Kenneth Stow

title.none: Golb, Jews in Medieval Normandy (Stow)

identifier.other: baj9928.9905.003 99.05.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Kenneth Stow, Haifa University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Golb, Norman. The Jews in Medieval Normandy: A Social and Intellectual History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Pp. xxxii, 621. $75.00. ISBN: 0-521-58032-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.05.03

Golb, Norman. The Jews in Medieval Normandy: A Social and Intellectual History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Pp. xxxii, 621. $75.00. ISBN: 0-521-58032-3.

Reviewed by:

Kenneth Stow
Haifa University

Th is is in many ways not a new book. It is really a third version, each broadened with respect to its predecessor, of Golb's fundamental study of the Jews of Rouen. This Golb tells us in his introduction. The Hebrew original appeared in 1976, the French sequel in 1985, and now, this no doubt definitive expression has appeared in English. It is a big book by today's standards, and the publishers should be commended for not, as they often do, letting size be a factor. In fact, however, the argumentation is often drawn out and much of it could have been relegated to abbreviated annotation.

I have been unable to consult the French version. But the major difference between the Hebrew and the English is lengthier chapters on Jewish scholarship in Rouen and long discussions of political history. There is also a detailed discussion, based on medieval archeological findings of the Rouen community and the 68 other Jewish communities Golb has traced in Normandy; a great deal of his findings are buttressed by the pursuit of manuscripts where the Hebrew root RWDM, or RDWM, and variations thereof appear. His manuscript readings of this place name are generally convincing, and often he brings a photostat of the Hebrew original in confirmation.

Golb calls this a social and intellectual history, but history of learning would be more appropriate, in the narrow sense of who taught whom, who taught where, and what were these scholars' basic thoughts or writings. Likewise, a "political" history (with some reference to communal institutions) would have been a more appropriate title than social history, as the latter term is normally used. The one discussion that might qualify as a history of learning and of society in a wider sense is that of the puzzling Huqe ha-Torah, a set of rules for students that smacks of monastic, or quasi-monastic discipline. However, apart from asserting its Norman origins, Golb does not try to question how such a text might serve to unravel the mysteries of Jewish society and culture in Northern France in the twelfth century. A somewhat more moderate interpretation may also have been deduced from contrasting the ideas of the Huqe ha-Torah with the statutes of the Beit El confraternity in early sixteenth century Ferrara, now studied by Elliott Horowitz in the Shlomo Simonsohn Jubilee Volume (Tel Aviv, 1993).

The purpose of the book, to bring back to life and to our historical consciousness (we will not enter into the polemic Golb has with French authorities, whom, he says, do not want to consider past French culture to be anything other than Latinate or French, not Hebrew in content) the existence of an important Jewish community in Normandy in the eleventh through thirteenth centuries. Normandy was also the place of origin of English Jewry, one about which our considerable knowledge is in reverse proportion to its small size, this thanks to the state of record-keeping and other organizational advances in Norman England.

There has never been a question that important communities existed in Normandy. The final editing of the Tosafistic talmudic commentaries, what should perhaps justly be considered the apogee of Jewish legal achievement in the Middle Ages, was made in the region by Eliezer of Touques. This is a story, found toward the end of the book, that Golb tells well, concluding with a sequel about the printing and selection of these Tosafot by Gershon Soncino at the end of the fifteenth century. But what about Norman Jews themselves? The discovery of a synagogue or school in the heart of Rouen sparks the discussion. This building, or buildings, go back to the eleventh century, and they are both large and ornate. We have also known about a massacre of (or lesser violence against) Jews in Rouen circa 1096 thanks to the writings, however circumspectly they should be read, of Guibert of Nogent. And there are administrative texts that have survived, emanating from popes and other rulers.

Golb comes to fill in the major blanks. He intersperses chronologically organized chapters, primarily of political history, with those on the scholars and their writings whom he says were active in Normandy from the early eleventh century through the expulsion of 1306. The problem, however, is his sources, first, the secondary ones, then, the chronicles he uses to tell the story. The bibliography itself is long, but it is strikingly out of date. We must be thankful that Golb has resurrected such a large number of articles and texts published toward the end of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth. But there are only about 20 entries from the 1960s, many textual, 16 from the 1970s, six from the 1980s, and four from the 1990s, including only one monograph. The studies of scholars like Grossman, Ta-Shema, Stacey, Stow, Kanarfogel, Taitz, Soloveitchik, Chazan, Marcus, and most especially Jordan are just not there. These studies have opened up so much of what was taken for granted thirty years ago. There is something akilter in a discussion of the final decades of Norman and French Jewry in general that not only omits Jordan's accurate detail but rests on Depping, Caro, and Loeb. As a whole, moreover, the footnotes virtually ignore the modern works cited in the bibliography, except once, where Golb debates Beit-Arie (1985) over a manuscript identification. Debates are normally carried on with such as Joseph Jacobs (1893; p.359, n.41) on Jewish population, instead of with Jordan, whose figures are much lower than Golb's, or with C. Gross (1888; p.352, n.12) concerning the English Jewish exchequer, instead of with Stacey or even N. Vincent.

Substantiation for theses is taken from the unlikely Gedalya ibn Yahia (16th century), Shelomo ibn Verga, also 16th century, but now known to have a definite dramatic, if not satirical slant, and with Thomas of Monmouth, whose life of William of Norwich, the first so-called victim of ritual crucifixion, is adduced as proof that there was a real rex iudaeorum in Narbonne as late as the twelfth century. Most intriguing is the use of Eadmer on William Rufus with Eadmer taken literally at his word (pp. 132-33, and full text pp. 559-60, only in English, no Latin). Eadmer portrays William as slavishly and venally intervening on behalf of a Jewish father to convince his converted son to relapse to Judaism. Relapse of converts was indeed a problem after 1096, and royal acquiesence to their relapse, as occurred for certain in the Rhineland, was even a greater one. But Emperor Henry IV was nobody's dupe. Was William Rufus in Normandy (where, among other things, we must assume Golb's assessment of massacres is a correct one even to ask this question)? This calls for careful explanation, not simple statement.

With respect to the specifics of twelfth- and thirteenth-century Jewish scholarly achievement, in particular, I personally hesitate to express an opinion; I do question whether the Tosafist commentaries should be called glossae, since they far more approximate the lengthy commentary of the Commentators on Roman and canon law. In fact, Golb may be perfectly correct; his achievement here may be expanding our horizons immeasureably. I was especially appreciative of Golb's discussion of Hebrew manuscript writing, the work of the atelier of Crespia b. Isaac. Golb's recounting of the vicissitudes and wanderings of Abraham ibn Ezra is fascinating, and his speculations about what Ibn Ezra transmitted of non-European culture to the West are compelling, although one is left, nonetheless, with the feeling that the meanings of Ibn Ezra's studies might have been further probed. Relatedly, Abraham Grossman's unwillingness to accept Golb unquestionably on whether R. Shemayah was from Dreux or Rouen ought to have had a rejoinder (Grossman in Hakhmaei Ashkenaz Ha-Rishonim, p. 348, responding to Golb, 1976 and 1985).

There is no doubt that Golb's dogged pursuit of texts containing the cluster of Hebrew letters signifying Rouen (Radom, in Hebrew) opens new vistas. Yet, sometimes it appears that what really propels Golb is his desire repeatedly to demonstrate to us the presence of the Hebrew root RDWM, as though these demonstrations, not their eventual significance, is what the book is really about. Still, this doggedness may have its virtues. We must take note of Golb's revelation of 68 towns and locations indicated by RDWM (RWDM) which had a Jew's street or other area known by such a name as "Mons iudaeorum." Yet Chazan chronicled 33 Norman Jewish communities and Jordan, working with Nahon's researches, raised the number to 38. Should Golb's persistence allow us to dramatically increase the number to 68? The problem is that with his highly argumentative approach that most often debates conclusions drawn a half century to a century ago, yet ignores those of the present, here, specifically, Chazan and Jordan, we have no real way of knowing. Not to mention that the argumentation is so detailed, so lengthy, that it is hard to keep up. Conversely, it is not clear why Golb chose to devote fifteen pages to summarizing the findings on Paul Christian of Joseph Shatzmiller. Shatzmiller's book, published in 1994, is that sole recent monograph used by Golb in the entire study.

An example of Golb's method is his use of the Jacob b. Yequtiel chronicle concerning the purported events of the year 1007. Interestingly, Golb thinks the unique version of the 1007 in our possession (preserved in a single 14thc. manuscript in Parma) derives from the twelfth century. This would disappoint Chazan and Landes, who feel the text as we have it dates to about 1050, although, like these latter, Golb believes that we may take the story told by the 1007 at face value. However, in 1984, I published a small book arguing the thirteenth century origin of the text; I am bringing this example only because the points I am trying to make become especially clear through invoking it. Among other things, the 1007 contains 19 consecutive words from the bull Sicut iudaeis, and by common consent this bull was first issued no earlier than 1119; I suspect it took its present form a few decades later, since Gratian (1140) does not seem to know it. More decisive, the 1007 reflects perfectly Innocent IV's definition (ca. 1245) of when the Church may exercise direct jurisdiction over Jews. Yet whether Golb disagrees with these arguments, we do not know; he seems not to know them at all.

Interestingly, Golb's suggestion of a Latin original for the 1007 may actually advance the debate. I proposed that certain Hebrew phrases in the text, in particular, memshelet reshut, should be translated as the Latin ius iudicandi, or ius potestatis. If, however, the whole was a Latin original, repeated later in Hebrew with changes, then, most likely, the 1007 is another link in the phenomenon I like to dub "reflection tales." There are a number of these tales: a wager with conversion at stake that appears in the Life of Wazo of Liege and the Italian Megillat Ahimaaz, especially striking because of the 2000 kilometres separating the two sources geographically; a story of a waxen image of a bishop fashioned by the Jews of Trier and a Hebrew report of an accusation that Jews had made such an image in Limoges; and again Megillat Ahimaaz' story of Topilo, who repents and is assumed bodily into heaven, which parallels point by point the story of the Latin Theophilo (retold by Valerie Flint), who is taken into heaven by the Virgin.

However, if the original of the 1007, then reworked in the thirteenth century, indeed does fit into the category of "reflection stories," then the Latin original (whenever its exact origin) must likely be assimilated into that chain of Latin chronicles, those of Raoul Glaber, the Quedlingsberg Annals, and Ademar of Chabannes, in particular, which report mayhem and destruction among Northern European Jews in the early eleventh century. But these reports nicely contradict each other, and one is forced to conclude that on their basis, it is impossible to say there were attacks of any kind. Isidore Levi saw these contradictions, especially with the account of the 1007, already in 1906. These chroniclers, after all, were not out to tell us wie es eigentlich gewesen, but events as they wanted us to know them, or non-events as well. Golb does not consider this. His entire reconstruction of early eleventh century Jewish Normandy, therefore, may be based on either a much later tendentious reconstruction, chronicled fantasy, or, at the least, an unreliable account.

This is all a great pity. Once this slavish fidelity to medieval and early modern chronicles is overcome, once one puts aside the political (cum social) history of this work, there remains a very great deal to ponder. It is to be regretted that this material was not winnowed out before the book went to press. Without these problematic sections, Golb's many significant contributions in this study would stand out with much greater clarity and effect.