Princeton University Press

Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World

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Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World

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Mothers and Children

Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe

Elisheva Baumgarten

This book presents a synthetic history of the family--the most basic building block of medieval Jewish communities--in Germany and northern France during the High Middle Ages. Concentrating on the special roles of mothers and children, it also advances recent efforts to write a comparative Jewish-Christian social history.

Elisheva Baumgarten draws on a rich trove of primary sources to give a full portrait of medieval Jewish family life during the period of childhood from birth to the beginning of formal education at age seven. Illustrating the importance of understanding Jewish practice in the context of Christian society and recognizing the shared foundations in both societies, Baumgarten's examination of Jewish and Christian practices and attitudes is explicitly comparative. Her analysis is also wideranging, covering nearly every aspect of home life and childrearing, including pregnancy, midwifery, birth and initiation rituals, nursing, sterility, infanticide, remarriage, attitudes toward mothers and fathers, gender hierarchies, divorce, widowhood, early education, and the place of children in the home, synagogue, and community.

A richly detailed and deeply researched contribution to our understanding of the relationship between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors, Mothers and Children provides a key analysis of the history of Jewish families in medieval Ashkenaz.

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Poverty and Charity in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt

Mark R. Cohen

What was it like to be poor in the Middle Ages? In the past, the answer to this question came only from institutions and individuals who gave relief to the less fortunate. This book, by one of the top scholars in the field, is the first comprehensive book to study poverty in a premodern Jewish community--from the viewpoint of both the poor and those who provided for them.

Mark Cohen mines the richest body of documents available on the matter: the papers of the Cairo Geniza. These documents, located in the Geniza, a hidden chamber for discarded papers situated in a medieval synagogue in Old Cairo, were preserved largely unharmed for more than nine centuries due to an ancient custom in Judaism that prohibited the destruction of pages of sacred writing. Based on these papers, the book provides abundant testimony about how one large and important medieval Jewish community dealt with the constant presence of poverty in its midst.

Building on S. D. Goitein's Mediterranean Society and inspired also by research on poverty and charity in medieval and early modern Europe, it provides a clear window onto the daily lives of the poor. It also illuminates private charity, a subject that has long been elusive to the medieval historian. In addition, Cohen's work functions as a detailed case study of an important phenomenon in human history. Cohen concludes that the relatively narrow gap between the poor and rich, and the precariousness of wealth in general, combined to make charity "one of the major agglutinates of Jewish associational life" during the medieval period.

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Power in the Portrayal

Representations of Jews and Muslims in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Islamic Spain

Ross Brann

Power in the Portrayal unveils a fresh and vital perspective on power relations in eleventh- and twelfth-century Muslim Spain as reflected in historical and literary texts of the period. Employing the methods of the new historical literary study in looking at a range of texts, Ross Brann reveals the paradoxical relations between the Andalusi Muslim and Jewish elites in an era when long periods of tolerance and respect were punctuated by outbreaks of tension and hostility.

The examined Arabic texts reveal a fragmented perception of the Jew in eleventh-century al-Andalus. They depict seemingly contradictory figures at whose poles are an intelligent, skilled, and noble Jew deserving of homage and a vile, stupid, and fiendish enemy of God and Islam. For their part, the Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic texts display a deep-seated reluctance to portray Muslims in any light at all. Brann cogently demonstrates that these representations of Jews and Muslims--each of which is concerned with issues of sovereignty and the exercise of power--reflect the shifting, fluctuating, and ambivalent relations between elite members of two of the ethno-religious communities of al-Andalus.

Brann's accessible prose is enriched by his splendid translations; the original texts are also included. This book is the first to study the construction of social meaning in Andalusi Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, and Hebrew literary texts and historical chronicles. The novel approach illuminates nuances of respect, disinterest, contempt, and hatred reflected in the relationship between Muslims and Jews in medieval Spain.

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The Scandal of Kabbalah

Leon Modena, Jewish Mysticism, Early Modern Venice

Yaacob Dweck

The Scandal of Kabbalah is the first book about the origins of a culture war that began in early modern Europe and continues to this day: the debate between kabbalists and their critics on the nature of Judaism and the meaning of religious tradition. From its medieval beginnings as an esoteric form of Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah spread throughout the early modern world and became a central feature of Jewish life. Scholars have long studied the revolutionary impact of Kabbalah, but, as Yaacob Dweck argues, they have misunderstood the character and timing of opposition to it.

Drawing on a range of previously unexamined sources, this book tells the story of the first criticism of Kabbalah, Ari Nohem, written by Leon Modena in Venice in 1639. In this scathing indictment of Venetian Jews who had embraced Kabbalah as an authentic form of ancient esotericism, Modena proved the recent origins of Kabbalah and sought to convince his readers to return to the spiritualized rationalism of Maimonides.

The Scandal of Kabbalah examines the hallmarks of Jewish modernity displayed by Modena's attack--a critical analysis of sacred texts, skepticism about religious truths, and self-consciousness about the past--and shows how these qualities and the later history of his polemic challenge conventional understandings of the relationship between Kabbalah and modernity. Dweck argues that Kabbalah was the subject of critical inquiry in the very period it came to dominate Jewish life rather than centuries later as most scholars have thought.

Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.

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