Between Chris­t­ian and Jew: Con­ver­sion and Inqui­si­tion in the Crown of Aragon, 1250 – 1391

Pao­la Tartakoff
  • Review
By – October 17, 2012

Despite its fair­ly broad title, Between Chris­t­ian and Jew has a high­ly defined focus. In fact, it is a shin­ing exam­ple of micro­his­to­ry – the his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal approach that stud­ies one sin­gle inci­dent that, in itself, was not par­tic­u­lar­ly sig­nif­i­cant but which can serve as a win­dow onto much larg­er ques­tions. The inci­dent at stake in this study took place in the Span­ish king­dom of Aragon in 1341, where a Jew named Elazar (Alatzar) con­vert­ed to Chris­tian­i­ty and then had sec­ond (and per­haps third) thoughts. The details are nar­rat­ed through­out the book in short spurts, fol­lowed by exten­sive chap­ters delv­ing into dif­fer­ent aspects of the his­tor­i­cal con­text. This struc­ture allows the read­er to devel­op a grow­ing appre­ci­a­tion of the com­plex­i­ties of Alatzar’s sto­ry, while keep­ing track of his spe­cif­ic tra­vails. Tar­takoff com­bines exten­sive archival work in Span­ish church archives with stud­ies of oth­er Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties. Par­tic­u­lar­ly note­wor­thy is her use of medieval rab­binic lit­er­a­ture, espe­cial­ly respon­sa by rab­bis whose influ­ence was strongest in the geo­graph­ic area she is study­ing. This com­bi­na­tion of source mate­ri­als in Hebrew and Latin, and of schol­ar­ship in Eng­lish and Span­ish is rare and com­mend­able. Between Chris­t­ian and Jew is a care­ful and well-writ­ten study which through its clear focus rais­es impor­tant ques­tions about medieval Jew­ish apos­ta­sy – for Jews and Chris­tians of the time and for the apos­tates themselves.

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