Is York Cursed?

During the course of the research into York’s Jewish history, researchers came across a wide held belief that a curse or Cherem had been placed on the city as a consequence of the 1190 massacre. This Cherem stated that no Jew could eat or spend the night inside the city walls. However, the origins of this tradition have proved impossible to identify, no early reference can be found to any such curse having ever been placed on the city.

This lack of early evidence for the Cherem is compounded by another fact. There are thought to have been far more Jews in York in the century after the massacre than there were in 1190. Property documents and the large number of bodies found in Jewbury Cemetery indicate the growth in York’s Jewish population post-1190. So where did this idea of a Cherem come from?

There is a possible answer that explains the lack of evidence for the Cherem and York’s relatively small modern Jewish community. The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 by Edward I. This was lifted by Oliver Cromwell in 1655 but Jews only returned to England in significant numbers in the nineteenth century. By this time York was no longer the important economic and political centre it had once been. For an overwhelmingly urban community whose livelihood depended on trade and commerce, there was no real incentive for Jews to return to York in any numbers. This explains why Jewish communities did reestablish themselves in cities like London, Leeds, and Manchester but not York. This is why it was not until 1886 that York’s first post-medieval synagogue was opened. It is unlikely the massacre of 1190 had any discernable impact on later Jewish settlement patterns in England.

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