New documents reveal York’s complex history with the Jewish community

Researchers at the Jewish Neighbourhoods Project have digitally reconstructed where the Jewish community of York once lived and worked
Researchers at the Jewish Neighbourhoods Project have digitally reconstructed where the Jewish community of York once lived and worked Copyright Heritage360, University of York
By Savin Mattozzi
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Recently found documents reveal a thriving Jewish community in York shortly after one of the worst antisemitic massacres of the Middle Ages.


A new perspective on England’s tumultuous history with the Jewish community has been revealed through recently discovered documents by researchers at the University of York. These revelations come less than a month after the city welcomed its first resident rabbi since the Jewish expulsions of 1290.

The Jewish Neighbourhoods Project delves into the lives of the Jewish community before and after the massacre of 1190 in the northern English city. New documents suggest that a second Jewish community established themselves shortly after the massacre and became an integral part of the larger York community.

According to the researchers, the second Jewish community worked with Christians at the time and experienced “growth and prosperity." Researchers go on to state that they have "uncovered new and compelling information, focusing on providing insights into the daily lives of both Jews and Christians during this time period.”

The project has digitally reconstructed where the city’s Jewish leaders resided and have been able to locate important Jewish landmarks across the city.

"We have located, through documentary sources, the sites of both the 12th and 13th century synagogues and the houses where it is likely that the 12th century scholar, YomTov of Joigny lived when he moved to York" explains Dr Louise Hampson, Research Fellow, Head of Heritage Partnerships.

Heritage360, University of York
A home belonging to the members of York's medieval Jewish communityHeritage360, University of York

Although most of the second Jewish community worked and lived on Coney Street in the city centre, a new digital map shows that the community left a bigger footprint than once thought.

It is unclear what exactly spurred such a radical shift in York’s attitude towards Jews at the time. 

This new trove of information about the city’s Jewish community is being hailed as particularly inspiring by current Jewish community leaders, especially when looking back at the atrocities that happened only a few decades prior.

Heritage360, University of York
A look inside the home of a member of York's medieval Jewish communityHeritage360, University of York

Massacre of 1190

Noted as one of the worst single massacres of Jewish people in the Middle Ages, the massacre of 1190 was fueled by Jews being present at the coronation of King Richard I, hatred against Jews during the crusades, anger over debt repayment and rumors of blood libel in the community.

After a mob had formed on March 16, the Jewish community sought refuge in the Clifford’s Tower castle. Some in the castle decided to take their own lives rather than converting to Christianity and set their belongings on fire before doing so. 

Others were lured out of the castle with promises of a safe passage if they converted to Christianity. When some Jews agreed, the following morning they were executed after leaving the castle. In total it is estimated that around 150 Jews were killed or were forced to kill themselves during the massacre.

A city looking forward

At the beginning of August, York appointed the city’s first resident rabbi since Jews were expelled from England in 1290 under King Edward I.

The Edict of Expulsion was a royal decree issued by the King on July 18, 1290 and ordered all Jews out of England by November 1 of that year. It is estimated that 3,000 Jews were forced out of the country and ended up settling in France and Germany.

The city’s new rabbi, Dr Elisheva Salamo said in an interview with British media that she looks forward to her new mission in the historic city and understands the historic and symbolic weight of her role.

“I hope that the whole Jewish community and its allies across the globe will want to help us on the next step of this incredible journey to bring Judaism back to this ancient and most beautiful of cities.”

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