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How did usury laws influence Jewish persecution?

Usury laws contributed to Jewish persecution by reinforcing negative stereotypes and facilitating economic discrimination.

In the Middle Ages, usury laws in Europe prohibited Christians from lending money with interest. However, Jews, who were often barred from other professions, were allowed to engage in money lending. This led to the development of a stereotype of Jews as greedy and exploitative, which was used to justify their persecution.

The Church's prohibition on usury was based on biblical teachings that condemned the practice as sinful. However, the growing economies of medieval Europe required credit and loans to function. Jews, who were often excluded from guilds and other economic activities, found a niche in money lending. This was not only permitted but also encouraged by secular authorities who benefited from the taxes and loans they could extract from Jewish communities.

However, this economic role had severe social consequences. Jews were often the only money lenders in their communities, which made them essential but also deeply unpopular. When debtors could not or would not repay their loans, it often led to anti-Jewish violence. Moreover, the association of Jews with money lending and usury reinforced negative stereotypes. Jews were depicted as greedy and unscrupulous, exploiting Christian debtors for their own gain. These stereotypes were used to justify their social exclusion and persecution.

In addition, usury laws also facilitated economic discrimination against Jews. When Christian rulers needed funds, they often turned to Jewish lenders. However, these rulers also had the power to expel Jews from their territories, which they frequently did to cancel their debts. This created a cycle of exploitation and expulsion, which further marginalised Jewish communities.

In conclusion, usury laws played a significant role in Jewish persecution in the Middle Ages. By forcing Jews into the role of money lenders, these laws reinforced negative stereotypes and facilitated economic discrimination. This contributed to the social exclusion and violence that Jews faced in medieval Europe.

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