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Book Reviews 155 fear of government intervention in their everyday lives. In short, Lee's driving thesis loses its credibility with a failure to carefully review existing research and an uncritical use ofprimary sources. For the popular reader, Lee offers an intriguing tale of mysterious links and a sinister cast of international characters. Lee tantalizes the reader with real possibilities, real sources, real people, and real problems. For the more discerning reader, Lee is a disappointment. David A. Meier Departmentof Social Sciences Dickinson State University Bne Chet: Die osterreichischen Juden im Mittelalter. Eine Sozial- und Kulturgeschichte , by Schlomo Spitzer. Vienna: Bohlau Verlag and Cologne: Weimar, 1997. 281 pp. DM 69.00. Ene Chet, the designation for Austrian Jews coined by the famous rabbi of Mainz, R. Jakob Molin, traces the history of the Jews of Austria during the Middle Ages. This work is divided into three parts, history, community development, and religious and everyday life. The author provides insightfulllllalytical and interpretive commentary on many aspects of the areas included, drawing on numerous published and archival sources. Appendices of "Judenmeister," chronologically arranged according to communities, an explanation of Hebrew and Jewish terms, a catalog of abbreviations, and a map of Jewish settlements within the boundaries ofpresent-day Austria help to make this a most attractive and valuable work. Dr. Spitzer furnishes his readers with a rich source of information on many aspects ofmedieval Jewish life. Where information is lacking in certain areas, he is candid and eschews speculation. Jews were widely scattered throughout Austria; however, the majority lived in large cities. While the precise size of the Jewish population is unknown, his section on community settlement concludes that because of their role in economic matters "in large cities like Graz, Vienna, Marburg, Wiener Neustadt and Krems, [Jewish] influence was measurably greater than that which corresponded to their proportion of the entire population" (pp. 114, 115). The history of Jews in Austria, Spitzer emphasizes, is a relatively recent one. He traces most Jewish origins to the neighboring German kingdoms and cities, thus helping to explain the strong "cultural relationship between Austrian and German Jewry." The ongoing excavation of the inner-city synagogue in Vienna receives his attention. Although little is actually known about the interior architecture of this and other medieval Austrian synagogues, most ofwhich were destroyed during the wave ofearly 156 SHOFAR Winter 1999 Vol. 17, No.2 fifteenth-century persecution, certain conclusions can be drawn about the internal appearance ofthe Vienna synagogue, because ofthe discovery ofcolumn foundations, floor tiles, and the evidence of various building expansions and renovations. Spitzer bases these conclusions on a summary of excavation reports. When the Jews were expelled from their communities, the fate of the synagogues was almost always the same: "if they were not completely demolished, they were either converted into churches or given to proteges by the rulers" (p. 120). In a lengthy footnote Spitzer expresses the opinions of others about the fate of different synagogues: in Vienna following their destruction, the stones of the synagogues were used in the construction ofuniversity buildings. This work also contains biographical sketches of important Jewish community leaders, so far as the evidence exists. While Spitzer's reluctance to speculate where evidence is lacking is in itselfpraiseworthy, his reticence points to a main problem in writing a work on this particular subject. So many ofthe sources detailing the life and history of the Jews of medieval Austria have been lost that only names of certain individuals survive. As a result, the narrative declines at times into a fragmentary chronicle of births and deaths interspersed with mere mention of offspring and their professions. Undoubtedly there were many "thriving Jewish communities in the Duchy ofAustria" before the violent persecution or Gesera of 1420/21, but the details of life before this event remain tantalizingly few. By contrast the author's description and analysis ofthe career ofR. Israel Isserlein, "one ofthe most respected rabbinical authorities ofhis time," is much more complete. Spitzer credits him with nothing less than singlehandedly continuing Jewish spiritual life and educating a generation of future religious leaders "after the catastrophe of 1420/21." Isserlein's fame spread beyond Wiener Neustadt where he died in 1460, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 155-156
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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