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Yellow badges (or yellow patches), also referred to as Jewish badges (German: Judenstern, lit. 'Jew's star'), are badges that Jews were ordered to wear at various times during the Middle Ages by some caliphates, at various times during the Medieval and early modern period by some European powers, and from 1939–1945 by the Axis powers. The badges served to mark the wearer as a religious or ethnic outsider, and often served as a badge of shame.
The practice of wearing special clothing or markings to distinguish Jews and other non-Muslims (dhimmis) in Muslim-dominated countries seems to have been introduced in the Umayyad Caliphate by Caliph Umar II in the early 8th century. The practice was revived and reinforced by the Abbasid caliph al-Mutawakkil (847–861), subsequently remaining in force for centuries. A genizah document from 1121 gives the following description of decrees issued in Baghdad:
Two yellow badges [are to be displayed], one on the headgear and one on the neck. Furthermore, each Jew must hang round his neck a piece of lead with the word Dhimmi on it. He also has to wear a belt round his waist. The women have to wear one red and one black shoe and have a small bell on their necks or shoes.
In largely Catholic Medieval Europe, Jews and Muslims were required to wear distinguishable clothing in some periods. These measures were not seen as being inconsistent with Sicut Judaeis. Although not the first ecclesiastic requirement for non-Christians to wear distinguishable clothing, the Fourth Council of the Lateran headed by Pope Innocent III ruled in 1215 that Jews and Muslims must wear distinguishable dress (Latin habitus). Canon 68 reads, in part:
In some provinces a difference in dress distinguishes the Jews or Saracens from the Christians, but in certain others such a confusion has grown up that they cannot be distinguished by any difference. Thus it happens at times that through error Christians have relations with the women of Jews or Saracens, and Jews and Saracens with Christian women. Therefore, that they may not, under pretext of error of this sort, excuse themselves in the future for the excesses of such prohibited intercourse, we decree that such Jews and Saracens of both sexes in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off in the eyes of the public from other peoples through the character of their dress. Particularly, since it may be read in the writings of Moses [Numbers 15:37–41], that this very law has been enjoined upon them.
Innocent III had in 1199 confirmed Sicut Judaeis, which was also confirmed by Pope Honorius III in 1216. In 1219, Honorius III issued a dispensation to the Jews of Castile, the largest Jewish population in Europe. Spanish Jews normally wore turbans, which presumably met the requirement to be distinctive. Elsewhere, local laws were introduced to bring the canon into effect. The identifying mark varied from one country to another, and from period to period.
In 1227, the Synod of Narbonne, in canon 3, ruled:
That Jews may be distinguished from others, we decree and emphatically command that in the center of the breast (of their garments) they shall wear an oval badge, the measure of one finger in width and one half a palm in height ...
However, these ecclesiastic pronouncements required legal sanctions of a temporal authority. In 1228, James I of Aragon ordered Jews of Aragon to wear the badge; and in 1265, the Siete Partidas, a legal code enacted in Castile by Alfonso X but not implemented until many years later, included a requirement for Jews to wear distinguishing marks. On 19 June 1269, Louis IX of France imposed a fine of ten livres (one livre was equivalent to a pound of silver) on Jews found in public without a badge (Latin: rota, "wheel", French: rouelle or roue). The enforcement of wearing the badge is repeated by local councils, with varying degrees of fines, at Arles 1234 and 1260, Béziers 1246, Albi 1254, Nîmes 1284 and 1365, Avignon 1326 and 1337, Rodez 1336, and Vanves 1368. The "rota" looked like a ring of white or yellow. The shape and colour of the patch also varied, although the colour was usually white or yellow. Married women were often required to wear two bands of blue on their veil or head-scarf.
In 1274, Edward I of England enacted the Statute of Jewry, which also included a requirement:
Each Jew, after he is seven years old, shall wear a distinguishing mark on his outer garment, that is to say, in the form of two Tables joined, of yellow felt of the length of six inches and of the breadth of three inches.
In German-speaking Europe, a requirement for a badge was less common than the Judenhut or Pileum cornutum (a cone-shaped head dress, common in medieval illustrations of Jews). In 1267, in a special session, the Vienna city council required Jews to wear a Judenhut; the badge does not seem to have been worn in Austria. There is a reference to a dispensation from the badge in Erfurt on 16 October 1294, the earliest reference to the badge in Germany.
There were also attempts to enforce the wearing of full-length robes, which in late 14th century Rome were supposed to be red. In Portugal a red star of David was used.
Enforcement of the rules was variable; in Marseilles the magistrates ignored accusations of breaches, and in some places individuals or communities could buy exemption. Cathars who were considered "first time offenders" by the Catholic Church and the Inquisition were also forced to wear yellow badges, albeit in the form of crosses, about their person.
The yellow badge is different from the Jewish hat (or Judenhut), a cone-shaped hat, which is seen in many illustrations from before this date, and remained the key distinguishing mark of Jewish dress in the Middle Ages. From the 16th century, the use of the Judenhut declined, but the badge tended to outlast it, surviving into the 18th century in places.
After the German invasion of Poland in 1939 there were initially different local decrees requiring Jews to wear a distinctive sign under the General Government. The sign was a white armband with a blue Star of David on it; in the Warthegau a yellow badge in the form of a Star of David on the left side of the breast and on the back. The requirement to wear the Star of David with the word Jude (German for Jew) – inscribed in letters meant to resemble Hebrew writing – was then extended to all Jews over the age of six in the Reich and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (by a decree issued on September 1, 1941, signed by Reinhard Heydrich) and was gradually introduced in other German-occupied areas, where local words were used (e.g., Juif in French, Jood in Dutch).
One observer reported that the star increased German non-Nazi sympathy for Jews as the impoverished citizens who wore them were, contrary to Nazi propaganda, obviously not the cause of German failure in the east. In the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, government had to ban hat tipping toward Jews and other courtesies that became popular as protests against the German occupation. A whispering campaign that claimed that the action was in response to the United States government requiring German Americans to wear swastikas was unsuccessful.
In May 2021, in response to the anti-vaccine movement in the United States, a hat store in Nashville, Tennessee sold badges that resembled the yellow stars with the words "Not vaccinated" on them. In response, the Stetson company announced they would no longer sell any hats to hatWRKS. This also sparked protests outside the store.
The practice of wearing yellow stars in anti-vaccine movements spread to other parts of the world, such as protests in Montreal, London, Amsterdam and Paris. The practice sparked condemnation by various Jewish advocacy groups and Holocaust survivors.
But the wearing of a badge or outward sign — whose effect, intended or otherwise, successful or not, was to shame and to make vulnerable as well as to distinguish the wearer…