Dai­ly Life of the Jews in the Mid­dle Ages

Nor­man Roth
  • Review
By – June 25, 2012
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.

Discussion Questions