In the mid-fourteenth century, the plague hits Europe and throws it into chaos. Twenty-five million people die. This is forty-percent of the population.
Today we know its cause. The plague was carried by flea-infested rats. However, in the mid-thirteen-hundreds, its origin is a mystery.
Europe's poor sanitary conditions exacerbate the problem.
Torah observance provides standards which somewhat protect the Jews from the plague. We are required to wash before eating bread. We bathe at least once a week, in honor of the Shabbos. The dead must be buried and may not be left to rot. We must keep a distance from sewage in order to recite blessings and study Torah.
So the plague does not hit the Jews as hard as the non-Jews. Yet the Jewish people are not spared. To the contrary. The Jews are blamed for the plague. Some claim it's heavenly wrath against Christian Europe for tolerating the non-believers. Others claim that Jewish prayers poisoned the drinking water.
Society breaks down in the midst of the carrion. Parents abandon their children, priests stay away, charity is dead.
Governmental control breaks down; Anarchy sets in. Bands of roaming zealots massacre much of the Jewish population.
Frankfurt Germany has nineteen-thousand Jews prior to the plague. By the end of the fourteenth century there is barely a minyon of ten Jews left.
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