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French King Louis Decrees Jews Must Wear Yellow Badge

On This Day in Jewish History: June 19, 1269

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On this day, 1269, King Louis IX of France imposed a decree for Jews to wear a yellow badge. Oftentimes, there is a common misconception that yellow stars and other badges of shame were only imposed upon European Jews during the Holocaust. Contrarily, badges of shame were used continuously from antiquity up until the 20th century. In fact, they were first seen force on Jews in the Islamic world as early as the 8th century CE. This distinction helped reinforce discriminatory laws such as hefty taxing of Jews, observe state laws sanctioning intermarriage, as well as institutionilize the humiliation and stigmatization of Jews on the large-scale. Badges of shame were not exclusively yellow-coloured and star-shaped. For example, the “Jewish hat” was a cone-shaped pointy cap Jews focribly wore in the Medieval and parts of the Islamic world to distinguish them from their gentile neighbors. The hats, however, came out of fashion in the 11th century in Europe and were replaced by King Louis’ yellow star.

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Similarly to most European nations during the Middle Ages, Medieval France was particularly unkind to its Jewish inhabitants. Specifically, Jewish livelihood under King Louis IX was characterized by inexorable animosity. As posted about recently, in 1242, King Louis IX had infamously burned 12,000 manuscript copies of the Talmud based on the belief that the Talmud was the greatest obstacle to conversion of Jews into Christianity. As a result of the book burnings, Torah scholarship sharply declined and France never again regained its prominent position as a Torah center. In addition to scholarly destruction, Louis IX confiscated the homes of Jews in order to raise funding for his Crusading expeditions. Such property confiscation and other persecutions were probably facilitated by his institutionalization of the Jewish badge. Initially, the badge, called a rouelle, took form of a wheel, four fingers in circumference, which had to be attached to the outer garment at the chest and back. Boys as young as seven years old were mandated to sport the badge or otherwise face a hefty fine or imprisonment.

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The persecutions of Louis IX led to a wide-scale expulsion of Jews from France leading to a pattern of expulsions and returns of French Jews under his successors. This pattern concluded with the expulsion of 1394, but it was not until the dawn of the 17th century that Jews began to re-enter France again during the emancipation period. While Jewish intellectuals initially believed that Jewish enlightenment and reform would free the Jews of France from antisemitism, as evidenced by the increased tolerance of Jews during the Revolution, Haskalah was merely a band-aid solution to a millenia-old problem. Jews did not achieve full "equal status" to their Christian counterparts until 40 years after the establishment of the French Republic. Even when they had acquired full citizenship in 1834, Jews were still required to take oath to the "More Judaica" - a deeply antisemitic, humilating and endangering oath required to take in European and SWANA legal courts by Jews. Mainstream antisemitism prevailed in poliitcal spheres such as in the writings of Alphonse Toussennel, ultimately enabling scandals such as the Dreyfus Affair in 1894, and eventually the industrial-scale Holocaust of French Jews under the Nazi-allied Vichy regime during World War 2. .

Jews today still suffer from the enmity of French antisemitism, although today it's from a rise of Islamism. In fact, France has colloquially acquired the title of “most dangerous place to be a Jew in Europe”. Expressions of antisemitism were seen to rise during the Six Day War of 1967 and the Second Intifada of the late 90's early 00's. The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, coupled with the electoral rise of white nationalist French parties such as the National Front, invigorated a rising surge of violent antisemitic attacks. Over 800 attacks are reported per year in France; Most are underrepresented in the mainstream media and perpetrators are rarely brought to justice by the French courts. For example, in the case of Sarah Halimi, a Jewish physician who was murdered in cold-blood by her neighbour as he shouted at her antisemitic slurs, the perpetrator was acquitted for his murderous crime on basis of “being under the influence of marijuana”. While this blatant injustice sparked a series of demonstrations across the world’s Jewish community, this travesty gained negligent media attention by non-Jewish populations. Social justice activists who are normally forthright about human rights violations remained deafeningly quiet and newstatios such as CBC initially refused to acknowledge the racist intentions behind Halimi’s murder, treating the case as a mere glitch in the French legal system irrespective of Halimi’s Jewishness. Evidently, “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” has been proven an overly-optimistic illusion, even for the French revolutionaries. After two millenniums of persecution, France’s time to bring status equality to the Jew is long overdue.


 

Sources:

https://nypost.com/2020/02/17/france-is-failing-to-fight-its-rising-tide-of-anti-semitism/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antisemitism_in_21st-century_France#Antisemitic_acts https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/king-louis https://www.historyofinformation.com/detail.php?id=1463


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