Thursday, 23 June 2016

[#36] Miriamne Ara Krummel, ‘Jewish Culture and Literature in England’ in Albrecht Classen (ed.), Handbook of Medieval Culture: Fundamental Aspects and Conditions of the European Middle Ages, vol. 2 (Berlin, 2015), pp. 772-793.

Academic Entry:

An introduction to the history of medieval Anglo-Jewry upon the basis of the culture and literature of the community which is not an especially successful piece.

General Entry:

I came across this text by accident when I was looking for something else, but I thought it would be good to review. Alas, I do not have access to the three volumes, although if anybody wants to donate them to my collection then they would be greatly received, and as such I am afraid that I will be unable to answer the more general questions that I usually receive in relation to texts like this. I shall start by putting my cards on the table and saying that I do not like, or agree with, this introduction to medieval Anglo-Jewry. For me, it is based up older scholarship and erroneous assumptions which I would hope would not be perpetuated through the historiography, and while it could have been an superb piece, particularly within the context of this volume more generally, I do not feel that it achieved this.

Section one of this book, reminded me of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe whereby the English were subjugated under the Norman, and Jewish, York in the aftermath of the Expulsion – needless to say that I disagree, in the strongest possible terms, with this assessment. In section two, Krummel attempts to argue that there were unofficial ghettos within medieval England upon the basis of the fact that the Jews tended to congregate together. Within this section, however, there is no attempt to engage with the most recent efforts to map Jewries, which has convincingly highlighted that this settlement was made upon the basis of social status rather than being a specifically Jewish settlement (e.g. Meyer: 2009, pp. 31-55; Rees Jones: 2013). Similarly, in the third section on the domus conversorum, Krummel bases her arguments on older scholarship but not upon the important work of Lauren Fogle which certainly adds something to this discussion (e.g. Fogle: 2005). For me, the strongest section in this chapter is the fourth which talks about the literary history of medieval Anglo-Jewry – as one might expect given Krummel’s background – and this discussion includes the Jewish writers as well as those narratives which heavily featured the Jews (namely the blood libel accounts). This is followed by, what is for me, the least successful section: a discussion of the medieval Anglo-Jewess. I am hugely biased on this point, because of my deep love of gender history, but I just find this section to be very standard. For one thing, it only looks at the highest level of Jewish life rather than the more nuanced picture which has been forwarded by the likes of Hannah Meyer (2009). In the sixth, and final, section which considers the Expulsion (1290), which is a fairly standard narrative, which focuses particularly upon where the Jews went to after England.

            To conclude, I do not find this to be an especially good introduction to the discipline of medieval Anglo-Jewish history. However, as always I would recommend that you, dear reader, not take my word for this and instead read it for yourself and make up your own mind. Finally, I think that looking at these volumes, an excellent project for a publisher like De Gruyter to undertake, given its propensity for producing magnificent handbooks, would be an edited collection of medieval Jewry generally, which would include interdisciplinary approaches and national outlines, which have been attempted here, but not really achieved successfully. This is something which I am hugely in favour of, and think that it is nothing short of a travesty that such a volume(s) has not already been produced, and I would love to be in a position to spearhead this project myself.

Work Cited:

Lauren Fogle, ‘Jewish Converts to Christianity in Medieval London’ (London, unpublished PhD diss., 2005).

Hannah Meyer, ‘Female moneylending and wet-nursing in Jewish-Christian relation in thirteenth-century England’ (Cambridge, unpublished PhD diss., 2009).

Sarah Rees Jones, ‘Neigbours and Victims in Twelfth-Century York: a Royal Citadel, the Citizens and the Jews of York’ in Sarah Rees Jones and Sethina Watson (eds.), Jews and Christians in Angevin England: The York Massacre of 1190, Narratives and Contexts (York, 2013), pp. 15-42.

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