Radical Jewish Martyrdom
Publication Date: January 2009
Series: AJS Perspectives: The Newsletter of the Association for Jewish Studies, Spring 2009, pp.18-20.
Special Collection: Berman Jewish Policy Archive
Keywords: Religion; History; Judaic Studies; Antisemitism
The author discusses the phenomenon of radical Jewish martyrdom -- the sacrifice of life in the face of an oppressive foe who demands a betrayal of Judaism, which is made radical when the sacrifice of life takes place by actual suicide rather than acquiescing to death at the hand of the enemy. The author examines one example of this kind of martyrdom, the mass suicides committed in the Rhineland during the First Crusade in 1096, and argues that these mass suicides represented a departure from halachic (Jewish legal) constraints, and from traditional Jewish values. This departure, the author explains, can be connected to parallel perceptions in the surrounding Christian world of extraordinary theological and moral circumstances.