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An Oath Taken by Jews Frankfort on the Main, about 1392 CE
In matters requiring an oath before the civil authorities the medieval Jew did not
employ the same formula as the Christian or Muslim. The reason is obvious: the state was
Christian or Muslim, and no Jew could or would swear after the Christian or Muslim manner.
In a Christian land this would have meant a recognition of Jesus or the Trinity. Such an
oath would not have been binding on the Jew and hence was never imposed. For the
convenience of the Jew, therefore, an oath "according to the Jewish custom" (more
judaico) was instituted. One of the oldest surviving authentic oaths of this type was
promulgated by the Byzantine emperor, Constantine VII (912-959), but in all probability
this type is still older. This Byzantine formula, which is probably based on a Hebrew or
Aramaic original, was employed, with considerable variations, in most European lands
during the Middle Ages.
In the course of time, as prejudice against the Jew grew, the belief became
widespread among Christians that Jews would not hesitate to perjure themselves in
Christian courts. To counteract this presumed tendency, the various cities and states,
particularly in Germany and France, began to make the oaths more formidable and more
shocking both in language and in accompanying ceremonial, hoping thereby to frighten the
Jews into telling the truth. It was but a step from intimidation to humiliation and to
mild torture: Jews had to wear crowns of thorns on their necks and around their knees, and
long thorn branches were pulled between their legs while the oath was being administered
(France, eleventh century).
The manner of administering the oath varied in different localities. In spite of
the emancipation of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the oath,
"according to the Jewish custom," persisted in France till 1846, in Prussia till
1869, in Roumania till 1912. It is needless to say that Jews have always resented this
type of oath, especially because of the presumption implicit in it that the Jew is a
The following formula, originally in Middle High German, was used in Frankfort on
the Main about 1392. However, there were other oaths imposed on Jews in Frankfort on the
Main at this time and in other cities and states, too, that were milder and more
dignified. A special oath for Jews was still used in the police-courts of Frankfort as
late as 1847- (See JE, "Oath more judaico.")
This Is Indeed An Oath For Jews, How They Shall Take An Oath
The Jew shall stand on a sow's skin and the five books of Master Moses shall lie before
him, and his right hand up to the wrist shall lie on the book and he shall repeat after
him who administers the oath of the Jews:
Regarding such property of which the man accuses you, you know nothing of it nor do you
have it. You never had it in your possession, you do not have it in any of your chests,
you have not buried it in the earth, nor locked it with locks, so help you God who created
heaven and earth, valley and hill, woods, trees, and grass, and so help you the law which
God himself created and wrote with His own hand and gave Moses on Sinai's mount. And so
help you the five books of Moses that you may nevermore enjoy a bite without soiling
yourself all over as did the King of Babylon.
And may that sulphur and pitch flow down upon your neck that flowed over Sodom and
Gomorrah, and the same pitch that flowed over Babylon flow over you, but two hundred times
more, and may the earth envelope and swallow you up as it did Dathan and Abiram. And may
your dust never join other dust, and your earth never join other earth in the bosom of
Master Abraham if what you say is not true and right. [This refers either to a decent
burial or to resurrection.] And so help you Adonai you have sworn the truth.
If not, may you become as leprous as Naaman and Gehazi, and may the calamity strike you
that the Israelite people escaped as they journeyed forth from Egypt's land. And may a
bleeding and a flowing come forth from you and never cease, as your people wished upon
themselves when they condemned God, Jesus Christ, among themselves, and tortured Him and
said [Matthew 27:25]: "His blood be upon us and our children." It is true, so
help you God who appeared to Moses in a burning bush which yet remained unconsumcd. It is
true by the oath that you have sworn, by the soul which you bring on the Day of Judgment
before the Court, [before the God of] Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is true, so help you
God and the oath you have sworn [Amen].
Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York:
JPS, 1938), 49-50
Later printings of this text (e.g. by Atheneum, 1969, 1972, 1978) do not indicate that
the copyright was renewed)
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© Paul Halsall, July1998