Palaces of Time: Jew­ish Cal­en­dar and Cul­ture in Ear­ly Mod­ern Europe

Eli­she­va Carlebach
  • Review
By – November 1, 2011
Cal­en­dars are the kind of object that are usu­al­ly tak­en for grant­ed, that are almost invis­i­ble to our every­day glance; there­fore they are a per­fect sub­ject of analy­sis for cul­tur­al his­to­ry. Very lit­tle good cul­tur­al his­to­ry has been pro­duced about Jew­ish sub­jects, and Eli­she­va Carlebach’s book sets a very high stan­dard for the field. Tack­ling a sub­ject that is ubiq­ui­tous but also obscure, Car­lebach looks at the top­ic of Jew­ish cal­en­dars from a num­ber of per­spec­tives. The actu­al cal­en­dri­cal aspects of the Jew­ish cal­en­dar, the ref­er­ences to non-Jew­ish dates that were incor­po­rat­ed into many cal­en­dars, the star­tling artis­tic tra­di­tions that are found in many ear­ly mod­ern Jew­ish cal­en­dars — each sub­ject is ana­lyzed on its own, and placed in a diachron­ic and syn­chron­ic his­tor­i­cal con­text, explain­ing how it devel­oped from inter­nal Jew­ish tra­di­tions while incor­po­rat­ing and respond­ing to out­side occur­rences. High­lights include hand­writ­ten cal­en­dars from colo­nial Amer­i­ca, sym­bol­ic pic­tures of ele­phants and bare-bot­tomed men, infor­ma­tive curs­es of Chris­t­ian saints and sta­tis­tics of fair atten­dance in the sev­en­teenth and eigh­teenth cen­turies. Despite the osten­si­bly obscure sub­ject mat­ter, Palaces of Time is as far from arcane as can be, writ­ten in lan­guage that is enjoy­able and acces­si­ble. The numer­ous col­or pho­tographs of Jew­ish cal­en­dars make the vol­ume even more enjoy­able and eas­i­er to follow.

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