How are martyrs made, and how do the memories of martyrs
express, nourish, and mold the ideals of the community?
Sanctifying the Name of God wrestles with these questions
against the background of the massacres of Jews in the Rhineland
during the outbreak of the First Crusade. Marking the first
extensive wave of anti-Jewish violence in medieval Christian
Europe, these "Persecutions of 1096" exerted a profound influence
on the course of European Jewish history.
When the crusaders demanded that Jews choose between Christianity
and death, many opted for baptism. Many others, however, chose to
die as Jews rather than to live as Christians, and of these, many
actually inflicted death upon themselves and their loved ones.
Stories of their self-sacrifice ushered the Jewish ideal of
martyrdom-kiddush ha-Shem, the sanctification of God's holy
name-into a new phase, conditioning the collective memory and
mindset of Ashkenazic Jewry for centuries to come, during the
Holocaust, and even today.
The Jewish survivors of 1096 memorialized the victims as martyrs as
they rebuilt their communities during the decades following the
Crusade. Three twelfth-century Hebrew chronicles of the
persecutions preserve their memories of martyrdom and
self-sacrifice, tales fraught with symbolic meaning that constitute
one of the earliest Jewish attempts at local, contemporary
historiography. Reading and analyzing these stories through the
prism of Jewish and Christian religious and literary traditions,
Jeremy Cohen shows how these persecution chronicles reveal much
more about the storytellers, the martyrologists, than about the
martyrs themselves. While they extol the glorious heroism of the
martyrs, they also air the doubts, guilt, and conflicts of those
who, by submitting temporarily to the Christian crusaders,
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