Skip to main content

Medieval Roots of the Myth of Jewish Male Menses*

  • Irven M. Resnick (a1)

Good historical fiction reveals not only the realities of a particular epoch, but also its cultural attitudes. An excellent example is Bernard Malamud's The Fixer, which succeeds in disclosing the nature of Russian anti-semitism by artfully weaving together enduring themes of anti-Jewish Christian mythology—the blood libel and accusations of ritual murder—to illustrate the fabric of Jewish life in early modern Russia. Perhaps almost unnoticed in his work, however, are references to the myth of Jewish male menses. Consider the following passages from The Fixer, in which the Jewish defendant, Yakov Bok, is confronted by this bizarre contention:

“You saw the blood?” the Prosecuting Attorney said sarcastically. “Did that have some religious meaning to you as a Jew? Do you know that in the Middle Ages Jewish men were said to menstruate?” Yakov looked at him in surprise and fright. “I don't know anything about that, your honor, although I don't see how it could be.”

Hide All

1 Malamud, Bernard, The Fixer (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966) 93. Yakov Bok's character is based on Mendel Beilis, who was a victim of a blood libel charge in Kiev. Beilis was arrested in 1911 and spent almost two years in prison before trial. He was acquitted late in 1913. The prosecution, however, insisted that the crime was a religious one and that the draining of much blood from the victim's body pointed clearly to Jewish religious practice. For some of the documentary evidence, see Mendes-Flohr, Paul and Reinharz, Jehuda, eds., The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History (2d ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) 367-71, 412–13.

2 Malamud, , The Fixer, 139.

3 Although the charge of the ritual murder of Christian children first appears in the twelfth century, it is repeated with growing frequency and finds an especially receptive audience during the Reformation and later among both Catholics and Protestants. Various attempts were made to explain why Jews sought to murder Christian children, but an indication of their inadequacy is expressed in Johannes Eck (d. 1543), Against the Defense of the Jews (Ains Judenbüechlins Verlegung, fol. G r), which proclaims simply that “the Talmud explicitly commands the Jews to kill Christian children.” See Oberman, Heiko, The Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Age of the Renaissance and Reformation (trans. Porterj, James I.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981) 36. The frequency of these ritual murder charges led the rabbi of Bamberg, Adolf Eckstein (d. 1935), to remark that in all likelihood there was not a single Jewish community in Europe that had not at least once been confronted with the charge of ritual murder. See Rainer Erb, “Zur Erfoschung der europäischen Ritualmordbeschuldigungen,” in idem, ed., Die Legende vom Ritualmord: zur Geschichte der Blutbeschu?digung gegen Juden (Berlin: Metropol, 1993) 12.

4 Begun perhaps between 1150 and 1155, the work was completed in 1172-1173. The text is found in The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich by Thomas of Monmouth (trans. Jessopp, Augustus and James, M. R.; Cambridge: University Press, 1896). For a very good study of the case of William of Norwich and the origins of the blood libel, see Langmuir, Gavin, Toward a Definition of Antisemitism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990). For a discussion of various approaches to the origins of the blood libel, see Berger, David, “From Crusades, to Blood Libels, to Expulsions: Some New Approaches to Medieval Antisemitism,” Second Annual Lecture of the Victor J. Selmanowitz Chair of Jewish History, Touro College Graduate School of Jewish Studies (03 16, 1997). John M. McCulloh provides a detailed and informative discussion of the twelfth-century origins of the ritual murder charge in Jewish Ritual Murder: William of Norwich, Thomas of Monmouth, and the Early Dissemination of the Myth,” Speculum 72 (1997) 698740. For the date of Thomas, of Monmouth's, Life, see pp. 706–9. McCulloh also argues that an independent source for information regarding the death of William of Norwich is evident in a German martyrology from before 1150, demonstrating that “the earliest extant documentary evidence, regarding not only his [William's] death but also his veneration as a saint, comes not from England but from Bavaria” (Ibid., 728). For the popularity of the Norwich account, see also Lotter, Friedrich, ”Innocens virgo et martyr: Thomas von Monmouth und die Verbreitung der Ritualmodlegende im Hochmittelalter,” in Erb, , ed., Legende vom Ritualmord, 2572.

5 An account of the event from a Hebrew chronicle of Ephraim ben Jacob (1132-ca. 1200) appears in Marcus, Jacob, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Source Book 315-1791 (Cincinnati: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1938) 127–30.

6 For the death of Hugh of Lincoln, see Langmuir, , Toward a Definition of Antisemitism, 242–66.

7 Chaucer, Geoffrey, “The Prioress's Tale,” [11. 684–85] in Canterbury Tales (ed. Cawley, A. C.; London: Dent & Sons, 1984) 381. Chaucer's Hugh was slain because he annoyed the Jews with his constant repetition of the Alma redemptoris mater, a motif found also in Old French Marian devotional literature. See Spangenberg, Peter-Michael, “Judenfeindlichkeit in den altfranzösischen Marienmirakeln,” in Erb, , ed., Legende vom Ritualmord, 169–70. Consider too the remark of Denise Despres ( “Mary of the Eucharist: Cultic Anti-Judaism in Some Fourteenth-Century English Devotional Manuscripts,” in Cohen, Jeremy, ed., From Witness to Witchcraft: Jews and Judaism in Medieval Christian Thought [Wiesbaden: Harassowitz, 1996] 376) that “anti-Judaism is integral to the development of an iconography of late-medieval Marian devotion.” Jordan, William (“Marian Devotion and the Talmud Trial of 1240,” in Lewis, Bernard and Niewöhner, Friedrich, eds., Religionsgepräche im Mittelalter [Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1992] 6176) has even suggested that it was perceived Jewish affronts to Marian devotion that stimulated the attacks on the Talmud in Paris in the 1240s.

8 For a helpful survey of such uses, see Angerstorfer, Andreas, “Jüdische Reaktionen auf die mittelalterlichen Blutbeschuldigungen vom 13. bis zum 16. Jahrhundert,” in Erb, , ed., Legende vom Ritualmord, 134—35.

9 Poliakov, Léon, The History of Anti-Semitism (trans. Howard, Richard; 4 vols.; London: Elek Books, 1965) 1. 143. For the French edition, see Histoire de l'antisémitisme: du Christ aux Juifs de Cour (4 vols.; Paris: Calmann Levy, 1955) 1. 160.

10 From Cecco d'Ascoli's commentary on Sacrobosco's De sphaera (ca. 1324), cited by Biller, Peter, “Views of Jews from Paris around 1300: Christian or 'Scientific'?” in Wood, Diana, ed., Christianity and Judaism: Papers Read at the 1991 Summer Meeting and the 1992 Winter Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992) 199.

11 Angerstorfer (”Jüdische Reaktionen,” 139, 143—47) provides useful evidence that Jews were aware of (and fashioned responses to) Christian accusations of ritual cannibalism.

12 Gilman, Sander L., Jewish Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986) 7475, quoted in Johnson, Willis, “The Myth of Jewish Male Menses,” Journal of Medieval History 24 (1998) 273–74. I am grateful to Dr. Johnson for allowing me to read his work—from which I benefitted greatly— prior to its publication.

13 Hildegard of Bingen, for example, explains that had Eve remained in Paradise, her veins would have remained hale and she would have averted this blood flow. See her Causae et Curae (ed. Kaiser, Paul; Leipzig: Teubner, 1903) 3, 103. Adam's body also suffered a complexional imbalance once he was cast out of Paradise, so that “his descendants, therefore, born as they were from a corrupt ancestor, have all been corrupted and never afterward has perfect health been found in humans” (William of Conches [d. ca. 1150], A Dialogue on Natural Philosophy [Dragmaticon Philosophiae; trans. Ronca, Italo and Curr, Matthew; South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997] 147). The corresponding Latin text will be found in Ronca's critical edition, Guillelmi de Conchis Dragmaticon Philosophiae 6.13 (CCCM 152; Turnhout: Brepols, 1997) 227.

14 Menstrua enim consuetudo mulieribus non aliqua culpa est, videlicet quia naturalite accedit, sed tamen quod natura ?psa ita vitiata est, ut etiam sine voluntatis studio videatur esse polluta, ex culpa venit vitium, in quo se ipsa se qualis per judicium facta sit, humana natura cognoscat. (”For the monthly occurrence [of menstruation] among women is not itself sin, because it occurs naturally, but nevertheless nature itself is so corrupted that it seems to be polluted even without the inclination of the will, [and] from sin derives this imperfection by which human nature may understand what kind of nature has been made through [divine] judgment.”) Gregory, IEpistola 64 (PL 77: 1195D); compare Bede, Hist. eccl. 1.27.7 (PL 95: 64A).

15 Feminis namque et menstuus sui sanguinis fluxus aegritudo est. Gregory, IEpistola 64 (PL 77: 1195C); compare Bede, , Hist. eccl. 1.27.7 (PL 95: 64A).

16 Cujus cruoris contactu fruges non germinant, acescunt musta, moriuntur herbae, amittunt arbores foetus; ferum rubigo corrumpit, nigrescunt aera: si qui canes inde ederint, in rabiem efferuntur. Maurus, RabanusDe universe 6.1 (PL 111: 174B). Compare Hugh of Victor, St. (?), De best. etal. 3.60 (PL 177: 131B); and Innocent, IIIDe cont. mund. 1.5 (PL 217: 704C). The source for this notion can be traced back through Isidore of Seville's, Etymol. 11.1.141 to Pliny's, Hist. not. 7.15.6465. It should be noted too that this depiction of menstrual blood as a dangerous poison assumes a rather prominent role in an argument against the Virgin birth in a thirteenth-century anti-Christian Jewish polemic. See Talmage, Frank, “A Hebrew Polemical Treatise: Anti-Catha and Anti-Orthodox,” HTR 60 (1967) 341.

17 Indeed, Albert the Great attributes morning sickness in pregnant women to the retention of menses. See his De animalibus 9.110 ( ed. Stadler, Hermann; Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophic des Mittelalters 15-16; Münster: Aschendorff, 1916-1920) 15. 719,11. 910. For an English translation see Albertus Magnus's On Animals: A Medieval Summa Zoologica (trans. Kitchell, Kenneth F. and Resnick, Irven M.; 2 vols.; Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).

17 Grosseteste, RobertExpositio in epistulam sancti Pauli ad Galatas 3.3 (ed. McEvoy, J. and Rizzerio, L.; CCCM 130; Turnhout: Brepols, 1995); Ps. Albert the Great Women's Secreís: A Translation of Pseudo-Albertus Magnus's Mulierum, De Secretiswith Commentaries (trans. Lemay, Helen Rodnite; Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1992) 131; Albert, the Great De animalibus 7.133; 15.553.22. See also,Albert, the Great Quaestiones de animalibus 9.9, in Opera omnia (ed. Ephrem Filthau, ; 12 vols.; Cologne: Aschendorff, 1951) 12. 207, 23%. ?he Quaestiones are Conrad of Austria's reporttio of Albert's 1258 lectures at Cologne, written ca. 1260. This tradition, however, can be traced back to Pliny, Hist. nt. 7.13.6365.

19 Albert, Ps. the Great Women's Secrets, 131.

21 Per singulos menses gravia atque torpolentia mulieum corpora immundi sanguinis effusione revelantur. Quo tempore si vir coierit cum muliere, dicuntur concept! fetus vitium seminis trahere; ita ut leprosi, et elephantiaci ex hac conceptione nascantur. (“At each monthly period the gross and sluggish [nature of] bodies of women are revealed by an effusion of unclean blood. If a man has intercourse with a woman at this time, the fetuses that are conceived are said to receive a corruption of the seed, so much so that they are born leprous and subject to elephantiasis [a virulent form of leprosy] on account of this conception.”) Maurus, RabanusCommentri in Ezechielem 8.18 (PL 110: 706C). Compare Rupert, of Deutz, De snct Trinitte et operibus eius, In Leviticum 15 (ed. Haacke, R.; CCCM 22; Turnhout: Brepols, 1972) 892.

22 Ottavia Niccoli has pointed out that an important change occurs in this passage in 4 Esdr. 5:8 in Latin MSS prior to the ninth century, since “the equivalent of the word menstruatae does not exist in the Arabic version, nor the Armenian, nor in the Ethiopian, nor in the Syrian; all derived, like the Latin, from the Greek translation of the text.” See “‘Menstruum quasi monstruum’: Monstrous Births and Menstrual Taboos in the Sixteenth Century,” in Muir, Edward and Ruggiero, Guido, eds., Sex and Gender in Historical Perspective (trans. Gallucci, Margaret A., Gallucci, Mary M., and Gallucci, Carole C.; Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990) 1314. Ivo of Chatres remarks, Obsevet unusquisque ne menstruatae mulieri misceatur; hoc enim exsecrabile dicit lex Dei. (“Let each one take care not to have intercourse with a menstrual woman; the Law of God calls this an abomination.”) Decretum 119 (PL 161: 688C). Compare Lev 18:19, where a man who has intercourse with a menstruating woman is cut off from his people, and Ezek 18:6, where avoidance of menstruating women is one of the seventeen virtues of a just man.

23 Quilibet vir, qui cum uxoe in consuetudine ejus menstrua rem habuerit, jejunet quadraginta dies. (“Any man who takes advantage of his wife at her menstrual period shall fast for forty days.”) Egbert, of York Poenitentiale 16 (PL 89: 405C); compare Fragmenta ex collectoribus canonum 249 (PL 99: 971C).

24 Albert the Great appears exceptional in treating this as a venial sin. For a discussion, see Roy, Bruno, “Un inédit d'Albert le Grand dans I'Unguentarius de Guillaume de Werda,” in Jacquart, D., et al., eds., Comprendre et Maîtriser la Nature au Moyen Ages, Melanges d'histoire des Sciences offerts a Guy Beujouan (Geneva: Libr. Droz, 1994) 171–80.

25 Maurus, RabanusPoenitentiale 30 (PL 110: 491B-C); Burchard, of Worms Libri Decretorum 5 (PL 140: 974C).

26 Ilia femina quae menstruum sanguinem suum miscuit cibo vel potui, et dedit viro suo, ut comederet … pro infirmitate vitanda, quali poenitentia sint plectendae? Maurus, RabanusPoenitentiale 30 (PL 110: 491B); compare Egbert, of York Poenitentiale 16 (PL 89: 405C).

27 Quaedam mulieres … tollunt menstruum suum sanguinem, et immiscent cibo vel potui, et dant viris suis ad manducandum, vel ad bibendum, ut plus diligantur ab eis. Si fecisti, quinque annos per legitimas ferias poeniteas. Burchard, of Worms Libri Decretorum 5 (PL 140: 974C).

28 Si autem homo de libidine aut incontinentia leprosus efficitur, agrimoniam … in caldario coquat, et ex his balneum facial, et menstruum sanguinem, quantum habere poterit, admisceat, et balneo se imponat…. Et sic frequenter facial, dum sanetur. Hildegard, of Bingen Subtilitales diversarum naturarum creaturarum 114 (PL 197: 1176D-1177A); compare Pliny, Hist. nat. 25.9.56. The precise idenlificalion of the plant or herb, argemonia, remains elusive. On the relationship between carnal commerce and leprosy in the Middle Ages, see Jacquart, Danielle and Thomasset, Claude, Sexuality and Medicine in the Middle Ages (trans. Adamson, Matthew; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988) 181–93.

29 Peter, of Poitiers (d. 1205) Summa de confessione 12.5 (ed. Longré, J.; CCCM 51; Turnhout: Brepols, 1980).

30 Praeterea omnes vos [ludaei] secundum Moysi legem immundi estis. Nullus enim in vobis est, qui mortuorum attactu pollutus non sit. Quae scilicet macula, nisi conspesione cineris vaccae rufae non deletur, quam cum ad praesens habere non possitis, ab immunditia liberai nequitis. Mulieres etiam vestrae omnes fluxu pollutae creduntur, cum pristini desint sacerdotes, quorum erat relictum judicio inter menstruam et sangu?nis fluxus pollutam discernere, et filii de pollutione. (”Moreover all of you [Jews] are unclean according to the law of Moses. Not one of you is not polluted from contact with the dead. You are unable to cleanse this stain of uncleanness unless it is removed by scattering the ashes of a red heifer which, at the present time, you cannot obtain. Moreover, all your women are believed to be defiled by a flow [of blood], since the original priests, to whose judgment it was left to distinguish between menstrual [blood] and the pollution of a discharge of blood are all gone, and [your] children [come] from defilement.”) Peter Alphonsi Dialogus (PL 157: 596D).

31 Et facti sumus ut immundus omnes nos, et quasi pannus menstruatae universae iustitiae nostrae (Isa 64:6, Vg; “And we are all become like one unclean and all our righteous deeds are like the garment of a menstruating woman.”) Rupert of Deutz explicitly invoked this passage in his Dialogus inter Christianum et Judaeum (PL 170: 571B-D) to argue that Israel could not be cleansed of this defilement until there appeared the one who washes away menstrual impurity, namely Jesus himself.

32 Facta est leusalem quasi polluta menstruis inter eos. (Lam 1:17; “Jerusalem is made like one defiled among them by menstrual [uncleanness].”)

33 Paschasius Radbetus (d. 860) seems unusually clear on this point: ‘Et facta est Hierusalem quasi polluta menstruis inter eos (Lam 1:17),’ Quia sicut execrabilis est mulier eo tempore quo menstrua patitur ita et illi execrabiles erant, ludei et sunt usque hodie tam nobis quam et hostibus suis. (“‘Jerusalem is made like one defiled among them by menstrual [uncleanness] [Lam 1:17].’ Because just as a woman is an abmomination at that time when she suffers menstruation, so too even these people were an abomination, just as are the Jews today both to us and to their enemies.”) Expositio in lamentationes Hieremiae 1.17 (ed. Paulus, B.; CCCM 85; Turnhout: Brepols, 1988).

34 Quod ex maledictione parentum currat adhuc in filios vena facinoris, per maculum san-guinis: Ut per hanc importune fluidam proles impia inexpiabiliter crucietur, quousque se ream sanguinis Chisti recognoscat poenitens, et sanetur. Thomas, of Cantimpré Miraculorum et exemplorum memorabilium sui temporis libri duo (Douai, 1605) 305.

35 Mundus ego sum a sanguine iusti huius ludaei impiissime clamaverunt: Sangnis [sic] eius super nos, et super filios nostros. Ibid.

36 Other medieval authors make quite explicit the contrast between the uncleaness of a menstruating woman and the purity achieved by the woman suffering from this bloody flux on account of her faith. Compare Radbertus Expos, in lam. Hier. 5.1; and Petrus Cellensis (1115-1183) De disciplina claustrali 27.94 (SC 240; reprinted Paris: G. de Matel, 1977).

37 Again, Radbertus (d. 860) provides an unequivocal testimony: Et mira fiducial Nam in lege si quis mulierem menstuam vel fluentem sanguinem, sive quodcunque ilia tetigisset, immunda erant. Haec vero: Si tetigero fimbriam vestimenti ejus, salva ero. Liquet igitur, quod eum Deum credidit, qui nullis coinquinatur sordibus, imo abstergit vulnera, emundat immunditias, et languores vacuat. (“Oh marvelous faith. For according to the Law if someone touched a menstruating woman or one with a bloody discharge, or anything she had touched, they were unclean. But truly this woman [thought], If I shall touch the edge of his garment, I shall be saved. Therefore it is clear that she believed him to be the God who is uncontaminated by filth but rather cleanses all wounds, heals all unclanness, and eliminates all weaknesses.”) Expositio in Matthaeum 9 (PL 120: 383D).

38 See Thomas, of Celano Tract, de mir. beat. Fran. 15.148–49, in Analecla ranciscana 10 (ed. Bonaventurae, PP. Collegii S.; Florence: ad Clares Aquas, 1926-1941).

39 In ilia die erit fons patens domus [sic] David habitantibus in Hierusalem in ablutione peccatoris et menstuatae' (Zach 13:1). Fons quippe occultus est unigenitus Patris invisibilis Deus. Fons vero patens est idem Deus incarnatus. Qui fons patens recte domus David dicitur, quia ex David genere noster ad nos Redemptor processit. (“On that day a fountain will be opened of the house of David for the inhabitants in Jerusalem for the cleansing of the sinner and one defiled' [Zach 13:1]. Indeed the only begotten One of the invisible God the Father is a concealed fountain. The same God, incarnate, is truly an opened fountain. The house of David is correctly called an open fountain because our Redeemer came to us from the race of David.”) Gregory, IHomilia in Ezechielem 8 (PL 76: 1039D); Expos, in Psalm, poen. 109.7 (PL 79: 641A). Compare Damian, PeterSermones: Homilia 51 (PL 144: 789A); , Garnerius of Victor, St.Gregorianum 8 (PL 193: 299D); and Harveng, Philippus deDe inst. cler. 5.3 (PL 203: 844C).

40 See Marcus, Ivan G., “Images of the Jews in the Exempla of Caesarius of Heisterbach,” in Cohen, , ed., From Witness to Witchcraft, 247–56.

41 Patri meo multum sum dilecta, qui in tantum custodit me, ut neque ego ad te, neque tu possis venire ad me, nisi in nocte sextae feriae, quae Pascha vestrum praecedit. Tune enim Judaei laboae dicuntu quadam infirnitate, que fluxus sanguinis dicitur, circa quam occupati, aliis tune minus intendere possunt. Caesarius, of Heisterbach, Dialogus Miraculorum (ed. Strange, Joseph; 2 vols.; Cologne: H. Lempertz, 1851) 1. 92.

42 Et pecussit inimicos suos in posteriora, opprobrium sempiternum dedit illis.

43 Et percussit inimicos suos in posteriora … Ha legitu (I Reg. 5) quod ebullierunt mures de terra, et percussit Dominus azotum in secretion parte natium; et mures corrodebant prominentes extales eorum. Opprobrium sempiternum fuit, quia vilissima fuit huiusmodt infirmitas. Etdicunt quidam quod hoc opprobrium sustincnt Judaei, quia in vindictam Dominicae Passionis patiuntur fluxum sanguinis, et ideo sunt ita pallidi. Quoted in Johnson, , “Myth of Jewish Male Menses,” 281.

44 Martini, RaymundPugio Fidel 3.3.c. 4, 11 (1687; reprinted Farnborough: Gregg Press, 1967) 695.

45 Compare Aristotle's, Hist, animal. 521a19. 2831; 587b. See also Celsus, De med. 2.8.15; 6.18.9; 7.30.3. This latter work dates from about 30 CE.

46 See The Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides: Maimonides' Medical Writings, trt. 22 (trans. Rosner, Fred; Haifa: Maimonides Research Institute, 1989) 342–55. Maimonides', Treatise on Hemorrhoids ([trans. Rosner, Fred; Haifa: Maimonides Research Institute, 1984] 120–52) was not available in Latin translation until the fifteenth century. His medical explanation for hemorrhoids relies heavily on Galen, but offers no indication that Maimonides thought that hemorrhoids were more common in Jews than in others. The same conclusion may be drawn from an examination of medieval Jewish medical texts translated by Bakai, Ron in A History of Jewish Gynaecological Texts in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 1998) 96222. See pp. 106 and 177 for treatments for hemorrhoids. For Avicenna, see his Liber canonis medicine (1524; reprinted Farnborough: Gregg Press, 1971) 264-68.

47 See Craig, G., “Alfred the Great: A Diagnosis,” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 1 (1991) 303–5. Alfred died ca. 900.

48 Haemorroidae causantur ex superfluitate sanguinis gossi, quia quando talis sanguis abundat in corporem descendit inferius, ubi est pluralitas venaum, scilicet in matrice, et tune frequenter rumpitur una vena vel duae, et tune fluit sanguis propter apertionem eaum venaum aliquando. Unde illud maxime accidit viventibus ex nutrimento grosso et salso, sicut ludeis, per natuam, et quia iste sanguis est grossus et naturae terestris, ideo super fluxum eius non dominatur luna sicut super menstum. Magnus, AlbetusQuaestiones de animalibus 9.7 (ed. Cologne, ; 12 vols.; Münster: Aschendorff, 1955) 12. 206. Elsewhere (De animal. 22.48 [33]), he identifies meats that are cold and dry as a cause for hemorrhoids. On the prevalence of hemorrhoids among Jews causing in them a menstrual flow, note too that this notion survived among physicians into the modern era, as evidenced by the fact that Abbe Grégoire must refute it at the end of the eighteenth century. See the excerpt from his “An Essay on the Physical, Moral and Political Reformation of the Jews,” in Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, eds., Jew in the Modern World, 52.

49 Ulterius quaeritur, utrum sola mulier patiatur menstruum. (1) Et videtur, quod non. Quia menstruum est superfluitas sanguinis; sed haec potest esse in viro sicut in muliere; ergo etc. Magnus, AlbertusQuaestiones de animalibus 9.6 [ET 12. 205].

50 Ad pimam rationem dicendum, quod viro non accidit flux us menstrui propter duas rationes, scilicet propter abundantiam et excellentiam calidi consumentis et paucitatem humidi. Ibid.

51 Sicut accidit fluxus ventris propter debilitatem digestionis qui lienteicus fluxus vocatur, ita fluxus accidit sanguini in venis non digesto: et tune erit exitus menstrui sanguinis qui fluit al?quando ex orificiis venarum ani quae emorroydae vocantur: et fere similiter fluit sanguis menstuus, nisi quod est fluxus sanguinis natualis emorroydae autem sunt fluxus innaturalis. Albertus Magnus De animal. 15.114 [ET 16. 1041, 11. 15-20]. Compare De animal. 9.21, where Albert concedes that hemorrho?dal bleeding most often occurs either at the middle or end of the month, because of the moon's influence.

52 Hemorrhoidae sunt quinque venae exeuntes in ano, ex quo diversae passiones fiunt, scil. inflatio, retentio, fluxus. Quandoque autem superfluitates vi nature transmittuntur ad partes et ruptis venis illis, emittuntur, et corpus a diversis aegritudtbus liberatur. Sed si fuerit fluxus immodeatus, variae efficiuntur passiones.… Si vero nimis fluant orificia venarum, restringantur estrictivis medicinis, paulatim tamen maxime si fuerit morbis inveteratus, ne sanguis subito repercussus ad aliquod membrum refundatur et peior mobus generetur. (“The hemorrhoids are the five veins exiting from the anus from which a variety of illnesses occur, to wit gas, retention, and flux. Sometimes, however, superfluities are conveyed to these parts by a power of nature and, once these veins have ruptured, they are purged and the body is freed from diverse illnesses. But if the flow is excessive various afflictions result. … If the orifices of the veins flow too much they should be restrained by astringent medications, although only gradually especially if the condition is a chronic one lest the blood that is too suddenly checked be sent to some other member and an even worse sickness occur.”) Bartholomaeus Angelicus De re. prop. 7.53 (1601; reprinted Frankfurt on Main: Minerva, 1964) 337.

53 Compare Magnus, AlbetusDe animal. 3.149; 15.102, 107, 114.

54 See especially Dahan, Gilbert, “Juifs et judaïsme dans la littérature quodlibétique,” in Cohen, , ed., From Witness to Witchcraft, 221–45.

55 Consequenter queritu utrum iudei paciuntur fluxum. Aguitur quod non, quia xpistiani et aliqui iudei sunt eiusdem complexionis, ergo etc. Oppositum patet ex veritate quia illi leccatoes paciuntur fluxum ut in pluribus. Ad quaestionem dicendum quod iudei habent fluxum sanguinis hemoreidarum. Et cause est pima quia dicunt medici quod fluxus sanguinis causatu ex sanguine gosso indigesto quern [MS reads que natura purgat. Sed iste [MS reads istis] magis habundat in iudeis quia ipsi sunt melancolici ut in pluribus. Quia melancolicus fugit cohabitacionem et congregacionem et diligit loca secretaria vel solitaria; sed iudei naturaliter retrahunt se a societate et coniuncti [properly coniungi] cum aliis ut patet, ergo sunt melancolici. Item, pallidi sunt, ergo melancolice complexionis. Item, timidi sunt naturaliter et hec tria sunt [supra? MS] accidencia propria melancolicorum, ut dicit Ipocras. Sed ille qui multum est melancolicus multum habet de sanguine melancolico, et inde debet habee fluxum sanguinis, sed iudei sunt huiusmodi. Probo quia utuntur alimentis assatis et non elixatis non coctis, et hec sunt difficile digestibilia, ut dicitur Me[teorum or -telologicorum]. Item, utuntur assarem [properly assatam] pinguedinem scilicet in oleo etc. et hec sunt difficile indigestibilia [properly digestibilia], ut patet manifestum sens[i; manifestym sensui perhaps ecte ubi supra], ideo etc…. Item, ipsi non minuunt, vel valde parum, ideo ipsi emittunt sanguinem per poros extrinsecos, ideo etc. This provisional edition of the quodlibet is found in appendix B of Bille, “Views of Jews from Paris around 1300.” The translation is also B?ller's and appears on pp. 192-93.

56 Fo a very useful treatment, see especially Cadden, Joan, Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) 201-9, 212–15.

57 Ibid., 174.

58 Ps. Albert, the Great Women's Secrets, 74. In its Latin original this work would presumably have had a limited readership. Nevertheless, its ninety-seven manuscript copies indicate its popularity. In addition, the Secreta mulierum circulated in medieval vernacular translations—for example, in French, under the title Secrés des dames, and in German. See Schleissner, Margaret R., “A Fifteenth-Century Physician's Attitude Toward Sexuality: Dr. Johann Hartlieb' s Secreta mulierum Translation,” in Sex in the Middle Ages, ed. Salisbury, Joyce (New York: Garland, 1991) 110–25; and also her ‘“Secreta mulierum,”’ Kurt Ruh, , ed., Die deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters: Verfasserlexikon (2d ed.; 10 vols.; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1978) 8. 986–93. For a discussion of the relationship between the Secreta mulierum and the Secrés des dames tradition, see Green, Monica H.,“‘Traittié tout de mençonges.’ The Secrés des dames, ‘Totula,’ and Attitudes toward Women's Medicine in Fourteenth- and Early-Fifteenth-Century France,” in Desmond, Marilynn, ed., Christine de Piian and the Categories of Difference (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998) 146–78.

59 Iudei ut pluimum patiuntur fluxum haemorrhoid. propter tria, et quia communiter sunt in ocio, et ideo congregantu superfluitates melancholicae. Secundo, quod communiter sunt in timore et anxietate, ideo multiplicatur sang, melancholicus, iuxta illud Hipp. Timor et pusilanimitas si multum tempus habuerint, melancholicum faciunt hum. Tertio quia hoc ex ultione divina, iuxta illud. Et percussit eos in posteriori dorsi, opporbrium sempiternum dedit illis. Lilium medicine 5.21, fol. 77r. Compare Demaitre, Luke E., Doctor Bernard de Gordon: Professor and Practicioner (Studies and Texts 51; Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1980) 9. It should be noted that despite the influence of Bernard's text, its discussion of hemorrhoids was sometimes transmitted without any suggestion that hemorrhoids were in any special way a Jewish affliction. See for example John Ardenne (b. 1307) Treatises of Fistula, Hemorrhoids, and Clysters (ed. D?rcy Power; 1910; reprinted London: Oxford University Press, 1968) 55-74.

60 Ps. Albert, the Great Women's Secrets, 71 (Commentary B). Italics mine. Note that although the text of Women 's Secrets dates from the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, the date of the commentary designated as commentary B is even more uncertain.

61 Huygens, R. B. C., ed., Lettres de Jacques de Vitry (Leiden: Brill, 1960) 74, I. 73. This letter dates from October, 1216.

62 Hinnebusch, John Frederick, The Historia Occidentalis of Jacques de Vitry (Fribourg: Friboug University Press, 1972) 11. But compare Aubrey Stewart, who remarks rather unfairly that the “collection of fables and legends at the end of the ‘Histoia abbreviata’ shows that he [Jacques] had an unbounded appetite for the marvellous, and no critical faculty whatever.” Jacques de Vitry, [Excerpts from] The History of Jerusalem (trans. Aubrey Stewart; 1895; reprinted New York: AMS Press, 1971), vi.

63 Only the Historia occidentalis has been critically edited. See Hinnebusch, , Historia occidentalis of Jacques de Vitry. The Historia orientalis exists in the edition of F. Moschus (Douai: Battnazaris Belleri, 1597).

64 Alii autem ludaei de quibus patres eorum clamaverunt: Sanguis eius super nos et super filios nostros … Imbelles enim et imbecilles facti sunt quasi mulieres. Unde singulis lunationibus, ut dicitur, fluxum sanguinis patiuntur. Percusit enim eos Deus in posteriora et opprobrium sempiternum dedit illis. Postquam enim fatrem suum verum Abel occiderunt, facti sunt vagi et profugi super teram, sicut maledictus Cain, habentes caput tremulum, id est, cor pavidum, vite sue non credentes. Historia orientalis 82. 159—60. Italics mine.

65 Buridant, Claude, ed., La traduction de l'Historia orientalis de Jacques de Vitry (Paris: Klincksieck, 1986); for the date of MS Bibl. Nat. 17203, see p. 15. The Old French (81. 129) reads: “Li autre Juu des quels lor pere crierent/si com li Evangiles dist: ‘Li sans Jhesu rist soil so nous et sor nos enfans,’ ki sunt espars par tout le monde, serf et treügagier, et ensi com li prophete dist: ‘Lor force est tornee en flamesque,’ et si ne se sevent aider darmes, et ausi comme femes en cascunne lunison soefrent, et por ce est escrit: ‘Percussit eos Dominus in posteiora et obprobrium sempiternum dedit illis.’”

66 Quare Judei patiuntu indifferenter hunc fluxumi Respondetur pimo theologice quia ipsi tempore passionis Chisti clamabant: Sanguis eius super nos et super filios nostros! Ideo dicitu in psalmo: Percussit eos in posteriora dorsi. Aliter respondetur et agis naturalite quia Judei vescuntur cibariis flegmaticis et frigidis quia multe carnes bone in lege eoum sunt prohibite eis ex quibus carnibus generatu sanguis melanconicus qui per fluxum emooidaum expurgatur. Secunda ratio naturalis est quia dicit Aristoteles in libo de caelo (fol. 17r) et mundo quia motus facit calorem, et motus est causa sanitatis, et calor causal digestionem, ut patet Aristotelem quarto Metheorum et secundo de anima. Sed quia Judei non sunt laboe neque in motu neque in conversatione hominum et etiam quia sunt in magno timore quia nos ulciscantur [ulciscamur] passionem Christi redemptoris nostri, hec omnia faciunt frigiditatem et imped?unt digestionem. Ideo in eis generatur multus sanguis melancolicus qui in ipsis tempore menstruali expellitur seu expurgatur. Proemata Varia Anatomica: MS 1165 The University of Bologna (ed. Lind, L. R.; Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 1968) 3839.

67 Interestingly, however, the medieval Jewish author of The Treatise on Procreation, proclaims that although Jewish women have a complexion that is cold and wet (that is phlegmatic), Jewish men are “cold and dry” (that is melancholic), confirming thereby the determination of Christian medical texts. See Barkai, , History of Jewish Gynaecological Texts in the Middle Ages, 217.

68 Audivi a Judeis, quod quidam Judeorum, scilicet qui in passione Cristi clamaverunt coram Pilato: ‘sanguis eius super nos et filios nostros,’ quod omnes Judei, qui de eorum processerunt, singulis mensibus sanguine fluunt et dissenteriam sepius paciantur et ea ut frequencius moiuntur. Sanantur autem per sanguinem hominis Cristiani, qui nomine Cristi baptisatus est. Historiae Memorales (ed. Kleinschmidt, Erich; Cologne: Bohlau, 1974) 65. One can only speculate regarding the identity of the Jews from whom Rudolph of Schlettstadt claims to have heard this charge. Perhaps from victims of the Inquisition?

69 For a brief discussion of the connection between a Jewish requirement for Christian blood and hemorrhoids, see Trachtenberg, Joshua, The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jews and Its Relation to Modern Antisemitism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1943) 50, 148.

70 Bonfin, Anton, Rerum Hungaricum Decades, cited by Poliakov, , History of Anti-Semitism, 1. 143, n. 13.

71 See Hsia, R. Po-Chia, The Myth of Ritual Murder: Jews and Magic in Reformation Germany (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988) 21, 138.

72 Fo several good illustrations from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, see Schreckenberg, Heinz, The Jews in Christian Art: An Illustrated History (New York: Continuum, 1996) 273–75.

73 Calvert, Thomas, The Blessed Jew of Morocco or A Blackmoor Made White (York: T. Broad, 1648) 20. See p. 30 for the claim that Jews also require Christian blood to suppress their own fetid odor. The Liber de adventu messiae praeterito was allegedly translated into Latin in the fourteenth century from an eleventh-century Arabic work attributed to Rabbi Samuel of Morocco. However, it is probably a Latin forgery from the hand of the Spanish Dominican, Alphonsus Buenhombre (d. 1353). The text can be found in PL 149: 333-68.

74 Konmann, Heinrich, Opera curiosa (4 vols.; Frankfurt: Gensch, 1694) 1. 128–29.

75 “A1 mal olor pecedente juntan los mal intencionados a los Hebeos, que tienen cola, y les viene todos los meses sangre como a las mugees su menstruo, y que por esso son quasi todos palidos, assi lo escrive Fray Vincente Ferrer gran persegnidor desta Nacion en un Sermon suyo, el Cantimpratense.” Los excelencias y calumnias de los Hebreos (Amsterdam, 1679) 345. My thanks to my colleague, Prof. Pedro Campa, for his assistance with this text.

76 On later appearances of this tradition, see Katz, David S., “Shylock's Gender: Jewish Male Menstruation in Early Modem England,” The Review of English Studies, n.s. 50 (1999) 440–62.

* An earlier version of this paper was delivered as a public lecture in Jerusalem in May 1998, under the auspices of Bar-Ilan University's Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies, and later printed with the title “On the Roots of the Myth of Jewish Male Menses” in Jacques de Vitry, History of Jerusalem (International Rennert Guest Lecture Series 3; Ramat Gan: Ba-Ilan University, 1998) 1–27. I would like here to thank the Rennert Center and its director, Prof. Joshua Schwartz, for their hospitality.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Harvard Theological Review
  • ISSN: 0017-8160
  • EISSN: 1475-4517
  • URL: /core/journals/harvard-theological-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed