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.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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

 

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy