The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Peace and Power: The Jews between Muslims and Crusaders in the Medieval Near East

Peace and Power: The Jews between Muslims and Crusaders - Interludes of Peace

For two centuries (1097-1291) the crusaders in the Holy Land saw the proper relations with their Muslim enemy as a relentless holy war. The Muslim reaction was Jihad- another concept of holy war. Although in principle there was no place in the Holy Land for both religions, in fact during these two centuries there were ca 120 treaties between the belligerent sides. To make this possible a process of acculturation by which the societies learned the cultural language of their adversaries was necessary. Whereas both Christianity and Islam believed in an eschatological, universal peace based on the harmony of a just, victorious religion and society, their perceptions and practices of real peacemaking had little connection with these lofty ideas. Both sides felt that ceasefire and peace in inter-religious war had to be temporal and needed a pretext and apology, but nevertheless in fact created the means by which it could be achieved. The Jews in the Medieval Near East were caught in between the fighting forces and often became victims of warfare. For them peace meant protection of their lives and safety. Like war, peacemaking was the prerogative of the political ruler, an act of power. Lacking international political power, the Jewish communities were powerless to initiate either war or peace, but as for all civilians, peace meant protection of the disempowered. Ransom of captives in all three societies was both a first step in the process of peacemaking and a practical way to protect their members. Medieval Jewish concepts of peace were based on old traditions but also influenced by contemporary needs and praxis.