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Oath More Judaico or Juramentum Judaeorum

OATH MORE JUDAICO or JURAMENTUM JUDAEORUM, the form of oath which Jews in the Middle Ages were compelled to take in lawsuits with non-Jews. Both the text of the oath and the symbolic ritual involved in taking it were intended to give it the explicit character of a self-imposed curse, entailing detailed punishment if it were falsely taken. The ceremonial and symbolism were intended to strengthen and make vivid the curse as well as to stress the distrust of the Jew and the wish to humiliate him that were at the root of this special oath ritual. In various formulas, an oath of this kind was the rule in Europe from the early Middle Ages until the 18th century and in some places persisted even later. One such formula is found in a capitulary ascribed to Charlemagne, though it may have been composed at a somewhat later date. The Byzantine emperor Constantine VII (913–959) promulgated such an oath, which was probably patterned after earlier rulings on the subject. Jewish oath formulas written in German are preserved in 12th-century manuscripts from Erfurt and Goerlitz. The oath was taken on the Hebrew Bible. The text of the German Schwabenspiegel (c. 1275) exemplifies most of its main characteristics.

About the goods for which this man sues against thee, that thou dost not know of them nor have them, nor hast taken them into thy possession, neither thyself nor thy servants…

So help thee God, who created heaven and earth, valleys and mountains, wood, foliage, and grass, that was not before;

So help thee the Law that God wrote with His hand and gave to Moses on Mount Sinai;… And that so [if] thou eatest something, thou will become defiled all over, as did the King of Babylon; And that sulphur and pitch rain upon thy neck, as it rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah;

…And that the earth swallow thee as it did Dathan and Abiram; … So art thou true and right.

And so help thee Adonai; thou art true in what thou has sworn.

And so that thou wouldst become leprous like Naaman: it is true..

And so that the blood and the curse ever remain upon thee which thy kindred wrought upon themselves when they tortured Jesus Christ and spake thus:

His blood be upon us and upon our children: it is true.

So help thee God, who appeared to Moses in a burning bush.

It is true the oath thou hast sworn:

By the soul which on doomsday thou must bring to judgment.

Per deum Abraham, per deum Isaac, per deum Jacob it is true.

So help thee God and the oath which thou hast sworn Amen.

Not all formulas were as detailed or as harsh; most made no reference to the Jews as Christ-killers, yet all were intended to frighten the Jewish deponent in one way or another and to demonstrate visibly his inferior status.

The ceremonies attached to taking the oath were often even more degrading than the text. While Magdeburg jurors simply required that the deponent place his hand on the Pentateuch during the ceremony, many others insisted on ceremonials calculated to humiliate by their ludicrous and fantastic elements. According to old German custom the plaintiff or the judge held out a staff to be touched by the Jewish defendant while the oath was administered. One ritual made the Jew stand on a sow's skin, and in another he was obliged to stand on a hide of an animal that had brought forth young during the preceding fortnight: "The skin shall be cut open along the back and spread on [displaying] the teats; on it the Jew shall stand barefoot and wearing nothing but nether garment and a haircloth about his body." In yet another ceremonial the Jew had to stand on a stool, wearing his cloak and "Jew's hat" and facing the rising sun. The oath was administered either within or outside the synagogue or, less frequently, in the Christian courtroom. Yet in spite of these extravagant aspects of both ceremonial and formula, fundamentally the oath more judaico was patterned after Jewish religious law.


Baron, Community, 3 (1942), index; Kisch, Germany, 275–87; J.R. Marcus, Jew in the Medieval World (1938), 49f.; J.E. Scherer, Die Rechtsverhaeltnisse der Juden in den deutsch-oesterreichischen Laendern, 1 (1901); O. Stobbe, Die Juden in Deutschland waehrend des Mittelalters in politischer, sozialer und rechtlicher Beziehung (19233), 7, 153–9, 262–5.

[Isaac Levitats]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.