Religious and prejudice factors during the Black Death (Dissertation Sample)
The following sources will be referenced:
-Week 5 primary source “Excerpt on the Black Death”
with selections from Joseph ha-Kohen.
-“The enslaved wet nurse as nanny: the transition
from free to slave labor in childcare in Barcelona after the Black Death
(1348)” written by Rebecca Lynn Winer.
prompt: final paper on Demography, more specifically religious and prejudice factors during the Black Death.
Religious and prejudice factors during the Black Death
Joseph ha-Kohen, a Jewish scholar, spent his life studying the Black Plague as it swept through Europe. In his work titled "Excerpt on the Black Death," he compiled his research and thoughts about this pandemic and attempted to understand what factors led to its sudden death in 1351.
Deaths during the plague were often attributed to Jews or foreigners who were viewed suspiciously concerning their customs and beliefs. Despite the charges, Jews and Frankish people had already lived in the Middle East for thousands of years and suffered trials with the rise of Islam. Although Muslims persecuted Jews in their homeland and throughout Europe, they were not condemned as outsiders until many years after the plague, when they had begun to settle in more significant numbers. Categorizing certain situations could help to identify why a particular person contracted or died from this deadly disease. Since this disease was easily identifiable due to external signs of illness and most people had no idea of the actual cause, it is not surprising that people believed they saw it as a divine punishment.
Coincidentally, Judaism was a distinct group during the Middle Ages, and their customs were misunderstood by their neighbors. However, the death threat could pose many questions about why God inflicted such pain upon his people. The concept of "God's will" is defined as the inevitable outcome of a higher plan. Such was the belief in the Middle Ages, which directly relates to a period known as The Black Death. Their deaths were spurred on by God's will or divine punishment because people overindulged in their pleasures, such as gluttony and excess drinking.[Joseph ha-Kohen, "The Jews and the Plague in Fourteenth-Century Spain: A Case Study," 1987.]
Joseph ha-Kohen wrote questions about why God would cause so much pain for innocent children and entire families. He notes that God could have easily gotten rid of sinfulness and its perpetrators in other ways apart from causing so much pain among the Jewish population. In this account, Joseph blames God for the Black Death and questions why He would cause so much suffering to an entire group of people. His arguments are based on popular beliefs at the time and are representative of his culture.
Researcher Bahsoun would like to suggest creating a classification system to describe this pandemic and the cause of it later. She found scenes of behavior intriguing in Joseph's work were his questions and arguments he raised regarding the Jewish population, especially with scenes involving the Black Death. Bahsoun also finds Joseph's view as a historian engaging because he took time to reflect on this pandemic and what led to it with modern scholars. He was not just an observer of the disease but was a participant in society and wrote about his observations of it. However, Bahsoun does not believe Joseph's research is based solely on personal opinions. Although he makes many personal opinions in his writing, his account can be interpreted as objective historical evidence. Bahsoun feels that ha-Kohen found this research interesting for its religious nature and appears to reflect on the place of Jews in society.[Sarah Adnan Bahsoun. "Prejudice in Past Pandemics." UF Journal of Undergraduate Research 23. 2021, p. 4.]
On a different note, Winer explores another aspect of the Black Death. She looks specifically at the wet nurses and their role as nannies for children who had contracted the disease. Since infants had such a high mortality rate due to a lack of wet nurses, those that survived usually faced a difficult life because they had to be cared for by three women. Many mothers could not afford it, so these children were brought into slavery with their wet nurses. Winer notes that it is an exciting subject because it constitutes labor and medical history.[Rebecca Lynn Winer. "The enslaved wet nurse as nanny: The transition from free to slave labor in childcare in Barcelona after the Black Death (1348)." Slavery & Abolition 38, no. 2, 2017, 316.]
Demography of the Jews during the Black Death
The Black Death had many effects in different parts of Europe, not just England. The plague was not limited to one area or social class; many instances are known as "communities." Indeed, the disease spread very quickly, but it did not remain that way forever. For instance, Jews were often at a higher risk of the illness and thus contracted it faster than other groups of people. Ha-Kohen ascertains that the disease was difficult to spread and easily recognizable. The Jews were initially accused of spreading the disease to other Jewish people, but this accusation was widely condemned. However, they could not deny that they were a group that was being ostracized. Ha-Kohen points out that other groups, such as the poor and peasants, often died at a higher rate and were perceived as undesirable by society. Moreover, the author finds that foreign people were blamed for being somewhat unrealistic because it was said that these groups were more untainted by disease and thus were more likely to catch and spread it. The Jews experienced this because they had lived in the Middle East for so long, but they did not have a unique situation.[Joseph ha-Kohen, "The Jews and the Plague in Fourteenth-Century Spain: A Case Study," 1987, p. 7.]
Prejudice factors during the Black Death
As aforementioned, the Black Death was not just a disease but a social condition that made its victims feel like God was punishing them. In the Middle Ages, people believed the plague was a punishment for their sins. It was widely perceived that pious people would live through this tragedy. The Jews were often accused of tax evasion and charging interest on loans; however, most of these accusations were not proved to be true. The Jews were also accused of bloodthirsty, which was never proven true.
Interestingly, the Jews were also not exempted from death even though they lived in Europe and faced similar epidemics such as the Black Death. They were targeted because they did not have a chance to read the Bible or interpret their scriptures; therefore, they could not justify their cases. Moreover, there were rarely witnesses to their executions. Ha-Kohen identifies, however, that the Jews were not immune to being punished for their sins. If the Jews did commit sinful acts in the Middle Ages, it was often during periods of economic hardship when money was scarce, and many people lost their wealth. This was an economic factor because it had social and religious consequences.
In retrospect, ha-Kohen identifies some of the prejudice factors include; The Jews were often accused of tax evasion and charged interest for money, a common charge made by the Church; The Jewish community was confined to ghettos in many parts of Europe, indicating their religious background; No witnesses testified to the Jewish people's executions, which is evidence that there was no justice; The Jews did not have a unique situation in society during the Middle Ages because they were not exempt from experiencing other epidemics such as the Black Death. Therefore, they were victims of implicit bias, and lastly; the Jewish people lived in areas where they were not accepted and always faced racism.
The Black Death becomes a social phenomenon on the part of the European population. It becomes an example used to justify the government's oppressive methods against the Jews. The Jews were forced to pay levies, which were paid for taxes and differences between Christians and Jews. If Christians did not give enough money, they risked being persecuted by religious authorities. Jews were falsely accused of spreading the plague in Europe and persecuted by the Church and their Christian neighbors.[Joseph ha-Kohen, "The Jews and the Plague in Fourteenth-Century Spain: A Case Study," 1987, p. 11.]
Consequently, many Jews were killed during the Black Death. This is because they had to pay the tithe and could not prove that they were not involved in the plague outbreak. The campaign against Jews was feigned on rumors that they were disloyal to their king and conspirators during a time when the plague swept through Europe. Therefore, being Jewish makes them a target of persecution and thus violence. Even though the Jews were not immune to the plague and lost many members of their community to it, they were able to fight it by using their methods and traditions. Therefore, ha-Kohen thinks martyrdom was not a factor in their religious problems during the 14th century. Many people died, which significantly influenced how they felt towards God, but some survived and blamed themselves for getting sick from eating non-kosher food.[Ibid,]
Furthermore, Bahsoun reveals other prejudice factors that also influenced how Jews lived during the Middle Ages as; Anti-Semitic propaganda was used to reduce the "cost" of being Jewish, a crucial factor for persecution and condemning anti-Semitism; Jews were forced to wear the badge of their identity and "hats of shame," which were signs of their subjugation, and religious prejudice influenced how people experienced God and other religious values during the Middle Ages.[Sarah Adnan Bahsoun. "Prejudice in Past Pandemics." UF Journal of Undergraduate Research 23. 2021, p. 6.]
In corroboration, Winer reiterates that there were prejudice factors when the Black Death spread throughout Europe. She says that religious prejudice impacted how people experienced God and spiritual values during the Middle Ages; this is true for the Jews because they were also affected by this social phenomenon. Subseque...