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Marcheshvan 4, 5774/October 8, 2013

 

 

12th Century Israel: The Epicenter of Conflict

 





The land of Israel, in the 12th century, was the epicenter of the now centuries old conflict between Christendom and Islam. It was the time of the Second and Third Crusade. The Crusades had originated in the prior century, ostensibly with the purpose of capturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Moslem rulers and bringing it under Christian dominion. In this manner, the Vatican also hoped to check the steady territorial advancement of Islam. The First Crusade was authorized by Pope Urban II, and in 1099 invading crusaders took Jerusalem, slaughtering its Moslem and Jewish inhabitants. The crusaders likewise succeeded in gaining control of a number of other cities in the region.





A second crusade took place in 1147, just eighteen years before the Rambam would set sail for Israel. A relatively quiet period was ended when Moslems captured the city of Edessa, (in modern day Syria). This prompted renewed attempts by the crusaders to conquer Moslem held cities. This Second Crusade was largely a failure from the crusader perspective, as their attempts to expand their territory were repelled. The Second Crusade did, however, result in the massacre of thousands of Jews across Europe by the crusader armies enroute to Israel, and accompanying mobs who had what to gain by sacking their Jewish neighbors.





The Kingdom of Jerusalem, established in 1099, which included the city of Jerusalem and the outlying areas, contained within its borders some 350,000 Muslims, Jews, and native Eastern Christians. The ruling Frank population, (Western European Christians), was no greater than 120,000.





The northern Israel port city of Acco, (Acre), was captured by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem in the year 1104. The crusaders turned Acco into their chief Mediterranean port.



Twelfth century Israel was a land divided and drenched in blood. Those who had swords, lived by the sword. Those who didn't, were wantonly slaughtered. The Holy Roman Empire's reasons for waging the crusades designed at capturing the Holy Land were many, and were based on local realpolitik and not necessarily on reasons of faith or ideology. Nevertheless, it was faith and ideology which were the rallying cries of the crusades. In the popular mind the battles being waged in the land of Israel were for the honor and advancement of Christianity, and to defeat and humiliate the unbelieving Moslems. Needless to say, the crusader assault on the cities of Israel and the surrounding region aroused a similar fervor among the Moslem rulers and their subjects, every bit as deadly. The entire region, which today would be known as the Middle East, was a tinderbox, ready to ignite. For the Jews of the region, who had no arms and had no army, and who were equally despised by both the Christian crusaders and their Moslem opponents, daily life could not have been more fraught with danger.

It was into this deadly arena that the Rambam was determined to set foot when, on the 14th day of the month of Iyar, 4925, (May 5, 1165), he embarked from northwest Africa, and set sail for the port city of Acco.

However, piracy and life-threatening tempests upon the high seas were the immediate dangers faced by any 12th century traveler, and the Rambam was no exception.

Tomorrow we will learn in Rambam's own words, of his voyage across the Mediterranean, and his travels through Israel.

Back to day one.

 

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