Many Jewish-Christian credit transactions relied on pawns as collateral, which presumably eliminated the risk in the case of debtors’ default. However, keeping and maintaining certain pawns involved particular risks that further complicated these transactions. This paper focuses on live pawns, specifically horses, where the safekeeping of the animal involved far greater difficulties and risks than with other valuable objects that were pawned with Jews. By tracing how legal norms and practices addressed some of the unique risks attached to receiving horses as pawns, this article will outline the expectations both Jews and Christians had when engaging in credit transaction secured by horses. Relying on responsa literature, urban legislation, and court cases from the late thirteenth to mid-fourteenth centuries, this analysis will discuss some of the complications relating to liability over live pawns, with the goal of demonstrating how a specific type of pawn, and its unique risks and benefits, reflects previous assumptions and expectations regarding risk and trust.
This essay presents a case study from Erfurt (Germany) concerning the production of shofarot (i.e., animal horns blown for ritual purposes, primarily on the Jewish New Year). By the early 1420s, Jews from all over the Holy Roman Empire had been purchasing shofarot from one Christian workshop in Erfurt that produced these ritual Jewish objects in cooperation with an unnamed Jewish craftsman. At the same time, two Jews from Erfurt were training in this craft, and started to produce shofarot of their own making. One of these Jewish craftsmen claimed that the Christian workshop had been deceiving the Jews for decades by providing improper shofarot made with materials unsuitable for Jewish ritual use. The local rabbi, Yomtov Lipman, exposed this as a scandal, writing letters to the German Jewish communities about the Christian workshop’s fraud and urging them all to buy new shofarot from the new Jewish craftsmen in Erfurt instead. This article will first examine the fraud attributed to the Christian workshop. Then, after analyzing the historical context of Yomtov Lipman’s letter, it will explore the underlying motivations of this rabbi to expose the Christian workshop’s fraud throughout German Jewish communities at this time. I will argue that, while Yomtov Lipman uses halakhic explanations in his letter, his chief motivation in exposing this fraud was to discredit the Christian workshop, create an artificial demand for shofarot, and promote the new Jewish workshop in Erfurt, whose craftsmen the rabbi himself had likely trained in the art of shofar making.
An unpublished document from late thirteenth-century Paris contains evidence of a Jewish-Christian public confrontation, on the one hand, and of Jewish-Christian economic criminal collaboration on the other. Using methods of micro-history, this article traces the story of Merot the Jew and his father-in-law, Benoait of St. Denis, who were caught attempting to smuggle merchandise by way of the River Seine. Their story is told in a verdict handed down by the parloir de Paris, the municipal judicial authority in charge of economic infractions. The parloir decreed the complete confiscation of Merot and Benoait’s merchandise on the grounds that “they were foreigners.” Taking this terminology as a point of departure, this paper tackles broader socio-economic aspects of belonging and foreignness among medieval Parisian Jews, and asks: in what ways were Jews considered “foreigners” in late thirteenth-century Paris? What were the implications of such a designation, and how did these perceptions change in the years leading up to the expulsion of 1306?
This special issue of Medieval Encounters offers new perspectives for studying the activities and the roles of Jews in the medieval economy.1 Scholarship to date has tended to approach these subjects from a communal perspective, discussing the activities of Jews as an organized group rather than as individuals, and emphasizing collective norms, legislation, ideologies, and policies. In such studies, the status of Jews as a tolerated religious minority was the point of departure and religious difference was paramount.2 While these perspectives were undoubtedly a defining feature of medieval Jewish life, a top-down communal perspective is just one facet, albeit an important one, of the economic activities of medieval Jews. In addition, most studies focused on moments of change, tension, and crisis, rather than on the ongoing roles of Jews both within their communities and in interaction with their Christian neighbors.
Examining a selection of modern urban spaces, this article describes how the history of medieval Ashkenazi Jewry is displayed in Germany today, as well as who displays it and for whom. The preoccupation of Germany with its Jewish past is not trivial; it is an institutionalized trend designed not only to teach the public about local medieval history, but also to educate it to re-include medieval Jews into its history.
This article analyses visual representations of urban water fountains in two 15th-century haggadot, drawing attention to the use Jews made of water sources during their preparations for Passover. The first section concludes that these images present features unique to 15th-century Franconia, particularly Nuremberg. The second section shows that the Jews of Nuremberg made daily and exclusive use of the local urban water system, and argues that some of the images in the haggadot portray this reality. The final section focuses on rabbinic sources that discuss halakhic deliberations regarding the drawing of water for baking matzah and highlights the connection between this discussion and the images, as well as practical concerns associated with water usage in Nuremberg. This analysis shows that the images represent the tension between older halakhic traditions regarding drawing water for matzot and the practical constraints on local Jews' daily practices imposed by the contemporary urban environment.
This paper explores the lives of three Jewish women in the Late Middle Ages – Margarete, Reynette and Meide of the Bonenfant family – who lived in Koblenz, which was part of the archdiocese of Trier. It aims to shed light on how the roles and relationships with each other and to the city changed in light of economic, political and legal settings that impacted Jewish life. I argue, that these three women's lives were centered around their hometown and that all three struggled with different economic, political and legal obstacles. Methods from gender studies as well as discussions of space will be utilized along with understudied archival material such as seals, Hebrew signatures and notes on business records to gain new insights into the lives of these three women. It will become clear, that these three women were extraordinary figures living at times of upheaval, holding leading roles within their family.
This article examines Jewish Christian relations in the High Middle Ages through the prism of religious architecture and ritual, focusing on the architecture of Jewish ritual baths from the Rhineland region in Germany. I argue that the baths of Speyer, Worms, Friedberg, Offenburg and Cologne were designed to maximize the experiential power of ritual immersion and arouse symbolic associations to support the ceremony. Architectural details such as unusual depth, ornament, lighting schemes and monumentality contributed to a spectrum of immersion ceremonies described in contemporary sources. These are contextualized in concurrent developments in Christian religious architecture and ceremonial use of architectural space.
The marketplace was the central hub for economic activity in the medieval city. Among its important functions was the provision of an open, visible space within which transactions were subject to official and communal oversight, thus according them legitimacy. This article examines the validating space created by the marketplace with respect to Jewish-Christian economic interactions. The reliance on spatial divides in Jewish-Christian economic exchange is explored by examining the local variations of the Jewish trade privilege, which allowed Jews in the German Empire to receive compensation for stolen items found in their possession. While the public space of the city initially provided Jews with protection regarding this privilege, later in the 13th century the privilege could not be applied once goods were exposed outside of Jews' homes. The changing attitudes and approaches toward Jewish economic activity are traced by contextualizing local legislation from the German Empire during the 13th century with contemporaneous responsa literature.
This article examines the use of the words h. asid and h. asidah in a wide variety of medieval texts, primarily from Germany, in order to question current scholarly understandings of H. asidei Ashkenaz as a social entity. The article outlines the appearance and contexts in which the term can be found in poems, on tombstones, lists of dead, and in stories. The final section of the article investigates possible parallels for the word h. asid/ah in vernaculars spoken by Jews. The result of this broad survey that seeks out not just men but also women, and that focuses on a variety of genres rather than primarily on Sefer H. asidim, is that the words h. asid and h. asidah did not indicate a particular group, circle, or movement. Rather these terms were used to describe honest, upstanding members of the community who were seen as fulfilling their religious and social duties.
Sefer H. asidim is one of those texts that has continued to challenge its readers—medieval, early modern, and modern—since its inception. Consisting of thousands of distinct passages, these disparate (and not always consistent) parts come together to provide a complex and nuanced glimpse into the thoughts and mindset of its author(s) that is far richer than almost any other surviving text from medieval Ashkenaz. Attributed to three authors— R. Samuel b. Kalonymous, his son R. Judah b. Samuel, both of whom are often known as he-H. asid (the pious),1 and Judah’s disciple R. Eleazar b. Judah of Worms—the text that has reached us is far from uniform and eludes all attempts at easy definitions, containing an array of genres including exegesis, mystical traditions, halakhic rulings, stories, and moral advice. The existence of so many different versions2 and numerous manuscripts may be due to the fact that, according to his son R. Moshe Zaltman, the work was incomplete when Judah he-H. asid passed away in Adar of 1217.
Analysis of the impact of death in high medieval Ashkenaz has focused on practices of mourning and rituals of remembrance. The current article builds on this work by attending to the time immediately following death and before burial. It follows the corpse on its journey from the house to the cemetery through the streets. Focusing on the corpse itself rather than the surrounding mourners, it explores how the presence of the corpse impacted the social interactions and practices undertaken in the house and the street, endowing those spaces with a communal dimension that they did not usually possess. By creating these temporary communal spaces, Jews in high medieval Ashkenaz reordered the spaces the corpse inhabited. Moreover, focus on practices in space illustrates that interactions between Jews and Christians in high medieval Ashkenaz were not only prevalent in secular affairs, but also permeated lifecycle rituals.
This paper discusses the plight of several Jewish women living in 12th and 13th-century Ashkenaz, and the situations they faced as widows, with regard to their accommodations. Responsa reveal that, despite halakhic regulations regarding provision for them, widows were highly vulnerable to eviction from the homes that had belonged to their late husbands and encountered threatening and precarious living situations. This issue sheds light on the social and financial possibilities and unique challenges faced by medieval Jewish women after becoming widows.
The study of foodways of Jews in medieval Ashkenaz reveals the social, cultural and religious significance of meals as part of the life cycle and the cycle of Jewish calendar events. This article examines two meals connected to mourning rituals: the seudat havraʾah, the first meal eaten by the mourners following the funeral, and the seudah mafseket, the meal eaten before the fast of Tisha bʾAv. The seudat havraʾah signified a ritual “reintegrating” the mourners back into the fabric of life, whereas the seudah mafseket was eaten in an attempt to make the destruction of the temple present. While comparing the meals’ design in the domestic space and their components: foods, participants and their roles, and liturgy, the differences between the concepts of private and public mourning will be elucidated. This comparison exemplifies the ritual roles of meals and their contribution to constructing and reinforcing identities and belonging.
Fatherhood in medieval Ashkenaz was a complex sociological phenomenon, manifesting both stern and affectionate attitudes towards children. Fathers were expected to treat misbehaving children harshly, but this disciplinary attitude was inseparable from paternal love and physical contact between fathers and children. Spaces influenced paternal behavior: appropriate fatherly behavior in the synagogue differed from how fathers were expected to treat their children at home. This article focuses on two internal domestic loci: the cellar and the family table. The study of the cellar demonstrates not only harsh paternal behavior, but also the limitations of fatherhood: expelling children from home was a last resort for fathers who could not otherwise exert their paternal authority when paternal attempts to motivate children to internalize normative behavior were not successful. The study of the family table sheds light on the nurturing and educative aspects of domestic fatherhood; it manifests its affectionate characteristics and reveals gender constructions.
In 13th to 15th-century Ashkenazi Jewish communities, preparing candles and food not only created a sanctified domestic space for Shabbat, but also required Jews to interact with urban spaces, often shared with Christians. The preparation of Shabbat candles demonstrates the porous boundaries between synagogue and home. The physical, ritual and symbolic aspects of Shabbat candles emphasized their domesticity, especially when viewed against Christian ritual uses of candles. However, Shabbat candles were also present in synagogues symbolically through liturgy and in the reckoning of candle-lighting time. The need to keep food warm over Shabbat without kindling fire demonstrates the importance of urban settings. Jews used urban or communal ovens to insulate food, even when they were able to do so at home. The urban settings of Shabbat preparations reveal how the entire community, regardless of age, gender, and status, fashioned a temporal – but tangible – “Jewish space” between homes, synagogues, streets and ovens.
This article provides the theoretical and contextual background for Jewish Studies Quarterly 21 nos. 3 and 4 (2021). It situates the Jews of medieval Ashkenaz within their homes and discusses their attachment to and identification with the places where they lived. It surveys approaches to space as used by scholars seeking to understand medieval life and outlines the relevance of these theories to the study of everyday life. Situating the Jews within this area of studies, the article focuses on the tensions and affiliations Jews had within the surrounding Christian space and challenges some of the previous approaches towards these issues. Against this backdrop, the goals of the articles are explained and surveyed, moving from the home to the general environs of medieval towns and cities.
Fenton, Miri. “The Lives of the Dead in Medieval Ashkenaz.” In In and Out, Between and Beyond Jewish Daily Life in Medieval Europe, edited by Elisheva Baumgarten and Ido Noy, 101-105. In and Out, Between and Beyond Jewish Daily Life in Medieval Europe. Jerusalem: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2021. miri_article.pdf
Kohn, Albert Evan. “Medieval Song in a Jewish Key.” In In and Out, Between and Beyond Jewish Daily Life in Medieval Europe, edited by Elisheva Baumgarten and Ido Noy, 95-100. In and Out, Between and Beyond Jewish Daily Life in Medieval Europe. Jerusalem: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2021. albert_article.pdf