Pious and Rebellious
Jewish Women in Medieval Europe
Publication Year: 2012
Grossman shows that the High Middle Ages saw a distinct improvement in the status of Jewish women in Europe relative to their status during the Talmudic period and in Muslim countries. If, during the twelfth century, rabbis applauded women as "pious and pure" because of their major role in the martyrdom of the Crusades of 1096, then by the end of the thirteenth century, rabbis complained that women were becoming bold and rebellious. Two main factors fostered this change: first, the transformation of Jewish society from agrarian to "bourgeois," with women performing an increasingly important function in the family economy; and second, the openness toward women in Christian Europe, where women were not subjected to strict limitations based upon conceptions of modesty, as was the case in Muslim countries. The heart of Grossman's book concerns the improvement of Jewish women's lot, and the efforts of secular and religious authorities to impede their new-found status.
Bringing together a variety of sources including halakhic literature, biblical and talmudic exegesis, ethical literature and philosophy, love songs, folklore and popular literature, gravestones, and drawings, Grossman's book reconstructs the hitherto unrecorded lives of Jewish women during the Middle Ages.
Published by: Brandeis University Press
Download PDF (433.0 KB)
Title Page, Copyright
Download PDF (65.6 KB)
Download PDF (52.9 KB)
Download PDF (53.1 KB)
This study deals with the status of the Jewish woman in Europe during theHigh Middle Ages (1000–1300). For certain subjects I used later sources, insome cases even from the late Middle Ages, where these helped to provide afuller description of reality, given that customs, ceremonies, and institutionsThe discussion is conducted from a broad historical perspective, covering...
Download PDF (69.1 KB)
The status of the Jewish woman in the Middle Ages was affected by threemain factors: the biblical and Talmudic heritage; the situation in thenon-Jewish society within which the Jews lived and functioned; and theeconomic status of the Jews, including the woman’s role in supporting the fam-ily. The biblical heritage is not unequivocal, and may be interpreted in differ-ent ways. Over the last generation, a number of works have been writtenemphasizing the feminist aspect in biblical interpretation, and seeking egalitar-...
chapter one8The Image of the Woman:Partner or the “Other”?
Download PDF (2.4 MB)
Women are a nation unto themselves” is more than simply a cleverturn of phrase.1 Many men in medieval Jewish, Christian, or Mus-lim society saw woman as a different creature, inferior to them-selves and having different character traits. This perspective found backing fromHoly Scripture—which enjoyed great weight in the Middle Ages—from phi-losophy, and even from medical descriptions. This perception was an integralpart of the overall view of the medieval world, which denied equality among...
chapter two8Age at Marriage
Download PDF (109.0 KB)
The age at which marriage took place in medieval Jewish society boreimportant implications for the structure of the family unit and thewoman’s status within the family. Several major questions relate directlyto this issue, such as the degree of involvement of the woman in choosing herintended bridegroom, the involvement of the parents in the life of the new cou-ple, the couple’s place of residence, their degree of economic independence, thedegree of fertility of the woman, the woman’s education, and her relation to her...
chapter three8Engagement, Betrothal, and the Choiceof a Marriage Partner
Download PDF (711.3 KB)
The marriage ceremony as practiced in medieval Jewish society consistedof three stages: engagement (shiddukhin), betrothal (erusin), and theformalization of the marriage (huppah). The engagement was a kind offramework agreement made prior to the wedding, in which the parties involvedagreed to the time of the wedding, where the couple would live, and thefinancial arrangements.1 This stage did not have a religious character, and didnot include any blessings or other ritual act. Originally, the engagement was not...
chapter four8Monogamy and Polygamy
Download PDF (195.3 KB)
The question of the basic structure of the Jewish family unit in the Mid-dle Ages—whether monogamous or polygamous—has been discussedmore extensively in research literature than any other subject concern-ing the status of women at that time. Rabbenu Gershom Meor Hagolah’s ban(herem) imposed against taking a second wife has aroused much interest andstood at the center of this research. Nevertheless, opinions are still divided amongscholars, both regarding the question of the actual situation that prevailed in...
chapter five8Feminine Modesty and Women’s Rolein Supporting the Family
Download PDF (1.8 MB)
The standards of modesty expected of women, their right to leave theirhomes freely, and their role in supporting the family, exerted a signifi-cant influence upon the image of Jewish women both in their own eyesand in those of the surrounding society. The Talmudic heritage concerning thisissue is not unequivocal. While the sages spoke extensively in praise of modestygenerally and of feminine modesty in particular, seeing a woman’s remainingin her own home in a positive light, there are no clearcut prohibitions against...
chapter six8Woman as Wife and Mother andHer Economic Status
Download PDF (177.6 KB)
In the following discussion, we shall examine the inner world of the woman,her interrelationships within the family, and her economic status. Her eco-nomic status was connected to and greatly affected her relationships, andhence is also directly connected to the world of the woman. As the voices ofJewish women as such were recorded only rarely during the Middle Ages, it isdifficult to describe in detail their feelings toward their husbands and chil-dren and their place within the family. While this difficulty exists regarding...
chapter seven8Women’s Culture and Education
Download PDF (131.0 KB)
One of the major areas of discrimination against Jewish women in theMiddle Ages was that of education and culture. Many of the womenwere illiterate, and they were even deliberately denied the opportunityfor formal study of a number of areas of “sacred studies.” The deprivationinvolved was not only one against the talents and potential erudition of women.As the study of Torah was one of the essential and most important values ofJewish culture, greatly extolled in all of the holy writings, women’s exemption...
chapter eight8The Role of Women in Religious Lifeand in Family Ceremonies
Download PDF (765.6 KB)
Medieval Jewish society saw the fulfillment of the mitzvot as the high-est religious value. The community was understood as a “holy con-gregation,” with all that implies for the public and private life. Insuch a society, the participation of members of the community in religious life,whether at home or in the synagogue, was of great significance. Moreover, thesynagogue became the most important institution, not only for the commu-nity’s religious life, but also of its social life in general, serving as it did as the...
chapter nine8Women’s Role in Jewish Martyrdomin Europe in the Eleventh toThirteenth Centuries
Download PDF (104.8 KB)
Jewish women occupied a distinguished place in Jewish martyrology in thevarious European diasporas, particularly in Germany and northern Franceduring the eleventh through thirteenth centuries. There is no other genrein the medieval Jewish world in which women occupy such an important andcentral place, and are portrayed in such a sympathetic and admiring manner,as in these stories.1 The authors of the chronicles granted them honorifics,the like of which is unknown regarding Jewish women in Muslim countries:...
chapter ten8Violence Toward Women
Download PDF (123.7 KB)
Husbands’ violence toward their wives is discussed in both the Genizahsources and in the halakhic literature, suggesting that the practice wasa common one, which weighed upon the institution of marriage. Thesources indicate that it existed in various circles within society, and not only inthe lowest ones.1 While the sages waged battle against it, they were only par-tially successful. We shall begin by examining the Talmudic tradition regardingthis issue and the situation in the neighboring non-Jewish society, which greatly...
chapter eleven8The Divorcée and the “Rebellious Wife”
Download PDF (141.4 KB)
It is a common assumption that the family unit in medieval Jewish societywas strong and stable and that divorce was a rare phenomenon. However,this assumption, which even appears in research literature, is rather erro-neous. Divorce was quite common, in some locales even more so than in con-temporary Western society. During the course of the Middle Ages, discernableand significant changes took place regarding the Jewish woman’s right to initi-ate divorce and to receive suitable financial compensation, changes that origi-...
chapter twelve8The Widow and the “Murderous Wife”
Download PDF (128.5 KB)
The number of widows in medieval Jewish society was considerable, andmany of them were still quite young. This was the result of four mainfactors. First, the death rate in those days was relatively high, particu-larly as a result of plagues and natural disasters. During the course of theantisemitic violence in Ashkenaz and Spain, particularly during the fourteenthand fifteenth centuries, many thousands of Jews, both men and women, werekilled, leading to the ubiquity of widowhood. Also, many Jews engaged in trade...
chapter thirteen8Summary:Woman’s Status inHistorical Perspective
Download PDF (83.6 KB)
In this concluding chapter, we shall examine the status of the medieval Jew-ish woman in a general historical perspective: In what areas was there animprovement in their situation in comparison to that found in rabbinic lit-erature and the teachings of the Babylonian Geonim, and in what areas was therea retrenchment or “treading water.” We shall suffice with a brief overall view, asthe subjects have been discussed in detail in the earlier chapters of this book.During the course of this book, I discussed ten main areas of positive change,...
Download PDF (189.7 KB)
Download PDF (45.7 KB)
Download PDF (95.4 KB)
Download PDF (148.7 KB)
Page Count: 351
Publication Year: 2012
Series Title: Tauber Institute Series for the Study of European Jewry & HBI Series on Jewish Women