King Louis IX: saint, crusader, good to Christians, really, really, really mean to Jews.
Tomorrow is Tisha b'Av, the ninth of the Jewish month of Av and the saddest day of the Jewish year. Most Jewish holidays memorialize the deliverance of the Chosen People from certain destruction at the hands of various pharaohs, kings, sultans, etc., with lots of celebration and eating.
But as anyone who has a passing knowledge of post-Biblical Jewish history knows, there have been far fewer clear-cut victories over the past 2,500 years or so. Yes, the Jews somehow survived, but they mostly owed their survival to expulsion to far-flung locales like Babylonia or, in most cases, sheer dumb luck.
One of the chief perpetrators of Jewish agony over the past few millennia was King Louis IX of France, otherwise known as St. Louis, the man for whom our fair city was named.
Unlike many kings of France, Louis IX took his position of "lieutenant of God on Earth" very, very seriously. He built a lot of cathedrals and, more importantly, led two crusades, the Seventh in 1248, and the Eighth in 1270. Neither crusade achieved the ultimate goal of reclaiming the Holy Land, but Louis IX did manage to strengthen the French garrison in Acre and then return home, which, compared to the fate of most crusaders, constituted a success, of sorts.
Leading big armies to fight Middle Eastern Islamic kingdoms costs a lot of money (as our current government could tell you). So how did St. Louis muster the funds for two
holy wars? Why, he took it from the Jews, of course! Well, technically, he expelled from French soil all the Jews who worked as moneylenders and confiscated their property, but since moneylending was practically the only profession open to medieval Jews, it was pretty much the same difference.
Once Louis finally hit the road, in the grand tradition of all crusaders since the eleventh century, he called for the killing of all "infidels" in his path, including, you guessed it, Jews.
Louis' reign is recognized by historians as a high point in medieval French culture. In 1243, he organized the burning of 12,000 Jewish manuscripts in Paris, reasoning that the Jewish manuscripts might corrupt his good Christian soldiers.
Now, it is true that Louis IX's particular book-burning, not to mention the expulsion of France's Jewish moneyenders and the Seventh and Eighth Crusades, are only four entries in the catalogue of misery that consitutes a lot of Jewish history and tend to be overshadowed by larger events, like the destruction of the two Temples. But at the top of Art Hill, there's that big statue of St. Louis, a physical entity toward which Missouri's Jews can direct their misery.
And so, this Tisha b'Av, members of Washington University's Chabad will be gathering at the base of St. Louis' statue at 5:30 p.m. to recite liturgical poems memorializing the misery he wrought. Since Tisha b'Av is a day of fasting, refreshments will not be served.