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CHAPTER 4 Farther from Home: Jewish Women in Christian Europe to 1492 OVERVIEW The First Jewish Communities in Western Europe From the population centers of the Middle East and North Africa, Jews slowly migrated to the northern shores of the Mediterranean. Italy, Spain, and Provence were the first to receive Jews. From there they spread into northern Europe. What began as a trickle grew into a steady flow, and by the ninth and early tenth centuries Jews were moving into Europe in largernumbers . In European towns and cities Jewish families usually lived close to one another. By the late tenth century the number of Jews in some areas was sufficient to enable them to form small, self-governing communities, many with a local sage to interpret Jewish law. The information we have about women during this period comes mostly from rulings and responsa written by these sages. The Jewish communities issued their own rulings and created their own courts, administered individually by local Jewish leaders who managed all the community's religious, political, and financial affairs. After the feudal lord had imposed his tax on the Jews as a group, the local leadership assessed and collected it, taking an assigned amount from each head of household. Once the obligation of taxes was met, the Christian secular government was rarely involved in internal Jewish concerns during this early period. 73 7Ii The JPS Guide to Jewish Women Jewish Learning and Jewish Sages Serious scholarship among the Jews of northwestern Europe lagged behind that of the Middle East and Italy, but by the tenth century, there were some recognized sages in northern Europe. The most noted among them were R. Gershom (960-1028) of Mainz (Germany), referred to as "the light of the exile" (me'or hagolah), and R. Shlomo ben Yitzl:tak (Rashi) (1040-1105) of Troyes (northeastern France). R. Gershom made many rulings favorable to women that still remain part of Jewish law. Rashi, after studying in Germany for many years, returned to Troyes and set up his own school.1 From that time, eastern France began to vie with western Germany as a center of Jewish scholarship. Rashi became one of the most noted and prolific teachers of his day. He wrote commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and on the Talmud, and his collected responsa laid out the problems and solutions of his time and offered precedents that are still in use today. Although Rashi had no sons, two of his three daughters, Yol)eved and Miriam, married their father's disciples. Their sons became famous in their own right as scholars and as commentators on Jewish law. They were included among the Tosafists (meaning "those who added"). The Tosafists' commentaries (the Tosafot), written during the course of the twelfth to fourteenth centuries, are included in most editions of the Talmud. The Crusades Outside of a few isolated attacks, Jews lived relatively undisturbed in Europe until Pope Urban II launched the first Crusade in 1096. This Crusade engaged a large part of the noble classes of northern Europe and their armies. Fired by religious zeal, crusaders marched eastward to liberate the Holy Land from the hands of Muslim infidels. On the way, they killed hundreds of German Jews or forced them to convert. A large number of Jewish women martyrs are connected with these antiJewish actions. Some women not only killed themselves but also their own children, preferring their children's deaths to the possibility of their conversion . The crusading armies conquered Jerusalem in 1099 and established a short-lived Crusader kingdom there. In later attempts to win back the Holy City, several other major Crusades were launched, each less successful than the previous one. The Crusade of 1291 led to disaster for the Christians. After that, Crusades continued to be called, but they were never as large or as organized as the earlier ones. Nevertheless, many took their toll on the lives of Jewish women, men, and children.2 In many ways, the Crusades established the tone of Christian-Jewish relations in the high and late Middle Ages. Jews looked on Christians with Farther from Home 75 more suspicion and hatred. Christians considered Jews different and evil, people to be shunned and punished, and anti-Jewish violence escalated. However, the Crusades did have some positive results. A brisk trade developed in the wake of the continual traffic between East and West, and Jews as well as gentiles benefited from it. With this increase in trade, commercial activity involving...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780827609747
Related ISBN
9780827607521
MARC Record
OCLC
676699912
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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