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.
Between Christian and Jew: Conversion and Inquisition in the Crown of Aragon, 1250 – 1391
Pinchas Roth (PR) is a post-doctoral fellow at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.
Jewish literature inspires, enriches, and educates the community.
Help support the Jewish Book Council.