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King Louis IX had a Jewish problem. They still named a city after him.


Written by B.C. Wallin, with thanks to Dr. Yvette Alt Miller

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When King Louis IX Tried to Wipe Out Judaism
By B.C. Wallin
And Pope Gregory IX put the Talmud on trial.

Louis XVI had his relationship with Marie Antoinette. Louis XV had his thing about furniture. But do you know about Louis IX, the king who tried to wipe out Judaism once and for all?

Crowned in 1226, Louis IX was the type of king who liked to take justice into his own hands. He’d often personally judge cases and deliver punishments in his Great Hall in Paris. And he also had a thing about the Jews. He forced Jews into manual labor with the Ordinance of Melun in 1230 and liked to debate Jews about their religion.

In 1232, Pope Gregory IX received a letter claiming that the Talmud, the enormous Jewish text that had defined Jewish practice since being compiled in the fifth century, attacked the Catholic Church at least 35 times and needed to be destroyed. If the Pope agreed, there would be no more Talmud, and, as an added bonus, no more Jewish practice.

The Pope announced that the Talmud was going to be put on trial and instructed all Catholic institutions in France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal to seize all copies in their midst.

Officials burst into synagogues and confiscated precious, hand-written volumes of the Talmud from synagogues across Europe. Two months later the Talmud was put on trial, and can you guess who oversaw it? Yup, this guy. (Image of Louis IX)

King Louis IX ordered four prominent rabbis to defend the Talmud. They faced off against Nicholas Donin, a Parisian Jew who had abandoned his faith and converted to Catholicism. Donin was not a fan of Judaism; he was also the one who’d written the damning letter to the Pope that started this crisis.

King Louis set the rules. Rule number 1: The Rabbis couldn’t criticize Christianity in any way. And if rule number 2 could have been announced, it would’ve been that there’s no way the Jews can win.

The trial did not go well. At one point, King Louis got so enraged, he shouted that a good Christian would plunge his sword into a Jew and not debate. One rabbi had to flee for his life. The remaining prominent rabbis argued all they could, but the Talmud was found “guilty” and condemned to burning.

Two years later, official searched all over France for any remaining volumes of Talmud and other Hebrew books. On June 17, 1242, 24 wagons deposited close to 10,000 books at the Place de Greve, near Notre Dame Cathedral, where they were burned.

After the trial, King Louis expelled the Jews from France and led Crusades to the holy land that targeted Jewish communities along the way. And even with his crimes against the Jews, they still named a city after him. (Image of St. Louis). How about that for history?