"The Manesse Codex", German, 1300s (detail), depicting Süsskind von Trimberg, the first known Jewish poet to write in German, wearing a hat that identifies him as a Jew
Almost without exception, throughout the Middle Ages the vast majority of Jews lived under either Islamic rule or Christian rule. Under caliphate rule across North Africa and the Middle East, Jews flourished in vibrant and cosmopolitan cities such as Cairo and Baghdad. They established long-range trade routes as far east as India and China, bringing wealth and prestige to their communities.
In contrast, life in Christian Europe was fraught with challenges, as the Church’s negative attitude towards the Jews prevented their full integration into society. They suffered accusations of ritual murder and host desecration, slaughter at the hands of the Crusaders, and expulsions from England, France, and Spain. Despite all this, some European Jews were able to establish relatively productive lives.
Historian Gary Rendsburg explores Jewish life within these two orbits. He focuses on how the Jews survived during the Middle Ages, the period that bridges their historical roots in the land of Israel and the dawn of modernity brought on by the Renaissance.
Rendsburg is Blanche and Irving Laurie Professor of Jewish History in the Department of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University.
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