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  • The Logika of the Judaizers. A Fifteenth-Century Ruthenian Translation from Hebrew. Critical Edition of the Slavic Texts Presented alongside their Hebrew Sources with Introduction, English Translation, and Commentary ed. by Dan Shapira
  • Dan Shapira
Moshe Taube, introd., ed. and trans. The Logika of the Judaizers. A Fifteenth-Century Ruthenian Translation from Hebrew. Critical Edition of the Slavic Texts Presented alongside their Hebrew Sources with Introduction, English Translation, and Commentary. Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 2016. 720 pp., glossaries, index, bibliography.

This impressive tome contains critical editions and English translations of a number of late–fifteenth-century Eastern Slavic versions of medieval Hebrew works, such as the Hebrew version of al-Ghazālī's Intentions of the Philosophers, and [pseudo-]Maimonides' Millot higgayon. To understand how these unlikely translations came to be one has to hark back to the medieval history of the territories that today cover Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, and Lithuania.

By the mid-thirteenth century, almost all the Rus'ian principalities, founded some three hundred years earlier by Swedish (and Finnish?) Vikings along the rivers route between the Baltic Sea, Lake Ladoga, the Valdai Hills, and southwards to Kyiv, had been overrun by the Mongols. After having been ruled by members of an ever-growing and always-quarrelling clan of the descendants of a more or less legendary Viking, centrifugal forces were pulling these principalities apart even before the Mongol invasion in the mid-thirteenth century. That invasion contributed to the crystallization of three ethnicities that employed three (at some point four or more) distinct but closely related Eastern Slavic languages. At the same time, they saw themselves as sharing the same inheritance of pre-Mongol Kyivan (Kievan) Rus'.

The westernmost part of Kyivan Rus', known later as Galicia and Ludomeria, switched quickly to the Roman sphere, its ruler awarded a crown by the Pope in 1253, and was later absorbed into the kingdom of Poland.

The northwestern section, around the republican city-states of Novgorod and Pskov, along with the vast Novgorodian empire in the sub-Arctic and Arctic, became kontore of the Hanseatic League of Baltic and other northern cities; according to linguists, their "dialect" was in fact the fourth Eastern Slavic language. In 1478, Novgorod was sacked by the Muscovite Prince Ivan III (Novgorod's western-oriented political and religious tendencies were claimed to be the reason); he deported or massacred much of the population and annexed the territory to his principality. Almost a century later, in 1570, Ivan IV the Terrible perpetrated a second massacre, after which the city lost its importance. [End Page 293]

After the Mongol invasion, the territories southwest of Novgorod and Pskov and east and northeast of Galicia and Ludomeria were incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania; it was there that the Kyivan cultural and linguistic heritage was best preserved. Although Lithuanian is not a Slavic language and although the ethnic Lithuanians remained pagans until 1387, long after the rest of Europe, the Kyivan version of Old Slavonic or Old Church Slavonic, and its varieties otherwise known as West Russian, Ruthenian, or Chancery Slavonic, served as the official language of the Grand Duchy until 1697, when it was replaced by Polish. In 1596, the Grand Duchy lost vast territories in the south to the Polish crown; the new border between Lithuania and Poland eventually became the interethnic and political border between Belarus and Ukraine.

Despite the Mongol invasion, these three or four entities did not sever their ties with the Christian West. The situation was very different, however, in northeastern Rus', known as "Beyond the Woods." Eastern Slavic princes, monks, and settlers from the southwest and northwest had only recently colonized the vast territories of the Finno-Ugric tribes along the upper courses of the Volga and Oka rivers and established independent principalities. Then they were conquered by the Mongols and incorporated into their empire (whose northwestern segment was called the "Ulus of Juči," or, anachronistically, the Golden Horde). One of these principalities, vassals of the Mongols, gradually rose to prominence through total collaboration with the Khans. Eventually, using a mix of relentless cruelty and Realpolitik, this principality absorbed the neighboring principalities of...