Index Medieval Jewish History

Medieval Jewish History
Prof. Chaviva Levin
Intro ..................................................................................................................................... 3
Unit I: Jews Under Islam ................................................................................................... 3
Rise of Islam ................................................................................................................... 3
Jews of Arabia............................................................................................................. 3
Mohammed ................................................................................................................. 4
Tenets of New Religion .............................................................................................. 4
Reception .................................................................................................................... 5
Status of Jews.............................................................................................................. 5
Jews of Islam: Geonim and their Institutions ................................................................ 6
Transition to Muslim Rule .......................................................................................... 6
Leadership Structure of Jews under Islam .................................................................. 7
Exilarch ....................................................................................................................... 7
‫ גאונים‬............................................................................................................................ 7
Exilarchate .................................................................................................................. 8
Competition with the Palestinian Center .................................................................... 8
Saadia Gaon .................................................................................................................... 9
R. Saadia Gaon............................................................................................................ 9
Involvement in Communal Affairs ............................................................................. 9
Writings..................................................................................................................... 10
Karaites and Karaism .................................................................................................... 12
Early (pre-Ananite Dissent) ...................................................................................... 12
Ananites .................................................................................................................... 12
Ninth Century Karaism ............................................................................................. 13
Issues of Disagreement between Rabbanites and Karaites ....................................... 13
Decline of the Geonate and Rise of New Jewish Centers ............................................. 15
“Story of the Four Captives”..................................................................................... 15
Backdrop and Overview: Spanish Political Context ..................................................... 17
Courtier Culture ............................................................................................................ 17
‫ שמואל הנגיד‬................................................................................................................. 17
‫ משה אבן עזרא‬............................................................................................................... 18
Critiques of “Courtier Culture” ................................................................................. 21
Neoplatonism and Jewish Neoplatonic Philosophers ............................................... 22
‫ר' יהודה הלוי‬................................................................................................................. 24
‫ רמב"ם‬............................................................................................................................. 24
End of Jewish Life in Spain ...................................................................................... 24
Biography.................................................................................................................. 25
Major works .............................................................................................................. 26
The “Real” ‫ רמב"ם‬...................................................................................................... 26
Unit II: Jews in Christendom ............................................................................................ 27
Jews in Early Christianity ............................................................................................. 27
Jesus .......................................................................................................................... 27
Paul and Pauline Christianity .................................................................................... 27
Moments in the Break Between Judaism and Christianity ....................................... 28
Patristic Attitudes toward Jews ................................................................................. 28
Legal Status of Jews.................................................................................................. 29
Jews in Early Medieval Europe .................................................................................... 29
Jews in the Carolingian Empire ................................................................................ 29
The Rise of Jewish Communities in Northern Europe ................................................. 31
Origins: Immigration ................................................................................................ 31
Communal Structure and Governance ...................................................................... 32
‫ רבנו גרשום מאור הגולה‬.................................................................................................. 33
Relations Between Jews and Christians .................................................................... 34
‫רש"י‬............................................................................................................................ 35
Midterm............................................................................................................................. 36
Crusades ........................................................................................................................ 37
Reasons ..................................................................................................................... 37
Smaller Crusading Groups ........................................................................................ 37
Jewish Narratives ...................................................................................................... 37
‫ יהרג ואל יעבר לעומת יהרוג ואל יעבור‬............................................................................... 38
Historicity of First Crusade Narratives ..................................................................... 39
Portrayals of Women ................................................................................................ 40
1096 as a Turning Point ................................................................................................ 40
'‫ בעלי התוס‬....................................................................................................................... 41
Methodology and Characteristics ............................................................................. 41
‫פיתוח ההלכה‬................................................................................................................. 42
‫ חסידי אשכנז‬..................................................................................................................... 43
‫ פרשנות המקרא היהודית באשכנז במאה הי"ב‬........................................................................... 45
Jewish-Christian Polemic.............................................................................................. 47
Philip Augustus and the Jews ....................................................................................... 48
Ritual Murder Accusations ....................................................................................... 49
Church Attitudes Towards Jews ................................................................................... 50
Nicolas Donin and the Trial of the Talmud .............................................................. 51
Popular Attitudes Towards Jews............................................................................... 53
Provence ........................................................................................................................ 54
Maimonidean Controversy........................................................................................ 55
Christian Spain .............................................................................................................. 56
‫ קבלה‬........................................................................................................................... 57
Social Aspects ........................................................................................................... 58
Breakdown of Convivencia....................................................................................... 59
Responses are supposed to be done by 9:00 the day of the class.
Primary sources and secondary sources.
The papers are about:
1) Karaism or the ‫( גניזה קהירית‬which has anything written in Hebrew script, so is
particularly valuable to us) (Feb. 12).
2) How historians read primary sources (March 21).
Don’t cheat. Give papers in on time. There will be midterm and final exams: Feb. 28 and
May 14, 1:00-3:15.
Class Participation-5%
Next paper is due on Monday, April 16; worksheet is due Monday, March 26.
We will briefly examine the title of the course: Medieval Jewish History. Let’s start
with “History”: It could include only events that happen, or could be broadened to
include cultural waves and ideas. Old historians weren’t interested in much besides kings
and princes, but fuzzy-headed liberals like studying stuff like women, children, the
oppressed, and Jews. This could be because universities also start studying stuff that’s
important in general culture, like gender studies and stuff like that, so they also start
studying the history of those things (since historians themselves are products of their
society and mindset). (For example, William C. Jordan (a black) wrote a lot about
manumission. This could or could not be coincidental.) So, we’ll say that history is the
“study of the past.”
Now, let’s examine “Jewish”: It could be narrow—what Jews did—or could be
broadened, and study how Jews thought, different currents’ effects on Jews, etc. We
could also discuss what we include in the group “Jews”—what about Karaites and stuff
like that? What about people who left Judaism—what about, say, ‫( משומדים‬conversos, or
people who just converted on their own)? Let’s make it pretty broad.
“Medieval”: Comes from “medium aevum,” which means “middle age.” A more
derogatory term is “Dark Ages.” It normally includes about the years 500-1500. An
important question to ask is whether this set of dates makes any sense in terms of the
Jewish experience or whether we should set our own guidelines. The Jewish experience
could be different because they lived in non-European societies, but according to the
criteria of intellectual Jewish history, they do make sense, since they correspond to the
eras of the ‫ גאונים‬and ‫ראשונים‬. In terms of Jewish migration, these dates also probably
make sense. Some1 try to define Jewish history based on “corporate Jewish history,”
which describes autonomous Jewish communities. These communities were very
powerful and responsible for collecting taxes, social benefits, societal order, economic
norms, etc. (In Israel, some look down on medieval Jewish history as too ‫גלותי‬, and claim
that they didn’t have any political history outside of ‫ ;ארץ ישראל‬the reality was otherwise,
however—there was an active and vibrant Jewish political life throughout much of
Medieval Jewish history. Also, the Holocaust overshadows all medieval Jewish history,
and often Holocaust studies find their way into historical studies of the Middle Ages.)
Unit I: Jews Under Islam
Rise of Islam
Jews of Arabia
The Jews live in the Arabian peninsula (Hijaz) in tribes; they live centered around a city
called Medina. We don’t have many original sources from this time period, so we don’t
Haim Helleben Sasson? (I have no idea how to spell his name.)
know, for example, the origin of the name Medina. Jews were farmers, craftsmen, etc.,
spoke Arabic, and have Arabian names; however, as opposed to the Arabian pagans, they
were monotheistic and had separate tribes (for example, Banu ’l Nadir, Banu Qurayza,
etc.). Different tribes had different alliances; there was no pan-Jewish alliance. (We’ll
speak a lot about the interaction between the Jewish communities and their neighbors; the
Jewish communities also resemble their host culture to some degree. This has impact on
all sorts of things.)
Mohammed was a member of Hashemite family of the tribe of Quraysh (that is the tribe
that controls Mecca; the Hashemite tribe is supposed to be prominent); he lived in Mecca,
which was the home of the main temple of the god Qaba. Some historians say that
Mecca was really important; others (Peters) say that Mecca is more of a place with a few
mud huts. The Quraysh seem to have put some Bedouin idols around Qaba so that the
Bedouins will come in. Muhammed’s wife was Khadija; he traveled in a caravan, so he
probably met Jews and Christians. We know about Muhammed since in 610, at the age
of 40, he thought that he had a revelation from Gabriel. Initially, Mohammed was sort of
ignored; he was seen as kind of a poet-seer, whereas he sees himself as a prophet.
However, when he starts talking about believers going to heaven and non-believers not,
the Meccans come up with a plan to assassinate Mohammed. In Yathrib (Medina), the
tribal alliances are falling apart and so try to invite Mohammed to be the leader of their
political structure. In 622, Mohammed flees to Medina. This run-away is known as the
hijra (‫)הגירה‬. Everyone agreed to the Constitution of Medina. The constitution says
basically that Mohammed will be the ruler of Medina, and they’ll all help each other.
This document is a political document with strong religious undertones. It says that the
Jews have a protected status, as long as they don’t hurt “the Believers.” However, the
document also threatened the Jews’ status, since it suggested that the new Muslims form
a broader pan-Muslim alliance, which could threaten the existing Jewish alliance and
overpower it.
Tenets of New Religion
Iman=beliefs (there are 4): 1) Monotheism (strict monotheism, meaning that there are no
saints or anything like that; 2) Divine Scripture; 3) Prophecy (concluding with
Mohammed); 4) Angels (Mohammed received his revelation from an angel, so it’s pretty
important that they exist).
Din=Pillars (there are 5): 1) Charity; 2) Prayer (five times a day towards Jerusalem); 3)
Shahada (declaration of faith); 4) Fasting; 5) Hajj (pilgrimage).
Mohammed was supposedly told by Gabriel that the law he received was part of the
Great Law (Nomos). This puts Muhammed’s revelation in the context of the Great Law,
so Muhammed always saw himself as the next level of Christianity and Judaism, so he
used Biblical ideas. Different scholars suggest that different religions had more influence
on him; it could be more important to investigate what his allusions assume that his
audience (7th cent. Mecca) would have known. Therefore, it seems that people in the area
that Mohammed was speaking knew oral traditions of the Bible.
Mohammed apparently thought that the Jews would like him, since he was a monotheistic
alternative to paganism and some even think that Mohammed thought that the Jews
would convert. Reuven Firestone thinks that that assumes that Mohammed would be too
naïve, and it’s ridiculous to think that he would actually think that he would be received.
He adds that the Jews of Medina were in a messianic state. He quotes documents that
state that the Jews were awaiting the emergence of a prophet from the south (in Mecca),
and claims that Mohammed thought that he would be welcomed by the Jews as that
The Jews, however, did not accept Mohammed. Mohammed claimed that he was
illiterate (that shows that his revelation was real, since there’s no other way for him to get
his revelation). This, of course, does not endear himself with the Jews. Also, the ‫גמרא‬
says that only ‫ קטנים ושוטים‬get any ‫נבואה‬. Also, he has some really bad mistakes—he
claims that ‫ יום כיפור‬is celebrated to commemorate ‫יציאת מצרים‬. It’s possible that this
garbled transmission is due to his illiteracy. Shlomo Dov Goitein claims that these
transmissions are from Mohammed’s connection only to sectarian Jews, and so the
mainstream Jews rejected him as a representative of these sectarian Jews. For example,
in Sura 9:30-31 (page 5 of the handout), it says:
The Jews say, “Ezra is the son of Allah,” and the Christians say, “The Messiah is the son
of Allah.” …Allah attack them!
What?! In apocryphal ‫ בית שני‬literature, Ezra is elevated to almost a divine figure, so it’s
possible that this attack is really an attack on these rejected beliefs that come from
different sects.
Peters-Initially, the Jews enter into the alliance of the Constitution of Medina, but they
then realize that Mohammed is very threatening: The Jews assume that they can ally
with whomever they want, but Mohammed suggests the creation of a pan-Muslim tribe,
which could threaten the Jewish position; it’s also possible that the Jews didn’t want a
competing monotheistic religion.
Stillman suggests that Mohammed then realized that the Jews weren’t accepting him, and
waited until he could fight them; others suggest that he turned against the Jews when they
tried to fight him. In 624, Jews were expelled from Medina and one tribe was
slaughtered when they didn’t listen. Mohammed attacked a caravan of the Quraysh,
beats off two Meccan attempts at retaliation, and began to conquer land.
He then changes the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca and started conquering
North Africa.
Status of Jews
Wretchedness and baseness were stamped upon [the Jews]… That was because they
disbelieved in Allah’s revelations and slew the prophets wrongfully…
Sura 2:61
Have you not seen those who received a portion of the Scripture? They purchase error,
and they want you to go astray from the path.
Sura 4:44
These don’t bode well for the Jews.
However, when he conquered the Khaybar (North Africa), Mohammed said that the Jews
could stay Jews (this was because of their economic power). Therefore, other statements
in the Qur’an have a more positive view of Jews; later Muslims mostly followed the
Kahybar model.
Within 10 years of Mohammed’s being kicked out of Mecca, he conquered the entire
Arabian peninsula and made everyone convert to Islam (no separation of church and
state); shortly afterward, he also conquered (by 732) all the way up to Spain from Africa
(until being stopped at the Battle of Tours) in the west, Armenia (south of Caucasus
Mountains) in the north, and Persia in the east. Part of his success is due to the internal
weakness of the empires that he took over.
Now, Islam is the religion of a huge region, and Mohammed’s actions serve as guides to
the legalists. There are two areas of the world: Dar al Islam (ruled by Islam), and Dar al
Harb (the rest of the world, which is at war with Islam). Theoretically, the Jews and
Christians were supposed to be killed; in reality, the Ahl al-kitab (people of the book, or
Christians and Jews) were made Dhimmis, or protected citizens.
The pact of Umar, which was made between Christians of Spain and the Muslims, has
several problematic parts—Jews and Christians were second-class status, couldn’t build
new synagogues, couldn’t learn Koran, couldn’t celebrate religion loudly, etc. However,
the dhimmis were at least protected, so by medieval status, they had a relatively secure
place. (Jews in Europe claim that they had it worse, but Jews in Muslim lands claim that
they had it worse; Arabs claim that Islamic countries treated Jews great.) Cohen claims
that the protected minority status let Jewish life flourish when social conditions were
right for it. At different times, the reality of life didn’t actually conform to the theoretical
model—either Jews had more or fewer privileges than they were supposed to have.
The Jews and Christians had to pay the Jizya, or poll tax, and the Kharaj, or tribute.
Jews of Islam: Geonim and their Institutions
Transition to Muslim Rule
By the end of the Muslim conquest, the bulk of the Jewish community lived under
Muslim rule (Dar al-Islam), especially in ‫בבל‬. We will discuss the changes in the Jewish
community that reflect this change.
There are two major ‫ תקנות‬that influenced this time: The ‫ גמרא‬says that you can only
collect debts from sold land, but you can’t collect debts from sold chattel;2 there was a
Geonic ‫ תקנה‬that let debts be collected also from chattel. This reflects the change to
urban living under the Caliphate (this doesn’t have anything specifically to do with
Also, the ‫ גמרא‬says that a woman who claims ‫ מאיס עלי‬has to wait a year before forcing a
divorce;4 there was a ‫ תקנה‬that she doesn’t have to wait, since they were afraid that the
,‫ אמר רבי אלעזר אפי' מיתמי? לא‬:‫ אמר ליה ר"נ לעולא‬.‫ גובין מן העבדים‬:‫ הלכתא‬,‫ ואמר עולא א"ר אלעזר‬:‫ב"ק יא‬
‫ דאמר‬,‫ כדרבא‬.‫ אפי' מגלימא דעל כתפיה! הכא במאי עסקינן? שעשאו אפותיקי‬,‫ מיניה‬.]‫מיניה [מבעל החוב עצמו‬
‫ מ"ט? הא אית‬.‫ אין ב"ח גובה הימנו‬- ‫ שורו אפותיקי ומכרו‬,‫ בעל חוב גובה הימנו‬- ‫ עשה עבדו אפותיקי ומכרו‬:‫רבא‬
.‫ והא לית ליה קלא‬,‫ליה קלא‬
There was no legal prohibition for Jews to own land.
4 ‫ לא‬- ‫ אבל אמרה מאיס עלי‬,‫ דאמרה בעינא ליה ומצערנא ליה‬:‫ היכי דמיא מורדת? אמר אמימר‬.‫סד‬-:‫כתובות סג‬
‫ לא‬,‫ לא מפקינן מינה‬- ‫ תפסה‬,‫ השתא דלא אתמר לא הכי ולא הכי‬.‫ מיבעיא בעי לה רבא ולא פשיט‬...‫כייפינן לה‬
Jewesses would go to ‫( )בין לזנות בין לשמד( תרבות רעה‬according to ‫רב שרירא ;)רב נטרונאי גאון‬
says that the ‫ תקנה‬was done to prevent the interference of Muslim courts in ‫גיטין‬, so that
there wouldn’t be ‫גט מעושה‬. This is called "‫"תקנה מורדת‬. This reflects the new reality that
at as opposed to Zoroastrianism, Islam is interested in converts, so the Jews were
concerned to keep the ‫ בנות ישראל‬Jewish.5 If the Muslim courts had the power to interfere
with the courts, they may have impressed the woman with their empathy with her cause
and thereby convince her to become Muslim.
Leadership Structure of Jews under Islam
By the tenth century, Sura and Pumbedita moved to Baghdad (but kept their own names).
However, ‫ ארץ ישראל‬has its own geonate that tried to assert its own influence over world
In ‫בבל‬, there were two sources of rule: The exilarch (‫)ריש גלותא‬, or Jewish “head of
state”, claimed to be descended from ‫ ;מלכות בית דוד‬he has to be recognized both by the
Jews (Geonim) and the caliph. Bustanai is the first ‫ ריש גלותא‬under Islam and the last
under Persian rule. The Persian ruler felt threatened by ‫ מלכות בית דוד‬and decided to try to
kill them all. The Persian ruler had a dream that when he was in his garden, he cut down
all the trees except for one, and someone with red hair told him not to cut down the last
tree; they find an old Jew who said that the trees were ‫בני דוד‬. That guy was ‫דוד‬, and told
him not to kill the last Davidic scion. They old Jew goes home and finds a woman
pregnant with Bustanai, who is protected by the Persian ruler. Bustanai also shows the
king that he isn’t interested in taking over (he doesn’t raise his hand in the presence of the
king to kill a fly). This story basically claims that the exilarchate—and Bustanai in
particular—was chosen by God and has special powers to behave in front of kings. After
the Muslim conquest, the Muslim ruler gave Bustanai one of the daughters of the deposed
Persian king, and Bustanai married her. This symbolized the royalty of Bustanai and his
authority in the Muslim world. Later, when there is conflict between the exilarch and the
Geonim, the Geonim claim that the exilarchs have no legitimacy, since they’re ‫ שקצים‬in
any case since their ancestor married a ‫שקצה‬. (Of course, she may have converted; also,
she presumably wasn’t Bustanai’s only wife.)
The Geonim are theoretically in charge of the spiritual, internal stuff in the Jewish world.
However, the idea of a “‫”רשות‬, or the area where one Geon or exilarch had authority,
defined where who could collect taxes, appoint judges, etc. In each ‫רשות‬, each Geon
could do most of the stuff that the Exilarch could do in his ‫רשות‬. Therefore, the
difference between the spiritual and temporal is more stuff that’s related to the broader
Jewish community. There is often some gray area; some Geonim tried to influence
government policy and stuff like that and some Exilarchs tried to start ‫ישיבות‬. For
example, ‫ רבנו סעדיה גאון‬went to talk to the Caliph went he wanted to.
‫ (ועיין‬.‫ ובהנך תריסר ירחי שתא לית לה מזוני מבעל‬,‫ ומשהינן לה תריסר ירחי שתא אגיטא‬,‫ לא יהבינן לה‬- ‫תפסה‬
.‫ ונקבעה ההלכה כמותם‬,‫ אבל ר"ת (שם תוד"ה אבל) ושו"ע פסקו שלא‬,‫ברמב"ם שם שפסק שכופין גט במקרה כזה‬
).‫ וכך נוצרה הבעיה של עגונות‬,‫ זה מאד מצמצם כוחן של נשים בעניני גירושין‬,‫כמובן‬
The Jews were more used to resisting Christian conversion efforts.
It’s not so clear how the Geonim are appointed and if the exilarch had to appoint them.
The Geonim received questions and support from the Jews that were in the rest of the
world that weren’t in the ‫ רשות‬of the Geonim.
‫ ארץ ישראל‬had its own Geonate; it was weaker than the Babylonian ‫ישיבות‬. Both ‫ארץ‬
‫ ישראל‬and ‫ בבל‬tried to encourage the North Africans to send their questions and money to
Especially in ‫ירחי כלה‬, the Geonim would lecture on whatever ‫ מסכת‬they were studying.
The ‫ גאון‬sat at the head; the ‫ דיני דבבא‬sat around him. The seventy sages sat around them;
the ‫ אלופים‬sat towards the front. The ‫ ראשי כלה‬sat in the ‫דרא קמא‬, or first row. ‫יקום פרקן‬
mentions all of these people—'‫ וכו‬,‫ ראשי כלותא‬,‫דיני דבבא‬. There were also ‫ תנאים‬and
‫אמוראים‬, or people who recited texts, to clarify questionable texts.
The students (there were theoretically 400 there) were tested on their mastery of the ‫מסכת‬.
The Geon leads the discussion; the ‫ דרא קמא‬is involved, also.
It’s not clear how many people were there during the rest of the year. The ‫ גאון‬often
answered questions in the name of himself and the ‫ישיבה‬.
The ‫גאון‬, during the rest of the time, wrote responsa, administered the judicial system,
administered his ‫רשות‬, and sometimes wrote different texts (e.g., standardizing liturgy,
which was variable before the Geonim—the ‫ חזן‬would write a ‫ פיוט‬for each ‫ בבל ;שבת‬was
not a fan of ‫פיוטים‬, but ‫ א"י‬did like them).
The introduction to the ‫ סדור‬of ‫ רב אמרם גאון‬shows that the Jews in Spain sent the Jews in
‫ בבל‬money in return for blessings and a standardized ‫סדור‬.
Another thing the ‫ גאונים‬have to do is clarify Jewish law; ‫ גמרא‬often isn’t so helpful in
these circumstances. It wasn’t so available, convenient, relevant, etc.
The ‫ גאונים‬decided that the ‫ בבלי‬would be authoritative, so they had to start interpreting it
in order to make it relevant.
Several legal works were made: ‫שאילתות‬, which discusses laws in relation to the ‫;פרשה‬
‫ ;בה"ג‬etc.
‫’רבי נתן הבבלי‬s account is biased by an attempt to buttress the support of the Exilarchate,
but it shows the ‫ ראש גלותא‬as a kind of king who was definitely above the ‫ ;גאונים‬also, the
caliph would supposedly invite the ‫ ראש גלותא‬and would send escorts to bring him to him,
This doesn’t seem to keep with the spirit of the pact of Umar, since the Exilarch is being
treated like a king (albeit still under the caliph).
In general, to get authenticity, you would attribute whatever you want to do to an earlier
figure; for example, the Exilarchs claimed that they had permission from Mohammed to
do this. The pact of Umar seems to be a theoretical document much more than the actual
way that the place was governed.
Competition with the Palestinian Center
There was competition over control of the outlying areas. The ‫ ישיבה‬of ‫ א"י‬had a broader
curriculum, including ‫בעלי מסורה‬, ‫פיוט‬, ‫מדרשי הלכה ואגדה‬, etc.; the ‫ בבלי‬academies studied
almost exclusively ‫תלמוד בבלי‬. However, in ‫א"י‬, there is a much stronger Karaite
community. Also, in ‫א"י‬, a woman couldn’t be forced to accept a co-wife; in ‫בבל‬, she
could be.
People in the ‫ גלות‬often thought about the traditional ascendancy of ‫ ;א"י‬the subject matter
of their question; and geographical proximity.
Pirqoy ben Baboy finally realized that the ‫ בבליים‬wouldn’t change the minds of ‫בני ארץ‬
‫ ישראל‬about ‫פיוט‬, so he sent a letter to the ‫ גלות‬that argued that since the Byzantines
oppressed ‫א"י‬, their ‫ הלכה‬was less pure; also, he argued against ‫ ;פיוטים‬also, he said that
they shouldn’t say ‫ שמע‬in ‫ שמנה עשרה‬of ‫שבת‬.
Some parts of the ‫ א"י‬tradition became prominent, especially in ‫ ;מסורה‬we have a report
that there were two ‫ בתי כנסת‬in Egypt and the difference between the ‫ בבלי‬and ‫ארצישראלי‬
places was that the ‫ בבלי‬read the ‫ תורה‬every year, but the ‫ ארצישראלי‬place read it once
every three years. However, they came together on ‫ שמחת תורה‬and one other time to
Saadia Gaon
Last time, we talked about the exilarchate in general; now, we’ll talk about R’ Saadia
R. Saadia Gaon
R. Saadia Gaon was not an ivory tower intellectual; he was a communal figure and
leader. He was born in Fayyum, Egypt in 882. As opposed to the other gaons that were
from a few major families in Babylonia, he was from Egypt. He left Egypt for about ten
years (it’s not so clear why; some suggest he was in a controversy, others say that he was
an itinerant student). While he was still in Egypt, he wrote the rhyming dictionary, the
Sefer HaEgron, and wrote anti-Karaite works.
He was one of the first Geonim to say that Karaism was a problem (this could have been
since he was from Egypt, where Karaism was much more influential).
Involvement in Communal Affairs
Ben-Meir Calendar Controversy
R. Saadia was very active in the Ben-Meir Calendar Controversy. In 921, the Gaon of
‫א"י‬, ‫מאיר‬-‫אהרון בן‬, decided to make a calendar that was different from that of ‫בבל‬. It’s
unclear exactly what the dispute was about (the difference is whether ‫ כסלו‬would be ‫מלא‬
or ‫)חסר‬, but the point was that the holidays would fall out on different days. It’s clear that
the calendar issue was schismatic (cf. ‫ ר' גמליאל‬and ‫ ר' יהושע‬and the fight about ‫)יו"כ‬.6 One
‫ דמות צורות לבנות היו לו לרבן גמליאל בטבלא ובכותל בעלייתו שבהן מראה את ההדיוטות ואומר‬:‫ח‬:‫ר"ה ב‬
‫הכזה ראית או כזה מעשה שבאו שנים ואמרו ראינוהו שחרית במזרח וערבית במערב אמר רבי יוחנן בן נורי עדי‬
‫שקר הם כשבאו ליבנה קיבלן רבן גמליאל ועוד באו שנים ואמרו ראינוהו בזמנו ובליל עבורו לא נראה וקבלן רבן‬
‫ 'עדי שקר הן! היאך מעידים על האשה שילדה ולמחר כריסה בין שיניה?!' אמר‬,‫ אמר רבי דוסא בן הרכינס‬.‫גמליאל‬
'.‫לו ר' יהושע 'רואה אני את דבריך‬
‫' הלך‬.‫ ' גוזרני עליך שתבא אצלי במקלך ובמעותיך ביום הכפורים שחל להיות בחשבונך‬,‫ שלח לו רבן גמליאל‬:‫ט‬:‫ב‬
‫ 'יש לי ללמוד שכל מה שעשה רבן גמליאל עשוי שנאמר "אלה מועדי ה' מקראי‬,‫ אמר לו‬.‫ומצאו רבי עקיבא מיצר‬
‫ אמר‬,‫' בא לו אצל רבי דוסא בן הרכינס‬.‫קודש אשר תקראו אתם"—בין בזמנן בין שלא בזמנן אין לי מועדות אלא אלו‬
‫ ' אם באין אנו לדון אחר בית דינו של רבן גמליאל צריכין אנו לדון אחר כל בית דין ובית דין שעמד מימות משה ועד‬,‫לו‬
‫" ולמה לא נתפרשו שמותן של זקנים? אלא‬,‫עכשיו! שנאמר "ויעל משה ואהרן נדב ואביהוא ושבעים מזקני ישראל‬
of the two authorities would have to agree to the other, or else there would be a huge split
in the community. R. Saadia was then in Aleppo, and he wrote to everyone trying to
convince them that the Babylonian position should be followed. In 855, the Babylonians
ceded control of the calendar to ‫א"י‬, but in the aftermath of the calendar dispute, ‫ א"י‬lost
and ‫ בבל‬won (even Egypt sided with ‫)בבל‬.
By ‫ פסח‬of 922, the balance of power seems to have gone towards ‫ ;בבל‬by ‫ר"ה‬, everyone
followed ‫בבל‬. This was sort of the death-knell of ‫’א"י‬s dominance, and R. Saadia Gaon
was the cause.
Ben Zakkai Controversy
R. Saadia was then made into an ‫אלוף‬/‫ ריש כלה‬in Pumbedita. After that, he impressed the
‫ריש גלותא‬. The Gaon of Sura, Joseph ben Jacob, died. The exilarch, Ben Zakkai,
approached Nissim al-Marhawani, and was told to pick Zemah since R. Saadia was very
qualified, but had a contentious personality; Ben Zakkai picked R. Saadia instead.
R. Saadia then was made the Gaon of Sura. The appointment of a foreigner like R.
Saadia shows that the yeshiva of Sura was falling on hard times.
R. Saadia refused to sign a legal document that the ‫ ריש גלותא‬told him to sign, so there
were six or seven years of fighting. David ben Zakkai, the Exilarch, and Rav Saadia
Gaon each deposed each other, leading to a major fight.
It’s not clear exactly what was wrong with the document. The story of Rav Saadia is that
the document was invalid for some reason, which is why he wouldn’t sign it. The
document said that the administrators would take some split of the inheritance that some
kids would inherit from their father. However, it’s not so clear that the document was
actually bad; it’s possible that Rav Saadia didn’t want to rubber-stamp the documents of
the Exilarch. The Gaon of Pumbedita did sign the document, so it’s hard to say that he
was completely corrupt and only Rav Saadia Gaon was willing to stand up for justice.
Therefore, it’s possible that Rav Saadia was making a political (and not moral) stand.
Others emphasize that the institutions in Babylonia were in decline, so they were ripe for
conflict; this court case was the thing that sparked the conflict between the Geonate and
the Exilarchate.
After six years, they realized that they couldn’t live in such a split, and the Natira bankers
forced the two sides to come to terms with each other. If the document were really
unjust, it’s difficult to see how Rav Saadia could make peace without changing it; it
seems that the document was not an unforgivable miscarriage of justice. Rav Saadia
stayed the Gaon until 942, when he died.
‫אמונות ודעות‬
‫' נטל מקלו ומעותיו בידו והלך‬.‫ללמד שכל שלשה ושלשה שעמדו בית דין על ישראל הרי הוא כבית דינו של משה‬
‫ 'בוא‬,‫ אמר לו‬,‫ עמד רבן גמליאל ונשקו על ראשו‬.‫ליבנה אצל רבן גמליאל ביום שחל יום הכפורים להיות בחשבונו‬
'.‫בשלום רבי ותלמידי רבי בחכמה ותלמידי שקבלת דברי‬
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This book was a philosophical work that used reason to strengthen the Jewish
community’s faith. It had some anti-Karaite stuff in it, as well. R. Saadia was
responding to the religious confusion; there were many different religions, and were
encountering the Kalam.
Kalam was a branch of Islamic theology (believed by the mutakallimun) that had three
main ideas:
1) Reason: Kalam states that there are two parallel paths to wisdom,
revelation/scripture and reason. Both paths will lead you to the same place. This
assumes that we can interpret Scripture and the world competently. The need for
both paths of knowledge is that ‫לא דומה ראיה לשמיעה‬.
2) Unity of God: Another assumption of the Kalam is the Unity of God, which
states that God is immutable. This means that God is always the same. This
seems to contradict many passages in Scripture which imply that God changes His
mind or behaves in different ways in different times (e.g. ‫ל רחום וחנון ארך אפים‬-‫א‬
‫ורב חסד ואמת‬, etc.).
3) Also, the Kalam says that God is just, which is measured the same way that we
would say that people are just. The outcome of that is the belief in free will, since
if there’s no free will, there’s no way for people to be punished.
Hellenism was also becoming more widespread, since Arabs were translating Greek
works into Arabic. There were several reasons that a work like ‫ אמונות ודעות‬wasn’t
written in Christendom: The scholarly language of the Islamic world was Arabic, which
is what the Jews spoke; in Christendom, the scholarly language was Latin; also, yeshivot
in Christendom studied only ‫תלמוד בבלי‬.
‫ספר אמונות ודעות‬
There are several types of knowledge: 1) Sense perception, 2) Intellectual perception, 3)
Logical perception, 4) Reliable Tradition. The main point for R. Saadia is that tradition
includes both the Written and Oral ‫תורה‬.
The first class of laws is logical laws (‫)מצוות שכליות‬. The second class of laws is ‫מצוות‬
‫שמעיות‬, or laws that are not dictated by reason. (He also claims that there is some small
moral benefit from the second class of laws, also.) The need for revelation for the ‫מצוות‬
‫ שכליות‬is so that people will know how exactly to do what we’re supposed to do and the
specifics of what we’re supposed to do. For example, even if reason tells us that we have
to thank God, we need the prophets to tell us when and how to pray.
The need for this work is the desire to help the ‫ שלומי אמוני ישראל‬fight against the other
currents going about the Jewish people.
‫תורה שבכתב‬
Sefer HaEgron (dictionary) was R. Saadia’s work that tried to convince the Jews to speak
Hebrew, so he wrote an introduction in Hebrew and gave a brief history of Hebrew; he
says that everyone spoke Hebrew until ‫ ;מגדל בבל‬from then until the Exile, the Jews spoke
Hebrew. Some of this was influenced by the idea of Arabiyya, which tried to convince
Muslims that Arabic was the most beautiful and expressive language; R. Saadia changed
it to say that Hebrew is the most beautiful and holy language. R. Saadia wasn’t so
successful; he had to rewrite the introduction in Arabic.
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In addition, R. Saadia wanted the Jews to study the ‫תורה‬, so he translated the ‫ תורה‬into
Arabic in a work called Tafsir. R. Saadia says that some verses can’t be translated
literally, such as ‫כי הוא היתה אם כל חי‬. Also, the verse that ‫ השם‬is an "‫ "אש אכלה‬is a
metaphor, which wasn’t so obvious at that point. He also interprets ‫ פסוקים‬in accordance
with the ‫מסורה‬, such as ‫לא תבשל גדי בחלב אמו‬, which he translated as “don’t have mixtures
of milk and meat.” This is part of his fight against Karaism, but it fits in with his reason,
since he said that tradition is a source of reason.
In conclusion, Rav Saadia is not an ivory tower and was involved in many communal
issues. We’ll discuss how effective he was in helping Rabbinic tradition be more
Karaites and Karaism
Early (pre-Ananite Dissent)
We spoke last time how R. Saadia Gaon was anti-Karaite; now, we’ll explore what
exactly Karaism is a little more.
In general, Karaites rejected the oral ‫( תורה‬they’re ‫בני מקרא‬, or ‫)קראים‬. To examine what
happened that caused Karaism, we could examine what precursors to Karaism existed
(diachronic position); we could examine what cultural effects caused it (synchronic
position), for example, looking at Muslim sects that emphasize scriptural literalism; we
could also look to what extent Karaism is a reaction to contemporary Rabbinic culture.
Some who adopt this last approach emphasize that the Geonim are trying to emphasize
the hegemony of the ‫ בבלי‬and their authority in interpreting it; the Geonim also impose
judges and taxes on the people and ask the people to turn to them for authority. For
people in Baghdad, this could make sense; if you’re living out in the middle of nowhere
in Persia, you could feel resentment towards the Babylonian center. The growth of
Karaism could be a backlash against the growth of the influence of the Geonate. Also,
there’s a huge degree of instability when the Muslims took over; due to this lack of
stability, messianic stuff starts coming up (including messianic figures such as Abu Isa
and Yudghan). By the rule of the Abbasid caliphate, when everything has sort of settled
down, a different kind of protest starts coming up against the central religious authority
that manifests itself as a protest against the Oral Law.
Anan ben David is known as the founder of Karaism. He was a candidate for the
exilarchate, so of Davidic descent; he was also a scholar. We have his ‫ספר המצוות‬. We
also have Abraham ibn Daud’s account of the story of Anan ben David. Abraham ibn
Daud7 says that Anan ben David was rejected for the exilarchate because of his heretical
views. There is good reason to suspect the account of Abraham ibn Daud, since he was
an anti-Karaite crusader. However, it does seem that Anan ben David was from Davidic
descent, since there’s no reason for Abraham ibn Daud to make that up.
More on that later in the “Story of the Four Captives”.
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Another story claims that Anan ben David was imprisoned for trying to pose as the
exilarch; he told the Muslim caliph that he wasn’t Jewish and was a different religion,
since he had a different calendar (solar, not lunar).
Whereas Abu Isa and Yudghan were challenging the Babylonian hegemony from Persia,
Anan mounted his challenge from Baghdad and was using the Babylonian tools against
them (like scholarship and stuff like that).
Anan isn’t really a Biblical literalist; he uses ‫ דרשות‬and stuff to come to different
Muslim sources talk about Ananites being distinct from Karaites, which makes sense,
since although Anan doesn’t accept the ‫בבלי‬, he still does accept the idea of ‫ דרשות‬and
stuff. Anan’s ‫ ספר המצוות‬looks so much like the ‫( בבלי‬even though it fights it) that some
people were put off by the over-intellectualization.
So by the ninth century, Karaism wasn’t flying; it was pretty clear that it wasn’t going to
get anywhere in ‫בבל‬. In the ninth century, Karaism shifts focus from ‫ בבל‬to ‫ארץ ישראל‬.
Ninth Century Karaism
The first major Karaite is Benjamin al-Nahawendi (early C9). al-Nahawendi tried to fix
all the Rabbinic baggage that Anan brought with him to proto-Karaism. al-Nahawendi
emphasizes the use of Hebrew and starts focusing on literal interpretation of the Bible.
Anan supposedly said ‫ ;חפישו באורייתא ואל תשענו על דעתי‬probably, he never said the ‫אל‬
‫ תשענו על דעתי‬part (it’s Hebrew8, and Anan never really countenanced differences of
opinion in the same way later Karaism did). al-Nahawendi comes from Persia to
Daniel al-Kumisi (late C9) continues what al-Nahawendi started. He dissents from Anan
and pushes literal adherence to the Bible; he pushes the Karaites to come to Jerusalem
and mourn Jerusalem (‫)אבלי ציון‬. Each town was supposed to send some people to mourn
for the ‫ ;ביה"מ‬if you didn’t come yourself, you were supposed to support the people who
were mourning in your stead. Gil claims that the main characteristics of Karaism were:
1) Dissociation from Rabbinic Judaism; 2) Center in ‫ ;א"י‬3) Mourning for ‫ ציון‬. Karaites
became very significant in ‫ א"י‬and Egypt; they may have been more creative than
Rabbinic elements.
Most Rabbinic figures didn’t pay too much attention to Karaites until R. Saadia Gaon.
This could have because of two reasons: 1) R. Saadia, coming from Egypt, recognized
the threat; 2) The Karaites could focus around R. Saadia as a person. Therefore, it’s
unclear if R. Saadia protected the Rabbinic community from the Karaites, or created the
Karaite “lobby.”
Issues of Disagreement between Rabbanites and Karaites
Salmon ben Yeroham was responsible for writing down many things that characterize
Karaite philosophy. Some issues of contention:
‫—כשרות‬restrictive: No fish blood, limited fowl (only pigeons and
Aramaic probably would’ve been something like ‫אל תסתמכון אדעתי‬.
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Calendar—Rabbinic calendar is based on lunar system with ‫ מעוברות‬based on
astronomical calculations, whereas the Karaites had the lunar system based
on when ‫ אביב‬is.
‫—שבועות‬different date.
Oral Law—problems in transmission; not necessary (‫ אין להם שיעור‬for some
things); how can there be ‫ ;מחלוקת‬Rabbis never claim Divine inspiration; how
can you write an ‘Oral’ law?!;
‫—תורת ה' תמימה‬God is perfect; therefore, His law is perfect and needs no
It’s problematic to say ‫ ;ואל תשענו על דעתי‬you can’t have a community based on everyone
doing whatever they want! It really doesn’t work to do that, so later Karaite stages do
have a set ‫הלכה‬.
One of the Karaite theories is ‫ריקוב‬, or consanguinity; if two people marry, they both
become ‫ אסור‬to their spouse’s family. This is a problem, since almost no one can marry
Sahl ben Masliah
He wrote an “Epistle to Jacob ben Samuel.” From it, it appears that there are several
differences between Karaism and Rabbanism. He claims that:
1) The Karaites practice based on what each individual person thinks is right.
2) They were ascetic: “They have abandoned their merchandise and forgotten their
families; they have forsaken their native land and left palaces in order to live in
reed huts.”
3) The entire Geonic system is corrupt. The Geonim had their taxes collected by the
gentile system (the ‫ רמב"ם‬has a similar critique of the institution of salaried public
learners of ‫ )תורה‬and care more about their power than the people they were
supposedly serving.
4) The Rabbanites are much too ‫ מקל‬on mixing with Gentiles and that the Rabbanites
don’t care about ‫( טומאה וטהרה‬these are related claims, since the lack of ‫ הקפדה‬on
‫ טומאה וטהרה‬causes the Rabbanites to get to close to the ‫)גויים‬.
5) The Rabbanites are out to get the Karaites (R. Saadia Gaon is the arch-enemy of
Karaites, and put lights in the ‫ בית כנסת‬on ‫ שבת‬so that the Karaites couldn’t come
in—that’s why we have cholent on ‫שבת‬, and some say that that’s why we say ‫במה‬
‫ מדליקין‬on Friday night; also, that could be why we say ‫פרקי אבות—משה קיבל תורה‬
‫מסיני‬, etc.)
6) The Karaites accuse the Rabbanites of carrying on ‫שבת‬, since the women walked
out with jewelry (which is ‫ מותר‬according to the ‫ משנה‬in ‫)שבת‬.
7) The Rabbanites pray to the dead and ask the dead people to give them ‫ברכות‬.
It seems that both the Rabbanite and Karaite community are both at their others’ throats
about how to worship God.
We have a ‫( כתובה‬page 9) of a Rabbanite man and Karaite woman; the man agrees not to
do all sorts of things that would affect her religious sensibilities. (It seems from here that
the Karaite woman has the upper hand in the relationship.) It’s unclear what kind of
religious education the kids have; maybe, the kids would follow the father’s practice, but
it’s unclear.
- 14 -
In reality, we know from the Genizah that there were intermarriage, business
partnerships, and cooperation between Rabbanites and Karaites.
The existence of this kind of relationship apparently helps us understand what exactly R.
Saadia Gaon was fighting against when he embarked on his crusade against Karaism.
Some claim that the conflict between the Geonim and ‫ ארץ ישראל‬and Karaites should be
seen as part of a broader conflict between the ‫ בבליים‬and everyone else.
As the Abbasid caliphate began to splinter, it’s not so surprising that the communities
turn away from the Babylonian center of influence.
So far, we’ve seen that the Geonic system had:
1) A centralized authority in ‫;בבל‬
2) Promotion of ‫ תלמוד בבלי‬against ‫ תלמוד ירושלמי‬and sectarian groups;
3) A strong relation to ‫;ישיבות התלמוד‬
4) Relations with Muslim authorities;
5) R. Saadia Gaon had interaction with Kalam;
6) Bilateral ties with Jewish communities far away;
7) Hierarchical structure.
Decline of the Geonate and Rise of New Jewish Centers
The political environment in which this system happened was unified over a large space
and that was tolerant of the Geonim. When the different caliphates split up, they
encouraged the Jews not to turn to ‫ בבל‬all the time for their needs so that the Jews
wouldn’t rely on ‫ בבל‬or send their money to ‫בבל‬. Therefore, in the tenth century, ‫רב‬
‫ שרירא גאון‬complains that the Jews in the outskirts don’t pay attention to the “head” of the
Jewish people in ‫בבל‬.
“Story of the Four Captives”
Abraham ibn Daud wrote the Sefer HaQabbalah in 1161. Here is a brief summary of the
story of the four captives:
A ship carrying four rabbis was on its way from Bari (in Southern Italy) to
Sefastin (in Persia). Along the way, it was captured by ‘Abd ar-Rahman an-Nasir.
The four rabbis were taken captive and then sold. R. Shemaria went to Egypt,
where he became ‫ ראש ישיבה‬in Fostat; R. Hushiel was sold on the coast of Ifriqiya
and then went to Qairawan, where he had his son ‫רבנו חננאל‬. (We don’t know the
name of the third one.)
R. Moses was captured with his son, R. Hanok (his wife committed suicide on the
ship). R. Moses went to Cordova, where he was redeemed by the people of the
city. He impressed everyone in the city with his vast erudition (he knew
something that the original judge, R. Natan, didn’t know) and became the judge of
the city.
Bari was in Southern Italy and was a center of ‫ תורה‬study; Sefastin was a city in Persia.
This story is an account of the creation of the break with ‫בבל‬.
The ‫ ישיבות‬were in decline, which could be the reason that R. Saadia Gaon was brought
- 15 -
‫‪;9 also,‬אגדות החרבן ‪The story about the people who jumped out into the sea has echoes in‬‬
‫‪;10 also, the‬הלל ‪ and‬בני בתירא ‪the story of R. Moses sounds a lot like the story of the‬‬
‫‪stories of the rabbis in the three boats have an antecedent.‬‬
‫‪We know, for example, that R. Moses ben Hanokh was in Spain and all the other rabbis‬‬
‫‪actually were in their supposed places.‬‬
‫‪, during whose time the story happened, was a gaon from 968‬שרירא גאון ‪We know that R.‬‬
‫‪to 1006; Abd Al Rahman III ruled from 912-961; also, the date was supposedly 4750‬‬
‫‪(=990 C.E., more or less). We also know from the Cairo Genizah that R. Kushiel wrote‬‬
‫‪that he was in Egypt of his own volition and stayed there because of his son, not that he‬‬
‫‪was taken captive in a pirate ship.‬‬
‫‪Rather, it seems that the story is a foundation myth that R. Abraham ibn Daud explained‬‬
‫‪.‬היתה סיבה מאת ה' ‪; he claims that‬בבל ‪how they could leave the authority of‬‬
‫‪Gershon Cohen points out that the only date that Abraham ibn Daud gives as approximate‬‬
‫‪is this date of 4750; it turns out that 4751—4260 (500 C.E.) was the redaction date of the‬‬
‫‪Talmud; Hillel came to power in 3769 (9 C.E.). If you subtract a year, 4749, Hillel’s date‬‬
‫‪was 3769, which was 980 years before, or two sets of 70 weeks of years, which has‬‬
‫‪eschatological significance. Therefore, he claims that R. Moshe ben Hanokh is a‬‬
‫‪continuation of Hillel.‬‬
‫;‪Sara Zfatman didn’t buy it. She claims that Gershon Cohen asked the wrong questions‬‬
‫‪really, this was a folk story. The four rabbis could signify the four corners of the world,‬‬
‫‪, the idea that in each period, there are four rabbis‬גאולה ‪ of‬לשונות ‪, the four‬גלויות ‪the four‬‬
‫ר' ;‪ in Persia‬חגי זכריה מלאכי ונחמיה ;‪ in Babylon‬חננאל מישאל עזריה ודניאל( ‪to save the world‬‬
‫‪ etc. in his generation, and these four rabbis in this generation). Therefore, she‬עקיבא‬
‫‪suggests that the four captives were a motif, and he tells this story to talk about Spain.‬‬
‫‪Therefore, perhaps, the fourth captive could be a potential rival of Spain, and he didn’t‬‬
‫‪want to talk about him.‬‬
‫גיטין נז‪ :‬אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל‪ ,‬ואיתימא רבי אמי‪ ,‬ואמרי לה במתניתא תנא‪ :‬מעשה בד' מאות ילדים וילדות‬
‫שנשבו לקלון‪ ,‬הרגישו בעצמן למה הן מתבקשים‪ ,‬אמרו‪ :‬אם אנו טובעין בים אנו באין לחיי העולם הבא? דרש להן‬
‫הגדול שבהן‪ :‬אמר ה' מבשן אשיב אשיב ממצולות ים‪ ,‬מבשן אשיב ‪ -‬מבין שיני אריה אשיב‪ ,‬ממצולות ים ‪ -‬אלו‬
‫שטובעין בים; כיון ששמעו ילדות כך‪ ,‬קפצו כולן ונפלו לתוך הים‪ .‬נשאו ילדים ק"ו בעצמן ואמרו‪ :‬מה הללו שדרכן לכך‬
‫ כך‪ ,‬אנו שאין דרכנו לכך ‪ -‬על אחת כמה וכמה! אף הם קפצו לתוך הים‪ .‬ועליהם הכתוב אומר‪ :‬כי עליך הורגנו כל‬‫היום נחשבנו כצאן טבחה‪.‬‬
‫פסחים סו‪ .‬מתני'‪ :‬שחיטה שאי אפשר לעשותה מערב שבת ‪ -‬דוחה את השבת‪ .‬גמ'‪ :‬תנו רבנן‪ :‬הלכה זו‬
‫נתעלמה מבני בתירא‪ .‬פעם אחת חל ארבעה עשר להיות בשבת‪ ,‬שכחו ולא ידעו אם פסח דוחה את השבת אם לאו‪.‬‬
‫אמרו‪ :‬כלום יש אדם שיודע אם פסח דוחה את השבת אם לאו? אמרו להם‪ :‬אדם אחד יש שעלה מבבל‪ ,‬והלל הבבלי‬
‫שמו‪ ,‬ששימש שני גדולי הדור שמעיה ואבטליון ויודע אם פסח דוחה את השבת אם לאו‪ .‬שלחו וקראו לו‪ .‬אמרו לו‪:‬‬
‫כלום אתה יודע אם הפסח דוחה את השבת אם לאו? אמר להם‪ :‬וכי פסח אחד יש לנו בשנה שדוחה את השבת?‬
‫והלא הרבה יותר ממאתים פסחים יש לנו בשנה שדוחין את השבת‪ .‬אמרו לו‪ :‬מנין לך? אמר להם‪ :‬נאמר 'מועדו'‬
‫בפסח ונאמר 'מועדו' בתמיד‪ .‬מה מועדו האמור בתמיד דוחה את השבת‪ ,‬אף מועדו האמור בפסח דוחה את השבת‪.‬‬
‫ועוד‪ ,‬קל וחומר הוא‪ :‬ומה תמיד שאין ענוש כרת דוחה את השבת‪ ,‬פסח שענוש כרת‪ ,‬אינו דין שדוחה את השבת?‬
‫מיד הושיבוהו בראש ומינוהו נשיא עליהם‪ ,‬והיה דורש כל היום כולו בהלכות הפסח‪ .‬התחיל מקנטרן בדברים‪ ,‬אמר‬
‫להן‪ :‬מי גרם לכם שאעלה מבבל ואהיה נשיא עליכם ‪ -‬עצלות שהיתה בכם‪ ,‬שלא שמשתם שני גדולי הדור שמעיה‬
‫ואבטליון‪ .‬אמרו לו‪ :‬רבי‪ ,‬שכח ולא הביא סכין מערב שבת מהו? אמר להן‪ :‬הלכה זו שמעתי ושכחתי‪ .‬אלא‪ ,‬הנח להן‬
‫לישראל אם אין נביאים הן ‪ -‬בני נביאים הן [רש"י‪ :‬ותראו מה יעשו]‪ .‬למחר‪ ,‬מי שפסחו טלה ‪ -‬תוחבו בצמרו‪ ,‬מי‬
‫שפסחו גדי ‪ -‬תוחבו בין קרניו‪ .‬ראה מעשה ונזכר הלכה‪ ,‬ואמר‪ :‬כך מקובלני מפי שמעיה ואבטליון‪.‬‬
‫‪- 16 -‬‬
Backdrop and Overview: Spanish Political Context
Spain was inhabited by Visigoths, who were pagans and then became Catholic. In 711,
Spain was conquered by the Muslims. The Umayyad Caliphate started around 930; then,
in 1013, turned into petty kingdoms. This is important because Jews serve as courtiers to
the many kings; the monarchies were unstable and ephemeral, so the kings were
interested in preventing people from trying to take over the kingdom (Jews wouldn’t try
to take over the kingdom). These Taifa kingdoms were juicy targets, so the Christians
tried to conquer. In 1090, the Almoravid invasions tried to take it back from the
Christians; the Christians won. Almohades tried again in 1147, and said that no Jews
could stay. The “Golden Age” of Spain was 950-1150, before the Jews were banned.
Courtier Culture
In general (and for Abraham ibn Daud in particular), the Jews knew all about physics,
math, languages (Arabic), ‫ גמרא‬and ‫תנ"ך‬, poetry (secular and religious), ‫מדרש‬, etc.
Hasdai ibn Shaprut was one of the courtiers. He rose to a good position since he found
an antidote to a poison. One of his diplomatic endeavors was that he wanted to form a
treaty between the Byzantines and the Umayyad caliphate. One of the Byzantine gifts
was a medical treatise that was in Greek, translated to Latin, then Hasdai translated it to
Arabic. This broke Spanish dependence on the Baghdad libraries; Hasdai also brought
Moshe b. Hanokh and Sura’s library to Spain. He also got knowledge about the Khazars
and their Jewish conversion and therefore king. He was probably very excited since the
presence of a Jewish kingdom disproved the “historical argument” that if the Jews were
the chosen people, they wouldn’t be subjugated everywhere—the Jews weren’t
subjugated everywhere!
Hasdai used his influence to help the Jews in Byzantium and other places; he also
supported Dunash ibn Labrat and Menachem ben Saruq (both, of course, quoted by ‫)רש"י‬.
Dunash favored using Arabic to understand Hebrew; Menachem didn’t like this so much.
Dunash was the first to use Arabic meter into Jewish poetry.
These people are called “golden men”; from 950-1150 (Hasdai ibn Shaprut was in the
11th century, until the invasion) is known by medieval Jewish historians as the “Golden
Age of Spain.” The age was characterized by: 1) Peace; 2) Artistic development (cultural
advancements); 3) Religious freedom; 4) Jews were powerful, influential, and wealthy;
and 5) Integration of Jews into majority culture. “Convivencia” refers to Jews, Muslims,
and Christians living together and having cultural integration. Abraham ibn Daud’s ‫ספר‬
‫ הקבלה‬was looked upon as reflecting upon his personal perspective; those who called this
the “Golden Age of Spain” also reflect their bias that they wanted to integrate into the
majority German culture and looked at their intellectual forefathers in the “Golden Age”
of Spain. The appellation “Golden Age” makes a value judgment, since not everyone
identifies with everything that was going on.
‫שמואל הנגיד‬
Shmuel HaNagid was: 1) A general; 2) Courtier (vizier); 3) Poet.11 He also captured
popular imagination as both a ‫ לוי‬and a descendant of ‫( בית דוד‬pretty cool to do both!). He
Probably not the author of the ‫הקדמה לתלמוד‬.
- 17 -
also saw himself as a larger-than-life figure. He is alleged to have theological disputes
with Muslims, also. Scheindlin argues that ‫’שמואל הנגיד‬s war poetry is different from
other poetry, since it feels much more real and authentic than the other stereotyped
poetry. Ross Brand, on the other hand, says that ‫ שמואל הנגיד‬was someone upon whom
was projected the aspirations of the Jews and the uneasiness of the Muslims than a
historical reality; he was supposedly more a symbol than anything else.
Example: Poem 26:
‫הרסוה ימי קדם קצינים‬
‫הלינותי גדוד כבד בבירה‬
.‫ותחתינו בבעליה ישנים‬
‫וישנו עלי גבה וצדה‬
?‫ועמים שכנו בזאת לפנים‬
‫ אי קהלים‬:‫ודברתי ללבי‬
‫ודלים ועבדים ואדונים‬
‫ואי בונים ומחריבים ושרים‬
?‫ובנים ואבלים וחתנים‬
‫ומולידים ושכולים ואבות‬
‫בימים אחרי ימים ושנים‬
‫ועם רב נולדו אחר אחרים‬
,‫והם היום בלב ארץ שכונים‬
‫והיו על פני ארץ שכנים‬
,‫ועפר—מחצרים נעמנים‬
‫וקבר חלפו מארמנותם‬
.‫שללונו נפשים ועדנים‬
‫ואלו העלו ראשם ויצאו‬
!‫אהי אני ואלה ההמונים‬
‫ נפשי אמת כהם למחר‬,‫אמת‬
The poem seems to reflect personal feelings, not stereotyped ideas. (Others claim that
these are actually stereotyped.) 1055, when he died, he tried to pass on his rule to ‫;יהוסף‬
‫ יהוסף‬is killed and there are riots against the Jews of Grenada after some trouble.
Jehoseph’s being killed isn’t so surprising, but the riots against the Jews show how much
the Jews were identified with their courtiers. It could also be that there was resentment
that ‫ שמואל הנגיד‬wanted to pass on his rule to his son through heredity.
‫ שמאול הנגיד‬supposedly rose to prominence since he was writing letters to the king, who
began to employ him as an advisor. This shows that literacy and effective written
expression were valued very highly by the courtier culture. This could be similar to alArabiyya, where the Muslims valued Arabic very much, and the courtier culture reflected
that interest in mastering Hebrew (and Arabic). Dunash ibn Labrat gave us the idea of
‫ ;בנינים‬the Spanish masters used Arabic to teach us that each ‫ שרש‬has three letters. The
Jews became interested in reviving Hebrew to write secular poetry that mirrored the
Arabic style.
Two things we sometimes miss are the meter and the forms that the poet is basing himself
off of.
‫משה אבן עזרא‬
‫דדי יפת תאר‬
Example: Poem 11, Moses ibn Ezra (the uncle of ‫)ראב"ע‬:
‫דדי יפת תאר ליל חבק‬
!‫ושפת יפת מראה יומם נשק‬
‫וגער בכל מריב יועץ לפי‬
:‫ וקח ישר נמצא בפי‬,‫דרכו‬
,‫אין החיות רק עם ילדי יפי‬
- 18 -
‫כי נגבו מעדן לעשק‬
‫חיים ואין איש חי לא יחשק!‬
‫נסך לבבך בשמחות ושיש‬
‫ושתיה עלי יבל נבל עסיס‬
‫יין‪ ,‬לקול נבל עם תור וסיס‬
‫ורקוד וגיל‪ ,‬גם כף על כף ספק‪,‬‬
‫ושכר ודלת יעלת חן דפק‪.‬‬
‫זה הוא נעים תבל—קח חלקך מנו כאיל מלואים חקך‬
‫שימה מנת ראשי עם צדקך‪:‬‬
‫אל תחשה למצץ שפה ורק‪,‬‬
‫עד תאחז חקך—חזה ושוק!‬
‫‪This poet is making a mockery of the whole idea of sacrifices; he uses many different‬‬
‫‪ideas to make fun of all the ideas he expresses. For example, the poem is filled with‬‬
‫‪), but the poem was a wine‬חזה ושוק ‪,‬למצץ שפה ורק ‪,‬כאיל מלואים ‪,‬נסך לבבך( ‪ imagery‬קדשים‬
‫!‪party poem! That’s not supposed to happen‬‬
‫ר' משה הסלח‬
‫קינות ‪, since he’s one of the most prolific composer of‬ר' משה הסלח ‪R. Moshe ibn Ezra is‬‬
‫‪among Sefardic literature. Example:‬‬
‫והרשענו ורבו משובותינו‬
‫ידענו אלקים עונותינו‬
‫בחטאינו ובעונות אבתינו‪:‬‬
‫וטבענו ביון גלותנו‬
‫ונמכרנו לצמיתות ולא נושענו‬
‫מכרנו דת הצור ופשענו‬
‫ושבענו מפרי מפעלותינו‪:‬‬
‫וקצרנו את כל אשר זרענו‬
‫וערכנו נגדו תחנונינו‬
‫שפכנו לפני אל שיחנו‬
‫לכפר בנו על כל פשעינו‪:‬‬
‫ונסכנו דמעות בעד רוחנו‬
‫ותרופה שיתה לציר עונינו‬
‫הא‪-‬לקים אדוננו רפאנו‬
‫ולקלס לכל סביבותינו‪:‬‬
‫כי חרפה אנחנו לכל שכנינו‬
‫‪It’s unclear whether he saw these two poems as one integrated whole or whether he lived‬‬
‫‪two lives. When he had to leave Spain, he felt really bad that no one wrote poetry. It’s‬‬
‫‪ at the end of his life; at the end of his life, we know that he said‬תשובה ‪possible that he did‬‬
‫‪that all of this was nonsense, but it’s possible that that’s just stereotyped, also.‬‬
‫שירים הומוארוטיים—הייתכן?!‬
‫‪Poem 12, Moshe ibn Ezra:‬‬
‫תאות לבבי ומחמד עיני—‬
‫עפר לצדי וכוס בימיני!‬
‫רבו מריבי—ולא אשמעם‪,‬‬
‫בוא הצבי‪ ,‬ואני אכניעם‪,‬‬
‫וזמן יכלם ומות ירעם‪.‬‬
‫בוא‪ ,‬הצבי‪ ,‬קום והבריאני‬
‫מצוף שפתך והשביעני!‬
‫‪- 19 -‬‬
?‫ למה‬,‫למה יניאון לבבי‬
‫אם בעבור חטא ובגלל אשמה‬
!‫דני שמה‬-‫אשגה ביפיך—א‬
,‫אל יט לבבך בניב מענני‬
.‫ ובוא נסני‬,‫אש מעקשים‬
,‫ וקמנו אלי בית אמו‬,‫נפתה‬
,‫ויט לעל סבלי את שכמו‬
.‫לילה ויומם אני רק עמו‬
,‫אפשט בגדיו—ויפשיטני‬
.‫אינק שפתיו—וייניקני‬
,‫כאשר לבבי בעיניו נפקד‬
—‫גם על פשעי בידו נשקד‬
,‫דרש תנואות ואפו פקד‬
,‫ עזבני‬,‫צעק באף "רב לך‬
"!‫אל תהדפני ואל תתעני‬
,‫ עד כלה‬,‫ צבי‬,‫אל נאנף בי‬
,‫ הפלא‬,‫הפלא רצונך ידיד‬
!‫ונשק ידידך וחפצו מלא‬
,‫אם יש בנפשך חיות—חיני‬
!‫או חפצך להרג—הרגני‬
Here, we have the ‫צבי‬, which is the love-object of the speaker. The poem seems to be
some sort of homo-erotic poem; some could suggest that it’s actually an allegory. To say
that it’s an allegory would solve the whole ‘homo-erotica being in obvious contrast to
Jewish law and morals’ problem, but it’s unclear how true to the author such a suggestion
that is.12 In our society today, poetry plays almost no role as compared to the role it
played in the life of the courtier society. Some could claim that the fact that he was
accepted as a ‫ סלח‬would seem to militate against his actually having these actual life
In general, the characters in these poems aren’t individualized; they’re stock figures that
are taken as the protagonists of his poems. This could show that the poem didn’t actually
reflect lived experience. (Of course, some use the poetry to prove that homosexuality
was sanctioned in this society.)
Also, since most of the poets were neo-Platonists, they could have been writing about the
idea of beauty.
Allegorical Poems
Poem 2, Moshe ibn Ezra:
?‫עלי ולבי לו ינוד כמו קנה‬
?‫תאב ואיך אקרא היום ולא יענה‬
!‫פניו ואל טובו אביט וגם אפנה‬
?‫כי איך נעים כתם יועם ואיך ישנא‬
‫מה לאהובי כי יקצף ויתגאה‬
‫שכח זמן לכתי אחריו בעי מדבר‬
‫ ואם יסתיר‬,‫הן יקטלני לו אוחיל‬
‫לא ישנו חסדי אדון אלי עבד‬
It’s unlikely that the author is writing as a woman.
- 20 -
This seems to be more allegorical; it has symbols taken from ‫ פסוקים‬talking about the
Jews’ relationship to God.
Poem 3, Moshe ibn Ezra:
.‫פזרם הזמן ונותרו חרבים‬
.‫לכפירים מעון וגם לזאבים‬
.‫מכלואי אדום ומאסר ערבים‬
:‫גם תענה במאמרים ערבים‬
!‫רפדוני במגדני האהבים‬
‫מהרו נא אלי מעוני אהובים‬
‫והנם‬--‫לעפרים אזי מעונים‬
‫אשמעה נאקת צביה תיליל‬
,‫על אהובה תבך ואלוף נעורים‬
‫סמכוני כבאשישות ידידות‬
‫האהבים‬...‫מהרו נא‬
This seems definitely to be allegorical. Therefore, it seems that all of these poems reflect
different aspects of the poems that were supposed to be written; we’ll try to understand a
little bit about how these people lived.
Critiques of “Courtier Culture”
‫דונש אבן לברט‬
Poem 2, Dunash ben Labrat:
.‫יבואנו נשלים‬...‫ואומר איל תישן‬
So far, it sounds like a regular pleasure poem.
!‫וגעולים‬...‫גערתיהו דם דם‬
Now, the poet rebukes the people in the poem for not learning ‫ תורה‬and for reveling in
their hedonistic stuff when they should be worried about how the ‫ ביה"מ‬isn’t around.
Some could claim that the last voice won, since he was given the last word. Others could
claim that the two voices are in tension. ‫ דונש בן לברט‬was the first one who used Arabic
meter to write Hebrew poetry. Some could claim that the Epicurean content of the poetry
is essential to the meter and form of it, so Ross Brand suggests that maybe, in order to
involve themselves in this whole courtier culture, the poets had to undergo a level of
discomfort; this poem reflects that discomfort. So it appears that although ‫ דונש‬did
involve himself in this culture, he wasn’t completely happy and comfortable with it. (It
should be pointed out, however, that ‫ משה אבן עזרא‬didn’t have the same problems with
this poetry.)
Bahya ibn Paquda\‫רבנו בחיי‬
Bahya ibn Paquda also says similar things, in ‫חובות הלבבות‬, in ‫שער ייחוד המעשה‬:
‫ ישתדל לעצל אותנו במעשי העבודה ויטרידנו בעניני‬,‫וכאשר יתיאש היצר מספק אותנו בכל מה שקדם זכרו‬
‫ וכאשר נשמע אליו במזון אשר לא‬,‫ וליהנות במיני הנאות הגופיות‬,‫עולמנו ממאכל ומשתה ומלבוש ומרכב‬
‫ ייפה לנו המותרות שהם טפלה למזונות ויחבב לנו השמחה והתענוג ולקנא בשרים ובאנשי‬,‫יתכן לעמוד בלתו‬
,‫ וכאשר יראה חפצנו ורצוננו בזה‬,‫ להדות אליהם ולנהוג מנהגם וללכת בחקיהם בבקשת התענוגים‬,‫עבודתם‬
‫ ועבוד העולם ועבוד אנשיו אולי‬,‫יאמר שנס מתניך חשוף זרועך האיש הנפתה והשתדל בכחך הגבר המוסת‬
‫ ותהיה‬,‫ ואל תתעסק במעשה ממעשה העולם אלא מה שיהיה לך בו עזר על העולם הזה‬,‫תגיע לקצת מחפצך בו‬
‫ ואל תטריד לבך בדבר מן החכמות אלא מה שתתכבד בו‬,‫מרוצה בו לאנשיו ומנהיגיו מן המלכים אל שאר העם‬
‫ כחכמת הלשון ותוכן המשקל‬,‫ ותתרצה בו אל גדולי בני זמנך משר ושוטר וקצין ובעל מעלה‬,‫אצל אנשי דורך‬
‫ והתמיד לשבת עם אנשי‬,‫ושרשי הדקדוק והשיר והחידות החמודות והמשלים המופלאים והמליצות הנכריות‬
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‫ והנח שאר החכמות כי‬,‫ ואל תשתוק שלא תחשב אויל וכסיל‬,‫הצחות ולמד לדבר עם כל כת מכתות בני אדם‬
.‫יגיעתם רבה ותועלתם מעוטה‬
The ‫ יצר‬tries to convince people that they should only care about climbing the social
ladder and to do things that the courtier culture did that he didn’t like.
‫ ואם יראה ממך הריצות‬,‫ ישתדל לך מצד חכמתך‬,‫ואם תעמוד כנגדו בכל זה ולא יוכל לפתותך במה שזכרנו‬
‫ הלא ידעת כי‬,‫ יאסר לך הלא יספיק לך מה שמספיק לגדולי דורך וזקניך לדעת תורתך הנאמנה‬,‫ללמוד החכמה‬
‫ ואחר כך למוד מה שתזדיין בו‬,‫ שים מגמתך אל עיקר האמונה ושרש התורה‬,‫החכמה אין לה קץ ולא תכלית‬
‫ והנח לך דברי הדינים‬,‫אצל בני אדם מענין השיר והמקצב וצפוני הדקדוק והחידות הנכריות והמשלים הנוהגים‬
,‫ ואל תכניס עמצך בחכמת שרשי המופת ואיכות הדבור ומיני ההקשות ואופני הראיות‬,‫ומחלוקת החכמים בהם‬
,‫ואיכות הילוך העילה עם המעולל והתחברות החכמה הנראית עם החכמה הנסתרת מפני עמקם ודקות ענינים‬
.‫וסמוך על אנשי הקבלה במה שתוכל לעמוד על בירורו כאשר תסמוך עליהם במה שהוא נמנע ממך‬
Here, ‫ בחיה אבן פקודה‬says that you should learn things that ‫ואחר כך למוד מה שתזדיין בו אצל בני‬
‫אדם מענין השיר והמקצב‬. Here, ‫ ר' בחיה‬rejects the stuff that would only help you in your
personal, negative ambition; but he values studying other stuff that could help you in this
world (although as a Neoplatonist, he probably would say that this stuff will help you
achieve your ultimate religious goals). The truths obtained by these philosophers were as
real to the medieval Jews as the truth that the world is round, so they tried to reconcile
these philosophies with their beliefs.
Neoplatonism and Jewish Neoplatonic Philosophers
World of Ideas
Has a “world of ideas”, that no material object on this world could aspire to compete with
the ideal form that the object on this world represents. This creates a dichotomy between
“form” and “matter”, the “form” being the ideal, and the “matter” being the stuff that
gives mass to the form.
This brings us to the Neoplatonist conception of G-d. They know that G-d is infinite,
immutable, eternal, etc. The world, on the other hand, is finite, mutable, decaying, etc. If
so, then what’s the relationship between G-d and the world? They posit that there are
many emanations that intervene between G-d and the world. The last emanation is called
the “active intellect”, which is the soul that’s implanted into the body that gives each
person a little bit of Godliness that they have; every person’s soul wants to reconnect
with the source of his soul, which is God. To achieve reunification with its source, the
soul must live a good life, in which case the “active intellect” will reunify with G-d. For
a soul to achieve reunification with G-d in this world, the soul must engage in
philosophical speculation about G-d; once you achieve a certain stage in that speculation,
you achieve a connection to G-d that’s called “prophecy.”
Solomon ibn Gabirol
He’s the author of ‫( כתר מלכות‬a ‫ פיוט‬for ‫ יו"כ‬that uses Neoplatonic imagery). He lived
from 1020-1057. He wrote a lost philosophical work called “‫”מקור חיים‬. They had a
- 22 -
work in Latin called “Fons Vitae” (Fountain of Life, a Neoplatonic philosophical work)
that was anonymous, but then they found a copy of ‫מקור חיים‬, and it was the same! This
would seem to imply that this Jewish philosopher wrote a philosophical work that had
nothing particularly Jewish about it.
This doesn’t seem to jive so much with the ‫’גמרא‬s presentation of Judaism, which is
mostly performing ‫מצוות‬. On the other hand, this philosophy claims that the ‫ מצוות‬only
have secondary value as leading to the perfection of the soul.
Joseph ibn Zaddik
‫ רשות‬to "‫"נשמת‬:
‫ ומעין נעלמה‬,‫יפתה עלמת חן‬
"‫ דעו "אין איך ולמהץ‬,‫בעלי חכמת לב‬
‫ בהתאסף גו וצורה‬,‫ירדה אל בית טיט‬
‫ותהי נחבאת שם באין כסף רק עצורה‬
‫לא ביד נשבית גם בלי כסף היא מכורה‬
‫לעבוד אדמת גוף ולשום לו הוא ואימה‬
.‫חק ובמזמת לב להבדילו מבהמה‬
!‫ צור להבן‬,‫סוד פליאתך מה מאד יגבר‬
‫עז בריתאך באנוש—חובר פז לאבן‬
?‫לתבן‬-‫ראש פעלתך הוא ואת הבר מה‬
,‫חברה עצמת ידך גלמי אל נשמה‬
.‫כוננה רקמת מחזה צלמי מאדמה‬
‫ יחידה‬,‫שאלה חפש מאשר עבד בה‬
‫יום להנפש בו ואל תכבד העבודה‬
.‫ בלי יאבד יום פרידה‬,‫כי יסוד נפש חי‬
,‫באשר קדמת גוף יהי נמצא היא קדומה‬
.‫אך לפי תומת מעשים נרצה או זעומה‬
,‫ תהלתך צוף ומלתך מן ונפת‬,‫יה‬
.‫ על גדולתך אות ומופת‬:‫עז פעולתך‬
!‫חון קהלתך בית תפלתך נאספת‬
‫תעטף נשמת כל בני חלד לך כאמה‬
!"‫קול בלי נצמת "הללו יוצר כל נשמה‬
This reflects several Neoplatonic ideas: The soul returns whence it came, the body and
soul are separate, etc. However, it also does reflect the particularistic idea of having
mercy on “Your children” that are in the ‫ביה"כ‬.
The idea of having this conception of G-d was pretty widely accepted by the Jews of the
- 23 -
‫ר' יהודה הלוי‬
What a surprise, then, when ‫—ר' יהודה הלוי‬who was a major member of the courtier
culture, including his remarkable poetic tongue—rejected this philosophy, mode of
existence, and land of Spain!
Example: Poem 1:
His opponents’ dissuasions resound about him…creatures?
He doesn’t like all of this stuff; he rejects the “service of kings, /Which to him is like the
worship of idols.” Even more extreme is his position in the Kuzari.
‫ ר' יהודה הלוי‬says that the king of the Khazars said that the philosopher wanted to make
him a philosopher, but God said to him in a dream that his intentions are good, but his
actions aren’t. The king then called to a Christian and a Muslim, but they weren’t good;
he then called to the ‫חבר‬, who talks about the God of history, of ‫אברהם יצחק ויעקב‬. The
good life is the life of ‫מצוות‬, and the ‫ מצוות‬themselves constitute the good life; the ‫מצוות‬
don’t lead to a philosophical perception of God, as the Neoplatonists said.
‫ ר' יהודה הלוי‬said that there is a “Jewish soul” that is qualitatively different from a nonJewish soul. Also, prophecy is not a philosophical speculation; it’s a gift from God to the
Jewish soul. However, the prophecy can only work when it’s in the soil of ‫ארץ ישראל‬.
He rejected the courtier culture so much that he left Spain to go to ‫א"י‬. The Jews of Spain
saw themselves as ‫ ;גלות ירושלים אשר בספרד‬the tradition recorded the Expulsion as ‫ט' באב‬
(it was actually a little bit off), which equates the Expulsion with the destruction of the
‫ביה"מ‬. The Spaniards think that ‫ ר' יהודה הלוי‬had lost his mind when he decided that he
was going to ‫א"י‬.
‫ ר' יהודה הלוי‬went to Alexandria, where he wrote poems and stuff and became the honored
guest of everyone in Alexandria (he could have needed patrons, but it does seem that he
didn’t completely rid himself of his cultural model).
It’s not absolutely clear that he ever made it to ‫א"י‬, but the Cairo Genizah has a record
that he actually did make it to ‫א"י‬.
End of Jewish Life in Spain
We’ve been focusing on the study of the Jews in Spain; after that, we’ll be moving on.
Spain is the high point of Jewish civilization under Muslim rule; after the reconquista, the
fanatic Muslim Almohades prohibited the practice of Judaism in Spain. The Almohades
invaded in 1148 and conquered Spain from the other Muslim rulers; after that, there
wasn’t so much more Jewish life. The Jews went to all sorts of places. Some went to
Christian Spain; others went to North Africa, ‫א"י‬, Egypt, etc.
At the beginning of the experience of the Jews in Islam, the Jews were second-class
citizens, but they were protected, as evidenced by the Pact of Umar. In Spain, however,
it seems that the Jews actually were not subjected to such strict second-class citizen
status. Instead, the Pact was more of a theoretical document than a historical record of
what actually happened. Partly as a backlash to the rising status of Jews in Spain, the
Almohades went to the opposite extreme and didn’t even give the Jews the protected
status of second-class citizens.
- 24 -
He was born in 1135 or 1138 in Cordova to the family of Maimon the ‫דיין‬, who was a
student of the ‫ר"י מיגאש‬. The family moved around until they got to Fez, Morocco, the
home of the Almohades (it seems that the fanatic ruler mellowed in his old age). In
Morocco, there were many Jews who had outwardly converted to Islam, but still believed
in Judaism. Converting to Islam basically consists of saying that there’s no G-d but
Allah, which isn’t such a problem, and saying that Mohammed was a prophet, which
makes sense since he was a ‫שוטה‬.
Maimon (the father of ‫ )רמב"ם‬wrote ‫ אגרת הנחמה‬in order to convince these Jews that they
stayed Jews.
‫ רמב"ם‬began his ‫ פירוש המשניות‬when he was 20. ‫ מלות ההגיון‬is his work of pure
philosophy, which he wrote before he was 20; ‫ מאמר העיבור‬is his work on the calendar and
the intercalation of the months. These works were both commissioned, which implies
that he was already gaining fame from such a young age. During his stay in Morocco, he
wrote ‫ אגרת השמד‬and continued his ‫פירוש המשנה‬. The ‫ אגרת השמד‬was a polemical work
written against someone who said that anyone who converted to Islam wasn’t Jewish.
The ‫ רמב"ם‬says that the people are indeed Jewish, but they have to get out of this situation
as soon as possible and they have to get out and practice as a Jew.13
‫ רמב"ם‬moved to Egypt and settled in Fustat. His brother, David, supported him, but he
was killed in the Indian Ocean; the ‫ רמב"ם‬took this loss hard. ‫ רמב"ם‬wasn’t a big fan of
the Geonic institution of taxing the community to support people to learn. It seems that
the Geonic institutions were still around, even though Abraham ibn Daud claimed that
they weren’t. Abraham ibn Daud claimed that the Geonim ended when ‫ר' משה בן חנוך‬
went to Spain; it’s not really true, and the Geonim were still active and claimed the
allegiance of the people through the ‫’רמב"ם‬s time.
After his brother died, the ‫ רמב"ם‬was really busy; he went to Cairo to see the royal
family, then came back to see patients in Fustat for a long time.
Ibn Tibbon
The ‫’רמב"ם‬s daily schedule was absurd; he wrote to Ibn Tibbon to translate his works.
This was done for the benefit of the Jews in Europe, including southern France. The
Jews from Spain, who studied philosophy, wanted their co-religionists to learn
philosophy, so they translated stuff to Hebrew. This caused a pan-European discussion
about the works of the ‫ רמב"ם‬in particular and the study of philosophy in general.
‫אגרת תימן‬
The ‫ רמב"ם‬was a major communal leader, so, for example, when the Jews of Yemen had
a false Messiah, they wrote to the ‫רמב"ם‬. The ‫ רמב"ם‬wrote back that history is cyclical;
even though you are being persecuted now, you shouldn’t worry about it; it’ll get better.
The Jews of ‫ תימן‬then accepted the ‫ רמב"ם‬as their ‫פוסק‬, and he has continued to be the
influence in Yemenite culture until today.
Some Muslim historiographers also claim that the Maimon family converted to Islam, but it’s not so clear
whether that’s true or not. It’s not so clear that there’s much evidence for the claim; some present as
evidence the fact that both Maimon and the ‫ רמב"ם‬defended people who converted.
- 25 -
‫מאמר תחית המתים‬
The other public letter he wrote is ‫מאמר תחית המתים‬. In the 1180’s, there was some
question about what the ‫ רמב"ם‬believed about ‫תחית המתים‬. The pro-‫ רמב"ם‬camp said that
the ‫ רמב"ם‬doesn’t believe in bodily resurrection, which isn’t a problem; the anti-‫רמב"ם‬
camp said the same, except that it’s a huge problem. The ‫ רמב"ם‬clarified that there will
be a brief period of bodily resurrection, which will be followed by the disembodied soul’s
being reunited with the active intellect.
The ‫רמב"ם‬, as head of the community in Fustat, had to deal with Karaism. He said that
they are Jews, so you can visit them, and can drink wine that they touch, etc.; but they
can’t be counted in a ‫מנין‬, and you shouldn’t associate with them when they actively flout
Major works
These are the ‫ משנה תורה‬and the ‫מורה נבוכים‬.
‫משנה תורה‬
This is unique for several reasons:
1) Included everything, whether it’s practical or not;
2) Includes some philosophy with its ‫;הלכה‬
3) Distills all opinions and gives one final opinion;
However, this was controversial for several reasons:
1) Doesn’t bring sources;
2) Says that you don’t need to learn ‫ גמרא‬after learning this work;
3) Doesn’t acknowledge dissenting opinions (this is the work of the ‫;)נושאי כלים‬
4) It’s claimed that he inserted his philosophical stuff into his ‫הלכה‬.
The “Real” ‫רמב"ם‬
It’s unclear who the “real” ‫ רמב"ם‬is, that of the ‫ משנה תורה‬or the ‫מורה נבוכים‬:
1) Leo Strauss: Claims that the ‫ רמב"ם‬is a philosopher, and the ‫ משנה תורה‬is the
“cover story.” Therefore, even though the ‫ רמב"ם‬says that the world is created, he
also says that he could reinterpret the ‫ תורה‬as saying that the world was not
created. The Strauss-ian reading of this passage is that the ‫ רמב"ם‬actually accepts
the eternality of the world, and just couldn’t say that since he didn’t want to be
persecuted. He claims that the Guide should be read “esoterically”, and you
should figure out those esoteric meanings.
2) The “real” ‫ רמב"ם‬was the ‫ רמב"ם‬of the ‫ ;משנה תורה‬he just had to write the ‫ מורה‬in
order to deal with the issues of the day.
3) The “real” ‫ רמב"ם‬is both the ‫ משנה תורה‬and the Guide. Throughout ‫משנה תורה‬, and
especially ‫ספר מדע‬, we see glimpses of the ‫’רמב"ם‬s philosophy. For example, the
‫ רמב"ם‬says that there are reasons for the ‫מצות‬, and people can discover the reason
for the ‫מצות‬, if they were interpreted allegorically. However, this means that the
reasons for the ‫ מצוות‬fall into three major categories: 1) Intellectual perfection,
which is important since the goal is to achieve the most perfect knowledge of G-d;
- 26 -
2) Moral development, like loving and goodness and stuff; 3) Practical, that
people simply have to have in order to produce a worthwhile society. In the ‫מורה‬,
he adds another reason, which is historical reason; this is the reason for some
ritual ‫ מצוות‬that were needed in order to uproot the ‫ עבודה זרה‬from the Jews,
especially as practiced by the Sabaeans. In addition, the ‫ רמב"ם‬says that you
should study the reasons for the ‫מצוות‬, even though this could lead to
philosophical antinomianism. He justifies this by saying that since the goal is
knowledge of G-d, you have to know the reasons of the ‫ מצוות‬in order to use them
to become close to G-d. This presents a philosophical interpretation of ‫מצוות‬.
For philosophers, ‫ נבואה‬is when a person has achieved intellectual perfection, he achieves
communion with G-d. The ‫רמב"ם‬, on the other hand, says that ‫ נבואה‬is achieved only by
someone who has achieved intellectual perfection, but then, G-d has to respond and grant
Unit II: Jews in Christendom
First, we have to look at what the “ground rules” are for Jews in Christendom.
Jews in Early Christianity
We’ll start with what we know about the historical Jesus. This is problematic, since most
of what we know about him is from the Christian Scriptures, which were written 50-100
years after his death. Therefore, we don’t really know so much about the historical Jesus.
It’s clear that he was some sort of preacher, and the Gospels claim that he was critical of
traditional Judaism; he claimed that the Jews didn’t emphasize enough the social message
of Judaism.
Attitude towards the Jewish Law—on the one hand, Jesus claims that he comes to
“fulfill” the law, but he also says that you can pluck corn on ‫שבת‬, since “the son of man is
sovereign over the son of God.” It seems that there’s conflicting evidence, in short.
Paul and Pauline Christianity
Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, but most Jews didn’t buy it. Therefore, most Jews are
not portrayed in a favorable light in the Gospels. The Jews are therefore seen as
responsible for the killing of the Messiah. Once the Council of Nicaea decided that Jesus
was God, the charge turned into the charge of deicide.
Paul, who was a Jew and had tormented Christians, converted to Christianity. He
decided to shift the mission of Jesus to the Gentiles, not the Jews. This is problematic—
do you demand observance of the law ('‫ וכו‬,‫ שבת‬,‫ מילה‬,‫ ?)כשרות‬Paul decided, therefore, on
the Abrogation of the Law.
He claimed that the Law didn’t apply anymore; this wasn’t such a simple decision to
make. He came up with “supersessionism”, that the Law was only in effect until Jesus,
and after that, people didn’t have to listen to the Law. He then re-read the Law, and came
up with the term Old Testament and New Testament. A “testament” is a covenant. To
say that there’s an Old Testament implies that there’s a new covenant that God made that
superseded the old covenant; God was supposed to no longer want the service of the
- 27 -
More recently, historians claim that there was much more interaction between the Jews
and Christians until the 4th century.
Islam perceives Judaism as a previous revelation of God that was followed by the
revelation of God in the Christian system, and then the last, final revelation
(Mohammed’s); but you can read the Koran without knowing ‫תנ"ך‬. On the other hand,
it’s impossible to read the Christian Scriptures without the Hebrew Scriptures. There are
several reasons for it: 1) Jesus was a Jew; 2) Jesus claimed to be a messiah of Davidic
descent; 3) Many aspects of Jesus life were supposedly prophesied by ‫הנה העלמה הרה ( תנ"ך‬
‫ לא יסור שבט מיהודה ומחוקק מבין רגליו‬,)‫ ישעיה נג (העבד הסובל‬,‫ויולדת בן‬, etc.). Christians read
their history into ‫—תנ"ך‬e.g., carrying the wood for the ‫ עקידה‬and switching ‫’יעקב‬s hands
symbolize the cross, breaking the ‫ לוחות‬is supersessionism in disguise, etc.
Christians claim that there’s an Israel of the Flesh and Israel of the Spirit; originally, the
Jews were chosen, but then they switched and the Israel of the Spirit, the Christians and
descendants of Sarah and Abraham, took over the Israel of the Flesh, the “old” Israel.
The Christians claim that they are “Verus Israel,” or the “true” Israel.
So Paul took every negative description of the Jews in the ‫ תורה‬and says that that’s “Israel
of the Flesh,” or the Jews; on the other hand, the prophets were part of “Israel of the
Spirit,” or Christianity. This basically takes everything positive from ‫ תנ"ך‬and applies it
to Christians; all Jews everywhere are bad. Rosemary Radford-Ruther argues that the
idea that God has rejected the covenant with the Jews and only attributing to them the bad
stuff is inherently anti-Semitic. Yosef Haim Yerushalmi argues that it’s true that that’s
how Christian theology treats Jews, but that’s not the only influence on the way
Christians treat Jews; not every Church figure behaved in an anti-Semitic way.
Moments in the Break Between Judaism and Christianity
The Christians blamed the Destruction of the Temple on the Jews’ rejection of Jesus; that
makes it uncomfortable to be both Jewish and Christian. After the ‫ בר כוכבא‬revolt (135
C.E.), where ‫ בר כוכבא‬claimed that he was ‫משיח‬, it doesn’t make sense to also accept Jesus
as a ‫ ;משיח‬you can’t accept two ‫משיחים‬. The Christians understand the exile of the Jews
from Jerusalem as further proof of G-d’s abandonment. Until the 4th Century, the
Christians rely on Jews to some extent. For example, it took until 325 C.E. for the
Council of Nicaea (in addition to deciding that Jesus was God) to decide that they
shouldn’t base the date of Easter off of the date of Passover.
Patristic Attitudes toward Jews
John Chrysostom (Antioch, 347-407) lived among Jews and Christians. He wrote a
series of sermons called Adversus Judaeos. In these, he claims that God has abandoned
the Jews and the Jews were really terrible people and the synagogue was a pernicious
edifice and institution. It’s possible to read this contextually and claim that Chrysostom’s
flock was leaning “dangerously” close to Judaism, and he had to try to distance his flock
from the Jews. However, these sermons become available much after Chrysostom died;
his messages were not read by medieval Christians contextually.
Augustine of Hippo (345-430) was another Patristic author. He doesn’t write very much
about Jews, since he was living in North Africa, and doesn’t really meet Jews so much.
Therefore, he wrote much more about the theoretical, theological Jew than the real one.
He claims that:
- 28 -
Not by bodily death shall the ungodly race of carnal Jews perish…To the end of the
seven days of time, the continued preservation of the Jews will be a proof to believing
Christians of the subjection merited by those who, in the pride of their kingdom, put the
Lord to death.
The Jews were supposed to be a witness (by their subjugation) that God had abandoned
them. This is called the “Doctrine of the Witness.” In his Commentary on Psalms (5859), he also claims that the Jews themselves predicted Jesus, and since they believe in the
Hebrew Scriptures, they must also believe in Christian Scriptures. This creates a place
for Jews in Christendom, since they have a role to play in the Christian theological, and
therefore real, world. This leads to the Christians being amenable to the existence of
Jews, so the Jews weren’t subjected to major persecution and supposed to be executed.
Legal Status of Jews
Roman Empire
In the Pagan Roman Empire, the Jews were permitted to practice their religion (not pay
tribute to the state gods, keep ‫שבת‬, etc.). It could be that Christians claimed that they
were the real Jews in order to get these rights.
With the conversion of Constantine and the creation of the Christian Roman Empire, the
toleration of Jews begins to be diluted—Jews can’t own Christian slaves, proselytize, etc.
On the other hand, the Jews were permitted to maintain their synagogues and stuff, and
the Jews maintained their own internal authority. This was eventually codified into law.
The Jews wrote a letter to Pope Gregory complaining of religious coercion, and the Pope
sent a letter to the bishop of Naples not to force the Jews to convert.
Pope Gregory I wrote the sicut judeis, which says that the Jews should not have any
problem with doing their religion, as long as they don’t overstep their bounds.
Jews in Early Medieval Europe
Jews in the Carolingian Empire
As Traders
Within Christendom, there were Jewish communities in Italy, Provence, and Spain. Jews
were international traders called “Radhanites” (it’s unclear what this term means) by a
Muslim historian. We have a description of the routes of the Radhanites; they go from
France to the East (Egypt to China; Antioch to Baghdad to the East, etc.). The Jews had
two advantages that helped them become effective traders: 1) They could always find
other Jews to spend the night and talk about ‫ תורה‬and stuff14; 2) It wasn’t so likely that
Muslims would let Christians travel freely in their territory (and vice-versa)—when there
was still huge competition between the Muslims and the Christians, they wouldn’t let
each other in. Long-distance trade was really dangerous; there was no Pax Romana, so
there were many bandits who were happy to kill people. That left an opening for Jews to
step up to the plate.15
‫ יהושע‬.‫ ב‬.‫ א‬wrote a book called ‫ מסע עד תום האלף‬about traders about the year 1000; it’s pretty cute.
At this stage, Jews were permitted to own land.
- 29 -
The Jews mostly traded in luxury goods, so they probably sold to royalty, nobility, and
high-ranking clergy. Jews are so identified as traders that a biographer of Charlemagne
told an anecdote about Charlemagne sitting on the Gaul coast, and they said that if it’s a
trading ship, it’s probably Jewish.
Under Louis the Pious
The Carolingians wanted to stimulate the economy, so they brought in Jews. Especially
Louis the Pious (814-840) brought in the Jews so that they would help stimulate the
economy. In the Order on the Jews, Louis emphasizes that the Hebrews were under their
control and protection and no one should touch them. The Jews were trusted as
witnesses, could hire Christians to work for them, etc. The Augustinian Doctrine wasn’t
such a big fan of Jews’ employing Christians, but Louis is much more open to it. The
slaves of Jews who decided that they would be Christians became free; it seems that
Louis says that the Jews would be compensated for his slaves. Some claim that these
laws are better for Jews than the charters that came into practice later on.
The Order also says that Jews can’t be convicted only based on the testimony of
Christians; this implies that the Jews were not viewed as a normal part of the community,
and the Jews were scared that the Christians would gang up on them and falsely accuse
Louis the Pious clearly wanted to have Jews in his empire to develop the economy; he
even had a Magister Judaeorum (Master of the Jews) who was made to deal with Jewish
Agobard, Bishop of Lyon
He lived in 820’s; he was not nearly as fond of Jews as Louis. He had many complaints
against Jews: 1) They blaspheme Jesus and Christian beliefs; 2) They were insolent and
threatening; 3) The royalty was pro-Jews; 4) The Jews were engaged in “Judaizing;” 5)
The Jews sold their ‫ טרפות‬and non-Kosher wine to the Christians; 6) They build
synagogues; 7) They moved the market day from Saturday; 8) They employ Christians,
who then start following the Jewish religion’s stuff (eating meat during Lent and stuff;
this really bothered the Christians who claimed that the Jews made the Christians violate
their host); 9) The Jews and Christians ate together; 10) They steal Christian children and
sell them as slaves to Muslims;
Agobard is generally compared to John Chrysostom. It seems that most of the things he
says are pretty realistic. For example, it’s pretty reasonable that Agobard isn’t such a fan
of Jews eating with Christians—most rabbis weren’t such big fans of Jews’ eating with
Christians, either! It seems, indeed, that these complaints were more general and less
specifically anti-Jewish.
However, the last one is that Jews steal Christian kids and sell them to Muslims. That’s a
pretty sketchy claim, and it’s based on a specious accusation: It’s based on the testimony
of a guy who was supposedly kidnapped at 6, and placed at the end of his letter.
Most historians say that Jewish life in this period is happy, and only became worse after
the Carolingian Empire. Kenneth Stow claims that many Jews in this period were indeed
persecuted, but it’s unclear what’s normative and what’s exceptional—the other 75% of
the time that the Jews did fine isn’t written down.
- 30 -
‫‪The Rise of Jewish Communities in Northern Europe‬‬
‫‪Origins: Immigration‬‬
‫אגדת רבינו משולם‬
‫‪We don’t have hard evidence for Jewish communities in Germany until the 10th century.‬‬
‫‪, which is a story originating in the early 11th century:‬אגדת ר' משלם ‪We’ll start with‬‬
‫מעשה ברבינו קלונימוס‪ ,‬אביו של רבינו משולם הגדול‪ ,‬שחלם שידחה בנו ממנו‪ .‬ופעת אחת באו סוחרים בעירו ביום‬
‫השוק‪ .‬ורבינו משולם היה בן י"ד שנה‪ .‬ופגעו בו הסוחרים כשהלך בשוק‪ ,‬ושמו עיניהם עליו‪ ,‬ולקחוהו והוליכוהו‬
‫עמהם במלכותם‪ .‬ותפשוהו והוליכוהו לבבל‪.‬‬
‫והסוחרים באו אצל הנשיא מבבל ואמרו‪" :‬רוצה אתה לקנות יהודה אחד לשמש לך?" השיב להם‪" :‬כן‪ ".‬וקנהו‬
‫מידם‪ .‬והנשיא היה ראש ישיבה‪ .‬ורבינו משולם ביקש ממנו שיאמר לשאר בני ביתו שיעשו עמו טובה‪ .‬והבית‬
‫המדרש )‪ (sic‬של הנשיא עמד על החדר שתקנו לו מאכלו‪ ,‬והוא היה ממונה על החדר‪.‬‬
‫ושמע רבינו משולם שהנשיא היה מסופק בדבר הלכה‪ ,‬שכל כך הקשו לו התלמידים‪ .‬וכשפירש הנשיא מבית‬
‫מדרשו‪ ,‬הלך רבינו משולם והגיה הטעם בגליון ושתק—כמו שקיבל מאביו‪ .‬וכשחזר הנשיא ראה הטעם מוגה בגליון‬
‫ושתק הנשיא‪ .‬וכן עשה רבינו משולם בכל פעם שנעלם הבירור מן הנשיא‪ .‬והיה סבור הנשיא שמאת השי' היה‬
‫שמצא הטעמים בגליון ספרו כתובים‪ .‬פעם אחת אמר לתלמידיו‪" :‬אני רוצה לגםגם בהלכה; אם יש בכם אחד או‬
‫שנים שיזכו לראות כשאצא מכאן—שיראה מי מגיה הספרים‪ ".‬וכשיצא הנשיא‪ ,‬עמדו שנים מתלמידיו אחורי הכותל‬
‫וראו מן החור שבא רבינו משולם והיג ספיקותו בגליון ויצא והלך בחדרו‪ .‬וכשבאו התלמידים לשמוע ההלכה מפי‬
‫הנשיא ‪ ,‬אמרו אותם ב' בחורים שראו שהגיה הספר לרבם‪" :‬מורינו‪ ,‬יש לך שמש אחד שגדול ממך בתורה‪ ".‬השיב‬
‫להם‪" :‬מי הוא?" אמרו לו‪" :‬השמש שהביאו לך הסוחרים מארץ רחוקה מגיה ספרך‪ ".‬ומיד קרא לאותו שמש‬
‫והביאו אל בית מדרשו וביקש ממנו מחילה לפני התלמידים‪ ,‬שהיה משתמש בו דרך חול כמו שאר עבדים שמשים‪.‬‬
‫והושיבו אצלו‪.‬‬
‫וכשהגיד ההלכה פעם אחת שאל לו‪" :‬מה שם אביך ומה שם זקינך?" השיב לו‪" :‬שם אבי רבנא קלנימוס בן הר'ר‬
‫משה מלכא שיסד 'אימת נוראותיך‪ '.‬וביקש הנשיא לזווגו לבתו—ולא רצה רבינו משולם לעשות בלא רשות אביו‪.‬‬
‫אמר לו הנשיא‪" :‬אם תמחול לי בלב שלם ששמשת לי—אתן לך שמש וצידה לדרך‪ ,‬עד שתגיע לאביך או לשאר‬
‫עיירות שיש לך מכירים‪ ".‬השיב לו‪" :‬כן‪ ".‬ונתן לו הנשיא אחד מעבדיו שהלך עמו וצידה לדרך‪.‬‬
‫ובא על מגנצא ושם נשא אשה‪ ,‬אחות קרובתו‪ ,‬והוליד ממנה בן שמו רבי טודרוס‪ .‬ורבינו משולם חזר לאביו ומת שם‪.‬‬
‫ורבי תודרוס בנו נעשה ראש ישיבה במגנצא‪16 .‬‬
‫‪ was offered the‬ר' משולם ‪).‬הלל ‪ knows all the answers to the hard questions (like‬ר' משולם‬
‫‪ goes to ask his father’s permission, and marries his relative,‬ר' משולם ‪’s daughter, and‬נשיא‬
‫‪ of Magence. This story shows several things—it says that‬ישיבה ‪and his son started the‬‬
‫‪, since the young kid knew the‬בבל ‪ in‬תורה ‪ in Germany is even better than the‬תורה ‪the‬‬
‫‪ didn’t know. It also shows that the community cared a lot about‬בבליים ‪answers that the‬‬
‫‪’s family. Also, it seems that the community‬ר' משולם ‪ asked about‬נשיא ‪ancestry, since the‬‬
‫‪.‬בבליה ‪ would prefer a local girl over this‬ר' משולם—‪ so much‬בבל ‪didn’t like‬‬
‫‪This is very similar to the story of the four captives—both have someone captured,‬‬
‫‪, etc.; on the other hand, it is different—here,‬תורה ‪, legitimize local‬תורה ‪besting the local‬‬
‫‪ was from Italy and‬ר' משה בן חנוך ‪the boy is only 14 when he’s captured. Also,‬‬
‫‪ is a native to Germany, so he’s not a foreigner in‬ר' משולם ‪, but‬בבל ‪ of‬תורה ‪represented the‬‬
‫‪the place he ended up.‬‬
‫‪In Spain, there was an inferiority complex, and they had to prove that they were at least‬‬
‫‪. Also, in the Four‬בבל ‪; in Germany, they thought they were better than‬בבל ‪as good as‬‬
‫;‪Captives, R. Moshe’s son married a local woman from the culture he was transported to‬‬
‫‪ didn’t take a woman from the place he went to and went back‬ר' משולם ‪in this story,‬‬
‫‪.‬מתוך שרה צפתמן‪ ,‬בין אשכנז לספרד עמ' ‪83-86‬‬
‫‪- 31 -‬‬
There are several possibilities for the hero of the story: The obvious one is ‫ר' משולם‬, but
it’s also possible that the real hero is the son, ‫ר' טודרוס‬, who made the yeshiva in
Magence. Alternatively, it could be ‫רבינו קלונימוס‬, who had a dream that came true.
The story also emphasizes familial lineage and ancestral heritage (‫ קבלת אבות‬and ‫ייחוס‬
‫)משפחה‬, which is why the ‫ נשיא‬asks for ‫’ר' משולם‬s house.
The ‫ אגדה‬contains several artifacts from its European origin. For example, the yeshiva
seems to be described as a branch of the house of the ‫( נשיא‬or vice-versa), which
describes the ‫ ישיבות‬in ‫אשכנז‬, which were basically the dining room table of the ‫ראש ישיבה‬
(with maybe 10 kids boarding locally). The ‫ ישיבות בבליות‬were much bigger—they had
enough room for everyone on ‫ ירחי כלה‬and they had a ‫ בית דין‬and stuff.
Qalominides from Northern Italy
We also have a story from ‫ר' אלעזר רוקח‬. That tells us that ‫ ר' משה‬bar Qalonimos told ‫תורת‬
‫( הסוד‬from ‫ ר' אברהם‬of Baghdad) to the Qalonimos family, who moved to Mainz. The
people were supposedly taken by King Charles who settled them in Mainz (probably
since they were traders).
Since this was written in the Middle Ages, this King Charles was probably Charlemagne,
since that’s how they created legitimacy in the Middle Ages. This representation of
Carolingian actions was accurate; Carolingian policy was generally pro-Jewish. These
traders were invited by Carolingians; it seems that these traders who were invited knew a
lot of ‫תורה‬. Therefore, it seems reasonable to suggest that the traders who started these
communities knew a lot of ‫תורה‬.
Communal Structure and Governance
These communities grew by starting from one head of a family, who normally was really
rich and knew a lot of ‫תורה‬. These people liked having people around so that they would
have a ‫ מנין‬and stuff, and they then invited other members of their family around.17 When
newcomers came in, they caused friction, since the new members would often compete
with the original monopoly. The old founders would often make a ‫חרם הישוב‬, which stops
other people from coming in and getting citizens’ rights. The Jews dealt with their own
communal issues, and they didn’t want any Christians to get involved, so they were
loathe to resort to the communal Gentile authorities.
Even when the original founders let other people come in, they were often disadvantaged.
However, the new people who came in could call an ‫עיכוב תפילה‬, meaning that they could
stand up in the middle of the ‫ תפילה‬and plead their case. ‫ רבינו גרשום מאור הגולה‬said that
you can’t make an ‫ עיכוב תפילה‬before you go to the town council three times.
Another question to be dealt with is how to deal with a ‫מערופיא‬, or traditional monopoly.
This brings us to ‫שו"ת רבינו גרשום סימן ע‬: There was a story of someone who bought his
father’s ‫מערופיא‬, and ‫ רבנו גרשום‬said that the buyer’s brother couldn’t make use of the
guy’s ‫מערופיא‬, since he bought it on his own. This is based off of the justification that the
buyer only had the ‫ מערופיא‬since he bought it and it wasn’t hereditary.
This assumes that the questions of ‫ מערופיא‬were dealt with on a place-by-place basis, and
there was no set rule to go by. This is as opposed to the situation in ‫בבל‬, where one ‫גאון‬
decided what was happening everywhere.
Hence the problem of ‫עיר שכולה כהנים‬.
- 32 -
‫רבנו גרשום מאור הגולה‬
We assume he was born around 960-970. He died either in 1028 or 1040. ‫ רש"י‬was born
in 1040, so 1040 would be a convenient date to make up; 1028 was probably more
accurate. However, the fact that someone decided that he died in 1040 shows that ‫רבנו‬
‫ גרשום‬was thought to be the leader of his generation. This brings us to '‫שו"ת רבינו גרשום סי‬
‫לב‬. The opening of the ‫ אגרת‬shows that ‫ רבנו גרשום‬brought in many other authorities; that
shows that the ‫ גדולים‬of ‫ אשכנז‬turned to each other and past decisions much more than ‫בבל‬,
where there was a straight hierarchy that didn’t encourage the ‫ גאונים‬to discuss their
decisions with each other. The question was whether they should do the ‫ ברית‬on ‫ראש‬
‫ ;השנה‬they decided that they should do the ‫ ברית מילה‬directly before ‫תקיעת השופר‬.
However, some ‫ בני ישיבה‬didn’t like this decision, and wanted to do the ‫ תקיעה‬first. ‫רבנו‬
‫גרשום‬, in the end, decided that they should listen to the ‫ראשי ישיבה‬. It’s pretty surprising
that the ‫ בני ישיבה‬didn’t listen to the ‫ ;ראשי ישיבה‬we wouldn’t expect the ‫ בחורים‬in ‫ישיבות‬
‫ גאוניות בבליות‬to do similar things. It’s possible that the ‫ בני ישיבה‬were basing their
response on the ‫ מנהג‬of the places they came from.
It’s also important to note that ‫ ר' משה מאור הגולה‬didn’t quote ‫ בבלי‬in these sources;
instead, he relied on ‫ אגדות‬and local ‫מנהג‬. It seems that the ‫ בבלי‬wasn’t yet considered
completely decisive.
These include only having one wife, not divorcing a wife without her consent, and not
reading someone else’s mail.
In Christian Europe, most normal Gentiles didn’t marry more than one wife, in any case.
Therefore, some claim that this ‫ תקנה‬is just a reflection of the Christian environment that
surrounded him. This is supported by the fact that the ‫ תקנה‬was only in effect in places
under Christian rule. Also, the ‫ ירושלמי‬said that women can insist on having only one
wife; the ‫ בבלי‬says that the man can have two wives. Grossman says that the ‫ תקנה‬reflects
particularly on the situation of the Jewish traders—the traders would have a house and a
wife on the two ends of your trade route, say one in Poland and one in France. It is
specifically this situation that ‫ רגמ"ה‬was fighting.
The ‫ גמרא‬says that you can’t be married to two wives in two places without the other one
knowing about it, so it seems odd that there would have to be a ‫ תקנה‬for it, also.
Apparently, the ‫ תקנה‬was meant only to enhance the power of that original ‫תקנה‬.
The ‫ תקנה‬also reflects the relatively high position of women in the society; it’s possible
that the problem was the men sending their wives a ‫ גט‬from the other end of the world.
The ‫ תקנה‬about reading mail is also important. The reason is that merchants would often
deliver their competitors’ mail, so it was important to protect the privacy of all of the
The last ‫ תקנה‬is not reminding someone that his ancestors converted to Christianity, then
back to Judaism. This also reflects on the societal structure of the Jewish community—
we know that there were sporadic persecutions in the early 11th century. During one of
There’s a story of a Christian convert who caught a letter that implied that he wasn’t such a sincere
convert, underscoring the gravity of the problem.
- 33 -
the persecutions, it seems that there was an expulsion from Mainz, including the forcible
conversion of the son of ‫רגמ"ה‬. The report of the ‫ אור זרוע‬is that ‫ רבנו גרשום‬sat ‫ שבעה‬for 14
days; it was said that ‫ ר"ת‬said that it was better that ‫’רבנו גרשום‬s son die than that he grow
up as a Christian.
‫’רבי שמעון הגדול‬s son, ‫אלחנן‬, was supposedly kidnapped, raised to become a priest, and
given the best education. Needless to say, the kid, being Jewish, rose to become the Pope
Elchanan. He would ask his advisors what his origins were, and in the end, they told him
that his father was ‫רבי שמעון הגדול‬. The Pope expressed his will to ‫מקדש שם שמים‬. He
brought all of his flock to the top of a tower, told them that Christianity was false, and
then jumped off. This is a happy ending, since he reverted back to his Jewish roots and
was able to ‫מקדש שם שמים‬.
It could be talking about Pope Anaclete, whose great-great-grandfather was Jewish.
That’s probably not true, however. On the other hand, the story does give inspiration to
all of the Jews who had their kids converted to Christianity, and helps them deal with the
possibility that their kids would become believing Christians.
In the early modern period, the ending was changed to ‫’אלחנן‬s returning home;
martyrdom wasn’t looked on so well.
Relations Between Jews and Christians
Jacob Katz presents the situation of the relations between the Jews and the Christians as
Jews going off on economic forays into Christendom, but besides that, they didn’t
interact at all. This is the opposite of the ‫ ספרדי‬model of integration presented above.
However, modern historiography presents a slightly more complicated picture. We will
bring two folk stories, a piece of a halakhic work, and a historical fact to show this point.
For example, the story of ‫ רבי אמנון‬of Mainz is that he appeared to ‫ רבי שמעון בן קלונימוס‬and
told him ‫ונתנה תוקף‬.19 The story is of dubious historical value—we don’t know any ‫אמנון‬
from northern Europe. However, the idea that there was a rabbi who had relationships
with a bishop is important. ‫ אמנון‬means “faithful”; the idea that he asked for three days
was not very faithful. However, in the end, he did confirm his connection to Judaism.
(This story appears in different forms during different periods of history.)
The story of 20‫ רבי אמנון‬addresses the tensions felt by the generation that told it. Perhaps,
the story reflects that there were Jews in Ashkenaz who actually did hesitate for a
It was actually written in Byzantium, in the 7th century.
Appears in the ‫אור זרוע‬:
‫ שר' אמנון ממגנצא יסד 'ונתנה‬.‫ מצאתי מכתב ידו של ה"ר אפרים מבונא בר יעקב‬:)‫רעו (הלכות ר"ה‬:‫אור זרוע ב‬
‫ מעשה בר' אמנון ממגנצא שהיה גדול הדור ועשיר ומיוחס ויפה תואר ויפה‬:‫תוקף' על מקרה הרע שאירע לו וז"ל‬
‫ ויהי כדברם אליו יום יום ולא שמע‬.‫ וימאן לשמוע להם‬,‫ והחלו השרים וההגמון לבקש ממנו שיהפך לדתם‬,‫מראה‬
‫' וכדי‬.‫ 'חפץ אני להועץ ולחשוב על הדבר עד שלשה ימים‬,‫ ויהי כהיום בהחזיקם עליו ויאמר‬.‫ ויפצר בו ההגמון‬,‫להם‬
‫ ויהי אך יצוא י צא מאת פני ההגמון שם הדבר ללבו על אשר ככה יצא מפיו לשון ספק שהיה‬.‫לדחותם מעליו אמר כן‬
‫ ויבוא אל ביתו ולא אבה לאכול ולשתות ונחלה ויבואו כל קרוביו‬,‫צריך שום עצה ומחשבה לכפור באלקים חיים‬
‫ ויהי ביום השלישי בהיותו‬.‫ 'ארד אל ניבי אבל שאולה' ויבך ויתעצב אל לבו‬,‫ כי אמר‬,‫ואוהביו לנחמו וימאן להתנחם‬
‫ וימאן ללכת‬,‫ 'לא אלך!' ויוסף עוד הצר שלוח שרים רבים ונכבדים מאלה‬,‫כואב ודואג וישלח ההגמון אחריו ויאמר‬
‫ 'מה זאת אמנון? למה לא‬,‫' וימהרו ויביאו אותו ויאמר לו‬.‫ 'מהרו את אמנון להביאו בעל כרחו‬,‫ ויאמר ההגמון‬.‫אליו‬
- 34 -
‫‪millisecond before deciding not to convert to Christianity. The story says that even if you‬‬
‫‪hesitated, it’s all right; you can still be beatified.‬‬
‫‪ (R.‬ראש ישיבה ‪Here’s another story: R. Yom Tov of London (12th cent.) was the son of the‬‬
‫‪. The community‬ערב שבועות ‪Moshe ben Yom Tov); R. Yom Tov hanged himself on‬‬
‫‪thought that he had committed suicide like any other lunatic, and buried him in‬‬
‫‪, he appeared in a dream and‬שבועות ‪accordance with their assumption. On the night of‬‬
‫‪explained that he saw a demon that was forcing him to worship the cross, so that’s why‬‬
‫‪he killed himself. The community decided that he was not a normal suicide, and reburied‬‬
‫תיקוני ‪ of London, says that it would have been better to do‬ר' מאיר ‪, by‬הלכות שמחות ‪him.‬‬
‫‪ and have children, and worship God with his life than to kill himself as a martyr.‬תשובה‬
‫‪We don’t know of R. Yom Tov, but it’s certainly possible that the story actually‬‬
‫‪ talks about a Jewish woman and a Christian neighbor who asks about what to‬ספר חסידים‬
‫‪do to her little baby. The Christian woman gives her a rock relic from the Church of the‬‬
‫‪Holy Sepulcher to heal the baby. That doesn’t contribute to the spiritual health of the‬‬
‫‪Even in places where the Jews lived, they weren’t completely separated from their‬‬
‫!‪Christian neighbors; often, they would even share walls‬‬
‫‪Contemporary historians look at stories like these and claim that Jews were not so sealed‬‬
‫!‪ had a bishop as a friend‬ר' אמנון ‪from their neighbors—see that‬‬
‫‪He studied in Mainz and Worms, then returned to northern France. His commentaries‬‬
‫‪represent a consolidation of the traditions of Mainz and Worms. One of the things he had‬‬
‫גמרא ‪to deal with in the aftermath of the First Crusades is the problem of apostates. The‬‬
‫‪ said that about‬רש"י ;)סנהדרין מד‪ about the Jewish people (.‬ישראל אע"פ שחטא ישראל הוא ‪says‬‬
‫‪every individual person, also.21 This makes it harder for Jews, since it could be‬‬
‫‪dangerous for the Jewish community to harbor Christian apostates. Also, this requires‬‬
‫באת אלי למועד אשר יעדת לי להועץ ולהשיב לי דבר ולעשות את בקשתי?' ויען ויאמר אמנון‪' ,‬אני את משפטי‬
‫אחרוץ כי הלשון אשר דבר ותכזב לך דינה לחתכה‪ '.‬כי חפץ היה ר' אמנון לקדש את ה' על אשר דבר ככה‪ .‬ויען‬
‫ההגמון ויאמר 'לא! כי הלשון לא אחתוך‪ ,‬כי היטב דברה! אלא הרגלים אשר לא באו למועד אשר דברת אלי אקצץ‬
‫ואת יתר הגוף איסר‪ '.‬ויצו הצורר ויקצצו את פרקי אצבעות ידיו ורגליו‪ ,‬ועל כל פרק ופרק היו שואלין לו‪' ,‬התחפוץ עוד‬
‫אמנון להפך לאמונתנו?' ויאמר‪' ,‬לא‪ '.‬ויהי ככלותם לקצץ‪ ,‬צוה הרשע להשכיב את ר' אמנון במגן אחד וכל פרקי‬
‫אצבעותיו בצידו וישלחהו לביתו‪ .‬הכי נקרא שמו ר' אמנון כי האמין באל חי וסבל על אמונתו יסורין קשין מאהבה רק‬
‫על הדבר שיצא מפיו‪ .‬אחר הדברים האלו‪ ,‬קרב מועד והגיע ר"ה‪ .‬בקש מקרוביו לשאת אותו לבית הכנסת עם כל‬
‫פרקי אצבעותיו המלוחים ולהשכיבו אצל ש"צ‪ .‬ויעשו כן ויהי כאשר הגיע ש"צ לומר הקדושה וחיות אשר הנה‪ ,‬א"ל ר'‬
‫אמנון‪' ,‬אמתן מעט ואקדש את השם הגדול‪ .‬ויען בקול רם ובכן לך תעלה קדושה'—כלומר‪ ,‬שקדשתי את שמך על‬
‫מלכותך ויחודך—ואח"כ אמר‪' ,‬ונתנה תוקף קדושת היום‪ ',‬ואמר 'אמת כי אתה דיין ומוכיח‪ ',‬כדי להצדיק עליו את‬
‫הדין שיעלו לפניו אותן פרקי ידיו ורגליו וכן כל הענין‪ ,‬והזכיר 'וחותם יד כל אדם בו ותפקוד נפש כל חי‪ ',‬שכך נגזר‬
‫עליו בר"ה‪ .‬וכשגמר כל הסילוק נסתלק ונעלם מן העולם לעין כל ואיננו כי לקח אותו אלקים‪ ,‬ועליו נאמר 'מה רב טובך‬
‫אשר צפנת ליראיך' וגו'‪ .‬אחר הדברים והאמת אשר הועלה ר' אמנון ונתבקש בישיבה של מעלה‪ ,‬ביום השלישי‬
‫לטהרתו‪ ,‬נראה במראות הלילה לרבנא קלונימוס בן רבנא משולם בן רבנא קלונימוס בן רבנא משה בן רבנא‬
‫קלונימוס ולימד לו את הפיוט ההוא 'ונתנה תוקף קדושת היום' ויצו עליו לשלוח אותו בכל התפוצות הגולה להיות לו‬
‫עד וזכרון ויעש הגאון כן‪:‬‬
‫שו"ת רש"י קעג‪ :‬השיב רש"י‪ :‬על היבמה שנפלה לפני יבם משומד צריכה חליצה‪ .‬ואין חילוק בין שקדשה הבעל‬
‫ואח"כ נשתמד בין שנשתמד לאחר [קודם] קידושין‪ ,‬שהמשומד הרי הוא כישראל חשוד לכל דבר‪ ,‬שנאמר 'חטא‬
‫ישראל'‪ --‬אעפ"י שחטא ישראל הוא‪ .‬ואין לחלקו מידת ישראל‪ ,‬אלא שאין נאמן באיסורין‪ ,‬הואיל וחשוד הוא עליהן‪ ,‬ויינו‬
‫יין נסך הואיל וחש וד הוא לע"ז‪ ,‬וקידושיו קידושין וחליצתו חליצה‪ .‬כללא של דבר הרי הוא כישראל חשוד‪.‬‬
‫‪- 35 -‬‬
‫‪, which it’s unclear that the apostate wanted to do; it also forces him to‬חליצה ‪people to do‬‬
‫‪ also reinforces communal authority; for example, he says that the‬רש"י ‪.‬גט ‪have to give a‬‬
‫מצוה ‪ have the power of a‬תקנות ‪.22 Also, the town’s‬בית דין חשוב ‪ of every town is a‬ב"ד‬
‫‪:‬שמות כח‪:‬מא ‪ sometimes discusses some realia in his commentary. Example:‬רש"י‬
‫והלבשת אתם את אהרן אחיך ואת בניו אתו‪ ,‬ומשחת אתם ולאת את ידם וקדשת אתם וכהנו לי‪.‬‬
‫רש"י שם‪ :‬כל מלוי ידים לשון חינוך‪ ,‬כשהוא נכנס לדבר להיות מוחזק בו מאותו יום והלאה‪ ,‬ובלשון לע"ז כשממנין‬
‫אדם על פקודת דבר‪ ,‬נותן השליט בידו בית יד של עור שקורין גנט בלעז‪ ,‬ועל ידו הוא מחזיקו בדבר‪ ,‬וקורין לאותו‬
‫מסירה רווישטיר בלעז‪ ,‬והוא מילוי ידים‪.‬‬
‫‪ explains the phrase based on what they would do in his time; he explains that you‬רש"י‬
‫רמב"ן ‪would take, say, a glove, and put it on the hand of the guy (investiture; and see‬‬
‫‪Charter to Jews of Speyer‬‬
‫‪This is a charter to the Jewish community of Speyer, which he wants to do to make the‬‬
‫‪village into a town. The Jews were willing to move to Speyer since Mainz had a fire.‬‬
‫‪The first Crusade was 1094; just a dozen years earlier (1084), the Bishop of Speyer was‬‬
‫‪inviting the Jews in. Therefore, it seems that the Jews were happy to be invited into‬‬
‫יש סתירה בענין הזה בגמרא‪ .‬בסנהדרין לא‪ :‬כתוב ש"התוקף את חבירו בדין‪ ,‬אחד אומר נדון כאן ואחד אומר נלך למקום‬
‫הוועד‪ ,‬כופין אותו וילך למקום הוועד‪...‬והא אמר רבי אלעזר כופין אותו ודן בעירו? הני מילי היכא דקאמר ליה לוה למלוה‪ .‬אבל‬
‫מלוה‪ ,‬עבד לוה לאיש מלוה‪ ".‬לעומת זאת‪ ,‬הגמרא בב"ק קיב‪ :‬אומרת ש"‪ ...‬לא פתחו ליה בדינא מצי א"ל אנא לב"ד הגדול‬
‫אזילנא‪ " .‬ועיין ברא"ש בסנהדרין ג‪:‬מא איך שהוא יישב את הגמרות‪ ,‬ועיין עוד בר"ן על אתר (בסנהדרין)‪ .‬ועיין באו"ז ב"ק סי' תלו‬
‫שכתב שתלמיד החכם הכי גדול בעיר נחשב בית דין גדול‪.‬‬
‫‪- 36 -‬‬
When the Crusade was called in 1095, it wasn’t originally about Jews; Pope Urban II
wanted the Crusades to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims. The Pope decided to
call a Crusade at that point for several reasons: 1) There was a newly invigorated
Christendom (even under Charlemagne, Europe was under siege; by the late 12th century,
Europe was much safer from attack); 2) The Crusade was an attempt to control the
violent parts of society (as evidenced also by the Peace of God, which was made to
prevent too many people from bearing arms); 3) Europe practiced primogeniture, which
is problematic, since it leaves the younger sons to do…what? If the younger sons
become knights, for example, they would basically go around terrorizing the countryside,
which doesn’t contribute to a conductive lifestyle.
Smaller Crusading Groups
The Pope wanted a multinational army under papal/ecclesiastical control. In reality, the
Pope had no idea how much his idea of a “Crusade” would take on. Everybody wanted a
piece in the action, and many people came. The baronial armies were the closest to the
Pope’s idea; they conquered Jerusalem from the Muslims by the summer of 1099.
Another, less professional group, gathered around the preacher Peter the Hermit; they
went off to the east in April 1096, but by the time they got to Muslim territory, they were
basically wiped out. On the way, they did some anti-Jewish activities.
During Peter’s preaching in Cologne, some of his followers stayed in the Rhineland, and
created serious problems for the Jews (they only made it to Hungary!). The Crusaders
under Emicho of Leiningen (the least organized and professional group) created the most
problems for the Jews. Previously, the anti-Jewish violence was basically from a small
group that got bored and found Jews. Emicho’s violence wasn’t incidental; he decided
that instead of going to Muslim territory to kill Jews, he could attack Jews in
Christendom. Kenneth Stowe argues that Church officials didn’t like Emicho’s actions.
For example, Emicho told the Jews that they had to either die or convert. The Church
normally says that only if a person is dragged into a conversion is it a forced conversion;
otherwise (even if he were forced into agreeing), it’s not a forced conversion. However,
it’s not good for the religion to have such a huge group of people who really don’t want
to be Christian. This leaves us with Emicho’s attacks on Jews not in conformity to
Christian papal will.
Jewish Narratives
We have three Hebrew narratives of the Jewish responses: Mainz anonymous, the
‫’ראב"ן‬s chronicle, and ‫’שלמה בר שמשון‬s chronicle. Recently, people have decided to call
them “narratives”, since “chronicle” implies historical accuracy. It’s unclear exactly to
what extent these sources tell us about 1096. They were all edited within 50 years of the
events described therein and claim to be eyewitness accounts; they all have certain
- 37 -
common stories, like ‫ רחל‬with her four kids.23 In general, the accounts concur on the
general pattern of Jewish response to the Crusades and Christians in general.
To decide whether or not we can rely on these sources, we first would look at
corroborating evidence. Albert of Aachen reports that Jewish mothers killed their
children rather than allow them to convert; he doesn’t say that many Jews converted.
Also, a lot of the stories were similar and reflected well on the Jews, which implies some
selective editing, at the very least. In addition, it’s unclear how the eyewitnesses knew
what happened in all of the stories. Also, it’s possible that the writers used Talmudic
images to tell their stories.
When the Jews heard the bad news, they tried to negotiate with their burgher neighbors,
tried to find safety with the bishops, etc. This all shows that the Jews thought they could
be saved. In Speyer, Bishop John was able to save the Jews. When the Jews realized that
they couldn’t be saved, they reacted in different ways. ‫ ר' שמחה הכהן‬apparently took up
armed resistance against Christians; some killed themselves; some killed their children; a
few converted; at least one Jew claims he’ll convert and then kills people in and is killed;
etc. It’s interesting to point out that the women and children took an active role in the
“Excerpts from Hebrew First Crusade Narratives,” There was…them.
This is a re-enactment of ‫ ;עקדת יצחק‬there’s an astonishing number of boys named ‫ יצחק‬in
this story. It’s clear that ‫ עקדת יצחק‬informs the telling of the story. (However, the father
of the kid wasn’t ‫אברהם‬, it was ‫ ;משולם‬also, the mother wasn’t ‫שרה‬, she was ‫ציפורה‬.)
“Then the pious and…forever.” These people are treating themselves as if they were in
the ‫ ביה"מ‬and sacrificing themselves. Prior to the first ‫;ואשי ישראל מהרה באהבה תקבל ברצון‬
after, ‫ אשי ישראל‬was understood as the people were being the offerings; it was changed to
‫ואשי ישראל באהבה תקבל ברצון‬, without the ‫מהרה‬. These people think that they’re going
straight to heaven. The Crusades take place during the spring, when everything begins to
thaw. Most of the time, we don’t say ‫ אב הרחמים‬on ‫שבת מברכים‬, but before ‫ אייר‬and ‫סיון‬,
we do, since that’s when the Crusades were.
The Christians were not reflected very well; the Jews would prefer to kill their children
than to let them become Christians. They don’t want to give Christians the satisfaction of
killing their kids, and they also don’t want the filthy Christian hands on their kids. The
Jews said that they could choose to die purely as a ‫ קרבן‬rather as a victim of Christian
resistance. The Jews also claim that they are doing their things ‫ליחד שם שמים‬, or to deny
the Trinity.
The excerpt says that the Jews were suffering because of their sins, but during the rest of
the paragraph:
“The precious…might.”
‫יהרג ואל יעבר לעומת יהרוג ואל יעבור‬
This is not construed as a punishment; they say that they are martyrs, and G-d is testing
them to give them ‫עולם הבא‬. They were tested because they were a ‫קהילה קדושה‬, ‫אשר יאהב‬
Some suggest that the accusation of the well poisoning smacks more of 14 th-century events and is a sign
of later date.
- 38 -
Is there any halakhic justification for these actions? The ‫ גמרא‬says ‫יהרג ואל יעבר‬, that you
are to be killed before serving ‫ ;ע"ז‬it doesn’t say that you can kill others (‫)יהרוג ואל יעבר‬.
(Even ‫ שאול‬only killed himself, not others.) David Malkiel claims that there really wasn’t
any choice between baptism and death; there was no option of baptism.24 The ‫בעלי תוספות‬
never talk about killing others. Chaim Soloveitchik argues that there is no justification
for killing children at all. Rather, this is a visceral, creative religious instinct that came to
the fore. These texts seem to justify the martyrs; they couldn’t ignore such a powerful
act, and they couldn’t repudiate the actions of their ancestors.
Chazan claims that the Jewish response of killing babies before falling into foreign hands
is also a pan-European response to threatening religions; Christians committed similar
acts when Muslims came to conquer Christian lands. (Yisrael Yuval argues that the idea
of ritual murder came around since Jews would kill their own kids.)
Avraham Grossman and Yisrael Ta-Shma claims that Chaim Soloveitchik is applying a
20th-century perspective on the Jews on Ashkenaz. They point out that the Jews of
Ashkenaz read ‫יוסיפון‬, which mentions that people killed each other at ‫ ;מצדה‬also, ‫אגדה‬
may have been legally authoritative. There was also a letter in the ‫ גניזה קהירית‬that
describes three Italian rabbis who killed themselves before being converted. Therefore,
they claim that Chaim Soloveitchik is erring in assuming that the Jews of Ashkenaz only
accepted the ‫ בבלי‬as authoritative; the ‫ ארצישראלי‬tradition, from which the Ashkenazi
Jews sprang, has a much more favorable opinion of martyrdom. Kanarfogel brings
manuscript evidence of ‫ ר"ת‬who he claims does sanction killing children. ‫מהר"ם מרוטנבורג‬
has a ‫ תשובה‬where he was asked by a father what to do since he killed his children in
anticipation of an attack, but there was no attack in the end. ‫ מהר"ם מרוטנברג‬says that
there’s no need to do ‫תשובה‬, since he didn’t do anything wrong; their ancestors did the
same thing.
Historicity of First Crusade Narratives
To what extent can we use these First Crusade narratives? The narratives were mostly
written for didactic purposes: They lionize the martyrs; they reflect negatively on the
Christians; etc. They almost never mention conversion. Therefore, we can’t really use
these documents to tell us whether more Ashkenazi Jews converted or became martyrs.
Chazan claims that since there were different responses reported in the texts, we can use
them to answer questions of larger patterns of behaviour. That is, their agenda didn’t
cause them to change their stories, so we can learn about what happened in 1096.
Marcus, on the other hand, claims the opposite; he says that we can learn much more
about the concerns of 12th-century Jewry than what actually happened in 1096.
One of the questions we discussed is the attraction of Christianity to Jews. There are
brief mentions that people actually did convert. Jeremy Cohen argues that these texts tell
us about the anxieties and concerns of the authors of the text. He further argues that the
authors of the texts could have possibly converted, and they experienced survivors’ guilt;
the texts serve a therapeutic service in showing that the martyrs had some doubt, also. He
argues on the basis of one of the Qalonymus stories, where people were hidden without
water in an attempt to convince them to convert. Cohen says that ‫אין מים אלא תורה‬, and
‫ לשתף שם שמים‬means to swear by ‫ השם‬and a saint, not the Trinity.
- 39 -
really, this story is a hidden mention of the fact that there were some Jews did actually
have doubts. Needless to say, this is a ridiculously farfetched reading of the text.
In the second Crusade, everyone was better prepared, so the Jews could protect
themselves and Christians could protect them. Therefore, the narratives describing the
second Crusade describe the events completely differently.
Marcus claims that the First Crusade narratives don’t really portray any doubts on the
part of the Jews.
Portrayals of Women
A distinguished pious woman there [in Speyer]…was the first among all the
communities of those who were slaughtered.
The women girded their loins with strength and slew their own sons and
daughters, and then themselves…betrothed.
Women were portrayed well in the narratives, and they talked about Jesus and Mary with
very uncomplimentary epithets (wanton, menstruating, etc.).
After these [four Jews] were killed, the enemy saw those remaining in the
These women take a strong stand against Christians. On the other hand, the women
aren’t described as being raped. Some suggest that Jews here are engaged in a cultural
polemic against Christian. For Christians, the model family is the “Holy Family” (Mary
and Jesus). These texts claim that the women here are the actual “Holy Family”, and are
being contrasted to Christians. In general, Jews don’t like Christians at all. The
institution of monasticism, however, was somewhat challenging. ‫ספר חוקי התורה‬
advocates Jews studying ‫ תורה‬in a ‫ ישיבה‬in a quasi-monastic model. The Jews deal with
this challenge in two ways: 1) The monasteries are actually licentious; 2) The Jewish
family is very holy and strong. This is why the Jews were so eager to lionize their
Also, there is a tradition of Christian women martyrdom; Jews could be claiming that
they are just as strong as their Christian counterparts. Ta-Shma says that it’s part of the
tradition of Ashkenaz; Chazan claims that it’s a Northern European model of martyrdom
that the Jews adopted. In their act of rejection of everything Christianity stands for, the
Jews reflect just how acculturated they are to Northern European culture—the same
impulse that created the Crusades created Jewish martyrdom.
1096 as a Turning Point
It’s unclear whether or not 1096 represents a real turning point for Jewish people. It did
stamp the ideal of martyrdom on the Jewish people of Ashkenaz. It also changed the
attitude towards memorializing people—“Memorbucher”, or memory books. These
record the names of martyrs, when and how they died, and during what persecution they
died. This adopted the idea of Christian monastic necrology, but also put it as a polemic
against the Christians.
Originally, the Jews were welcomed by the Carolingians, but at some point, this tide
shifted. It’s unclear when. Some could claim that the attacks of 1007 were really a major
turning point, and the situation was really not so good even before 1096.
It’s unclear how much change there was in the status and situation of Jews after 1096. It
could be evaluated based on economics, literary productions of Jews, demographics
- 40 -
(birthrate-death rate and patterns of migration), what happened in the Second Crusade,
non-Jewish political or legal documents that deal with Jews, what subjects ‫ שו"תים‬dealt
with, etc.
1) Demographics—the communities of northern France continued to grow; even
Mainz and Worms regenerated pretty quickly. Jews in other places also started
growing and migrating; they apparently didn’t think that 1096 was such an
important turning point.
2) Urbanization—we begin to see a move from agrarian to urban economy; this
requires capital. Therefore, Jews moved into money lending, which was (at least
at first) a good idea—it supplied for Jewish economic security, and supplied a
service that non-Jews couldn’t supply for themselves. In an agrarian economy,
lending money means that someone’s had a failure; when things go well, there’s
no need to lend money. However, for an urban economy, people always need
money to go on new business ventures, start new shops, etc. Lending money was,
of course, not only positive; there were some negative consequences for Jews,
also. Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, was in Italy, so he couldn’t counteract
the mobs. When he came back, he let the forcibly converted Jews go back to
Judaism, which was unprecedented. He also introduced the Land-Peace Law,
which says that the Jews belong to the royal treasury (c. 1104). This means that
the Jews couldn’t be harmed, but they also couldn’t carry weapons. This also
means that the Jews were seen as exceptional; it later led to kings squeezing Jews
very tightly.
3) The Second Crusade was much less of a disaster for Jews; Bernard of Clairveaux
personally makes sure that the Jews wouldn’t be attacked. According to Ephraim
of Bonne, mostly Jews were left their fortresses or were traveling were killed;
most Jews were all right. He also minimizes the importance of martyrdom, and
doesn’t idolize it as much. Jewish survival is the key, so he also likes it when the
person manages to survive.
4) ‫ תוספות‬and ‫ חסידות אשכנז‬were both in the 12th century, and they were both
important developments. The Jews encountered philosophy in the 12th century
(cf. ‫ ;)רמב"ם‬Qabbalah; etc.
However, Avraham Grossman emphasizes that the yeshivot of Mainz and Worms were
destroyed; the center of ‫ תורה‬study shifted from Ashkenaz to Northern France. Haim
Soloveitchik points out that in any case, the yeshivot of Mainz and Worms were already
in decline; 1096 was just the last nail in the coffin.
'‫בעלי התוס‬
Methodology and Characteristics
These include ‫( ר"ת‬grandson of ‫( ר"י ;)רש"י‬nephew of ‫( רשב"ם ;)ר"ת‬grandson of ‫ר"ש ;)רש"י‬
‫משנץ‬. They seem to approach the ‫ גמרא‬the same way the ‫ גמרא‬approached the ‫—משנה‬they
use a dialectic approach (logic, contradiction); look at contemporary ‫מנהגים‬, etc.
Some say that they got the dialectic approach from the way the ‫ גמרא‬approaches the ‫משנה‬,
but that doesn’t really explain why they use dialectics now. ‫ אורבך‬claims that this
tendency was taken from the Christian approach to Roman law, but that assumes that the
'‫ תוס‬were borrowing from Christian legal scholars; we have no evidence of this. ‫אורבך‬
- 41 -
‫‪claims that the methodology drew from the “zeitgeist”. However, he also tries to show‬‬
‫‪ were (geographically) to their Christian counterparts, so it’s like‬בעלי התוס' ‪how close the‬‬
‫‪he tries to imply influence.‬‬
‫רש"י ‪, Christian students went to study at institutions (like how‬רש"י ‪During the time of‬‬
‫‪went to study in Mainz and Worms); later, they focused on single teachers (like, say,‬‬
‫‪Peter of Abelard); so too, Jewish scholars changed their focus from yeshivot (Mainz,‬‬
‫‪, etc.).‬ר"י‪ ,‬ר"ת( ‪Worms) to single people‬‬
‫‪, so that there would‬ישיבות ‪ assume that there were ~60 people in these‬אחרונים ‪Some later‬‬
‫‪. However, the reality is that most‬מסכת ‪be someone who would be responsible for each‬‬
‫;‪ were very small. Kanarfogel claims that there could be maybe 25 students at max‬ישיבות‬
‫‪Breuer claims that there were probably not more than 10.‬‬
‫פיתוח ההלכה‬
‫‪ also resolved contradictions between communal practice and law.‬בעלי התוס' ‪The‬‬
‫משנה ע"ז ב‪ .‬לפני אידיהן של עובדי כוכבים שלשה ימים ‪ -‬אסור לשאת ולתת עמהם‪ ,‬להשאילן ולשאול מהן‪ ,‬להלוותן‬
‫וללוות מהן‪ ,‬לפורען ולפרוע מהן‪.‬‬
‫‪This is a problem, since it implies that it’s forbidden to do business on Thursday, Friday,‬‬
‫‪and Saturday. This would create major problems.‬‬
‫‪Six answers:‬‬
‫‪,‬עכו"ם שבחו"ל‬
‫‪,‬עכו"ם שבינינו לא פלחו‬
‫‪,‬אינו מכירו ‪ vs.‬מכירו‬
‫ר"ת היה מפרש אסור לשאת ולתת עמהם דוקא במידי דתקרובת‬
‫‪, it’s for their priestly clothes, and not really an‬גלחים ‪Even for their‬‬
‫‪.‬ע"ז ‪offering for‬‬
‫אסור לשאת ולתת עמהם ‪ -‬פ"ה משום דאזיל ביום אידו ומודה לעבודת כוכבים‪ .‬מתוך לשונו משמע שר"ל אף ממקח‬
‫וקשה! על מה סמכו העולם לשאת ולתת ביום איד העבודת כוכבים עמהם? נהי דרוב אידיהם מן הקדישים הם‪ ,‬מ"מ‬
‫בכל שבוע יום אחד יש להם דלרבי ישמעאל (לקמן ו‪ ).‬לעולם אסור!‬
‫נסיונות לפתור את הבעייה‪:‬‬
‫א) ואין לומר דהיינו טעמא משום (חולין יג‪ ):‬דעובדי כוכבים שבח"ל לאו עובדי עבודת כוכבים אלא‬
‫מנהג אבותיהם בידם‪ ,‬דהא אמר שמואל בגמ' (לקמן ז‪ ):‬בגולה אינו אסור אלא יום אידם בלבד‬
‫משמע הא יום אידם מיהא אסור‪.‬‬
‫ב) לכך נראה דשרי משום איבה‪ ,‬כדאמר בגמ' (שם דף ו‪ ):‬גבי ר' יהודה נשיאה דשדר ליה ההוא‬
‫מינא דינרא קסריינא ביום אידו‪ .‬אמר [ר' יהודה] היכי איעביד? לא אישקליה‪ ,‬הויא ליה איבה!‬
‫מיהו אין משם ראיה גמורה דשמא לאו משום איבה לישתרי אלא היה נוטל עצה כיצד יעשה שלא‬
‫יהיה לו איבה‪ .‬ועוד אי טעמא משום איבה תינח להלוותם ולהשאילם ולפרעם כשהעובד כוכבים‬
‫תובע חובו‪ ,‬אבל לשאת ולתת עמהם דהיינו מקח וממכר מאי איבה איכא? וכי לא יוכל ישראל‬
‫לומר איני צריך עתה למכור ולקנות וכן לשאול ללוות ולפרוע מה ידע העובד כוכבים שמניח משום‬
‫ג) לכך נראה דטעם ההיתר משום דעכו"ם שבינינו קים לן בגוייהו דלא פלחו לעבודת כוכבים‪,‬‬
‫ומהאי טעמא שרי לקמן בפ"ב (דף סה‪ ).‬רב יהודה דשדר ליה קורבנא לאבידרנא ביום אידו אמר‬
‫קים לי בגויה דלא פלח לעבודת כוכבים‪ .‬וכן רבא (שם) דשדר ליה קורבנא לבר שישך ביום אידו‬
‫אמר קים לי בגויה דלא פלח לעבודת כוכבים‪.‬‬
‫ד) א"נ יש לסמוך אההיא דתנא בירושלמי על מתני' דאסור לשאת ולתת תני‪ ,‬בד"א? בעובד כוכבים‬
‫שאינו מכירו‪ .‬אבל בעובד כוכבים שמכירו מותר‪ ,‬מפני שהוא כמחניף‪ .‬ותניא הנכנס לעיר ומצאן‬
‫שמחים שמח עמהם שאינו אלא כמחניף להם‪.‬‬
‫ה) ור"ת היה מפרש אסור לשאת ולתת עמהם דוקא במידי דתקרובת‪ ,‬ולא איירי כלל בלקנות‪ ,‬דודאי‬
‫שרי בין ללישנא דאזיל ומודה בין ללישנא דלפני עור לא תתן‪ .‬דלא אסרו אלא למכור דוקא מידי‬
‫דתקרובת ולשאת ולתת‪ .‬הכי פי'‪ :‬לשאת מהן המעות ולתת להם מידי דתקרובת חליפי המעות‪.‬‬
‫‪- 42 -‬‬
,‫) בגמרא טעמא דלשאת ולתת עמהם אי משום הרווחה‬.‫ומביא ראיה מדאיבעיא (לקמן דף ו‬
‫ או דלמא משום ולפני עור לא תתן‬,‫פירוש משום שמרויח ומשתכר ואזיל ומודה לעבודת כוכבים‬
‫ אמאי לא‬,‫ ואי מידי דלאו תקרובת אסור‬.‫מכשול וקאמר נפקא מינה דאית ליה בהמה לדידיה‬
‫קאמר נפקא מינה למידי דלאו תקרובת? דמשום הרווחה איכא! אלא וודאי מידי דלאו תקרובת‬
‫ כיון שנותן המעות תחת החפץ והוא לוקח וגם אינו‬,‫שרי דלא שייכא אזיל ומודה במקח וממכר‬
‫ טעמא דאסור לשאת ולתת עמהם במידי‬:‫ ובעיא דגמרא הכי מפרש‬.‫בטוח כ"כ שירויח בסחורה‬
‫דתקרובת משום הרווחה שיהיה לו בהמות רבות בריוח אפי' אית ליה לדידיה נמי אסור שמתוך‬
‫שיהיה לו הרבה בהמות יקריב מן המובחר או משום לפני עור ונפקא מינה דכי אית ליה בהמה‬
.‫לדידיה שרי‬
‫ולפי פר"ת אין לתמוה על מנהג העולם שאפילו אם היו מחזיקין אותם כעובדי עבודת כוכבים‬
‫שהרי אינם עושים שום תקרובת אלא במעות ובזה לא שייך הרווחה והרבה מעות מצויים להם‬
‫ ומיהו נכון הוא להחמיר כשבא העובד כוכבים ואומר הלויני מעות לשקרי שקורין‬.‫לאותו דבר‬
‫אופרי"ר אבל ר' אלחנן אמר כי גם באותם אופרי"ר אין שום איסור כי מה שהם נותנים אותם‬
.‫לגלחים ולכומרים אינו ממש לשם עבודת כוכבים אלא לצורך הנאתם‬
‫חסידי אשכנז‬
Founded by ‫( ר' יהודה החסיד‬1150-1217), which is based in Germany, not France (where
the majority of the ‫ בעלי התוספות‬were). Most of what we know about ‫ חסידות אשכנז‬is based
on ‫ספר חסידים‬.25
Some suggest that ‫ ספר חסידים‬wasn’t a work that ‫ ר' יהודה החסיד‬wrote as a single work;
rather, there were different pamphlets were circulated, and were then collected later and
put into "‫"ספר חסידים‬. ‫ ספר חסידים‬has a very expansive notion of what’s included in the
purview of God’s directives. It also has “exempla”, or examples of how you should
implement Jewish values. This gives valuable historical information on what the realia of
Jewish medieval life was like.
‫ ר' אלעזר מגרמייזא=רוקח‬took over the leadership of ‫ חסידות אשכנז‬after the death of ‫ר' יהודה‬
‫החסיד‬. The ‫ רוקח‬gave us the foundation myth of the Qalonimus family, and tells us that he
brought ‫ תורת הסוד‬from ‫ ר' אברהם‬of Baghdad. One of the basic premises of ‫ ספר חסידים‬is
that the 613 commandments in the ‫ תורה‬are just the beginning; really, G-d has much
broader demands from people.
Opening Tract: “For those who fear G-d and are mindful of His name I write this
This claims that we can be punished for things that we don’t know, since we should look
for extra stuff to do.
“If you see…‫תורה‬.”
This doctrine implies that you can have a ‫ תלמיד חכם‬who is punished since he didn’t
observe the things that ‫ חסידי אשכנז‬thought were important. To find out what you’re
supposed to do, you find out the ‫ רצון הבורא‬by asking the ‫חכם‬.
(‫ חסידים‬claim that you can always explain bad stuff happening to good people by saying
that their grandparents converted to Christianity for a little bit of time or something like
that.) ‫ ספר חסידים‬is really anti-conversion; for example, there’s an exempla of a rabbi who
told his congregation to convert to save their lives, and then they converted back; their
descendants were still punished. Part of this is that Judaizing was strictly forbidden, so
‫ ספר חסידים‬wasn’t so anxious to let Jews become Christians, for fear that they wouldn’t be
able to come back. ‫ ספר חסידים‬also says that if a son has apostatized, you should leave
him away, since he would just contaminate the family if he came back. ‫ ספר חסידים‬also
We have two versions: ‫ כתב יד‬Parma (much longer and more extensive, edited by Wistinetski), and ‫כתב יד‬
Bologna (has some stuff Parma doesn’t have, edited by Margaliot).
- 43 -
assumes that dead people stick around, visit family members, rattle rafters, etc. On the
other hand, there were other instances when they were very common-sense—for
example, it says that if someone was born with a tooth, you just take it out.
Some suggest that ‫ רצון הבורא‬sounds suspiciously like “deus vult” (God wills it), which
was the slogan of the Crusaders. If you read ‫ספר חסידים‬, you get the sense that there is a
war going on, and there’s the good fighting the bad. For example, if you’re looking to
marry, and there’s a poor girl from a good family and a rich girl from a bad family, you
should marry the poor girl from a good family (good=‫)חסידי‬. They also have an exempla
of a “bad” ‫( ש"ץ‬in medieval ‫אשכנז‬, the ‫ ש"ץ‬is pictured as the conduit of prayers to God;
for example, one ‫ש"ץ‬, the ‫ רבי‬of ‫רש"י‬, grew a very long beard and swept the floor of the
‫ארון קודש‬, but he would still be considered a ‫רשע‬, since he wasn’t a ‫)חסיד‬.
‫ ר' יהודה החסיד‬came from the Qalonymus family, and expounded his ‫תורה‬. The ‫’חסידים‬s
‫ תורת הסוד‬focuses on ‫כסא הכבוד‬.
“There were once two synagogues…sum.”
In this exemple, the big synagogue prays too quickly; the ‫ חסיד‬wanted to count the ‫’אלף‬s
in each Psalm and find a reason for it. It’s unclear how much of this whole system was
actually put into practice, as it doesn’t seem to be a system fitting for ‫המון עם‬. It also
seems that there aren’t enough ‫ חסידי אשכנז‬to actually have a ‫ מנין‬of their own. ‫ר' יהודה‬
‫ החסיד‬was run out of town in the Rhineland, and had to relocate to Regensburg.
The one mention of ‫ חסידי אשכנז‬we have in '‫ ספרות התוס‬is that ‫ מהר"ם רוטנבורג‬mentioned
that there was one ‫ חסיד‬who wore his ‫ טלית‬all day.
“If a person has…water.”
This extreme requirement for penance is strikingly Christian in nature. ‫תשובת‬
‫=המשקל‬commensurate penance is different from ‫תשובה הבאה‬, which is putting yourself in
the same situation and not committing the same sin. For example, if you had adulterous
relations, you should put yourself in the same situation, and hopefully resist it. For
obvious reasons, ‫ חסידות אשכנז‬rejected this idea. Yitshaq Ber argues that ‫חסידות אשכנז‬
adapted the religious practices of the self-flagellating Christians (who also practiced
penance). Also, the monasteries posed a religious challenge that ‫ חסידות אשכנז‬responded
to by creating an ascetic ethic (this is the synchronic position).
Peter Schaeffer argues instead that this is a genuinely Jewish practice that drew on the
‫ היכלות‬literature and developed its doctrines. Talia Fishman points out that the practices
of ‫ חסידות אשכנז‬do have their roots in Irish penitential literature, but those Christian
practices preserved very old ideas (Irish in particular were great at preserving stuff).
Therefore, the Irish monks preserved 2nd-century Syriac practices that were in turn
influenced by the ‫ היכלות‬literature. The Irish ideas then infiltrated into the Rhineland,
where the Jews picked them up and made them into ‫ספר חסידים‬.
This possible Christian influence is particularly interesting given the seriousness of the
‫ חסידי‬allergy to Christianity (compared to the relatively mild reaction that the '‫בעלי התוס‬
had against lending money to a Christian to give money to the Pope; also, most '‫בעלי התוס‬
permit taking a Christian religious idol as a collateral, while ‫ ספר החסידים‬doesn’t).
“It is written…books.”
This position shows that ‫ ספר החסידים‬held that even palimpsests that had Christian writing
on it are forbidden. Similarly, it’s not appropriate to hum a Christian tune as a lullaby.
Also, pigs were everywhere in the Middle Ages, and ate just about everything. ‫ספר חסידים‬
says that you should not face a window when a pig walks by. The ‫ רוקח‬talks about a
- 44 -
ritual of initiating children into ‫ תורה‬study—when the child is three, they’d take the child
down to the river (‫)אין מים אלא תורה‬, but on the way, you should wrap the child with a ‫טלית‬
to prevent them from seeing any Christian symbols. However, you should not bake
cookies in the shape of letters since it’s not good to eat the holy letters (Christians have
the same concern about the wafer). There were also questions of whether Jewish women
could use the same river for ‫ טבילה‬as Christians use for baptism.
Chaim Soloveitchik points out that before the '‫בעלי התוס‬, the point of your study was to
master a received body of wisdom. To be a '‫בעל התוס‬, you have to know much less, and
you develop the knowledge on your own. It shifts the focus from modesty and rote
learning to creativity and, to some extent, self-aggrandizement. It also doesn’t place
emphasis on Qalonymus blood. The education philosophy of ‫ חסידות אשכנז‬could represent
a reaction against the Tosafist revolution.
“A person should not…teach them.”
‫ ספר חסידים‬implies that Tosafist dialectic was Christian and intended to let yourself show
Haim Soloveitchik says that ‫ חסידי אשכנז‬were not influential; Kanarfogel points out that
the Tosafists from Evreux were interested in ‫ ;הלכה למעשה‬even the ‫ ר"י‬had pietistic
practices. Soloveitchik retorts that not every practice of piety is necessarily German
pietism; only eating meat on ‫ שבת‬is a pious practice, but doesn’t necessarily betray any
German influence.
‫פרשנות המקרא היהודית באשכנז במאה הי"ב‬
So far, we’ve been looking at the different forms of creativity in greater Ashkenaz. Now,
we’ll be looking at the ‫ פשט‬revolution of the 12th century.
Before the 12th, there was very little interest in ‫ ;פשט‬by the 13th, there was also very little
interest. The 12th century was the center of the ‫ פשט‬revolution.
The dictionaries used would’ve been the ‫ מחברת‬of ‫ מנחם‬and ‫’דונש‬s dictionary; cognate
languages; ‫ ספר השרשים‬if ibn Janach (if they knew about it); and realia (cf. ‫ רמב"ן‬on ‫בית‬
‫ לחם‬and the definition of ‫( שקל‬see Intro)); human nature and psychology; etc.
‫ רש"י‬is sort of a transitional figure in learning ‫ ;פשט‬he talks about ‫פשט‬, but the majority of
his commentary is ‫מדרשים‬.
‫ר' יוסף קרא‬
One of the first ‫ פשטנים‬is ‫( ר' יוסף קרא‬1050-1125). His area of expertise is ‫( תנ"ך‬hence the
name ‫)קרא‬, not necessarily ‫תושבע"פ‬. He developed the idea of context in order to
understand ‫פסוקים‬. He is unapologetic in his rejection of ‫ מדרש‬in his search for ‫פשט‬.
Some claim that ‫ מדרש‬has much more spiritual fulfillment and meaning, and ‫ פשט‬is too
dry and remote.
‫יז‬:‫ר' יוסף קרא ש"א א‬
‫ ומדרש‬.‫אין צריך להביא ראיה ממקום אחר ולא מדרש כי תורה תמימה ניתנה תמימה נכתבה ולא תחסר כל בה‬
‫ אבל מי שאינו יודע פשוטו של מקרא ונוטה לו אחר מדרשו של דבר דומה לזה‬.‫חכמינו כדי להגדיל תורה ו יאדיר‬
‫ ואלו שם לב לדבר ה' היה חוקר אחר פשר דבר ופשוטו‬.‫ואוחז כל אשר יעלה בידו להינצל‬...‫ששטפהו שבולת הנהר‬
If you only know ‫ מדרש‬and don’t know ‫פשט‬, it’s like being swept up by the current of the
river and not knowing how to save yourself. If you actually care about the word of G-d,
you’d study ‫פשט‬.
- 45 -
‫רשב"ם‬, ‫’רש"י‬s grandson (1080-1160), tried to continue ‫’רש"י‬s tradition when he thought
that ‫ רש"י‬didn’t follow ‫ פשט‬completely. The most famous one is the one on ‫ויהי ערב ויהי‬
‫בקר‬. Of course, the ‫ רשב"ם‬was a very pious individual, and did not intend to challenge
‫( הלכה‬he was, after all, a '‫)בעל התוס‬, so he was always respected. (On the other hand,
‫ ראב"ע‬didn’t feel sure enough of his credentials to interpret ‫ תנ"ך‬in contradiction to ‫הלכה‬.)
‫ רשב"ם‬often used ‫ דרך ארץ‬to interpret ‫פסוקים‬. He also offers anti-Christological
arguments. We’ll look at one place where his purpose is ‫תשובה למינים‬, ‫י‬:‫מט‬:
‫לא יסור שבט מיהודה ומחקק מבין רגליו עד כי יבוא שילה ולא יקהת עמים‬.
This ‫ פסוק‬isn’t clear; if you say that ‫ שילה‬is ‫משיח‬, and the subject of ‫ יבוא‬is ‫שילה‬, then
when ‫=שילה‬Messiah=Jesus comes, there will be no more Jewish sovereignty.
‫ המלכות הניתן לו להשתחות לו כל אחיו שנים עשר לא תפסוק ממנו כל אותה הגדולה ולא‬- ‫לא יסור שבט מיהודה‬
‫ כלומר עד כי יבא מלך יהודה הוא רחבעם בן שלמה שבא לחדש‬,‫מחוקק ושררה מזרעו עד כי יבא יהודה שילה‬
‫ אבל אז יסורו עשרת השבטים ממנו וימליכו את ירבעם ולא נשאר לרחבעם בן‬.‫ שזהו קרוב לשכם‬,‫המלוכה בשילה‬
:‫שלמה רק יהודה ובנימין‬
‫ ולבסוף מפרש כל אילו‬,‫וש כם אצל שילה כדכת' ביהושוע ויאסוף יהושוע [את] כל [שבטי] ישראל שכמה וכל הפרשה‬
‫ וגם‬.'‫הדברים היו לפני י"י בשילה וגם בשופטים הנה חג י"י בשילה [וגו'] למסילה העולה [מ]בית אל שכמה וגו‬
‫ וקרקע חלקה היה בשכם סביב האלה אשר עם שכם הראויה‬.‫בירמיה ויבאו האנשים משכם [משלו] ומשמרון‬
‫ שאין כתוב כי אם שילה שם‬.‫ ופשט זה תשובה למינין‬.‫להתקבץ שם בני אדם ולכבוד משכן אשר בשילה הסמוך שם‬
‫ רשב"ם‬says that this ‫ פסוק‬is talking about ‫רחבעם‬, who comes to ‫שילה‬. It’s a little bit
forced, as the reader can decide for himself—in the context of ‫’יעקב‬s blessings, it
probably has an eschatological meaning. This interpretation is the crux of the argument
between the Jews and the Christians—the Christians claim that G-d’s promises to the
Jews have been fulfilled and abandoned, whereas the Jews say that they haven’t.
‫ר' יוסף בכור שור‬
‫( ר' יוסף בכור שור‬d. at the beginning of 13th century) draws heavily on context (e.g. ‫עשרת‬
‫ הדברות‬and the ‫ ברית‬after ‫ ;)עגל הזהב‬like most ‫פשטנים‬, he tends towards the rational (e.g.,
‫ רשב"ם‬says that ‫ ותהי נציב מלח‬refers to the city ‫ ר' יוסף בכור שור ;סדם‬explains that ‫נציב מלח‬
means that she was frozen in shock and then was covered in salt). He says that ‫ פוטיפר‬and
‫ פוטיפרע‬were the same person; if ‫ פרעה‬became deposed, ‫ יוסף‬was afraid that ‫ פוטיפר‬would
claim his as a slave again, so he married ‫’פוטיפר‬s daughter so that he would be a son-inlaw. He also says that ‫ אהרן‬made the ‫ עגל הזהב‬since he thought that it was preferable that
he make it than that the Jews would make another leader that would clash with ‫משה רבנו‬
when he came down from ‫הר סיני‬. Like the ‫רשב"ם‬, he looks at legal texts in non-halakhic
ways; for example, ‫ ר' יוסף בכור שור‬says that a slave goes free on ‫( שמיטה‬not after his
seventh year of servitude) since no one needs a slave on ‫ שמיטה‬anyway. He’s also
aggressively anti-Christological and attacks Christian programmatic statements.
‫ומהפכין‬...‫ובכא נשברו זרועם של אומות העולם שאומרים על מה שאמר משה רבינו אלגורי"א הם כלומ חידה ומשל‬
‫לא עשה כן לכל‬...‫ מגיד דבריו ליעקב‬:‫הנבואה לדבר אחר ומוציאין הדבר ממשמעותו לגמרי ועליהם אמר דוד‬
‫ לא נתן להם הקב"ה לב לדעת לעיניים לראות ואוזניים‬,‫שאף על פי שהעתיקו את התורה מלשון הקודם ללשונם‬...‫גוי‬
.)‫ח‬:‫לשמוע אלא מהפכין הדברים למה שאינם (במ' יב‬
Non-Jews are fundamentally unable to understand ‫ ;תורה‬they mess everything up and
make it all allegories.
‫ והם‬,‫ אלהים שאוכלים ושותין אותו אין בו ממש‬,‫לתשובת המינין שמלעיגים על אותה שתייה אמור להם בכאן רמז‬
.)‫כ‬:‫הנוצרים אוכלים בשר תרפותם והם שותי דמו בכל [ה]שנה (שמ' לב‬
- 46 -
It’s ridiculous for Christians to argue against Moshe feeding the Jews the dust from the
‫עגל‬, since they eat their own ‫=עגל‬god=wafer.
This is a strikingly aggressive attack; there are reports from Christian sources that Jews
actively and intentionally provoked Christians (there’s a story that a Jew traveling with a
Christian told him that it would be better to relieve himself on a cross than on a bush,
since G-d spoke to Moshe through a bush). In the 12th century, some have argued that all
groups became somewhat less forward in their attacks on others.
Broader Trends
Avraham Grossman says that there are three causes of the rise of ‫ פשט‬in the 12th century:
1) Contact with Spanish Jews (as opposed to German Jews, French Jews knew about
‫( ראב"ע‬who traveled all over the place, getting as far as England), ‫דונש בן לברט‬, and
‫)מנחם אבן סרוק‬.
2) 12th-Century Renaissance: There were many doubts about long-held religious
belief; Christians began to question relics and miracles. In parallel, Jews start
turning towards ‫פשט‬. Especially by Andrew in the school of St. Victor, Christians
start understanding ‫“ מקרא‬ad litteram”, or literally. This could be because of a
few reasons: A) To understand the allegory, you have to understand the literal
meaning of the text; B) The literal meaning is important on its own. Christian
scholars often contacted Jewish scholars (including ‫ )רשב"ם‬who can help them
overcome the problems caused by the text of the Vulgate. It’s possible that these
discussions between Jews and Christians helped lead the Jews to try to understand
the ‫ תנ"ך‬literally.
3) Jewish-Christian Polemic: If the bulk of Christological readings are allegorical,
Jews have to offer something completely different; ‫ מדרשי‬readings were too close
to allegory to counter the Christian readings. Andrew of St. Victor even accepted
that the )‫ עבד הסובל (ישעיה נג‬was not Jesus, for which he was suitably criticized.
By the end of the 12th century, life in France got worse for Jews; by that time, the Jews
were wondering about why they were chosen, and ‫ פשט‬just didn’t do it for them.
Jewish-Christian Polemic
One of the things the Jews had to respond to is Christian claims about the ‫תורה‬. The real
purpose of the literature is to preach to the flock of whoever wrote the polemics (it’s not
so likely that a Jew would read a Christian work or vice-versa).
:28 ‫ניצחון ישן‬
A certain apostate argued that the Hebrew verse, “Until Shilo comes and to him…”
constitutes an acrostic for Jesus…astray.
David Berger talks about two forms of polemic: Genuine polemic and exegetical
polemic. Genuine polemic reflects the core issues that divide the disputants; exegetical
polemic is just how to read ‫פסוקים‬, but doesn’t have a real effect on the faith of the
“The scepter…name?”
These deal with real issues that divide the Jews and Christians; he claims that ‫ שילה‬isn’t
Jesus at all.
“Moreover, …safely.”
- 47 -
According to the Christian interpretation, the prophecy refers to the end of G-d’s
promises, but it’s clear that God’s promises refer even to after the cessation of Davidic
“If he will tell you…David?”
This points out that if Jesus were the son of G-d, he can’t be of Davidic descent; if he
were the son of Joseph, he can’t be the son of G-d.
“Moreover, it is written…together.”
This shows that the prophecies about the Jewish people have not been fulfilled through
Jesus; the Jews still can and must wait for the fulfillment of the prophecies.
“The final section…all.”
Even if ‫ שילה‬is ‫משיח‬, the ‫ מחוקק‬is communal ruler, which hasn’t happened.
‫ שילה‬means “peace and quiet”, which clearly hasn’t happened yet.
After the first paragraph, the tone shifts to serious; this was genuine polemic that was
crucial for the Jews. This is characteristic of the 12th century, when Jews felt comfortable
to debate Christians openly and unabashedly.
Philip Augustus and the Jews
Jews were welcomed by the Carolingian monarchs, but by the 15th century, they were
expelled from many places; we’ll explore this trajectory.
We’ve examined Henry IV’s legislation to protect Jews, but that it also made the Jews
stand out as a separate group. This does have implications for Jewish political status.
Philip Augustus reigned over Ile-de-France, a pretty small area; when he expelled Jews in
1182, it was only temporary. However, the expulsion does tell us about how the
Christians perceived Jews. First, we’ll examine the reason that Philip Augustus expelled
the Jews:
1) Ritual Murder: The first claim against the Jews is that the Jews killed a Christian
and crucified him. (We’ll examine where this belief came from and why it took
2) Almost as soon as King Philip ascended the throne, he took a lot of money from
the Jews. Some suggest that this is in reaction to his father’s pro-Jewish policies
toward the Jews. William Jordan points out that the French monarchies used their
Jewish policies to expand their power throughout France—the kings claimed they
were personally responsible for the Jews’ protection.
3) Before 1182, it seemed that there was a substantial Jewish presence in Paris; it
seems that it was certainly livable.
4) The Jews were moneylenders. Although technically, the Jews could lend money
at interest since Christians were considered ‫לנכרי תשיך ולאחיך לא תשיך (דב' ( נכרי‬
)‫כא‬:‫)כג‬, it was disturbing to Christians to be considered ‫נכריים‬. They could also
hold Christians in prison. The economy at this time was shifting from an agrarian
economy to a capitalist economy. This changes the purpose of lending: In an
agrarian economy, you only borrow money if you have a major disaster; in a
capitalist economy, everyone borrowed money. However, people’s attitudes were
still old-fashioned—they didn’t appreciate the value that lending money had, and
- 48 -
still associated it with taking advantage of people who fell on hard times.
Another reason for popular disgust with usury was that interest was viewed as
paying for time, which was bad, since time really belongs to G-d (even clocks
aroused suspicion). Also, subsistence loans made the lower strata of the economy
really unhappy with the Jews. (Jordan further suggests that the kids of the poor
people were imbued early with a hatred of Jews and usury.)
5) They caused their Christian servants to Judaize. This is an old complaint, but
almost every charter to the Jews emphasized that the Jews can have Christian
6) They own half the city.
7) They took Christian sancta as collateral and supposedly abused them (used the
holy cups to drink with, etc.). This was like adding insult to injury.
Then, Philip cancelled all debts to the Jews, and took a fifth of the money for themselves.
This has doubly good effects—everyone’s happy with the king, and the king gets lots of
money! Also, the king’s tallage from the Jews came from money taken from
moneylending. This was a great move by Philip: When the Jews were allowed to lend
money, Philip taxed the Christians indirectly through the tallage; then, when he took
away all of the money, he got a cut of the debts anyway.
Although the ‫ גמרא‬doesn’t recommend lending money at interest, '‫ תוס‬say that it’s
‫ אלא בכדי‬,‫ וכן בגר תושב! אמר רב חייא בריה דרב הונא לא נצרכא‬,‫ לוין מהן ומלוין אותם ברבית‬:‫ איתיביה‬:‫ב"מ ע‬
‫ ומה שנהגו עתה להלוות לנכרים אור"ת משום דבשל סופרים הלך אחר המיקל וקי"ל כאידך‬:‫תוס' שם ד"ה תשיך‬
‫ ולא אסרו מעולם רב נחמן ורב הונא רבית דנכרי! ואפי' ללישנא‬,‫לישנא דמתני הא דרב הונא אברייתא דרב יוסף‬
.‫ לפי שיש עלינו מס מלך ושרים והכל הוי כדי חיינו‬,‫קמא יש להתיר‬
‫ועוד שאנו שרויין בין האומות ואי אפשר לנו להשתכר בשום דבר אם לא נישא וניתן עמהם הלכך אין לאסור רבית‬
.‫שמא ילמוד ממעשיו יותר משאר משא ומתן‬
Since we don’t know when we’ll have a crazy pogrom, any amount of money is
considered necessary.
The Jews were then allowed to sell their moveable property at a loss, but the king got all
of the real estate.
Ritual Murder Accusations
What about the idea that Jews crucified Christian children? In 1096, the Christians
claimed that the Jews were guilty of deicide; by 1182, the Jews were supposed to pose a
danger to Christians in the present! What happened?!
The first ritual murder accusation was made in 1144 in Norwich by Thomas of
Monmaith. A child named William was found dead; this wasn’t so surprising, since there
were many opportunities for children to meet their untimely death (accidents, no
swimming lessons, no antibiotics). Thomas claimed that a Jew told him that every year,
there is an international council of Jews where they chose from where to kill a child by
Easter. Cohen points out that William the Conqueror took over England in 1066; in
Norwich in particular, the Normans really started oppressing the local Saxons. Thomas
of Monmaith heals that fissure by making a scapegoat of the Jews, so the Saxons and
Normans could join together over their common Christianity and hatred of Jews. (This
theory is also supported by the language of Thomas’ claim, which talked in the language
of Christian unity.)
- 49 -
However, this theory doesn’t explain the spread of the accusation, like the accusation in
Blois in 1171. In Blois, the accusation was accepted by the government, which executed
21 Jews—even though there was no body produced! (The Christians claimed that a
Jewish tanner threw the body into the river.) Yisrael Yuval suggests that the Christians
believed these stories since the Christians heard that Jews killed their own children in the
First Crusade in order to arouse G-d’s vengeance and cursed Christians, and so believed
that Jews also killed Christians. This is problematic, since we actually don’t have
evidence that Jews killed their children in order to arouse G-d’s vengeance. However, it
is possible that the Jews’ killing their children in order to save them from conversion
could have convinced the Christians that the Jews also killed Christians.
2nd Crusade
Bernard of Clairvaux says that he should not kill Jews because God will take care of
“mine enemies.” Ephraim of Bonn is still thankful to Bernard for not killing Jews. Peter
the Venerable is even more extreme—he says that Jews are worse than Muslims, since
they don’t think that Jesus was holy, and so we should kill Jews. However, Scripture
forbids us to kill Jews, so the Jews should pay their interest for the Crusades.
Chazan says that there are three developments:
1) Jews are enemies;
2) Moneylending is an expression of that enmity;
3) Jews kill Christian kids.
These developments help us understand why Philip was happy to kick the Jews out of his
Church Attitudes Towards Jews
In 1205, Pope Innocent III wrote a letter to Philip Augustus (King of France) with
complaints about his treatment of the Jews.
1) Augustinian Doctrine: Innocent III opens his letter with his desire that the Jews
should serve under the Christians, in accordance with the Augustinian Doctrine.
However, he’s not happy that the Jews are being so obstinate as to not convert,
and the Jews must be downtrodden.
2) Usury: At that time, the Jews were charging usury and taking pledges.
3) Christian servants: The Jews use their servants to do difficult and hard tasks that
aren’t very nice.
4) Christian witnesses aren’t believed against Jews; the Jewish-issued, royallybacked loan documents are believed over Christian witnesses. This law was made
by Louis, but the King can revoke that.
5) The Jews made new synagogues that were taller than churches; it was nominally
allowed to make synagogues, but not bigger than the churches.
6) The Jews make fun of Jesus, especially on Good Friday and Easter. (Easter was
traditionally a time of heightened tensions between Jews and Christians due to its
connection with the Passion. There was a traditionally one Jew that was slapped
once a year on Easter; Nuremberg, in Communities of Violence, says that that
helped the communities stay cool the rest of the year. Cecil Roth and Horowitz
both claim that Purim was a violent holiday; Jews often hanged effigies of ‫המן‬,
- 50 -
which could be easily confused with the ‫תלוי‬, or Jesus. If Easter was early and
Purim late, that could intensify the juxtaposition.)
Phillip, in return, decided to reduce usury from 70% to 42%; that puts him ahead on both
fronts—he can still let the Jews lend money, and he gets the Pope off his back.
At the 4th Lateran Council in 1215, there were a number of promulgations:
1) Canon 67 says that the Jews must continue to pay tithes on land taken from
2) Jews can’t take ‘immoderate’ usury.
3) Canon 68 imposes a dress code on the Jews so that they’ll be distinct from nonJews. The putative purpose of this was to stop interfaith relations. David
Niremberg pointed out that the Christians were careful to make a distinction
between Jews and Christians—although Jews and Christians could have contact
with each other, prostitutes were strictly limited to members of their own faith. It
appears that Christians saw prostitutes as representatives of the Christian body
politic; if she were to become contaminated, every Christian man could become
contaminated. To stop the Jews from becoming mixed up with the Christian men
and taking advantage of Christian prostitutes, they had to dress differently.
(Muslims and Jews, for their part, upheld their end of the bargain; their members
weren’t supposed to use Christian prostitutes.)
4) Jews were prohibited from going outside from three days before Easter. (This is a
response to the charge that the Jews blaspheme Jesus.)
Nicolas Donin and the Trial of the Talmud
In 1236, Nicolas Donin approached Pope Gregory IX with a series of complaints about
the Talmud. The Jews say that Nicolas was excommunicated of the Jews before he was
an apostate. It’s unclear why; some suggest that he was influenced by the Karaites, or
that he was a big fan of the ‫ רמב"ם‬and was a victim of the Maimonidian conflict.
The Church was receptive of the claims that said that the Talmud was bad, since the
Church in general was interested in blotting out heresy. The claims against the Talmud
1) Blasphemous against Jesus and Mary;
2) Jews were Talmudic Jews, not Biblical;
3) Superstitious;
4) Discriminates against Christians.
In 1242, there was a trial of the Talmud in Paris with ‫ ר' יחיאל מפריז‬representing the Jews.
‫ר' יחיאל‬, in his attempt to cancel the trial, pointed out that Jerome knew the Talmud and its
sages, so there’s no reason to make up charges now. Needless to say, this technique fell
We have two records of the debate, one in Hebrew and one in Latin. The Hebrew
account, of course, puts a much more positive spin on the Jewish side; the Latin side says
that ‫ ר' יחיאל‬wasn’t so impressive.
‫ ר' יחיאל‬says that ‫ עכו"ם‬in the ‫ תלמוד‬doesn’t refer to Christians; also, ‫ ישו הנצרי‬isn’t the
same Jesus as Christians worship (this is obviously specious). It’s unclear exactly what’s
at stake—is it that the Talmud is blasphemous against Christianity, or that the Jews aren’t
Biblical Jews? If the problem is that the Jews are Talmudic and not Biblical Jews, then
- 51 -
Jeremy Cohen claims that the Jews are no longer witnesses to the truth of the Bible, and
so they have no more right to live in Christendom. Cohen claims further that the reason
that Christians devoted so many resources to converting Jews in the following 100 years
is that the Jews didn’t deserve any more protection under the Augustinian doctrine.
Robert Chazan, on the other hand, says that the problem is with the contents of the
Talmud; the missionary efforts were a natural outgrowth of the Christian church.
Jordan claims that the major problem with the Talmud was its blasphemous comments
towards Mary.
The Talmud was declared to have lost the debate, and 24 cartloads of manuscripts were
burned. At some time after that, the Jews went to the Pope and said that Jewish life is
dependent on the Talmud, and the Jews were always allowed to have copies of the
Talmud (after censoring certain passages); why shouldn’t they be allowed to have
Talmud now? (This implies that the problem with the Talmud was just the blasphemous
passages, not the broader ‘Talmudic Jews’ claim.)
This turn of events also points to a broader trend in Jewish history—the Jews went to the
Pope for protection, not their local lords or kings.
‫ מהר"ם רוטנבורג‬was a student in Paris26 at the time the Talmud was burned, and wrote a
‫ )'שאלי שרופה באש'( קינה‬about the burning.
.‫גויליך‬...‫שאלי שרופה באש לשלום אבליך‬
‫ מהר"ם רוטנברג‬addresses the Talmud in the second-person feminine; he also seems to be
comparing the burning of the Talmud to the ‫חרבן‬.
.‫בגחליך‬..‫הולכים חשכים‬
.‫משליך‬...‫עד אן‬
It’s interesting that he assumes that the Talmud was given on ‫סיני‬.
.‫שמליך‬...‫משל למלך אשר בכה‬
The ‫ מלך‬is ‫השם‬, and the Talmud is His son who died. (This also has polemical
significance; the son of God who died is the Talmud, not Jesus.)
.‫אציליך‬...,‫אוריד דמעות עדי יהיו כנחל‬
The ‫ אצילים‬were ‫ משה‬and ‫אהרן‬.
‫ואשאל היש תורה חדשה‬: This is an obvious swipe at the Christian “New Testament.”
These two hints show that ‫ מהר"ם רוטנבורג‬is actively fighting Christian claims.
Susan Einbeinder has argued that the reason that he addressed the Talmud as a secondperson feminine is due to the influence of apostrophic love poems. However, the ‫ קינה‬is
grouped with the ‫קינות ציון‬. This is strange—‫ ר' יהודה הלוי‬isn’t influenced by French
Romantic poetry, obviously; however, Northern French Jewry was open to Spanish
culture, and it’s possible that the Northern French Jews wrote in the style of ‫קינות ציון‬
more than the style of romantic poetry.
The extent of the catastrophe isn’t so clear—did it really lead to the end of the Tosafist
movement? The center of learning was, after all, in France. Haim Soloveitchik argues
that the Tosafist movement was past its prime anyway by the 13th century, and was
undergoing a period of consolidation and editing. He also says that the burning of the
Talmud didn’t actually stop the creativity of the ‫בעלי התוספות‬.
Contrast that to ‫רש"י‬, who went to Germany from France to study.
- 52 -
Popular Attitudes Towards Jews
In York, in 1190, Richard the Lion-Hearted went on Crusade. When Christians go on
crusades, Jews get attacked and taxed. If this had happened in 1096, the Jews would’ve
committed suicide; in 1190, the Jews agreed to baptism, but they were killed anyway, and
their loan documents were burned (to prevent the king from collecting their debt). This
shows that the hatred towards the Jews was exacerbated by the Jewish practice of
The first blood libel accusation was in Fulda, Germany (1232). Ritual murder
accusations said that Jews habitually kill Christians, and is associated with Easter; blood
libels take this a step further and say that Jewish law requires killing kids, and were
associated with ‫( פסח‬baking ‫)מצות‬.
Frederic II called a conference of apostate Jews to investigate the claim. The apostates
told him that the claim was nonsense. The pope also came out against the claim.
However, the claim stuck so much that some German Jews don’t even use red wine at the
‫סדר‬, and some ‫ הגדות‬censor ‫ואמר לך בדמיך חיי ואמר לך בדמיך חיי‬.
The claim of blood libels obviously assumes that Jews were dangerous to Christians.
The first ‘host desecration’ accusation was in Paris in 1290.27 It claimed that Jews took
one of the wafers of Mass and tried to destroy it by stabbing it, boiling it, circumcising it,
etc. The reason this accusation caught on is that it was an outgrowth of the acceptance of
the doctrine of transubstantiation. In the story, the woman debtor claimed that the Jew
would forgive her loan if she brought the wafer to the Jew. In many other stories, the
connection between the wafer and the Jew was Christian female domestic help, which
underscores the uneasiness Christians have with Jewish employing Christians.
A reason the claim caught on is that once scholastics had made all Christian doctrine
logical, the Jews should’ve caught on and converted. (They didn’t because they were
unintelligent or in league with the Devil.) The Christians were harboring secret doubts
about the truth of transubstantiation. The host desecration charge ‘proves’ that the Jews
were witnesses to the truth of transubstantiation, so the Christians should believe that,
too. Langmore argues further that these claims represent the first example of antiSemitism (defined as anti-rational, as opposed to the previous anti-Judaism, which was
non-rational (like claiming that Jews were lazy because they rest on ‫))שבת‬.
However, this argument seems a little weak—it seems pretty possible that Jews could
have desecrated the wafer, so it’s a little odd to say that the host desecration accusation
was the most anti-rational claim of the Christians.
In 1298, the host desecration claim led to massacres; in the 14th century, the Black Death
led to mass expulsions of Jews. These differences emphasize the changes that had come
across popular perceptions of Jews from the time of Louis to the 14th century.
Ariel Toaff wrote a book that claimed that Jews actually admitted to ritual murders during the
Inquisition. Many other historians wrote in response that you can’t use forced confessions to tell us about
what people actually did. Toaff’s claim was also very provocative and made people uneasy; this, of course,
raises questions about where historians’ loyalties lie. For example, David Niremberg argues that ritualized
anti-Jewish violence helped to make a cohesive community; it’s unclear if he could get away with that if he
weren’t Jewish. (Toaff’s thesis may also reflect a maturation of the field of Jewish history and overcoming
the inhibitions that they had about portraying Jews in unfavorable light.)
- 53 -
How did the Jews react? In some instances, Jews accepted the negative stereotypes—in
‫ספר ניצחון ישן‬, the author says that Jews are ugly and dark since their parents conceived
them modestly, in the dark; Christians are the opposite.
Also, there are medieval pictures of ‫ עשו‬hunting a rabbit, not a goat. Also, there are
several ‫ הגדות‬with pictures of a hare-hunt. This seems to be a representation of the
Christian practice to hunt hares, but it seems odd to have it on the first page of the ‫הגדה‬.
In German, a hare-hunt is Jagen-has (=‫)יקנה"ז‬. That’s pretty cute. In addition, the Jews
would identify with the hare, but some pictures show that the rabbits escape the snare,
symbolizing the Jews’ escape from persecution. Also, rabbits (a negative image)
symbolize fecundity, which shows another difference between Jews and Christians—
Christians are celibate, whereas Jews aren’t. Therefore, it seems that the Jews did indeed
appropriate the symbol of the rabbit.
Also, the picture of ‫ עשו‬hunting rabbits symbolize the Christian hunting Jews, and show
express the Jewish hope that ‫ השם‬would save the Jews ( ‫שפך חמתך על הגוים אשר לא ידעוך‬
‫)ואשר בשמך לא קראו‬. The ‫ הגדה‬was widely circulated, and many Jews identified with it.
By 1306, Philip the Fair expelled the Jews for several centuries. The Holy Roman
Empire couldn’t expel Jews, but the Jews were expelled from many German towns;
Jewish life centered on Eastern Europe. England expelled Jews in 1290. All these
ominous developments show that the Jews suffered a serious decline in reputation.
The Provencal community was old and well-established, as opposed to the community in
Northern France. Also, their relations with their Christian neighbors were better than the
relations between the northern French community and their Christian neighbors. Chazan
claims that the anti-Jewish feeling in northern France is due in part to the fact that the
Jews were immigrants. Provencal Jews were physicians and moneylenders, but in
southern France, Jewish moneylending was not looked upon with such hostility and were
often appreciated. We know, for example, that the rates of interest charged by Jewish
moneylenders in southern France were 20-30%, whereas in northern France, it was more
like 70%. It’s possible that moneylending in northern France was riskier (due to random
tallages and capricious taxes), but in southern France, it was more stable, so they could
charge lower rates, which led to more stability.
Provence is between southern France and northern Spain. In terms of Jewish History,
Provence normally includes all of Southern France/Languedoc south of the Loire. Pre12th century Provencal culture was mostly centered on the Talmud, and they didn’t have
access to philosophical texts. When they had questions, they sent them to Germany and
Northern France (they also sometimes immigrated to Northern France from Southern
France). Therefore, the Provencal culture was much closer to Northern Europe than
Spain. However, in 1148, the Almohades invaded Spain, which kicked out the Jews and
brought their ‘golden age’ culture and philosophy to Provence. The ibn Tibbon and
Kimchi family both began translating Arabic works at this time. They translated ‫אמונות‬
‫ודעות‬, ‫רבנו בחיה‬, ‫שלמה אבן גבירול‬, etc. Then, Samuel ibn Tibbon finally got to the
Aristotelian works, including the ‫מורה‬, in an effort to bring the world of philosophic
rationalism to the Provencal community.
- 54 -
The main Halakhist from Provence is the ‫ראב"ד‬. He is often called the ‫בעל ההשגות‬, which
he wrote on the ‫ רי"ף‬and the ‫רמב"ם‬. When he writes on the ‫רמב"ם‬, he normally defends
Provencal traditions from the Spaniard ‫רמב"ם‬. The ‫ מאיר"י‬calls the ‫’גדול המחברים‘ רמב"ם‬
and the ‫’גדול המפרשים‘ ראב"ד‬. Unfortunately for the ‫ראב"ד‬, the Provencal community
wasn’t inherited by anyone the same way that the German community became the Polish
community and the Mediterranean community inherited the Spanish community, so much
of its traditions were lost. In Provence, the Provencal Talmudic traditions were under
attack, and the Qabbalistic community and the philosophic community also caused much
tension with each other.
Maimonidean Controversy
The controversy over the ‫ רמב"ם‬had three major parts:
1) ‫תחית המתים‬: 1180’s: This focused on the ‫’רמב"ם‬s view on resurrection. This was
started by the ‫( רמ"ה‬R. Meir Abulafia). ‫ ר' יונתן הכהן מלוניל‬and ‫ששת בן אייזק בן מנוצא‬
)?( both defended the ‫ רמב"ם‬incorrectly; ‫ ששת‬said that the ‫ רמב"ם‬didn’t believe in
resurrection, and ‫ ר' יונתן‬said that the ‫ רמב"ם‬said that there would be a stage in
which the soul would be resurrected with the body. The ‫ רמב"ם‬wrote ‫מאמר תחית‬
‫המתים‬, where he said that there would be a period in which souls would be
resurrected with their bodies, and after that, the souls would go on to ‫עולם הבא‬.
When ‫ ר' יונתן הכהן‬got the letters from ‫רמ"ה‬, it was an interesting situation—the
‫ר"י‬, a Provencal figure, asked how the ‫ רמ"ה‬could ask on the ‫רמב"ם‬, and the ‫רמ"ה‬
said that he never intended to disrespect the ‫רמב"ם‬. This is important because it
shows the importance of the belief in Resurrection to that time.
2) 1230-1232: This is the major question of anti-rationalism vs. rationalism. Both
groups are found and based in Provence. ‫( ר' שלמה בן אברהם מן ההר‬sometimes
referred to as the ‫רשב"א‬, but not the ‫ ר' שלמא בן אדרת‬we know and love) said that
too much philosophy leads to a lack of observance (‘philosophic antinomianism’).
He and ‫ ר' יונה מגרונה‬were the leading figures to get a ban on philosophic
rationalism. The rationalists, including the ‫רד"ק‬, claimed that this isn’t true. The
anti-rationalists claimed that the philosophers took non-authentic, Greek ideas and
imposed them on Judaism. The rationalists countered that the rationalist-hunters
took the Christian, simple-minded idea of heresy and applied it to Judaism. The
anti-rationalists sent ‫( ר' יונה‬from Spain, studied in Provence and Ashkenaz) to
explain to the '‫ בעלי התוס‬that the rationalists wanted to get rid of learning ‫ גמרא‬and
held the '‫ בעלי התוס‬in disdain. The '‫ בעלי התוס‬banned the rationalists, and the
rationalists banned the anti-rationalists. The rationalists sent the ‫( רד"ק‬who was
elderly at this time) to Spain to try to get them to support the rationalist position in
Provence. However, Spain had changed, and there were many anti-rationalists
even in Spain. This is partly due to the movement for social reform in Spain (a
leader of the community gave himself a remittance for taxes). Many social
reformers were mystics and moralizers. The ‫ רמב"ן‬was involved in this
controversy. Even though he was a mystic, however, he couldn’t imagine doing
what the '‫ בעלי התוס‬did and ban the ‫ מורה‬and ‫ספר המדע‬. The ‫ רמב"ן‬said that there
should be no ban on the anti-rationalists, but it would be schismatic to ban the
‫רמב"ם‬, also. At this time, the news arrived that the ‫ מורה‬and ‫ ספר המדע‬had been
burned by the Papal Inquisition in Provence. At this point, everyone took a step
- 55 -
back. The rationalists accused the anti-rationalists of giving over the ‫’רמב"ם‬s
works to the Church. (Some claimed that the burning of the Talmud in 1242 was
punishment ‫ מדה כנגד מדה‬for burning the ‫’רמב"ם‬s books.)
3) 1303-1306: By the dawn of the 14th century, philosophic rationalism became part
of Provencal Jewry—they read even Averroes and Aristotle. The anti-rationalist
forces were led by ‫ר' אבא מרי בן משה‬, and the rationalist forces were led by the
‫מאיר"י‬. Some, like Shmuel ibn Tibbon, said that the ‫ רמב"ם‬really held that
philosophic rationalism was the main hold on the ‫רמב"ם‬, and so when there was a
conflict, he held like rationalism. ‫ אבא מרי‬and ‫ מאיר"י‬both didn’t like that reading,
however. The problem was that there was growing philosophical-allegorical
reading of ‫תורה‬. ‫ אבא מרי‬felt that this was very dangerous, and went to the ‫רשב"א‬
in Barcelona to get involved. However, the ‫ רשב"א‬did make a ban on his own
area (it did not expand to Provence) that had two major aspects: A ban on the
philosophical allegorical interpretation of Scripture, and not learning non-Jewish
philosophy under the age of 25. The ‫ מאיר"י‬countered that the ‫ רשב"א‬was a
Qabbalist who didn’t believe in philosophical rationalism in any case. In
addition, there’s no reason to have the ban—it won’t be effective, and
furthermore, the ‫ רמב"ם‬wrote philosophy! Why is the philosophy of Aristotle ‫טרף‬,
but the ‫’רמב"ם‬s is OK? (In any case, most people didn’t encourage young kids to
learn philosophy.) In 1306, there was an expulsion from southern France, so the
controversy was never resolved.
For Medieval Jews, philosophy was the same as science; the dispute never really went
Christian Spain
There’s a lot to talk about before the Expulsion.
The Christian Reconquista—1248, Saragossa Fell; by 1212, the Christians already
controlled a lot of it, and by 1492, they conquered Grenada, the last Muslim outpost.
This fuelled an expansionist and militaristic Christendom, which was interested in
dominating the Spanish peninsula. The Christians were interested in making Europe
completely Christian and kicking out the Muslims. We would expect that the Christianity
that resulted would be militant, conversionary, and pretty strict, but it wasn’t at first.
Spain was the only place in Europe where there was a non-Jewish minority (Muslims).
This tradition of multiculturalism, or convivencia, helped temper the extreme elements in
Christianity. When the Muslims conquered Spain in 711, they helped the Jews, since
they were helpful to the Muslims, and the Jews became high-level officers. In the 13th
century, the major fight was between Christendom and Muslim-dom. After the
Christians won, they were afraid that the Muslims would rebound. The Christians, after
they conquered Spain, had to govern the indigenous Jewish populations, and they invited
them into Saragossa and Toledo, which made the Christians (at least temporarily) not
interested in oppressing the Jews too much. The Jews were now known as Aljamas.
They offered the Jews fueros, or special charters, to encourage the Jews to come. The
Jews were claimed as the property of the king, so when the Pope said to one of the
Spanish monarchs that the Jews should wear an identifying badge to avoid unintentional
sexual contact between Jews and Christians, the monarch replied that he didn’t want his
Jewish subjects to run away to Grenada. In some municipalities, the Jews produced 30-
- 56 -
65% of the revenue. However, as the municipalities become more powerful, the Jews get
caught in the middle as violence erupted when both the king and the municipalities both
wanted to claim the Jews as their own.
In the 12th century, the Archbishop of Toledo got a bunch of scholars to translate all sorts
of philosophical works from Arabic into Latin, and they used Jews to help do that. This
is representative of the philosophical and literary cultural exchange between the
Christians and Jews (especially in Toledo, where Abraham ibn Daud was).
The Jews living in Spain were influenced by the models of Christian Europe, as
evidenced by the spread of mysticism into the Spanish Jewish culture.
‫ קבלה‬means ‘reception’. It’s also known as ‫תורת הסוד‬, and was studied by cabals (which is
a nice ‫דרשה‬, but has nothing to do with ‫)קבלה‬. There are many different types of
mysticism. The Tannaitic mysticism was ‫( היכלות‬like ‫ר' ישמעל כהן גדול‬, who heard stuff
‫ ר' עקיבא ;)מאחורי הפרגוד‬and ‫ ספר יצירה‬were other early mystical figures. Spain was the
birthplace of ‫( ר' יצחק סגי נהור ;ספירות‬son of the ‫ )ראב"ד‬also was a major mystic. The ‫רמב"ן‬
was a conservative mystic, and his ‫ סוד‬comments are unintelligible unless you know what
he’s talking about. ‫ ר' עזרא‬of Gerona also had a private ‫ קבלה‬school; ‫ ספר הבהיר‬is another
difficult work. However, by the time of the 13th century, Kabbalistic ideas were
disseminated much more publicly than they had been in the past. Arthur Green claims
that the spread of Jewish mysticism was intended to fight against the Christian mystical
doctrines of the same time. This would mean that the mysticism is polemical, and is
intended to work against the attractiveness of Christian mysticism. Taken to an extreme,
Green would suggest that ‫ ר' שמעון בר יוחאי‬and his disciples are meant to take the place of
Jesus and his apostles. Green also claims that ‫ קבלה‬was meant to counter the influence of
philosophical rationalism, so its leaders started to spread it so that the masses wouldn’t
fall to philosophy ‫ר"ל‬.
This brings us to the ‫זהר‬, which Moshe de Leon claimed was an old Tannaitic manuscript.
However, almost everything about the text implies a 13th century background, whether or
not he wrote all of it. It is possible that it contains old mystical ideas, but the form it
takes is from the 13th century. Prof. Isadore Twersky argues that there are three
curricular roads. The most widely traveled road is that of ‫ הלכה‬and ‫גמרא‬, which is a
prerequisite for getting attention. To get behind the ‫הלכה‬, philosophers and mystics both
ask what the purpose of it is, but they get different answers. Neoplatonists ask how the
infinite G-d can relate to a finite and mutable world, and posit a series of emanations, the
lowest of which relate to the world. The Qabbalists who like ‫( ספירות‬Sefirotic Qabbalists)
posit a system of ‫ספירות‬. At the top of the diagram, there is ‫כתר‬. Below them are ‫חכמה‬
and ‫בינה‬, which are the masculine and feminine parts of it. ‫ חכמה‬emanated ‫בינה‬, and ‫בינה‬
gestated and gave birth to all of the other ‫ספירות‬. They then created ‫ תפארת‬and ‫מלכות‬,
which are the masculine and feminine parts of G-d.
- 57 -
For rationalist philosophers, the purpose of ‫( תפלה‬and most other ‫ )מצוות‬is the effect it has
on the one who prays. However, it doesn’t really seem like that’s what ‫ תפלה‬does in ‫תנ"ך‬.
For the Qabbalists, ‫ תפלה‬is made ‫לשם ייחוד קודשא בריך הוא‬, to unite G-d. That is, the
purpose of prayers is to have an effect on G-d. This has the benefit of making people
always do ‫מצוות‬, since the purpose of the ‫ מצוות‬always has to be done; you can’t get out of
it by claiming that you already have a refined perception of G-d. For example, ‫ רס"ג‬says
that we have ‫ שבת‬since it makes sense to rest, and the ‫ תורה‬specified which day (better
than working for seven and resting for one), but the details aren’t really so important.
However, for the Qabbalists, the details are hugely important.
This brings us to ‫כגוונא‬. ‫ שכינה‬is the last (seventh) emanation of ‫בינה‬, and unites with its
masculine counterpart ‫תפארת‬. Each one has angels to help it reunite. She separates from
the Other Side, which is the ‫ ספירות‬that emanated that are completely judgment, and they
threaten to destroy both the world and ‫שכינה‬. ‫ )שבת=( שכינה‬is crowned to face the king
(‫)תפארת‬, which is based on the ‫ אגדה‬that ‫ ר' חנינא‬and ‫ ר' ינאי‬would prepare to greet the ‫שבת‬.
Since there’s no ‫ סטרא אחרא‬on ‫שבת‬, sinners are given respite on ‫שבת‬. When we do our
preparations for ‫שבת‬, we help ‫ שכינה‬get ready for its reunifications with ‫תפארת‬.
Philosophers claim that a ‫ נשמה יתירה‬means that we get something to help us think or
something, but the ‫ מקובלים‬take it literally.
This gives us a completely different meaning for ‫—מצוות‬for the Qabbalists, the details are
important, since they help us help the Divine business up above.
Social Aspects
The conflict between Qabbalah and philosophic rationalism had social aspects, not just
theological aspects. We have seen the development of factions in Spain, with ‫ רמב"ן‬and
‫ ר' יונה‬on one side, and the philosophers on the other. One aspect of the debate was the
fight for control of the Spanish Jewish community. At the beginning of the 13th century,
the philosophic rationalists were the heads of the Jewish community. However, the
mystical faction decided that the philosophers weren’t leading the Jewish community
appropriately, specifically in the area of morals: They had non-Jewish concubines, they
shaved their beards, they didn’t have ‫ מזוזות‬or ‫תפלין‬, and they weren’t worried about nonJews. (In ‫אשכנז‬, the claimed reason that people didn’t have ‫ מזוזה‬is that they didn’t know
- 58 -
which way to put it, so out of piety, they didn’t put it up at all.) In the year 1240, the ‫סמ"ג‬
went around preaching (this was also year 5000, so there were messianic expectations);
one of the things he preached was that there should be ‫ מזוזות‬put up.
Another thing that the reformers worried about was that the Jews were going to nonJewish court systems. This is a social and halakhic problem—the Jews had communal
autonomy, and to invite non-Jews to get involved in that puts the entire system of
autonomy in jeopardy. (It seems that the Spanish Jewish community was so independent
that it had the power to put people to death.)
The other critique that the reform faction made was that the rationalists used their
position for their own advancement—they would ask for remittances and other things.
‫’ר' יונה‬s comments in ‫ שערי תשובה‬are meant against the social ills of his community. '‫ר‬
‫יונה‬, ‫רמב"ן‬, and the ‫ רשב"א‬all seem to have been wealthy, and ‫ ר' יונה‬appreciated the ability
of wealth to make communal figures not be susceptible to bribes. ‫רמב"ן‬, for example,
wrote poetry. James I of Aragon deposed the aristocratic, rationalist faction of the Jews
and put the mystics in power. In 1280-81 in Toledo, many of the Jewish courtiers were
killed by the king, and Todros b. Joseph Abulafia tried to implement a program of
practical reform. He kicked out the Gentile women out of the Jewish quarter, railed
against usury, tried to make people not swear, and tried to get rid of astrology. Astrology
was thought of as scientific, and the fight against it implied that the exile was imposed by
G-d, not the natural world. He wanted a ‫בירורי עבירות‬, or ‘vice squad’, in an attempt to
enforce moral uprightness among the community. He also instituted the ‫בירורי תביעות‬,
which was meant to go around and make sure that everyone used fair weights and
measures. He also tried to fight against the employment of Muslim slave-girls in Jewish
households, due to the danger of sexual impropriety that wouldn’t be prosecuted by the
king. He said that if one had these maidservants, they must be dressed modestly, and if
there were any sexual problems, they had to be freed.
Breakdown of Convivencia
The Church, led by the Franciscans and Dominicans, decided to try to proselytize the
Jews and Muslims.28 Jeremy Cohen had argued that the Christian discovery of the
Talmud abrogated the Augustinian Doctrine (the Jews weren’t Biblical Jews anymore),
which let the Church start converting Jews. However, Chazan points out that there
actually is nothing in the Augustinian Doctrine that outlaws conversions, so there’s no
reason that they would need the abrogation of the Augustinian Doctrine.
In 1242, the forced sermons started. The Jews would be gathered into the synagogue and
listen to the preachers tell them how Christianity was the best and true religion, ‫ח"ו‬.
However, the Jews would often rebut the arguments of the preacher, and the preacher
couldn’t do anything about it.
There was a movement that said that Christians, instead of being monastics, should live imitatio Christi,
in imitation of Christ. The monasteries often devoted much of their time and energies to the management
of their estates, so they sort of lost their attraction. Therefore, the Dominicans and Franciscans started
becoming mendicant friars so that they would be more moral.
- 59 -
The Disputation of the ‫רמב"ן‬
To correct this defect, the forced disputation was created. In 1263 in Barcelona, the ‫רמב"ן‬
was forced to dispute the apostate Pablo Christiani.29 Christiani played the same role that
Nicolas Donin played in the 12th century debates: He used his knowledge of ‫ תלמוד‬and
‫ תנ"ך‬to try to prove that the ‫ משיח‬already came.
We have two different accounts of the debate, one Christian and one Jewish (by the
‫)רמב"ן‬. It’s unclear which one we should or can rely on; neither scribe was overly
interested in presenting a dispassionate record of events. However, both accounts record
roughly the same topics of discussion. It’s virtually impossible to determine which
record is more accurate, but some claim that that’s missing the point of the debate—the
point of the records was to have polemical texts, not to record the contents of the debate
for posterity. The Christians now changed from trying to destroy the Talmud to trying to
use the Talmud for their own advantage. This would be more effective than arguing
Scripture since the Jews knew, studied, and followed Talmud. In addition, since the
Christians didn’t believe that the Talmud was a sacred text, there was no worry that
Christians would convert to Judaism after hearing the Jewish claims; on the other hand,
when the Christians argued Scripture, there was always the worry that the Jewish side
would be more convincing and would persuade Christians to convert.
Part of the reason for the disputation of the ‫ רמב"ן‬could have been that the Christians
wanted to fine-tune their arguments to use against Jews in the future. Therefore, it seems
that the goal of the disputation was didactic.
In the ‫’רמב"ן‬s report of the disputation, he was very assertive and aggressive. It’s unclear
whether or not he actually said all of these things in the presence of the king or if these
statements were not actually said during the debate. David Berger argues that ‫ רמב"ן‬had a
good relationship with James I, and it’s very possible that the ‫ רמב"ן‬really did have
freedom to say whatever he wanted (this position does not necessarily mean that the
account was a transcription). Chazan argues that it’s highly likely that the ‫ רמב"ן‬would
have been able to attack fundamental doctrines of Christianity, and it’s possible that he
used literary license. However, if the goal of the ‫ רמב"ן‬is to tell the Jews how to respond
to the accusations (for both actual and theoretical debates), then it doesn’t really matter
what happened at the debate. Professor Berger suggests that things written down have a
different sense than things said in person, so it’s possible that the ‫ רמב"ן‬could have done
things to cool down the tone of his report.
Pablo Christiani set out to prove that the Messiah had already come. He tried to do this
by using different ‫אגדות‬. In some instances, the ‫ רמב"ן‬used these ‫ אגדות‬against him—for
example, the ‫ רמב"ן‬claims that the ‫ אגדה‬that the ‫ משיח‬was born on the day of the
Destruction itself proves that the ‫ משיח‬couldn’t be Jesus! Pablo used several different
‫אגדות‬: There’s one that says that the ‫ משיח‬was born on the day the ‫ ביה"מ‬was destroyed;
there’s one that an ox lowed six times so that he said that the ‫ משיח‬was born, etc. (The
‫ רמב"ן‬said the same thing.)
On a more fundamental level, the ‫ רמב"ן‬claims that we are all bound by the Bible and the
Talmud. However, we are not bound by ‫ ;אגדות‬moreover, there are many contradictory
Although it’s possible that in the 12th century, the debate was initiated by Jews, by the 13 th century, they
were initiated by Christians.
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‫—אגדות‬there’s also an ‫ אגדה‬that says that the ‫ משיח‬will be born close to the time of the
It’s unclear to what extent the ‫ רמב"ן‬actually thought that ‫ אגדות‬aren’t binding. We could
search the ‫’רמב"ן‬s writings to see what exactly he says, but the work hasn’t been done.
The best work that’s been done is ‫ אהבה מגולה ותוכחה מסותרת‬by Bernard Septimus, in the
volume edited by Isadore Twersky.
After the debate, the ‫ רמב"ן‬realized that he had to deal with the ‫משיח‬, so he wrote ‫ספר‬
‫הגאולה‬. The ‫ רמב"ן‬argues that the messianic age will be very different from what it is
now—no death, no suffering, etc. He argues that it can’t be that this world is a postMessianic world, and the Messianic age will be fundamentally different from what it is
now (and so Jesus hadn’t fulfilled the prophecies of ‫)ישעיה‬. The ‫ רמב"ן‬says that the Jews
suffer because we’re living in the era of the sixth millennium, corresponding to the sixth
day, when the beasts were created. However, ultimately, G-d will come and redeem the
Jewish people.
Missionizing Activities
The disputation of the ‫ רמב"ן‬was a trial run for a broader missionizing program.
Raymond Martini wrote Pugio Fidei (Daggers of Faith), which was a conversion manual
for Christian preachers. In a response to the ‫’רמב"ן‬s claim, he stopped using so much
‫ אגדתי‬material. Therefore, 1263 marked the beginning of Christian conversion activities.
This was strengthened by the anti-Jewish attitudes and activities that started in the rest of
Europe. Ferrant Martinez of Seville espoused particularly odious vitriol. He was a highranking cleric who tried to put the Jews in ghettos, raze synagogues, etc. The pope,
bishops, and king were all interested in protecting the Jews. In 1391, when the archbishop of Seville and the king also died, massive anti-Jewish riots started in Seville that
spread throughout all of Spain.
Some of the Jews tried to barricade themselves into castles, but more Jews converted than
martyred (possibly as much as 1/3 of Spanish Jewry). These converted Jews are called
conversos, New Christians, Marranos, or confesos. This has a major impact on everyone
in Spain. The Christian response was ambivalent—there were now a huge number of
new competitors; there was now much more jockeying for power among the new and old
Christians; and a sense that they had to separate the Jews from the Christians. Now that
there was a huge influx of Jew-Christians, it became much harder for Christians to have a
steadfast identity as non-Jews (Christian couldn’t really be the opposite of Jew anymore,
since there were a bunch of people who were in the middle). The Fourth Lateran Council
of 1215 said that Jews had to dress differently from Christians to preserve sexual purity.
However, in the wake of the conversos phenomenon, there arose a greater desire to make
clearer and broader distinctions between Jews and Christians.
The Jews tried to provide their former co-religionists with religious services; most of the
conversos still lived in the same houses they had lived in before, so it was easy to stay in
contact with the conversos. (In general, young men in late adolescence were the ones
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who were most like to convert—they’d get more opportunities, they could get some
independence, they could be having faith-related issues, etc.)
The picture of the conversos’ religious experience is murky. Some tried to stay as Jewish
as they could (buy kosher meat, pay for the ‫נר תמיד‬, etc.), and some tried to become as
Christian as they could, and some did everything in the middle.30
As a test case, we’ll examine Shlomo ha-Levi. He was a Jewish rabbi who converted
either in 1391 or 1390; he exchanged letters with his student, Joshua ha-Lorki. Ha-Lorki
suggests several possibilities for the conversion:
1) Physical desires drove him to convert (more economic and base opportunities),
but this probably doesn’t explain Shlomo ha-Levi;
2) Philosophic rationalist drove him away from religion, so he figured that he might
as well be Christian as Jewish (this how Yitzhak Baer explains the conversions of
Spanish Jewry—they didn’t have the pure faith that led the Jews of Germany and
Northern Europe to martyr themselves), but this isn’t it either;
3) G-d has forsaken the Jews, as evidenced by the Jewish status in Spain, but this
isn’t it, either, since there are lots of Jews who don’t live under Christendom;
4) Ha-Levi really believed in Christian doctrine and became convinced of the truth
of Christianity (this must be the real reason).
Ha-Levi confirmed the fourth reason; he was about to become a Christian priest, which
he claimed was better than being a Jewish Levite ‫ח"ו‬.
The rest of the Jews were probably stuck somewhere in the middle—they probably went
to church, but may have retained some Jewish practices (for example, they may still
sweep to the middle of the room as opposed to past the ‫ ;מזוזה‬get ready for ‫ שבת‬in some
sense; they still wouldn’t eat pork, etc.). Peter Berger has compared the phenomenon of
conversion to immigration (the same way, the first generation is still pretty close to its
roots, but the next generations become more and more acculturated), so the kids of the
conversos probably did eat pork and became regular Christians. He called it the process
of “Christianization”, as opposed to conversion. However, since there was such anxiety
in the Church about Judaizing, the Christians weren’t very understanding of Jewish
apostates preserving their old habits. This led to limpieza de sangre (blood purity laws),
which state that new Christians can’t rule over old Christians and other things (this is all
completely against Christian theology, and the Pope made his stern opposition to these
restrictions known). Some historians suggest that this is the beginning of racial, as
opposed to religious, anti-Semitism.
Historiographic Debates
Ben-Zion Netanyahu claims that there was no crypto-Jewish practices on the part of the
conversos; rather, the Inquisition, by showing the conversos that there really was no
possibility for the Jews to assimilate, caused the Jews to go back to Judaism. He bases
this off of the North African rabbinic writings that claim that the convsersos weren’t
good. This is the opposite of other historians (Renee Meline-Levonitt ?) who try to
recreate crypto-Jewish practices based on the Inquisition’s evidence. It’s unclear to what
Although the ‫ גמרא‬talks about -‫ישראל מומר ל‬, it doesn’t really talk about a full convert, and certainly not
about a whole community that converts.
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extent we can rely on Inquisitional evidence; it usually didn’t use torture (it didn’t kill
anyone on its own). Netanyahu argues that most of the accusations are based on
‘Judaizing’, but the Inquisition is what tells people what it is. Therefore, they don’t
necessarily reflect relics of Jewish practice; they could just be the Inquisition’s idea of
Judaizing. Also, if you continue denying your Judaizing once brought into the
Inquisition, you were looked upon badly. Therefore, he argues that the only thing the
Inquisition records tell us is that someone confessed to the charge, not that anything
actually happened. For example, many traditional Christians who didn’t like the limpieza
de sangre claimed that the conversos were good Christians! However, this is also
problematic; those authors are also biased. Meline-Levonitt counters that the entire
apparatus with trials and lawyers and secret documents only makes sense if the
Inquisition was real; if all of the Christian participants actually were fabricating
everything and knew it, there would be no point to have the Inquisition! Furthermore, the
Inquisition often had some real legal proceedings—in some instances, charges were even
thrown out!
Netanyahu has been criticized for assuming that the converso experience is monolithic;
it’s very possible that it varied based on age, gender, religious tendencies, socioeconomic status, etc.
The experiences aren’t static, either. Profiat Duran was forcibly converted in 1391; he
and David Bonjorn decided that they would flee as soon as they could so that they could
return to Judaism. However, later, Bonjorn decided that he would actually become a
faithful Christian, and decided not to flee Spain. In response, Duran wrote a letter called
‫אל תהי כאבותיך‬, which was a witheringly sarcastic letter that ostensibly encouraged
Bonjorn to stay Christian (‘don’t be like your fathers who stayed steadfast in their
allegiance to their faith’), but managed to fool the authorities enough to let the letter get
through to Bonjorn; he also wrote ‫כלימת הגויים‬, which was a work of criticism of the
different Gospel stories.
After 1391, the Jewish community was badly hurt, as described above. In 1413-1414, the
Church continued its missionizing activities at the Disputation of Tortosa. This time, it
was Geronimo de Santa Fe (Joshua ha-Lorki), who was the student of the teacher who
had converted before (see above). However, in Barcelona, the defendant was the ‫רמב"ן‬,
who had a relationship with the king and knew what he was talking about; however, at
Tortosa, the Jews didn’t really have one delegate; they sent a group of people (including
‫ )ר' יוסף אלבו‬who didn’t agree with each other, and some of them even converted. The
delegates were kept Tortosa for 17-18 months. Ha-Lorki wouldn’t even let the Jews see
the sources of the quotes he gave, and sometimes even made up quotes. The Hebrew
account of the disputation explains the tremendous pressure the delegates were under; it
was clearly a fiasco. It was so bad that many Jews converted.
Solomon Alami, in ‫אגרת מוסר‬, says that the Jews should:
The right way is to listen to the teachings of the prophets and of the sages of old; to advance
humility, loving-kindness, and virtue; to love Israel and its ‫תורה‬, and to be forbearing with the
faults of our brethren. May they learn to act out of true fear of God and not out of worldly vanity.
If people could be taught to restrain their desires, to be content, and to trust in divine providence,
the much of what saddens my heart would be overcome and our good would increase with the
good of man. May what happened to our philosophers in Catalonia not happen to us: their
strength of faith was surpassed by simple people, by women and children. The promise of our
Scriptures upholds me; so greatis the power of this promise, so deep the fountain of our hope, that
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I do not despair of the future of Israel, which one day will recognize its failings and receive
Yitzchak Baer (and Solomon Alami) claims that the reason that the Jews of Spain didn’t
stay close to their G-d is that they learned philosophy; they should ignore philosophy, and
stuff will be better. (The idea is that if you become convinced of philosophy, you’ll lose
your connection to Judaism, and decide that it doesn’t really matter whether you call
yourself a Jew or a Christian.)
However, Elazar Gutworth claims that it’s not so clear that the century before the
Expulsion was one big degringolade. He claims that we have to look at the Taqqanot of
Valladolid of 1436, which were a bunch of really important ‫ תקנות‬put together by the
Jewish community at large. However, Baer argues that the reason that the Jewish
communities had to band together is that the individual cities weren’t powerful enough
on their own. Often, sumptuary legislation (as the ‫ תקנות‬were) appears when there’s
friction between the Jews and Christians and highlights the Jewish attempt not to stick
In 1486, the Inquisition was founded, which was intended to root out Judaizing
tendencies; in 1482, the Jews were kicked out of southern Spain. In January 1492,
Granada was conquered; in March 1492, the Jews were to be kicked out. The rationale
offered is that the Jews aid and abet the Judaizing conversos, so they decided to kick out
all of the Jews. Some suggest that the reason was economic; Baer says that the
community was impoverished, so economics couldn’t be a reason. However, others
claim that Jews were still in pretty good shape, and the Inquisition was really intended to
fight the Judaizing conversos, not the Jews themselves. Jewish lending was protected;
Jews as late as 1489 possibly didn’t know that an expulsion was around the corner. In
1490, there was a blood-libel accusation against Jews and conversos, which paved the
way for the ultimate expulsion. The Jews were given until July 31, 1492.
Some Jews ended up in Italy, the Ottoman Empire, Portugal, Navarre, North Africa (the
Jews were already kicked out of France).
Elijah Capsali, ‫ סדר אליהו זוטא‬says that the Expulsion was meant to prepare for the ‫;משיח‬
the fact that so many Jews were fleeing to the Ottoman Empire shows that it was the
beginning of the ingathering of the exiles.
‫( שבט יהודה‬Solomin ibn Verga) says that the Jews sinned; observing Jewish law will make
other people hate you; we killed Jesus; the Christians coveted us, our money, and our
women; etc. These were all naturalistic reasons, without depending on direct
supernatural intervention.
- 64 -
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