The Jewish society that lived amongst the Christian population in medieval Europe presents a puzzle and a challenge to any historian. This book presents a study on the relationship between men and women within the Jewish society that lived among the Christian population for a period of some 350 years. The study concentrates on Germany, northern France and England from the middle of the tenth century until the middle of the second half of the fourteenth century - by which time the Christian population has had enough of the Jewish communities living among them and expels them from almost all the places they were living in. The picture portrayed by Mishnaic and talmudic literature was that basically women lived under the authority of someone else (their fathers or husbands), therefore, their status was different from that of men. Four paradigms were the outcome of research blending questions raised within the spheres of gender research and feminist theory with the research methodology of social history. These were Rashi and the 'family paradigm'; the negative male paradigm; the Hasidic paradigm; and the community paradigm. The highest level of Jewish religious expression is the performance of the mitzvot - the divine Commandments. Women were not required to perform all the Commandments, yet their desire to perform and fully experience the mitzvot extended to almost all areas of halakhah. The book also describes how the sages attempted to dictate to women the manner of their observance of mitzvot set aside for women alone.
In this study, the various aspects of the way the Jews regarded themselves in the context of the lapse into another religion will be researched fully for the first time. We will attempt to understand whether they regarded the issue of conversion with self-confidence or with suspicion, whether their attitude was based on a clear theological position or on doubt and the coping with the problem as part of the process of socialization will be fully analysed. In this way, we will better understand how the Jews saw their own identity whilst living as a minority among the Christian majority, whose own self-confidence was constantly becoming stronger from the 10th to the 14th century until they eventually ousted the Jews completely from the places they lived in, England, France and large parts of Germany. This aspect of Jewish self-identification, written by a person who converted to Christianity, can help clarify a number of
The Jewish community was fundamentally a male society, patriarchal in nature, where every facet of life manifested male superiority and control. Nevertheless, the women of this community played an important and often central role in every group and social system. The change in the status of women may be viewed as the result of an overall social change in a Jewish society that was struggling for survival. From the tenth century and until their expulsion towards the end of the medieval period, the Jews of Europe lived mainly in communal settings in Christian towns. Throughout the eleventh century, the Jews were the only people living in northern Europe who did not accept Christianity. Christianity could not remain indifferent to Judaism and the Christians could not ignore the Jews dwelling in their midst. Both groups competed for the title of 'heir to the true religion'.
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.
This chapter examines the different approaches to femininity displayed by the men. It presents four paradigms that are the outcome of research blending questions raised within the spheres of gender research and feminist theory with the research methodology of social history. They are the family paradigm, negative male paradigm, Hasidic paradigm, and community paradigm. Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac's entire oeuvre points to the central role of the family and particularly the key position and importance of the woman as the pillar of the Jewish family. In the sections of Sefer Hasidim that describe how a man progresses along the Hasidic path, coping with the female presence, and the constant danger on account of the strong sexual desire is always aroused. In many of the sources the attitude towards women stems from the male sages' conviction that the interests of the community must be given the highest priority.
The status of the woman within a newly formed family unit is dependent on a number of factors, the most important of which are her economic power and her position within the marital relationship. This chapter explores the legal structures underpinning women's status within the family unit. The improvement in their economic status had profound effects on women's social standing. The combination of a change in the marriage ceremony and a more exacting social attitude brought about a complete transformation in the financial status of women. The twelfth century witnessed fundamental changes in the status of Jewish women as far as their relationships with their husbands and within the family is concerned. In all areas where Jews lived among Christians, they adapted their patterns of family life to the life style of their environment.
To examine the battle of the sexes in Jewish society and to follow the male struggle against the power of women in the family unit, this chapter examines three types of women. First type is the woman who attempts to free herself of a husband while retaining what she has achieved and the property she has acquired during the marriage by claiming that he is impotent. Second is the childless widow who attempts to free herself from the extended family of her dead husband. Third type is the woman who finds her husband repulsive and decides to withhold the enjoyment of sexual relations from him or to desist from the work she has undertaken to do for him. The dayanim had a strong desire to help women when they believed there would be some social or communal benefit.
The highest level of Jewish religious expression is the performance of the mitzvoth, the divine Commandments. This chapter relates to those Commandments that the sages define as inherently 'male'. It describes how the sages attempted to dictate to women the manner of their observance of mitzvot set aside for women alone. The chapter shows that during the Middle Ages, women found a way of their own to relate to the world of mitzvot and keep the Commandments. It also describes the performance of the mitzvot by women and the manner in which they defined and differentiated their femininity by means of the Commandments. Women's exclusion from learning implies that they would not be well versed in the language of prayer in the synagogue. The understanding developed in the consciousness of women that they were the ones who initiated the rituals of the Sabbath and sanctified the holy day.
In the Middle Ages the status of women in the Jewish community underwent a real and fundamental change. Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac had recognized that women conducted business within the community and with Christians, and in his opinion this did not present a problem. The economic activities of Jewish women in northern France and Germany centred on small loans, made on the basis of pledges, to Christian women, who used the money to finance their routine household expenses. Licoricia of Winchester's saga illustrates how the favourable economic status of a Jewish woman in the Middle Ages could also affect her social status in England in general and in the Jewish community in particular. Another Jewish woman, Chera of Winchester, cooperated economically with the Bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches.
Medieval Jewish society saw itself as being under siege in a struggle for survival within a Christian population that abounded with threats and temptations, both economic and intellectual. In sources written by the Jews in the first generation following the attack on the Jewish communities in the year 1096, emphasis was laid on the Jewish woman's readiness to lead religious resistance to the death, together with her unswerving devotion to Jewish values. The change in the status of the woman manifested itself in at least three significant ways; in her economic-legal status, in her status within the family and in her social standing. Starting in the twelfth century, a woman stepping down from her bridal canopy was a woman of a new and different status. The women also succeeded in bypassing an almost impossible obstacle in regard to study and education.