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

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.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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


Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict