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

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

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

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

Synopsis

This book challenges the standard conception of the Middle Ages as a time of persecution for Jews. Jonathan Elukin traces the experience of Jews in Europe from late antiquity through the Renaissance and Reformation, revealing how the pluralism of medieval society allowed Jews to feel part of their local communities despite recurrent expressions of hatred against them.


Elukin shows that Jews and Christians coexisted more or less peacefully for much of the Middle Ages, and that the violence directed at Jews was largely isolated and did not undermine their participation in the daily rhythms of European society. The extraordinary picture that emerges is one of Jews living comfortably among their Christian neighbors, working with Christians, and occasionally cultivating lasting friendships even as Christian culture often demonized Jews.


As Elukin makes clear, the expulsions of Jews from England, France, Spain, and elsewhere were not the inevitable culmination of persecution, but arose from the religious and political expediencies of particular rulers. He demonstrates that the history of successful Jewish-Christian interaction in the Middle Ages in fact laid the social foundations that gave rise to the Jewish communities of modern Europe.


Elukin compels us to rethink our assumptions about this fascinating period in history, offering us a new lens through which to appreciate the rich complexities of the Jewish experience in medieval Christendom.

Excerpt

After teaching a course on relations between Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages for several years, I noticed a recurring query posed by many students. How did Jewish communities continue to survive in Europe despite facing what seemed to be endless persecution, violence, and expulsion? a fundamental question to be sure, but one to which I did not have a ready answer. My own work on the conversion of Jews to Christianity grew out of the sense that relations between Christians and Jews were driven largely by Christian antagonism to Jews. in trying to resolve the paradox of persecution and survival with my students, I felt I was missing the real significance of JewishChristian relations. I began to think of ways to respond to this larger issue of the long-term resilience of Jewish-Christian relations in medieval Europe. the result is this book, really an extended essay, which tries to reorient our understanding of the meaning of the history of Jews in medieval Europe.

For too long scholars have tried to find that meaning in the nature of Jewish suffering in the Middle Ages. Their conclusions reflect the rhetoric of dispersion and suffering embedded in classical Jewish and Christian thought. Jews themselves drew on the biblical tradition of exile to understand their condition under Christian rule. Even before Christianity's advent as the official religion of the Roman world in the fourth century, Jews were used to the idea of living in a diaspora. Whether Jews experienced life outside the Land of Israel exclusively as suffering and trial has recently been challenged. Whatever the truth of the long-term experience, the idea of suffering in the dias-

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