Meir ben Elijah (c. 13th Century)

An artist’s impression of the city walls and gates in the 14th century.
  • After the Norman Conquest, Jewish people were encouraged to migrate from Normandy. Meir ben Elijah was likely around in the 1200s. At this time, there were probably about 3,000 Jews in England, mostly concentrated in the county towns – like Lincoln, London, Norwich, Oxford, Winchester.
  • The rare survival of the work of a single poet, Meir ben Elijah, reveals to us the experience of being persecuted (treated badly) because of their faith.
  • We don’t know much about Meir ben Elijah, other than that he lived in the later thirteenth century and that his father was a rabbi.
  • His poem ‘Put a Curse on My Enemy’, might be seen as reflecting on the discrimination and persecution suffered by English Jews in the years leading up to their expulsion from England in 1290. The poem carries a heading that says that it is about ‘the heaviness of exile, the slayings in prison, and financial ruin’, and so reflects the recent experience of many British Jews.
  • Meir’s poems survive in a manuscript now held in Rome; they were discovered in the 1880s. It is likely that the manuscript reached the Continent with one of the Jews expelled in 1290.