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Defiance

The movie "Defiance" is a true story about three Jewish brothers who escaped from the Nazi Germans by living in the forests of White Russia from October 1941 until the Russian Army liberated that area. It was a good movie, with fine acting, and because it was a true story, I learned something about history by watching it. Those Brothers - the Bielskis - saved 1,200 Jews, and also contributed to the war effort against Nazi Germany by fighting as partisans. One of the three died in the war, but the two survivors moved to New York City after the war and ran a successful business together.

A sloth should not teach a cheetah to run, nor should a squirrel teach an eagle to fly. There are many Jewish scholars who know much more than I do about the lives of Jews during the Middle Ages. I had the privilege of taking several courses with one such Jewish scholar - Dr. Irving Keltor, who teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Because there is no lack of scholars who are more knowledgeable than I am on this subject, I would advise anyone interesting in such things to seek out one of them.

There are, however, a few things that I want to say. First of all, the Roman Catholic Church officially demanded "tolerance" towards the Jews. It was against killing them or treating them very unjustly. "Tolerance", however, did not then mean what many take it to mean now. The word came from the Latin verb "tolere", which meant "to carry" or "to bear a burden". To tolerate something then meant to carry a burden. The Jews were considered to be a burden. Life would have been easier if everyone were Christian, but the existence of non-Christians had to be accepted, even though grudgingly. There were attempts made to convert the Jews to Christianity. Some of these were insulting towards them; for example: in Spain the King forced the Jews to allow Dominican preachers to preach Christian doctrines in Jewish synagogues, and the Jews were not only required to listen to this preaching, they were also required to pay the Dominicans for the time they spent. There were also attempts made to isolate the Jews. Saint Thomas Aquinas recommended that Jews, like prostitutes, be forced to live in a certain part of each town. According to Aquinas, the Jews were good for the economy, and therefore should not be done away with, but they should be confined to designated areas so as to prevent them from trying to convert Christian children to make them adopt Judaism.

Second, during the Middle Ages, many Roman Catholics did not follow the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. In Germany, during the Second Crusade, many Jews were murdered by foolish and lazy Christians who wanted to kill the enemies of the Church but did not want to travel to the Middle East to fight the Muslims. Some Christians, including some bishops, borrowed money from Jews and then refused to pay these debts on the grounds that Christians did not have to keep promises made to non-Christians. In England, Jews were banned from the entire country by King Edward I in 1290. Those who had to leave because of this banishment had to sell their homes, often for a low price because the situation was desperate and that prevented them from negotiating. In Spain there was a similar banishment of all Jews in 1492, which could be called the end of the Middle Ages, or the beginning of the Modern Age.

Third, perhaps the greatest evil committed against the Jews during the Middle Ages was hindering their intellectual pursuits. In Spain and the Middle East, the Middle Ages were a fruitful time intellectually for Jews; there were many great rabbis, and the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides. In much of Europe, however, Jews were not allowed to pursue intellectual endeavors. In much of Europe, the Jews, rather than being the brilliant people that they normally are, improving the world by using their minds well, were actually a rather ignorant group, for they were denied access to education and were too poor to buy books. Corruptio Optimi Pessima. The mind of a Jew is a terrible thing to waste, and it seems that many such wonderful minds were wasted during the Middle Ages, which was truly tragic.