The earliest record of Jews in Ireland appears in an entry in the Annals of Inisfallen for A.D.1079, which states that ‘Five Jews came from over sea with gifts to Tairdelbach, and they were sent back again over sea’. Nothing further was recorded so the purpose of their visit to this provincial king in Ireland, and the reasons why they were promptly sent away, remain matters for conjecture. Why did they come and what contemporary attitudes may have provoked their repudiation? This paper will suggest some possible answers to this intriguing episode.
In my paper, I will discuss the ways in which Jewish communities of late Medieval Europe reacted to the arrival of Jews of different cultural background and what sort of problems arose from the newcomers’ attempts to integrate into these communities. Based on selected communal statutes and decrees, known in Hebrew as takkanot ha-kahal, I will explore how the Jews, often seen as ‘the Other’ by the Christian majority, approached their own various ‘others’, as they sought to dwell in the midst of their cousins’ communities, thus bringing the challenges of inter-cultural dialogue into the reality of the Jewish life in the late Middle Ages.
The blood libel, the charge that Jews sought Christian blood for ritual purposes, was a most potent and pernicious form of anti-Semitic hostility in the Middle Ages; Little Hugh of Lincoln, a boy said to have been killed in 1255, is generally regarded as the quintessential expression of such a defining example of Otherness. Invoked by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales, Little Hugh is considered to have been an important medieval saint. But the story of the boy supposedly martyred by the Jews of Lincoln needs to placed in the tradition not only of Christian-Jewish relations, but in the context of 13th-century politics and international finance.