Abraham's Heirs: Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe

Abraham's Heirs: Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe

Abraham's Heirs: Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe

Abraham's Heirs: Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe


Leonard B. Glick recounts the history of the Ashkenazic Jewish experience in medieval western Europe from the fifth to fifteenth centuries, focusing on interaction between Jews and Christians during this vital formative period.

He demonstrates that Ashkenazic Jewish culture was profoundly shaped and conditioned by life in an overwhelmingly Christian society. Drawing on diverse Christian documents, he portrays Christian beliefs about medieval Jews and Judaism with a degree of detail seldom found in Jewish histories.

Emphasizing social, political, and economic history, but also discussing religious topics, Glick describes the evolution of a complex, inherently unequal relationship.

Because the Ashkenazic Jews of medieval Europe were ancestral to almost the entire Jewish population of eastern Europe, their historical experience played a major role in the heritage of most Jewish Americans.


This book is called Abraham's Heirs to emphasize one of its central themes: the radical difference between how Jews and Christians in medieval Europe perceived themselves and each other. Jews considered themselves the true heirs to God's promises to Abraham, the people chosen to receive his commandments at Mount Sinai; Christians insisted that because Jews had rejected the Messiah, God had rejected them, instituted a new dispensation based on faith alone, and appointed a new people (the "Gentiles") to inherit all the biblical promises. Of course, each group viewed the other as grossly in error. Christians believed that Jews were eternally damned unless and until they repented their grievous sin, hence that Jewish suffering was proof of divine rejection; Jews believed that Christians were utterly deluded and that nothing whatever had happened to sever the sacred connection between God, Torah, and the Jewish people.

As will be evident, I focus on Jews in the Franco-German region, leaving aside not only the Jews of Italy but also the larger, and certainly equally noteworthy, population of Sephardic Jews in Spain. I do so because Ashkenazic Jewish society and culture in northwestern Europe merit consideration as unique historical developments--rooted, to be sure, in Mediterranean antecedents but representing a distinctive form of adaptation to a new set of environmental, social, and political challenges. The territory that was originally the Roman province of Gaul, particularly that part constituting modern northern France and western Germany, was the original heartland of Ashkenazic Jewish life and culture. This same region constituted most of the Frankish Empire created by Charlemagne in the early ninth century. The core of the . . .

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