Robert Chazan, “Introduction,” in Robert Chazan, ed., The Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. 6 – The Middle Ages: The Christian World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 1-5

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  INTRODUCTION robert chazan Historians writing from the perspective of the modern West haveusually de 󿬁 ned the  “ Middle Ages ”  as the period between  500  and 1500  and as the epoch during which the Church controlled the majordirections taken by the societies of Christendom. The Renaissancethinkers who initially coined the locution and those moderns whosubsequently made its usage common were very much focused onEurope and were profoundly hostile to the medieval epoch. The notionof a   “ middle ”  period in European history was meant to conjure up thegreatness of the earlier Greco-Roman era, the decline fostered by thevictory of Christianity and the Church, and the anticipated revitaliza-tion of Europe in the spirit of Greece and Rome. The  “ Middle ”  of theMiddle Ages was a term of opprobrium.That opprobrium was heightened during the Enlightenment, when “ medieval ”  came to symbolize all the ills against which Enlightenmentthinkers railed  –  dictatorial ecclesiastical powers, obscurantist religiousviews, and suppression of innovative and creative thinking. IntenseEnlightenment castigation of medieval civilization and its achievementseventually stimulated a Romantic reaction that projected onto the Middle Ages the enduring virtues seemingly absent in the new, more secular, andmore democratic era. With the passage of time, ideologically grounded opprobrium and itsopposite  –  adulation of the medieval Church and medieval society   –  haveboth given way to more scholarly distance and to the recognition that the “ Middle Ages ”  produced highly creative and constructive achievements,along with much that was harmful and destructive. The broadening of recent scholarly interests beyond the borders of Europe has enlargedperspectives on the  “ Middle Ages, ”  especially through the growing aware-ness that European Christendom was by no means the sole or even thedominant force on the Western scene during much of the period boundedby   500  and  1500 . Scholars have become increasingly aware of the extentto which the  “ Middle Ages ”  re 󿬂 ect a Eurocentric perspective, and of thedif  󿬁 culties in applying the notion outside Europe. Recognition of the 1  range and power of the medieval Islamic world has been one of the mostsigni 󿬁 cant elements in this newer and broader sense of the Middle Ages.During the seventh century, an unanticipated new religious vision andforce emerged from the Arabian peninsula. Muslim armies conquered vastterritories, stretching from central Asia westward to the eastern shoresof the Mediterranean Sea, across North Africa, and onto the Europeancontinent. Within this enormous area, Muslim rulers built effectively onthe foundations of prior civilizations, absorbed much of the learning and wisdom of the Greco-Roman world, and fashioned multi-ethnic andmulti-religious societies of great terrestrial power and equally great intel-lectual and spiritual vitality. This vast Islamicate realm included the over- whelming majority of the world ’ s Jewish population from the seventhcentury through the early centuries of the second Christian millennium.The concentration of the world ’ s Jewish population and creativity in theorbit of Islam during this period is re 󿬂 ected in the decision to devote thebulk of volume  5  of   The Cambridge History of Judaism  to Jewish commu-nities and Jewish life under Islamic rule during the Middle Ages.Duringthe 󿬁 rsthalfoftheMiddleAges,theChristiansphereofpoliticalpower was divided into two sectors. In Asia Minor, the venerable EasternRoman Empire maintained its authority and creativity, grounded in theteachingsoftheGreekOrthodoxChurch.TheByzantineEmpiresetlimitstotheIslamicconquestalongthenortheasternshoresoftheMediterraneanSea.Furtherwestward, theRoman Churchprovidedessential coherencetothe diverse principalities of Latin Christendom. While western Christianarmies were eventually successful in halting the Muslim advance acrossEurope, Latin Christendom suffered grievous losses and emerged as the weakest of the three major religio-political blocs of the  󿬁 rst half of the Middle Ages. Buffeted from every direction  –  by Muslim forces, by Byzantium, and by raiding parties from the north  –  the rulers of WesternChristendom during the  󿬁 rst half of the Middle Ages were constantly onthe defensive, seeking as best they could to protect their clients andfollowers from the multitude of dangers threatening from all quarters. Just as the rise of Islam and the Islamic conquests could not have beenforetold during the sixth century, so too the vitalization of WesternChristendom could not have been predicted during the tenth century.Modem scholars are not at all certain as to the explanations for the reversalof position that enabled Latin Christendom to evolve from the weakestof the Western blocs to the strongest. The vitalization was more thansimplymilitary.Beginninginthetenthcentury,thepopulationofWesternChristendom grew rapidly, its economic productivity expanded, urbanlife developed impressively, effective governments emerged, the Churchbecame ever better organized, and wide-ranging cultural and spiritual 2 the middle ages: the christian world  creativity crystallized. There was an underside to all this as well. Recentscholars have highlighted major shortcomings in medieval LatinChristendom, including the tendencies toward militarism and especially toward societal uniformity, with dissident groups of all kinds marginalizedand often severely persecuted. The vitalization of Latin Christendom  – negative aspects notwithstanding   –  bore enormous implications for Western history in general and for world Jewry in particular.During the second half of the Middle Ages, increasingly large Jewishpopulations emerged in Western Christendom, transforming its Jewishcommunities from a minuscule element on the world Jewish scene to theeventual majority of world Jewry. In part, the growth of Europe ’ s Jewishpopulation was a by-product of Christian military successes. As ChristianarmiesbegantoeliminateIslamicprincipalitiesfromEuropeansoil,especially on the Iberian and Italian peninsulas, Jews faced the dif  󿬁 cult decision as to whether to remain in place and accept Christian rule or to retreat southward with their former Muslim overlords. Most of these southern European Jewsseemtohavechosentheformercourse,muchencouragedbytheenticementsproffered by the new Christian rulers in order to convince them to remainand contribute to rebuilding the economy of the conquered areas.More striking was the decision of other Jews to leave the realm of Islamand settle in the expanding and maturing principalities of southernEurope. Thus, the Jewish communities of southern Europe were furtherreinforced by a wave of co-religionists drawn by the economic opportu-nities in rapidly developing Western Christendom.MoreimportantyetwasthedecisionofsomesouthernEuropeanJewstoabandon older areas of Jewish settlement and to settle in northern Franceand Germany, where serious Jewish life had never before taken root.Northern Europe was, in many ways, at the forefront of the process of vitalization, and some Jews accurately sensed the dynamism of the area.Once again, there was more involved than Jewish initiative. Here, too, far-sighted rulers recognized the bene 󿬁 ts that Jewish settlers might bring withthem,especiallytheeconomicexpertisedrawnfromexperienceinthemoreadvanced sectors of the early medieval West. These northern rulers  –  liketheir Christian counterparts in the south in the wake of the Christianconquests  –  attracted Jewish settlers by conferring upon them promises of physicalsafetyandeconomicsupport.TheoverturesofnorthernEuropeanrulers and the positive response of their Jewish clients resulted in theemergence of entirely new Jewish settlements, indeed of an entirely new branch of the Jewish people, destined for remarkable growth during theclosing centuries of the Middle Ages and into modernity.The circumstances these new Jewish settlers encountered were complex.Many of the rulers of northern France and Germany, concerned for the introduction 3  economic development of their realms, welcomed and supported them, while at the same time often exploiting them harshly. The Church main-tained its traditional ambivalence. On the one hand, the Church remainedcommitted to the Augustinian tradition of allowing Jews to live in safety and security within Christian society. Indeed, the Augustinian traditionsaw positive value in the Jews ’  presence within Christian society. On theother hand, the medieval Church  –  like earlier ecclesiastical leadership  –  was deeply concerned over the damage that Jews might in 󿬂 ict on Christianhost societies. This concern triggered extensive ecclesiastical legislationdesigned to protect Christianity and Christians from harmful Jewishin 󿬂 uences.The third element in society   –  the populace at large  –  tended to bestrongly negative, exhibiting little of the ambivalence of the secular andecclesiastical authorities. For the populace at large, the immigrating  Jews were newcomers and elicited the hostility that is the normal lot of newcomers in all societies and all ages. The immigrants were not justnewcomers but Jews as well, and this evoked powerful Gospel imagery of unrelenting Jewish opposition to Jesus, and the central Jewish role inbringing about his cruci 󿬁 xion. For many of the townfolk of northernEurope, Jews were also competitors equipped with the numerous andvexing advantages that the political authorities conferred. Finally, many in northern Europe perceived the immigrating Jews as agents of change  –  whichtheyin factwere.Since societal changeis normallyfearedandhated,these Jewish agents of change became the targets of much anxiety andloathing. The multi-faceted popular resistance to the newly settling Jewscreated potent obstacles to normal social and economic integration.Despite this complicated and problematic situation, the new Jewishsettlers ultimately put down effective roots in both northern France andGermany. They soon struck out in further directions as well, moving  westward during the eleventh century from northern France intoEngland, where a small but important Jewry was founded and grew.Somewhat later, German Jews headed eastward into the late-blooming sectors of eastern Europe, where an increasingly large set of Jewish com-munities was established. By the end of the Middle Ages, the Jews of LatinChristendom were approaching numerical equality with the older Jewishcommunities of the Islamic world. During the modem period, the Jewry of Europe and its offshoots would become the dominant demographicelement in the Jewish people worldwide.Organizing a volume devoted to this emergent and rapidly developing European Jewry is no easy matter. On the one hand, the overall objectiveof such a volume is to convey a coherent sense of the Jews, Jewishcommunities, and Judaisms of Western Christendom during the second 4 the middle ages: the christian world  half of the Middle Ages. There was in fact a measure of coherence in LatinChristendom,providedbytheauthorityoftheRomanChurch.Nonetheless,despite the unity the Roman Church provided, Latin Christendom wasa vast and sprawling area that encompassed diverse climates, varied ethniccommunities with divergent histories and traditions, and multiple languagesand cultures. Genuine homogeneity all across Western Christendom wasimpossible under these circumstances. Moreover, the time period covered  – 1000  through  1500  –  includes a series of phases that proceeded from early development through rapid maturation to periodic decline and revival.Putting the disparities of space and time together, there were striking differences between the Jewish communities of twelfth-century Spain andthose of twelfth-century northern France, and equally striking differencesbetween these two sets of Jews and those of fourteenth-century Poland andHungary.The volume has been organized in such a way as to combine the desirefor coherence with acknowledgment of diversity. The 󿬁 rst section, entitled “  Jews in the Medieval Christian World, ”  begins with a focus on thehomogeneous aspects of Latin Christendom  –  Church doctrines andpolicies, and broad perceptions of one another held by Christians and Jews. The rest of this section is devoted to the separate geographic areas of Latin Christendom, beginning in the Mediterranean south where Jewishsettlementwasoldest,proceedingtothenorthwestsectorsofEuropewhere Jewishlifethrivedforaperiodoftimeandthendeclinedprecipitously,andthen on to central and eastern Europe where the curve of Jewish life was 󿬂 atter, lacking rapid growth but lacking also sudden and decisive declineand termination.The second and third sections of the volume are organized topically, withaninitialfocusonsocialandinstitutionalhistoryfollowedbyspiritualand intellectual developments. The authors of the chapters in these lattertwo sections of the volume have remained fully attuned to the tensionbetween broad and overarching themes on the one hand, and geographicaland chronological diversity on the other. It is our hope that readers willemerge with a sense of both aspects of Jewish existence: the commoncharacteristics of Jewish life throughout medieval Western Christendom,and the unique features of Jewish experience in the diverse sectors of LatinChristendom and during the alternative phases in the evolving history of this rapidly developing civilization. introduction 5
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