Elli Fischer
Writer. Translator. Historian. Rabbi. With ADHD.

“Profiling” the Toulouse Killer

As the manhunt for the Toulouse killer continues, it is apparent that French law enforcement authorities are trying to build a “profile” of the murderer – a term generally used for serial killers and lone-wolf terrorists. In other words, they’re looking for a psychopath, but one whose worldview is internally consistent. His victims – first French Muslim paratroopers, now Jews – were not accidental, a fact that has police looking at Neo-Nazi suspects.

Although I have very little experience in this field (watching Dexter does not count), discussions with forensic psychologists and psychopathologists when researching a profile of American-Israeli terrorist Jack Tytell for an article that appeared in the New York Jewish Week taught me that something inevitably will tie together all of the seemingly random details of the crimes.

In June 1320, inspired by the vision of an boy of seventeen, a mob of poor French peasants began marching southward from France toward Spain, where they intended to fight against the Muslim Moors. They did not get that far, but in the summer of 1320 they massacred many Jewish communities in southern France, most notably Toulouse. Jewish history remembered these massacres as Gezeirat Ha-Ro’im, and they are known more generally as the Shepherd’s Crusade or the Pastoureaux. A stunning account by a Jew who lived through the events and underwent baptism (his account was part of his testimony to the Inquisition after he stood trial for reverting to Judaism) can be found here.

Perhaps it is a coincidence that the contemporary killer targeted the same groups, and in the same town, as the Pastoureaux. After all, according to David Nirenberg’s analysis, the Shepherds’ viewed the Jews in a manner startlingly similar to their portrayal in the Nazi propaganda film Jud Süss. Perhaps he went on his killing spree in Toulouse because of convenience and not because it holds any symbolic meaning.

The Pastoreaux
Shepherds besieging a village (British Museum/ Wikimedia Commons)


But it is also possible that the Toulouse killer imagines himself as the heir of the Pastoureaux. If I were the French police trying to build a profile of this killer, I’d keep my eyes open for someone who has expressed identification with the Shepherd’s Crusade.

About the Author
Elli Fischer is a translator with rabbinical ordination from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate who is working on a PhD in Jewish History from Tel Aviv University. He is the editor of Rabbi Eliezer Melamed's "Peninei Halakha" series in English and co-creator of HaMapah, a project for the quantitative analysis of the history of halakhah. His writings have appeared in numerous print and online media.