How was it that Jewish communities living under Christian rule in the Middle Ages were able not simply to survive, but to flourish in numbers and intellectual creativity? This is the central concern of Robert Chazan’s new book, a fast-moving survey that draws upon material published in several of his earlier books. Starting from the biblical passages that animated discussions throughout the medieval period, Chazan explains how each community interpreted these passages differently, and the significance that these conflicting interpretations had for how Jews and Christians thought of themselves and each other. This parallel approach reinforces what is perhaps Chazan’s main point — that Jewish communities were responding to Christian ones, defending themselves against the challenge posed by the other. In his epilogue, Chazan points to the characteristics of medieval European Jewry that he believes helped those same Jewish communities play a highly successful role in the modern world.
Pinchas Roth (PR) is a post-doctoral fellow at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.