Jewish Martyrs, Mystics, and Ascetics in the Wake of the First Crusade

Following the destruction brought by the First Crusade in 1096, two separate intellectual trends emerged among the Jews of northern Europe that would have a tremendous impact on generations to come: in France, rabbis began composing extended, in-depth commentaries on the Talmud known as Tosafot (additions); in Germany, a group of scholars focused their attention on prayer, mysticism, and ascetic practices. Members of the latter group came to be known as Hasidei Ashkenaz (the pious ones of German) or simply hasidim, although they should not be confused with today’s Hasidim, who originated in 18th-century Eastern Europe. Tamar Marvin examines their origins and beliefs:

It has long been debated by scholars what relationship the rise of the Hasidei Ashkenaz bears to the Crusade violence and to contemporary Christian pietistic movements, which it resembles in some aspects. It has been suggested that the movement was a response to the extreme violence of 1096, though some scholars stress continuities to pre-Crusade Ashkenazi Jewish mores and practices. More difficult to prove are contacts between German Christian monastics and the leaders of the Ashkenazi Jewish community, and [evidence of] these contacts remains compelling but circumstantial.

One of the notable factors pointing towards the Hasidei Ashkenaz as a response to the violence of the First, Second, and Third Crusade periods is their fixation on kiddush ha-Shem (martyrdom) and extreme practices of self-mortification.

More central, however, is the Hasidei Ashkenaz’s focus on God’s unity and incorporeality, coupled with a development of Divine intermediaries influenced by Saadya Gaon’s notion of kavod, an emanation of Divine Glory. This interest in intermediaries also led Hasidei Ashkenaz to develop a complex system of demonology and attendant magical rites to counter it. However, they maintained the immanence (presence in the world) of God Himself.

Read more at Stories from Jewish History

More about: Crusades, Ḥasidei Ashkenaz, Medieval Jewry, Mysticism


Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship