Regional Identities and Cultures of Medieval Jews

BookRegional Identities and Cultures of Medieval Jews

Regional Identities and Cultures of Medieval Jews

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


May 4th, 2018



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Though the existence of Jewish regional cultures is widely known, the origins of the most prominent groups, Ashkenaz and Sepharad, are poorly understood, and the rich variety of other regional Jewish identities is often overlooked. Yet all these subcultures emerged in the Middle Ages. Scholars contributing to the present study were invited to consider how such regional identities were fashioned, propagated, reinforced, contested, and reshaped—and to reflect on the developments, events, or encounters that made these identities manifest. They were asked to identify how subcultural identities proved to be useful, and the circumstances in which they were deployed. The resulting volume spans the ninth to the sixteenth centuries, and explores Jewish cultural developments in western Europe, the Balkans, North Africa, and Asia Minor. In its own way, each contribution considers factors—demographic, geographical, historical, economic, political, institutional, legal, intellectual, theological, cultural, and even biological—that led medieval Jews to conceive of themselves, or to be perceived by others, as bearers of a discrete Jewish regional identity. Notwithstanding the singularity of each essay, they collectively attest to the inherent dynamism of Jewish regional identities.

‘[The essays] make unexpected and intriguing links between Jewish and non-Jewish literature and ideas, and (rightly) raise as much questions as they seek to answer. In that respect, they have helpfully indicted possible directions of future research.’
Stefan C . Reif, Journal of Jewish Studies

'Provides a wealth of new information… a first quality working tool.'
Jean-Pierre Rothschild, Revue des études juives

'Many of the contributions make unexpected and intriguing links between Jewish and non-Jewish literature and ideas and […] raise as many questions as those they seek to answer. In that respect, they have helpfully indicated possible directions of future research.'Stephan C. Reif, Journal of Jewish Studies

Author Information

Javier Castaño is a research fellow in Jewish history at the Spanish National Scientific Research Council in Madrid. He is a former editor of the journal 'Sefarad'. Talya Fishman is Associate Professor of Jewish Intellectual and Cultural History of the Medieval and Early Modern Periods at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of 'Becoming the People of the Talmud: Oral Torah as Written Tradition in Medieval Jewish Cultures' (2013). Ephraim Kanarfogel is E. Billi Ivry University Professor of Jewish History, Literature and Law at Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, Yeshiva University. He is a leading expert in the fields of medieval Jewish history and rabbinic literature, an ordained rabbi and Torah scholar and the author of numerous books, including Between Rashi and Maimonides: Studies in Medieval Jewish Thought, Literature, and Exegesis (2010).

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of Contributors8
Note on Transliteration10
Part I: Identity Claims30
1. The Emergence of the Medieval Jewish Diaspora(s) of Europe from the Ninth tothe Twelfth Centuries, with Some Thoughts on Historical DNA Studies32
2. Medieval Jewish Legends on the Decline of the Babylonian Centre and the Primacy of Other Geographical Centres48
Part II: The Impact of Non-Jewish Cultures on Regional Traditions58
3. The Sacrifice of the Souls of the Righteous upon the Heavenly Altar: Transformations of Apocalyptic Traditions in Medieval Ashkenaz60
4. The Bifurcated Legacy of Rabbi Moses Hadarshan and the Rise of Peshat Exegesis in Medieval France84
5. A New Look at Medieval Jewish Exegetical Constructions of Peshat in Christian and Muslim Lands: Rashbam and Maimonides104
6. The ‘Our Talmud’ Tradition and the Predilection for Works of Applied Law in Early Sephardi Rabbinic Culture134
Part III: Geopolitical Boundaries and Their Impact on Jewish Regional Identities158
7. From Germany to Northern France and Back Again: A Tale of Two Tosafist Centres160
8. Rabbinic Politics, Royal Conquest, and the Creation of a Halakhic Tradition in Medieval Provence184
9. Mediterranean Regionalism in Hebrew Panegyric Poetry204
10. Attraction and Attribution: Framings of Sephardi Identity in Ashkenazi Prayer Books232
11. Minhag and Migration: Yiddish Custom Books from Sixteenth-Century Italy252
Part IV: Cultural Content as a Marker of Jewish Regional Identities272
12. A Collection of Jewish Philosophical Prayers274
13. Prophets and Their Impact in the High Middle Ages: A Subculture of Franco-German Jewry296