The late Israel Ta-Shma was a prolific and gifted writer. He fused a profound knowledge of Jewish legal sources with the latest theories in European history, plumbing the arcane depths of medieval Hebrew manuscripts and obscure historical periods with an ease that allows the reader to enjoy the excitement of the chase. This volume gathers sixteen of his English articles, most of which appeared over the course of the past two decades. For the interested layman, it is an opportunity to discover the richness of Jewish intellectual history during the “Dark Ages.”
One particularly interesting topic discussed here is Jewish settlement and intellectual activity in Poland during the 13th century. This historical question is enlivened by a cause célèbre involving a rabbi who married a nursing mother, against the will of his colleagues. Ta-Shma drops tantalizing hints about a censorship campaign waged against the lovestruck rabbi, Jacob Sevara.
Other chapters deal with attitudes toward children in the Middle Ages, the interaction between Ashkenaz and Sefarad and the traces of Ashkenazic custom in the mystical work, Sefer ha-Zohar. Several chapters are devoted to reflections on the work of Jacob Katz, another important scholar in the field of halakhah and history.