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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

b) Remembering the Jews of medieval Christendom

4) Contemporary agendas and medieval Jewish studies

Jeffrey R. Woolf

Texte intégral

1In the wake of the French Revolution, European Jews began a long process of return to the European stage, after having continually lived an essentially medieval existence. The challenges of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Western culture generated and highlighted many discontinuities between the medieval Jewish experience and the realities of contemporary life (e.g. religious continuity and political emancipation). This prompted the radical recasting of the Jewish Middle Ages by both academics and rabbis, the impact of which is still felt today, both within the Jewish community and in historical research. This paper presents two examples of such recasting. The first, from eleventh-century Franco-Germany (Classical Ashkenaz), deals with a somewhat arcane legal controversy surrounding the ritual permissibility of an animal (Plugtat Ha-Re’ah). The second, from Quattrocento Northern Italy, addresses the parameters of Jewish uniqueness in modes of dress vis-à-vis those prevalent among Christians. Many contemporary historians interpreted the lenient opinions offered (i.e. allowing consumption of the mooted meat or dressing in an identical fashion to Christians) as evidence of conscious rabbinic adaptation of Rabbinic legal tradition to the exigencies of changing times, and the desires of the individual rabbi (or Jew). A minority of scholars (myself among them), however, object to such an interpretation. They argue that a purely functionalist interpretation of the Jewish legal process ignores the worldview and perception of reality that informed the decisions of Pre-Modern rabbis, especially their faith commitment. When these are taken into consideration, these legal controversies emerge as highly nuanced struggles between the demands of sacred lore and the pressures of contemporary life, wherein both sides must receive adequate and respectful attention.


Bar-Ilan University

© Publications de l’École française de Rome, 2021

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