Archaeology

Medieval Dump Proves Jews In Oxford Only Ate Kosher Foods

New findings from an 800-year-old trash dump in Oxford, England, show that in the face of extreme adversity medieval Jews in England managed to adhere, strictly, to kosher food laws as laid out in the Torah and, therefore, ate nothing but kosher foods.

Jewish history in England began just after William the Conqueror became king in 1066 AD. Jewish communities thrived relatively undisturbed until 1290 AD when King Edward I released his “Edict of Expulsion.” After this time Jews practiced underground until 1656 AD when, according to the  British Library , “a small colony of Sephardic Jews living in London was permitted to remain.”

Finding Kosher Food Evidence in an Oxford Garbage Dump

A new paper published by Prof. Julie Dunne, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Bristol, in the journal  Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences , provides “the first physical evidence” of medieval Jews adhering to kosher laws in England.

Kosher food is any permitted food or beverage based on the Jewish dietary laws written in the Torah. With origins rooted in history and religion, each law is specific about what types of food Jews can and can’t eat, how they inspect and select foods, and how they prepare, process and eat these kosher foods.

The new historical conclusions of the recent study were based on samples gathered at a latrine and  rubbish dump  at a medieval hall in Oxford’s Jewish quarter.

Researchers digging at the Oxford garbage dump and latrine that was the source of the Jewish kosher food artifacts used in the latest study. (Dunne et al. / Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences)

Researchers digging at the Oxford garbage dump and latrine that was the source of the Jewish kosher food artifacts used in the latest study.         (Dunne et al. /  Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences )

The Jewish Chronicle  reports that members of the Oxford Jewish Heritage Committee, including Dr Pam Manix, an expert on the medieval Jewish Oxford site, conducted this dig because it had been decades since Jacob s Hall, one of the most important Jewish buildings in England had been excavated. Jacob s Hall was a grand stone mansion that was destroyed in the 17th century and it is believed that it hosted a  synagogue, a Jewish school and a “mikvev” (ritual bathing pool).

Dr Rebecca Abrams says she and her colleagues were “blown away” by the discovery of a massive, amount of chicken and  goose bones  at the site. At contemporary non-Jewish sites cow, sheep, goat and pig remains are generally discovered in abundance but none of the food remains found at this site came from pigs, shellfish or other non-kosher foods. In total the researchers discovered 171 bones of which 136 were  poultry bones .

They also unearthed more than 2,000 fragments from smashed ceramic cooking vessels. It was from the inner-skins of these clay vessels that the researchers gathered  microbiological samples  which held ancient clues about the diets at that time and place in London. And the research findings overwhelmingly found all the remains, large and small, to be 100%  kosher.

Ceramic fragments like this one from the medieval Oxford garbage dump were analyzed, using microbiological samples, to see what food remnants could be found on them. (Dunne et al. / Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences)

Ceramic fragments like this one from the medieval Oxford garbage dump were analyzed, using microbiological samples, to see what food remnants could be found on them. (Dunne et al. /  Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences )

Jewish Traditions: From Kosher Foods to Money Lending

The team of researchers were disappointed to find nothing remaining of Jacob’s Hall itself but buried beneath the backyard they discovered the trash dump and latrine which the authors said, “was surprisingly rich in information.” The team wrote in the new paper that they found “no evidence of non-kosher fats, or of milk and meat being cooked together – a practice prohibited by kosher tradition.”

Jews are a traditional lot and adhering to only eating kosher foods is only one of the ancient practices that they continue to follow today.

Another clay vessel used for preparing kosher foods found at the Oxford garbage dump in London, England. (Dunne et al. / Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences)

Another clay vessel used for preparing kosher foods found at the Oxford garbage dump in London, England. (Dunne et al. /  Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences )

Another notable Jewish tradition is money lending, which 12th-century Jews in England had the monopoly over after the Christian Church ruled that “ usury” (money lending for interest) was illegal for Christians, but not for Jews.

The Crown of England had worked out that heavy taxes coming in from a lesser amount of Jews was safer than small amounts being pillaged all the way up the corrupt tax chain, so the thriving usury, or  debt trade , directly benefited the Crown.

From the Late 13th Century, Jews in England Suffered

By the late 1200s laws had been created restricting the rights of the Jewish people to own land in England and the Crown claimed all after-death inheritances, so Jewish children were often born destitute.

In 1275 AD, King Edward I passed a law forbidding Jews from practicing usury, which made their community exceptionally poor. According to the  British Library  without a flow of taxes from Jewish usury accruing to the Crown, the king arrested, hanged, and imprisoned hundreds of Jews.

In 1290 AD, the king banished Jews from England altogether. They only began returning in 1656 AD during the Reformation.

Considering all this, what this new Jewish garbage dump study shows is that even in the face of the harshest oppression imaginable, a community of faithful folk remained so loyal to their faith in God that they managed to assure even their diets adhered to the rules laid out in their sacred Torah, to the very word.

Top image: Kosher food served at a Jewish meal.            Source:  nextrecord / Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie


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