Our usual picture of Jewish life in the Middle Ages is one of persecution and hardship. In this volume of the Daily Life series, Norman Roth, a widely published scholar and professor of Jewish history, Hebrew literature, and Jewish studies at the University of Wisconsin, offers a balanced and valuable corrective to this view and demonstrates that Jewish life in the Middle Ages was highly productive, often prosperous, and despite incidents of terrible persecution, about the same as that of the general population.
The Daily Life series looks at how ordinary people lived — what they wore, what they ate, what their family life was like — as well as their overall culture — education, literature and art, occupations and communal life. On all these counts, the Middle Ages was by and large a comfortable and intellectually rich period for Jews. There were no ghettoes; Jews lived with their Christian and Muslim neighbors even if they did not exactly love one another; and Jews played substantial parts in commercial and civic life. Vivid accounts of forced conversion, martyrdom and pogroms are not entirely accurate, although there were definitely periods of horrific persecution, much beginning with the Crusades, and periodic expulsions from various communities.
Aimed at the general reader, the book covers material that may be familiar to some, but the concluding chapters present a less familiar picture, convincingly documented. Illustrations, extensive notes, glossary, bibliography, index.
Maron L. Waxman, retired editorial director, special projects, at the American Museum of Natural History, was also an editorial director at HarperCollins and Book-of-the-Month Club.