In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Jews and Judaism in Medieval Europe

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Primary Source Collections
  • Primary Source Collections in Translation
  • Primary Source Collections about Specific Themes in Translation
  • Medieval European Jewry in General Surveys of Jewish History
  • Surveys of Medieval European Jewish History
  • Historiography
  • The Church and the Jews
  • Missionizing, Conversion, and Jewish Responses
  • Conversion and Its Aftermath
  • Anti-Jewish Imagery
  • Anti-Jewish Violence
  • Jewish Responses to Violence
  • Governmental Policies
  • Southern European Jewries: Italy and Southern France
  • Southern European Jewries: Spain
  • Northern European Jewries
  • Demography and Economics
  • Jewish Community Organization
  • Social History
  • Biblical and Talmudic Studies
  • Philosophical Inquiry
  • Mystical Speculation
  • Popular Culture

Medieval Studies Jews and Judaism in Medieval Europe
Yechiel Schur, Robert Chazan
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0214


In the year 1000, Christian-controlled areas of Europe housed only a tiny proportion of world Jewry. The majority of Jews lived in the Islamic world. Indeed, the largest Jewish communities on European soil were found in those areas of southern Europe under Islamic rule. At the turn of the millennium, western Christendom began a process of invigoration destined to transform this area of weakness, relative to its Byzantine and Islamic competitors, into the most powerful religious-political bloc in the Western world by the year 1500. One of the results of this invigoration was the steady growth of the Jewish population of western Christendom. As Christian armies eliminated the Muslim enclaves in Europe, Jews who had lived under Islamic rule by and large opted to stay on under Christian hegemony. In addition, areas of northern Europe that had no prior Jewish population began to attract Jewish settlers. In both cases, Jewish perceptions of the newly-found vigor of Christian Europe were reinforced by overtures from the rulers of western Christendom. In the south, kings and barons offered Jews benefits for remaining in their former homes; in the north, governmental authorities extended protection and support to Jewish immigrants. The result was a rapidly increasing set of Jewish settlements. The Jews of medieval western Christendom encountered difficult circumstances—broad societal hostility, grounded in the sense of these Jews as newcomers and in traditional Christian anti-Jewish imagery; constricted economic opportunities; serious church pressure for limitations on Jewish life and significant church-sponsored missionizing campaigns; and overdependence on the governmental authorities, which could eventuate in despoliation and expulsion. By the end of the 14th century, the Jews of England and France had been banished, and the Middle Ages closed with the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492. At the same time, the Jews of medieval Europe benefitted markedly from the vibrancy of their environment. On the most basic level, the number of Jews in Europe expanded continuously, eventually bringing European Jewry to parity with the older Jewish communities of the Islamic sphere and then subsequently, in the early modern centuries, to demographic dominance in the Jewish world. These Jews of medieval Europe fashioned effective structures of self-government and created a rich new Jewish culture, deeply rooted in their creative medieval European ambiance.

Reference Works

The standard encyclopedias provide useful overviews on geographic areas and major topics in medieval Jewish history. The two gazetteers—Gallia Judaica for France and Germania Judaica for Germany—provide invaluable data on individual Jewish communities in the two areas. Both The Jewish Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia Judaica include many relevant entries.

  • Encyclopedia Judaica. Rev. ed. 22 vols. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.

    Presents the work of a more international group of scholars and includes entries about topics and fields not discussed in The Jewish Encyclopedia, such as the Cairo Geniza, Kabbalah, and the application of social sciences (e.g., sociology, economics, and demography) to Jewish history. Originally published in sixteen volumes in 1971–1972 (New York: Macmillan). The revised edition is also available online.

  • Gallia Judaica. Rev. ed. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2010.

    Based on Henri Gross’ geographical dictionary of the history of Jews in France during the Middle Ages (1897), the revised edition incorporates work on the intellectual life of Jews in medieval France published since the 1970s. Originally published in 1897 (Paris: L. Cerf).

  • Germania Judaica. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1963–.

    A comprehensive multivolume geographic dictionary of all medieval Germanic areas in which Jews settled. Although the editorial office of the last volumes is based in Israel and four of the contributors and editors are affiliated with Israeli universities, most of the remaining contributors are non-Jewish scholars born in Germany after the war and affiliated with German universities as well as state and municipal archives. Originally published in 1917–1934 (Breslau).

  • The Jewish Encyclopedia. 12 vols. New York and London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1901–1906.

    This encyclopedia, which contains over 15,000 articles, gives a comprehensive account of Jewish history, culture, and literature. The journal is also available online.

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