Living Together, Living Apart: Rethinking Jewish-Christian Relations in the Middle Ages

By Lamm, Sarah | Shofar, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Living Together, Living Apart: Rethinking Jewish-Christian Relations in the Middle Ages


Lamm, Sarah, Shofar


Living Together, Living Apart: Rethinking Jewish-Christian Relations in the Middle Ages, by Jonathan Elukin. Princeton University Press, 2007. 193 pp. $24.95.

With Living Together, Living Apart, Jonathan Elukin sets out to address one of the most important yet least studied conundrums in the field of Jewish-Christian relations in the Middle Ages. "How," Elukin asks, "did Jewish communities continue to survive in Europe despite facing what seemed to be endless persecution, violence, and expulsion?" (p. 1). Arguing that the focus has for too long been on Jewish suffering at the hands of R. I. Moore's "persecuting society," Elukin sets out to restore the balance, providing a survey of Jewish-Christian relations at their most peaceful and settled.

In the first three chapters, Elukin searches medieval Europe from late antiquity through the thirteenth century for examples of Christian-Jewish coexistence. Chapter One, covering late antiquity through the early Middle Ages, compares the fate of Jews in 5th-century Minorca, Gregory of Tour's account of Met ovingian Gaul, Gregot y the Gteat's impressions of Italy at the turn of the 7th century, and the legislation of Visigothic Spain. Chapter Two explores how the development of separate religious and secular identities in the Carolingian empire acted as a buffer between Church-sanctioned violence and the everyday lives of Jews, before exploring the development of a fierce local loyalty that trumped religious difference after the breakup of a united Catolingian power. A quick look north, at the close relationship between Jews and some German rulers, concludes the chapter. Chapters Three and Four explore the High Middle Ages. The former focuses on the cultural and intellectual integration made possible by the Hebraism that swept through academic Europe during the twelfth -century renaissance, as well as the increasingly accessible experience of conversion, while the latter explores the social connections that led Christians to shelter their Jewish neighbors during times of crisis. Elukin writes for a non-specialist authence - the book is a response to questions from his undergraduate classrooms - and the work provides a good general survey of exactly how Europe's Jews survived, and indeed thrived, in between violent pogroms and persecutions.

In the final two chapters, Elukin takes a more thematic approach to his subject, reassessing the impact of "violence" and "expulsion" on the attitude and outlook of Europe's medieval Jews. Elukin seeks to downplay the severity of both. The anti-Jewish polemic, including tales of ritual murder and blood libel, long held up as prime examples of medieval anti-Judaism, he claims, "probably circulated only among a literate clerical elite" (p. …

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