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York, England

York is an English cathedral city and the principal city in the north of England during the Middle Ages. Jewish capitalists settled there in the middle of the 12th century and attained considerable prosperity. The leaders of the community were Benedict, Josce, noted for his patronage of scholars, and the tosafist Yom Tov of Joigny. Benedict and Josce represented the York Jews in the deputation which waited on Richard I at his coronation in September 1189. In the ensuing riots Benedict was seriously wounded and died of his injuries on his homeward journey.

The following March anti-Jewish rioting broke out in York and the Jews, headed by Josce, were allowed by the sheriff to take refuge in the royal castle known as Clifford’s Tower. Suspecting the latter’s intentions, they later excluded him, were besieged by the mob, and as many as 150 committed mass-suicide rather than submit (Shabbat ha-Gadol, March 16/17, 1190). The event was recorded in a Hebrew account written by Ephraim of Bonn,  The victims included Josce, R. Yom Tov, and the tosafist Elijah of York. A poignant elegy on the massacre was composed by Joseph b. Asher of Chartres.

A community was reestablished early in the 13th century though it never regained its former importance. The most important Anglo-Jewish magnate of the reign of Henry III, Aaron of York, archpresbyter of the Jews of England (1236–43), was the son of the Josce mentioned above. The community’s cemetery, originally shared with those of Lincoln and Northampton, was at a place still known as Jewbury.

York was one of the cities in England which had an archa and it remained a Jewish center until the expulsion of 1290, when the financial magnate Bonamie of York was given a safe-conduct and was permitted to settle in Paris. A few Eastern European Jews settled in York at the end of the 19th century, and a small congregation has existed since 1892.

In 1968, it numbered 45 out of a total population of 106,010, while the 2001 British census found 191 declared Jews by religion. There is an Orthodox congregation. A plan in 2002 by the local council to build a shopping mall adjacent to Clifford’s Tower was opposed by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the local community.


Davies, in: Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Journal, 3 (1875), 147–97; J. Jacobs, Jews of Angevin England (1893); A.M. Habermann, Gezerot Ashkenaz ve-Zarefat (1945), 127, 152–54; Roth, in: JHSET, 16 (1952), 213–20; Birnbaum, ibid. 19 (1960), 199–205; M. Adler, ibid., 13 (1936), 113–55 (= Jews of Medieval England (1937), 127–73); E. Brunskill, ibid., 20 (1959–61), 239–46. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: R.B. Dobson, Clifford’s Tower and the Jews of Medieval York (1995); idem, The Jews of Medieval York and the Massacre of March 1190 (1974).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
The 1190 Massacre, York Museum Trust Project.