Heroines by choice or by chance
Martyrs, converts and anusot (forced converts)
in Jewish women in europe in the middle ages
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From the beginning of the twelfth century, Jewish society was threatened by the Christians. The Jews felt that there could be a recurrence of attacks by Christians as well as attempts to force them to convert to Christianity. Despite its popularity, the Midrash had less impact on the Jews of the Middle Ages than the story of 'the mother and her sons', a well known example of Jewish martyrdom. While the attitude towards the anusot is not positive, Rabbenu Asher ben Yechiel does give them the chance to come back into the fold of Judaism without calling attention to their non-fulfilment of the obligation to kill themselves al kiddush haShem or making this an obstacle to their return. All the genres of Jewish writing in the Middle Ages retain the central role of women in the acts of mavet al kiddush haShem, even though they were all written by men.

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