Lincoln
Marcus Roberts

History

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The medieval Jewish heritage and history in Lincoln has remained unusually visible throughout the subsequent history of the City, in terms of its surviving former Jews' stone houses; the popular memory of some its most prominent Jewish personalities, such as Aaron of Lincoln; and some of its more lurid events such as the infamous blood libel of 'Little Hugh' (popularly supposed to be saint, but erroneously so because he was never canonized).

Unfortunately, the Jewish heritage of Lincoln, while remembered, has been largely and selectively filtered through historical prejudices and stereotypes about Jews and was never determined by the Jewish community itself. This has meant that even up to the present day, this 'received' Jewish heritage, while entirely vivid, offers little more than a gross caricature of the Jewish history and heritage of the City, focused on Jewish 'usurers' and false allegations of child sacrifice. The 'notoriety' of Aaron of Lincoln, as the archetypal 'Jewish money-lender', and the allegations of child-sacrifice (the 'Blood Libel'), when repeated uncritically, unwittingly plays to, and even promotes prejudices and stereotypes about Jews, albeit in the context of medieval Anglo-Jewish history.

Still today tour guides visiting the city can still be heard referring to the events of the Blood Libel as if fact and talking about 'greedy' Jewish money-lenders. Also, various traditional and blood-curdling ballads about the false 'martyrdom' of Little Hugh of Lincoln are still sung with gusto and conviction in too many folk-clubs across the country.

The identification of the very significant remains of Jewish buildings as the 'Jew's House' or the 'Jews' Court' can also be seen as unhelpful, as the Jews' Court was used to promote the story of the Blood Libel into the 20th century, and the existence of 'Jews'' houses can reinforce the idea of the 'difference' and 'separateness' of Jews that was a foundation of traditional Christian anti-Semitism.

The Jewish history of Lincoln is far richer and more interesting than just these more sensational and distorted presentations of its Jewish history. It is important to note, for example, that historical tradition states that much of Lincoln Cathedral was rebuilt, after a 12th Century earthquake, with money provided by Aaron of Lincoln and that the Jewish heritage of Lincoln is more than the 'Jews' houses. It is vital that the actual facts of Jewish life and history in Lincoln are accurately presented and that our understanding and interpretation of Jewish history and heritage in Lincoln is brought into the 21st century. It is also important that the current Jewish community continues to play a role in shaping the presentation of its own history and in challenging misconceptions so that this heritage escapes from the gravitation pull of former prejudices and rejoins the mainstream of the City's history.

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