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The Origin of the Canterbury "Treaty" of 1266

Rabbi Dr. L. Rabinowitz

<plain_text><page sequence="1">8. The Origin of the Canterbury "Treaty" of 1266. The Rev. Michael Adler, in his Paper on the Jews of Canterbury (Transactions, vii, 19-96) reproduces the text of a remarkable Treaty entered into among themselves by the Jews of Canterbury in 1266,1 whereby the inhabitants of the town bound themselves by oath not to permit a Jew of unsatisfactory character from any other town to settle in their midst, and he rightly calls it a unique document of its kind.2 The unique character of this document resides, however, not in the fact that no parallel action can be found on the part of any other Community, but in the fact that, apart from the very attenuated formula quoted by Gulak,3 it is probably the only document extant giving the formula of an institution which persisted in France, Germany, Italy 1 See Appendix V, p. 77, for the Latin text from Bigg, Select Pleas of the Exchequer of the Jews, p. 35. The English translation by Mr. Rigg is given below. Appendix (p. 79). 2 Transactions, 42. 3 Gulak, Ozar Ha-Shetaroth, Jerusalem, 1926, para. 386, pp. 352, 353. The text given by Gulak is obviously a stock formula to be adapted at the will of the particular Community, whereas this is an actual Treaty. Meir of Rothenburg, in whose lifetime the Canterbury Treaty was entered into, makes explicit reference to the variations in different Communities, dependent upon the actual terms of the document. " If a case of the Her em Hayyishub were to come before us, we would send to the Community in question to ask the conditions upon which it was made." (Resp. 13 to Maimonides. Sefer Shofetim.)</page><page sequence="2">THE ORIGIN OF THE CANTERBURY "TREATY" OF 1266. 77 and Eastern Europe for some seven centuries, and as such it casts considerable light upon various medieval Rabbinical enactments relevant thereto. There is no doubt but that this Treaty is the formula of a Herem Hayyishub, whereby, to quote the words of a late Rabbinical com? mentator,4 "The residents make a Herem between themselves not to let a house to anyone who comes to reside within the town without the permission of the Community, and even if he wishes to dwell among the Christians or build his own house, they still make a Herem not to deal with him." The Herem Hayyishub has no legal basis according to Talmudic Law5 and its institution is ascribed to the famous Rabbenu Gershom, the "Light of the Exile" (960-1040),6 although Finkelstein7 says that the custom certainly antedates him. I venture to doubt this, although Eliezer b. Nathan of Mayence, who lived in the first half of the twelfth century calls it an ancient custom (D'Ul?Tj? IIHI).8 It seems certain that the origin of the institution was the same as its later development, viz., a measure for the protection of trade and the establishment of a virtual communal monopoly,9 but varying views were expressed as to its validity and the extent of its application, and it is in this respect that the text of the Canterbury Treaty is of such absorbing interest. One of the greatest opponents to its unlimited application was the famous Jacob Tarn, (1100-71), grandson of Rashi, and Moses of Taku in the thirteenth century quotes a responsum from Eliezer of Orleans, a disciple of Rabbenu Tarn, that he heard from the lips of his master that the Herem Hayyishub was applicable only to D'HOI?I O^D1?**.10 ("lawless men and informers"). Nowhere, to my knowledge, in the vast Rabbinical literature of the period is there a single practical instance of such a limitation of its application, and one would be tempted to 4 Sema to R. Moses Isserles' gloss to Hoshen Mishpat, para. 156, 7. 8 Cf. R. Joseph Colon, Responsum 191. 6 Israel Krems. Gloss to Asheri, Baba Bathra, para. 12. Cf. Resp. Jacob Weil to Isserlein, Pes. 126. Mordecai, Baba Bathra 11, 517. Resp. Moses Minz, No. 89. 7 Jewish Self-Government in the Middle Ages, New York, 1924, pp. 14, 376. 8 Quoted by R. Joseph Colon, he. cit. ? Ibid. 10 Or Zarua, Part I, para. 115. Cf. Be'er He-teb to Hoshen Mishpat. he. cit.</page><page sequence="3">78 MISCELLANIES. regard it as a typical casuistical attempt to explain away a Takhanah (enactment) with which one does not agree. It is therefore of more than passing interest to see in this unique document that it is specifically directed against "mentitor, inidoneus et accusator," "a liar, an improper (useless) person and a slanderer (informer)," a free translation of the very words of Rabbenu Tarn a century earlier. In other words, it is the only example, and the only proof of the truth of the French Rabbi's views. There are two more points of interesting contact between this single instance of a Herem Hayyishub in England in 1266, and the rules applying to it generally on the Continent. The first is the wording, "and if any of the said Community should oppose the disqualification of such a Jew ... let both be disqualified together." R. Meir of Rothenburg (1215-93) decided that the ordinary laws of evidence and majority do not apply to this Herem, since all the inhabitants are interested parties, and therefore the opposition of one man was sufficient to withhold permission to settle.11 It would appear from the wording of this Treaty that precautions were taken against the opposite case, i.e. that the permission of one man could annul the Herem. The other point is the remarkable statement that the Community is required to pay a tax in order to bribe the King to repeal the permission already granted to the newcomer. This runs so counter to the whole trend of medieval Jewish opinion on the enormity of invoking the aid of the Government in questions of local autonomy, that it is remarkable that Rabbi J. Colon in Italy establishes the right to invite State aid in imposing the Herem in words which are strangely reminiscent of the Canterbury document. "But if the local resident is able to close the door in the face of the newcomer, most certainly (NB^DI Htt^D) he has the right. . . . For, just as he desires to settle in the town against the desire of the Community by obtaining permission from the Prince, so may they on their part obtain the refusal of the Prince to his entry, and more strength to them (?UO *ltPv')! . . . Only a foolish and perverse man will quarrel with this."12 11 Responsum No. 13 to Maimonides. Sefer Shofetim. 12 loc. cit.</page><page sequence="4">the origin op the canterbury "treaty" of 1266. 79 It is therefore inaccurate to regard this remarkable Treaty as an extraordinary measure legislating for an emergency and one to which no parallel can be found. It is a well-attested aspect of the social and commercial life of medieval European Jewry, but it is none the less interesting as showing that the Jews of England in 1266 still retained the limitations of the Herem Hayyishub, suggested by Jacob Tarn a century earlier, but which were not accepted either in N. France, where his authority was generally unquestioned, or on the continent of Europe as a whole. L. Rabinowitz. APPENDIX The Canterbury Treaty Kent? The Community of the Jews of Canterbury, whose seals are set to this Starr, acknowledged by their Starr that they have come to the resolution and thereto bound themselves by oath, that no Jew of any other town than Canterbury shall dwell in the said town, to wit, no liar, improper person and slanderer: and should it so happen that any one should come to dwell there by writ of our Lord the King, then the whole said community by common consent shall give our Lord the King such sum as Salle son of Joce, Abraham son of Leo and Vives of Winchester, whose seals are likewise set to this Starr, shall lay upon the community, that the person who shall sue out such writ may be disqualified by the said King: and if any of the said Community should oppose the disqualification of the Jew who has shown himself a liar, an improper person, and a slanderer, or who has sued out such writ of the King as aforesaid, let both be disqualified together. And the Jews whose seals are set to this Starr are the following: Master Moses, Salle son of Joce, Abraham son of Leo, Jacob son of Miles (Meir), Benedict son of Isaac, Leo son of Abraham, Isaac son of Abraham, Benedict son of Cresse, Isaac son of Isaac, Meir son of Edra (Ezra?), Samson Presbyter,1 Solomon son of Isaac, Joce son of Solomon, Aaron son of Salle, Joce son of Abraham, Moses son of Abraham and Jacob son of Joce. (Vives of Winchester is omitted.) 1 See Stokes, Studies in Anglo-Jewish History, p. 22.</page></plain_text>