For the calamity of my people I am racked; darkness has descended, desolation has taken hold of me.
Elders have vanished from the gate; those who sound their voice to instruct me are no more.
This Torah—who will extol thee? Gone are those who were wont to utter your words in my ear!

Who will explain and teach me your esoteric knowledge and your curled locks [= mystical knowledge]?
At the inception of the night vigils, arise, and mourn before your Master!
For the life of those who were wont to utter your words, allow yourself no rest.
Strive my soul, battle for me, O Lord, defend my case and right my wrong!
Avenge me, avenge the blood of Your Saints, O Lord, my Master,
For naught can take their place. You have assured and told me:
I will avenge their blood which I have not avenged; and my dwelling is in Zion.
As it is said: "And I will hold as innocent their blood which I have not avenged; and the Lord dwelleth in Zion" [Joel 4:21].
And it is said: "I have set their blood upon the bare rock, that it should not be covered" [Ez 24:8].

The news reached Cologne on the fifth of the month, the eve of Pentecost, and instilled mortal fear into the community. Everyone fled to the houses of Gentile acquaintances and remained there. On the following morning the enemies rose up and broke into the houses, looting and plundering. The foe destroyed the synagogue and removed the Torah Scrolls, desecrating them and casting them into the streets to be trodden underfoot. On the very day that the Torah was given, when the earth trembled and its pillars quivered, they now tore, burned, and trod upon it-those wicked evildoers regarding whom it is said; "Robbers have entered and profaned it" [Ez 7:22].

O God, will You not punish them for these acts? How long will You look on at the wicked and remain silent? "See, O Lord, and behold, how abject I am become" [Lam 1:11].

That very day they shed the blood of a pious man named Isaac. The enemy led him to their house of idolatry, but he spat at them, reviled and ridiculed them. Isaac did not desire to flee from his home, for he was happy and eager to accept the judgment of Heaven. They also slew a pious woman.

The rest were saved in the homes of acquaintances to which they had fled, until the bishop took them to his villages on the tenth of the month, to save them, and dispersed them in the seven villages. There they remained until the month of Tammuz, anticipating death each day. They fasted daily, even on the two consecutive festive days of the New Moon of Tammuz, which that year occurred on Monday and Tuesday. They also fasted the following day.

On that day, the enemies marked with insignia [the Crusaders], as well as those unmarked, came, for it was St. John's Day. They all gathered in the village of Neuss. Samuel, the son of Asher, sanctified God's Name for all to behold, as did his two sons who were with him. After he and his sons were slain, they [the Crusaders] defiled their bodies by dragging them through the muddy streets and trampling them. Then they hanged his sons at the entrance to his home in order to mock him. "How long, O Lord, will You be angry?" etc. [Ps 79:5]. "How long, O God, shall the adversary reproach?" etc. [Ps 74:10]. "For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water" [Lam 1:16].

The following day the enemies again rose up, and the pious men of the village of Wevelinghofen were slain. They, too, greatly sanctified the Name- Levi, son of Samuel, his wife and children, and his entire household, the aged Mistress Rachel, wife of Solomon ha-Cohen, and the entire group which Levi had brought there with him: men, women, and children, grooms and brides, old men and women, who slaughtered themselves and exposed their throats for their heads to be severed in sanctification of the One Name. This happened in the ponds around the village.

There was a pious man there of ripe old age by the name of Rabbi Samuel, son of Yehiel. He had an only son, a handsome young man, whose appearance was like Lebanon. They fled together into the water, and the youth stretched out his neck to his father for slaughter as they stood in the waters. The father recited the benediction for Ritual Slaughter over him, and the son answered, "Amen." All those standing around them responded in a loud voice: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One!"

Behold, all ye mortals, the great valor of the son who, though not bound, submitted himself to slaughter, and how great was the fortitude of the father, who was not softened by pity for so pleasant and handsome a youth. Who will hear and not weep? The offering and he who offered him up were unanimous in their desire that their life-breath be stilled. It is of them and the likes of them that it is said: "He who offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me" [Ps 50:23].

What did the aged father now do? There was a young man with them, a God-fearing man, the synagogue sexton, called Menahem. The old man said to him: "Here, brave Menahem, take my sword and slaughter me with my pious son." The youth summoned up courage, took the sword, and slaughtered the pious old man with his son. Master Menahem then threw himself on the sword and he, too, died there.

Thus these saints sanctified the Name of their Creator. Many there were who acted thus, sanctifying the Name of Heaven openly. Truly, the eye has seen and given witness, the ear has heard and attested to it. There were also some who drowned themselves in the waters, and nothing remained but three seeds.

On the third of the month, the pious people of the village of Eller were slain. Not more than a few remained and they, too, greatly sanctified the Name. There was a pious man there named Isaac the Levite, whom they subjected to great torture, defiling him against his will, as he was unable to resist, being senseless from their beatings. He later regained consciousness, and three days later he returned to his home in Cologne, lingered there a short while, and then went to the Rhine River and drowned himself. It is of him and the likes of him that it is said: "I will bring back from Bashan, I will bring them back from the depths of the sea" [Ps 68:23].

On the fourth of the month, which was Sabbath Eve, the enemy gathered against the saints of Eller to torment them cruelly, so that they would submit to their defilement. When the people learned of this, they gathered in one chamber and confessed to their Creator. The devout agreed to slaughter all those present. There were about three hundred souls in that city.

These are the names of the devout ones who consented to slay the others: Gershom; Judah, son of Abraham, and his brother Joseph; Judah, the Levite, son of Rabbi Samuel; and Peter. They took hold of their swords, sealed the doors, and slaughtered all those present. Peter then slaughtered the other four and, going up onto a tower, threw himself down to the ground and perished before God. From amongst all those people, only two young men and two babes remained; their windpipes had been slit, but they survived.

On that very day the calamity reached the pious men of Xanten. The enemy attacked and slew them just as the Sabbath was setting in. There were some saintly individuals there who were ushering in the Sabbath at the very moment of slaughter.

As a man rejoices when he finds booty, so were they joyous and eager to serve our God and sanctify His Name, and thus did they, too, sanctify Him by their sacrifices.

There was a pious man there, called "the Rabbi from France," who said to them: "Thus do we do it in our place." He dug out some earth, recited the Ritual Slaughter blessing, slaughtered himself, and thus expired before the Lord. All the others called out, "Hear, O Israel," etc., in a great voice. Not one of them survived, except those discovered in the morning critically wounded among the dead. All who perished were brought to burial.

On the seventh of Tammuz, the enemies arose against the poor and oppressed people in the town of Mehr. There besieged the city a multitude as numerous as the grains of sand upon the seashore. The mayor of the city went out to meet them and requested they wait in the field outside the city until daybreak. He spoke thus: "Perhaps I can coax the Jews to do as I desire." This found favor in their eyes, and those besieging the city on account of the Jews therein with-drew. The mayor did not despair, and had the Jews summoned and brought before him, and he said to them: "Hearken to me, O Jews. I originally vowed to you that I would shelter and protect you as long as there was a single Jew alive in the world. And as I pledged, so have I done. Henceforth, however, I cannot do anything to save you from all these nations. Decide now what you wish to do. Know that if you do not do thus-and-so, the city will be destroyed; and I would rather give you over into their hands than have them besiege the city and destroy the fortress."

Young and old, they all replied: "Behold we are ready to extend our throats to die attesting the fear of our Creator and the Oneness of His Name." When the mayor saw that he was unable to sway them, he immediately tried another ploy and led them to the outskirts of the city, to the site where the errant ones were encamped.

Those thus seized were left there, and their captors returned to the city, their swords having been covered with the blood of animals and beasts, in order to deceive those remaining into believing that the others had been slain. They did all this in order to intimidate them into complying with their wish by soiling and defiling themselves in their profane waters. However, all this was to no effect and of no avail, for they declared in unison: "We have no desire for your dogma."

When they [the mayor and the burghers] saw that their ploy was to no effect, they returned them to the city and imprisoned them, each one separately, until the morrow, so that they would not slay each other, as they heard that the others had done.

There were two pious women there, Mistress Gentile and Mistress Rebecca; one had gone into labor and given birth to a male child, while the other, in her great fear, had caught a fever, and they were both ill. A very beautiful girl was also there with them. When they saw that the enemies had arisen against them, they slaughtered the pretty girl, who was only ten years old. They also took hold of the tender child who had been born that week, compassionately wrapped him in his swaddling clothes, and cast him down from the tower in which they were imprisoned.

When the foe saw what the Jews had done, they took counsel against them. The following day they seized all of them and dragged them to the errant ones. They slew some of them and forcibly defiled those whom they permitted to live, and they had their way with them.

A pious man by the name of Shemariah was promised by the bursar of the bishop, who was an acquaintance of his, that he would take him along and save him in return for money which he had given him. He led Shemariah, his wife, and their three sons through the forest until the fifteenth day of the month of Av. He led them this way and that, and detained them here and there, and he pressed them until Shemariah sent to his sons in Speyer for money. His sons dispatched a zakuk of gold; upon getting the money, he immediately took them and handed them over to the enemy in the village of Tremonia.

When Shemariah arrived there, the villagers rejoiced, for they recognized him. The townspeople agreed to the request of the Jews to wait until the next day and then do as they desired. They immediately made a merry feast, and [Shemariah and his family] ate with them while still conforming to the laws of ritually permissible food and, in purity, using a new knife, [for they] said: "While we yet adhere to our faith, we desire to act in accordance with our custom; tomorrow we will all be one people. Now place us in one room until tomorrow, for we are weary and tired from the road." The villagers granted their request.

Shemariah arose in the night, girded his loins, and slaughtered his wife and children. He tried to slaughter himself, too, but fainted and did not die. The first thing the next morning, the villagers came, thinking they would find what Shemariah had promised; instead, they found him in this condition.

They said to him: "Although you have acted in a defiant manner, your life shall be spared if you adopt our erroneous belief. Otherwise, we will inflict a violent death upon you, burying you alive with those you have slain." He answered: "Heaven forbid that I should deny the Living God for a dead, decaying carcass."

They dug the grave, and Shemariah entered under his own power. He laid his sons on his left and his wife on his right. They threw earth upon him, asking from time to time: "Have you changed your mind yet?" He disregarded their challenge to believe in their contamination. They did this repeatedly, uncovering him from time to time to see if he would change his mind or not; but he disregarded them. Finally, they angrily threw the earth upon him, ignoring his cries. His voice was heard throughout that entire day, but they made jest of him.

Wilt Thou restrain Thyself for these things, O Lord? We have experienced all the admonitions, those enumerated in Scripture as well as those unwritten, and our souls are greatly frightened. How long will You be angry with us, O Lord; how long will You draw out Your anger from generation to generation?

In the village of Kerpen, they had their way with the Jews living there, defiling them with their profane waters and abusing them.

Wilt Thou restrain Thyself for these things, O Lord?

They did the same in the city of Geldern. The Jews were subjected to plundering and abuse, and there was no one to rescue them. "

For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water" [Lam 1:16].

[...]

On the eighth of Iyar, the saints of Speyer were slain. On the twenty-fourth of that month, some of the community of Worms were killed; it was on the New Moon of Sivan that the enemy slew, not leaving a single survivor among them. On the third of Sivan, the holy community of Mainz was slain. In the Cologne region they began to slay and defile on Pentecost, until the eighth of Tammuz. All these persecutions occurred in the year 856 [1096].

[...]

Let me raise my voice in lament, weep and mourn for the calamity that has befallen,

How dear they were to me! My entrails are seared for Your dear ones, O God!
The gold has become dimmed, the gilded sapphire altered and darkened, no longer to be beheld.
Warriors with high hand entered their gates, they who cultivated wisdom
Were torn by the wolves who have devoured and displaced them, rendered them desolate;
They have trodden upon her [the community at Cologne] flesh, inflicting injury, lesion, and fresh wound.
My eyes have been depleted, flowing with tears, crying and weeping;
Weak is my spirit, as I wail with my words and I moan with lament
For the lives of my blossoms, the babes I have raised, who were bound to be offered before God;
Compassionate women, in tears, with their own hands slaughtered as at the 'Akedah of Moriah.
Innocent souls withdrew to eternal life, to their station on high.
Let not Your foes triumph! Let the martyr's blood spatter Your royal purple [cf Is 63:1-6].
Cast down their triumph and pour out the lifeblood of the enemy, may it be dashed against a purple garment.
Array their defeat, crush the winepress, with Your outstretched arm!
As it is said: "And I trod down the peoples in Mine Anger," etc.
And it is said: "I have trodden the winepress," etc. [Is 63: 6,3].

And as the foes had done in these communities, so did they do in others-in the cities of Trier, Metz, Regensburg, and Prague.

The Jews sanctified the Holy Name with love and devotion, completing their task by evening [cf Zec 14:7]. It was all at one time, from the month of Iyar till the month of Tammuz, that they ascended to God in sanctity and purity.

These were the potters, who dwelt among plantations; there they dwelt, occupied in the work of the King [1 Chr 4:23] for Whose sake they gave their lives. May He requite their deeds unto them and provide them with their reward according to the work of their hands. Their souls are bound in the bond of life in the King's sanctuary. Each of them is garbed in the eight vestments of clouds of glory; each crowned with two diadems, one of precious stones and pearls and one of fine gold; and each bearing eight myrtles in his hand. Each is the object of adulation, being told: "Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy" [Ecc 9:7].

This is all expounded in the Midrash on the verse: "Oh how abundant is Thy goodness, which Thou has laid up for them that fear Thee" [Ps 31:20].

May their merit stand us in good stead forever, Selah, to hasten the time of redemption speedily and soon.

Amen, may it so be His will.