For the Jews of Medieval Europe, the Bible’s Characters Were Everywhere

July 15 2022

As with her previous works of scholarship, Elisheva Baumgarten’s Biblical Women and Jewish Daily Life in the Middle Ages seeks to paint a picture of what she terms “quotidian piety”—the sorts of religious acts and sensibilities that were not the focus of the rabbis and poets who created most of the written record of this era, but informed much of everyday Jewish life. Eve Krakowski writes in her review:

The Bible’s characters were everywhere in Ashkenaz, [i.e., Germany and northern France]. Jews remembered them whenever they prayed, when they attended births and weddings, when they opened the illuminated haggadot they read at Passover; their names were in the amulets they used to ward off harm.

They also identified the Bible’s men and women with themselves. . . . Hebrew tombstones from Germany likewise connect the more ordinary medieval Jews who lie beneath them to biblical figures: “May she be joined to the mothers (imahot) in the garden of Eden”; “Like Deborah the wife of Lapidah [sic], her names were known at the gates.” The Bible’s stories are so ubiquitous in this material that Jews in Ashkenaz must have recalled them in other contexts too: in oral tales, teachings, and patterns of speech that left no textual traces.

Most Jewish women in Ashkenaz could not parse the Hebrew Bible’s text, let alone the Talmud’s. But they did know who Eve and the matriarchs were. Men cherished Eve and the matriarchs, too, and often in the same ways. Commonplace piety transcended both gender and the popular-elite dichotomy. It was not a separate form of Judaism but something more diffuse: the basic assumptions about God, the cosmos, and their own behavior that most Jews in a given region shared, no matter how much else they knew.

The Hebrew Bible mattered to all medieval Jews, no matter where they lived. But it’s no coincidence that biblical characters acquired such power in Ashkenaz, among Jews whose Christian neighbors shared the same stories. . . . Jews in medieval Worms, Paris, Cologne, and other northern European cities lived among, and constantly interacted with, Christians.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Ashkenazi Jewry, Judaism, Medieval Jewry, Women in Judaism

 

Europe-Israel Relations Have Been Transformed

On Monday, Israel and the EU held their first “association council” meeting since 2012, resuming what was once an annual event, equivalent to the meetings Brussels conducts with many other countries. Although the summit didn’t produce any major agreements or diplomatic breakthroughs, writes Shany Mor, it is a sign of a dramatic change that has occurred over the past decade. The very fact that the discussion focused on energy, counterterrorism, military technology, and the situation in Ukraine—rather than on the Israel-Palestinian conflict—is evidence of this change:

Israel is no longer the isolated and boycotted outpost in the Middle East that it was for most of its history. It has peace treaties with six Arab states now, four of which were signed since the last association council meeting. There are direct flights from Tel Aviv to major cities in the region and a burgeoning trade between Israel and Gulf monarchies, including those without official relations.

It is a player in the regional alliance systems of both the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean, just as it has also become a net energy exporter due to the discovery of large gas deposits of its shoreline. None of this was the case at the last council meeting in 2012. [Moreover], Israel has cultivated deep ties with a number of new member states in the EU from Central and Eastern Europe, whose presence in Brussels bridges cultural ideological gaps that were once much wider.

Beyond the diplomatic shifts, however, is an even larger change that has happened in European-Israeli relations. The tiny Israel defined by its conflict with the Arabs that Europeans once knew is no more. When the first Cooperation Agreement [between Israel and the EU’s precursor] was signed in 1975, Israel, with its three million people, was smaller than all the European member states save Luxembourg. Sometime in the next two years, the Israeli population will cross the 10 million mark, making it significantly larger than Ireland, Denmark, Finland, and Austria (among others), and roughly equal in population to Greece, Portugal, and Sweden.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Abraham Accords, Europe and Israel, European Union, Israeli gas