International Fellowship of Christians and Jews
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History of IsraelCrusades

Tensions in the Byzantine Empire had been building since the 7th century, when the Seljuk Turk armies took control of Palestine, beginning the weakening and crumbling of the empire.

In 1009, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was destroyed; even though later Muslim rulers allowed it to be rebuilt, the damage was done, physically and politically, and Christians throughout the empire became concerned about the Muslim presence in the Holy Land. Elsewhere in Europe, religious piety among the Christians was growing stronger, and Christians were falling under attacks by Turkish Muslims. This potent combination led to the declaration of the First Crusade, in 1095, a call to support the Byzantines against the Seljuk expansion.

The stated goal of the Crusades was more religious than political, however—to reclaim the Holy Land from the Muslim "infidels." Any soldier who participated in recapturing Jerusalem would receive immediate remission of his sins, an enticing incentive for the fervently religious Christians.

At first, the Crusades seemingly had nothing to do with the Jewish population. However, marauding bands of Crusaders decided to first get rid of other "infidels" living among them—the Jews of Europe. Subsequently, entire populations of Jews were brutally murdered as the Crusaders made their way to the Holy Land. Sometimes, the local bishop would attempt to help the Jews of his city, but was usually not successful. The attacks on the Jews during the Crusades decimated the Jewish population in Europe. Many kinnot (lamentations) were written to express the despair over the horrifying loss of life, and Jews today recite these kinnot on Tisha B'Av, the Jewish national day of mourning.

When the Crusaders arrived in Jerusalem during the First Crusade, the Jews and Muslims living there worked together to repel the attack. Eventually, the Crusaders were victorious. The Jewish synagogues were burned, and the Jews, along with their holy books, were killed or held for ransom. The Karaite community in Ashkelon worked to ransom both the Jews and the texts; by 1100, though, the remaining Jews were forcibly converted or murdered. Over the period of the Crusades, the Jewish populations in Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Ramleh were wiped out. The Galilee remained relatively untouched, and continued to be a refuge for the Jewish people.

The Crusades lasted hundreds of years, with the holy cities and sites in Jerusalem constantly changing hands between Crusader and Muslim victors. The Knights Templar were the final Christian stronghold in the Holy Land. In 1291, Christian authority in the land came to a decisive end when the Crusaders were defeated by the Mamluks, a Muslim military class.

Once again, though, the persistence of the Jewish people and their love of the Holy Land, even during troubled times, is impressive. The same years which saw massacres and slaughter also saw the rise of Judah HaLevi, author of the Kuzari, and both Maimonides and Nahmanides, respected and prolific Torah sages. Judah HaLevi risked his life to travel to his beloved Holy Land, though he was killed on arrival; Nahmanides, too, risked everything to live in Israel, and was successful in reestablishing Jewish life and Torah learning throughout the country.