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Beyond the Elite: Jewish Daily Life in Medieval Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - BeyondtheElite (Beyond the Elite: Jewish Daily Life in Medieval Europe)

Reporting period: 2019-11-01 to 2021-04-30

The two fundamental challenges of this project are the integration of medieval Jewries and their histories within the framework of European history without undermining their distinct communal status and the creation of a history of everyday medieval Jewish life that includes those who were not part of the learned elite. The study focuses on the Jewish communities of northern Europe (roughly modern Germany, northern France and England) from 1100-1350. From the mid-thirteenth century these medieval Jewish communities were subject to growing persecution. The approaches used to access daily praxis seek to highlight tangible dimensions of religious life rather than the more common study of ideologies to date. This task is complex because the extant sources in Hebrew as well as those in Latin and vernacular were written by the learned elite and require a broad survey of multiple textual and material sources.
Four main strands are examined and combined:
1. An outline of the strata of Jewish society, better defining the elites and other groups.
2. A study of select communal and familial spaces such as the house, the synagogue, the market place that have yet to be examined as social spaces.
3. Ritual and urban rhythms especially the annual cycle, connecting between Jewish and Christian environments.
4. Material culture, as objects, were used by Jews and Christians alike.
Aspects of material culture, the physical environment and urban rhythms are often described as “neutral” are mined to demonstrate how they exemplified difference while being simultaneously ubiquitous in local cultures. The deterioration of relations between Jews and Christians provide a gauge for examining change during this period. The final stage of the project will include comparative case studies of other Jewish communities. I expect our findings will inform scholars of medieval culture at large and promote comparative methodologies for studying other minority ethnic groups.They also will provide insight for similar problems in contemporary modern society related to religious and ethnic minorities.
We have pursued aspects of our four objectives. This was done through our seminars, guests lecturers, conferences, publications and talks at academic events. One can say the phrase "Going Beyond the Elite" has become a working term in scholarship on medieval Jewish society and brought some of the questions we are pursuing to the forefront of research.
We have developed a website, a teaching website for teachers, held 7 conferences/strands at larger events, delivered dozens of talks at conferences, and public events and published over 30 articles at this point. Our first joint volume has just appeared. We are also editing 4 volumes and planning a volume for each strand that will be completed at the end of the project.
We travelled to Europe for a week long trip and this expanded our networks and horizons as a group. In addition individual group members have lectured in Europe and North America.
The project has opened up multiple directions previously unexplored. We are currently pursuing some of the economic directions and especially the medieval marketplace and interactions between Jews and Christians around it. We also have been invited to prepare a classroom sourcebook on medieval Jewish daily life. The MIQUA museum in Cologne has asked us to advise them as they plan an exhibit on the medieval Jewish quarter in the city.
These developments are indications of the necessity of our studies and we hope to further enhance our public and academic presence by the end of the project.
By the end of the project we expect to have 4 group volumes, 3 volumes published under our auspices as well as a number of individual monographs and dozens of articles. We also plan an exhibit open to the public (summer 2021) and a catalogue that will accompany it. We hope to further our teaching website as well.
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