Medieval Jewish Society Wasn't so Law-Abiding and Chaste After All

A new book rescues the period from the jail of nostalgia and didactic parables about righteous men, turning it into something like The World of Our Fathers meets The Wire.

September 9, 2020 | Matti Friedman
About the author: Matti Friedman is the author of a memoir about the Israeli war in Lebanon, Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War (2016). His latest book is Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel (2019).

From the cover of Jews and Crime in Medieval Europe. WSU Press.

Ah, the medieval world of Jewish Europe—a world of study halls and sages, exalted poverty and true religion! Sure, there were pogroms and depredations. No one thinks the premodern Rhineland was a picnic. But we all know the Jews themselves weren’t mediocre like us. They were Rashi and Rabbi Judah the Pious. The Jews of medieval Europe were the real thing.

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