While most people know about the horrors of the Crusades, many do not realize that there were, in fact, many Crusades over a period of four hundred years, and that most of these crusades did not directly affect the Jewish people.
The First Crusade, however, was such a time of terror for many of the Jews of Europe that it is referred to in some Jewish texts as Churban SHUM - Churban means destruction, SHUM is an acronym of the Hebrew names for Speyers, Worms and Mainz, the three cities that suffered the greatest devastation. These particularly horrific attacks were led by Count Emicho of Flonheim (also referred to as Emicho of Leiningen).
The first of these pogroms occurred in Speyer on Saturday, May 3 (8 Iyar), 1096, when Count Emicho led his recruited crusaders, who were joined by many eager locals, and attacked the synagogue. They then sought out individual Jews and tried to violently force them to convert. Twelve Jews died before the Bishop of Speyer (Johann vom Kraichgaul) managed to protect the community.
Emicho’s crusaders marched on and reached the city of Worms on May 18th, ready to continue their violence. The Jews fled to Bishop Adalbert’s palace, where they were offered protection. Eight days later, however, a mob of crusaders and locals broke in, leading to a massacre of 800 Jews.
When the Jews of Mainz heard that Count Emicho’s growing army was heading their way, they immediately went to Mainz’s Bishop Rothard (and paid him 400 pieces of silver). When Emicho entered the city by force, the Jews tried to fight back. The death toll was close to 1,000, many of whom took their own lives (ahl kiddush Hashem) rather than convert o Christianity.
While these pogroms were the largest, there were many other pogroms during the First Crusade. Most of the Crusade pogroms, like Churban Shum, were instigated by individuals who led wild, often drunken, mobs. These attacks, however, were not condoned by either the nobility or the church hierarchy.
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