On the Margins of a Minority
Leprosy, Madness, and Disability among the Jews of Medieval Europe
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: Wayne State University Press
Title Page, Copyright, Quote, Dedication
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On one winter day in 1995 I found myself participating in the daily afternoon prayer service at one of the tiny synagogues that dot the Mahaneh Yehuda open-air market in Jerusalem. The synagogue’s gabbai (sexton of synagogue affairs) had flagged me down and asked me to come help form...
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Writing at the end of the nineteenth century, French scholar Julius Robert reported that the legend inscribed over the gate to the medieval Les Innocents cemetery in Paris read: “Beware the company of the madman, the Jew, and the leper.” While this is merely an anecdote, it is nevertheless a telling one...
1. Leprosy as a Concept
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R. Meir b. Baruch of Rothenburg (Maharam), a thirteenth-century Ashkenazi halakhic respondent, devoted one of his many responsa to the connection between leprosy and the laws of inheritance. The precise wording of the question posed to him has not survived, but his brief answer covers...
2. Social Attitudes toward Lepers
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Although much can be learned about a society from exegetical literature, as was examined in the previous chapter, one of the most important literary sources for the historical and social research of medieval Jewish communities is halakhic codes, responsa, and ethical treatises. A few words about...
3. What Is Madness?
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In the late twelfth or early thirteenth century R. Shimshon ben Avraham of Sens (1150–1230) was asked to voice his halakhic opinion about the validity of a divorce charter (Get) that was given to a woman described as “temporarily” insane. The petitioners described the woman as follows: “She is at...
4. Social Attitudes toward the Insane
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Having established what the mind and thoughts of medieval European Jews considered a manifestation of madness or insanity, let us now examine how the men and woman deemed mad were actually treated in the medieval Jewish European communities. Did their behavior instigate rejection, ...
5. The Physically Impaired
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In this touching opening to a responsum addressed in the second decade of the thirteenth century to R. Isaac ben Moshe of Vienna (“Or Zarua‘”), his older contemporary, Ravyah (R. Eliezer b. Joel ha-Levi of Bonn), wrote of his geriatric affliction: blindness. Beyond forcing him to limit his intellectual...
6. Disability in Sacred and Private Space
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The medieval Ashkenazi anthology Zekher ‘Asah le-Nifle’otav, attributed to R. Judah he-Hasid, states: “He commanded regarding the sacrifices [that] it is a matter of propriety for the slave to appear before his master with a fine gift...
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In this book I have sought to foreground the historical discussion the story of individuals who regularly are in the shadow of obscurity. I have tried to turn our attention to those individuals in a past society who are usually doubly overlooked, both by their contemporaries and by modern observers using...
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Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2014