Michael Toch

title.none: Chazan, Jews of Christendom (Michael Toch)

identifier.other: baj9928.0710.009 07.10.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael Toch, The Hebrew University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Chazan, Robert. The Jews of Medieval Western Christendom, 1000-1500. Cambrdige Medival Textbook. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xv, 342. $75.00 (hb) 978-0-521-8466-0 (hb). ISBN: $29.99 (pb) 978-0-521-61664-5 (pb).

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.10.09

Chazan, Robert. The Jews of Medieval Western Christendom, 1000-1500. Cambrdige Medival Textbook. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xv, 342. $75.00 (hb) 978-0-521-8466-0 (hb). ISBN: $29.99 (pb) 978-0-521-61664-5 (pb).

Reviewed by:

Michael Toch
The Hebrew University

This is declaredly a textbook that aims to take the reader through a highly variegated subject matter spread over the entire European continent, and sometimes beyond. Robert Chazan, a master of medieval Jewish Studies with a large range of important books and articles to his credit, does so in an admirable way, writing clearly und judiciously. The structure of the books makes eminent sense: two preparatory chapters on the prior Muslim, Christian and Jewish legacy and on the pan-European Roman Catholic Church; followed by three detailed chapters on the older Jewries of the south, The newer Jewries of the north: northern France and England, and the newer Jewries of the north: Germany and Eastern Europe. The regional developments charted there are then analyzed in two further chapters called "Material Challenges, Successes, and Failures," and "Spiritual Challenges, Successes, and Failures." An epilogue and a detailed bibliography and index close the book.

One should not expect earth-shattering innovations from a textbook. Still, Chazan's well rounded and highly informed presentation includes a number of fresh viewpoints worth paying attention to, for instance the chronology and geography of the changing imaginary of Jews in Christian thinking, or the ingenious use made of polemical works from both sides in order to elucidate change. One is very much struck by Chazan's conclusions, where he points to adaptability and preparedness for movement and change as singular traits developed by medieval European Jewries. The author maintains a fine equilibrium between literary, religious and legal aspects, for long the main focus of Jewish Studies, and demography, settlement history and economics, features that have come late to the study of Jewish history. Except for women, who are largely absent from the account, the reader will find concise information and interpretation, well integrated into the historical context, on all major aspects of this complicated history played out on a very large stage. In this sense, this is a work of a quality and breadth that should recommend it both to students as an excellent textbook and to a broader audience of scholars as much more than a textbook.

It is the very quality of the book that creates some unease for this reviewer, mainly because its source basis, references, and bibliography are almost solely in English. As pointed out by Chazan himself, in the wake of a large number of new studies and source editions by scholars writing in Hebrew, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Catalan and more languages, the face of medieval Jewish history has changed in the last years. Of this change, in terms of content as well as methodology, very little can come over if the bibliographical and source basis is restricted to one consisting almost solely of works written in English or translated into English. To cite one example from a field that this reviewer has had some opportunity to work in: in a number of places, Chazan points to a structural difference between money lending by 12th and 13th century Jews in England and France and those in Germany. To my understanding, such difference is not borne out by the variegated source material opened to research by recent German and Israeli scholarship, most notably in the three volumes of Germania Judaica III (1987- 2003), in Alfred Haverkamp's Geschichte der Juden im Mittelalter zwischen Nordsee und S8#252;dalpen. Kommentiertes Kartenwerk (3 vols. 2003) or in Dietrich Andernacht, Regesten zur Geschichte der Juden in der Reichsstadt Frankfurt am Main von 1401-1519 (4 vols. 1996- 2006). There is cause for revolt by authors should clinging to an English format, rather than burdening an English-American student audience with foreign language references, turn out to be a dictate by academic publishers.