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Brothers from Afar

Rabbinic Approaches to Apostasy and Reversion in Medieval Europe

Ephraim Kanarfogel

Jewish Studies, Jewish Thought, Medieval History and Literature, Religion

Printed Paper Cased
Available January 2021
ISBN: 9780814340288
Pages: 258 Size: 6x9
$89.99
Paperback
Available January 2021
ISBN: 9780814348246
Pages: 260 Size: 6x9
$34.99
eBOOK
Available January 2021
ISBN: 9780814340295

In Brothers from Afar: Rabbinic Approaches to Apostasy and Reversion in Medieval Europe, Ephraim Kanarfogel challenges a long-held view that those who had apostatized and later returned to the Jewish community in northern medieval Europe were encouraged to resume their places without the need for special ceremony or act that verified their reversion. Kanarfogel’s evidence suggests that from the late twelfth century onward, leading rabbinic authorities held that returning apostates had to undergo ritual immersion and other rites of contrition. He also argues that the shift in rabbinic positions during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was fundamentally a response to changing Christian perceptions of Jews and was not simply an internal halakhic or rabbinic development.

Brothers from Afar is divided into seven chapters. Kanarfogel begins the book with Rashi (1040–1105), the pre-eminent European rabbinic authority, who favored an approach which sought to smooth the return of penitent apostates. He then goes on to explain that although Jacob Katz, a leading Jewish social historian, maintains that this more lenient approach held sway in Ashkenazic society, a series of manuscript passages indicate that Rashi’s view was challenged in several significant ways by northern French Tosafists in the mid-twelfth century. German Tosafists mandated immersion for a returning apostate as a means of atonement, akin to the procedure required of a new convert. In addition, several prominent tosafists sought to downgrade the status of apostates from Judaisim who did not return, in both marital and economic issues, well beyond the place assigned to them by Rashi and others who supported his approach. Although these mandates were formulated along textual and juridical lines, considerations of how to protect the Jewish communities from the inroads of increased anti-Judaism and the outright hatred expressed for the Jews as unrivaled enemies of Christianity, played a large role. Indeed, medieval Christian sources that describe how Jews dealt with those who relapsed from Christianity to Judaism are based not only on popular practices and culture but also reflect concepts and practices that had the approbation of the rabbinic elite in northern Europe. Brothers from Afar belongs in the library of every scholar of Jewish and medieval studies.

Ephraim Kanarfogel is the E. Billi Ivry University Professor of Jewish History, Literature, and Law at Yeshiva University. He is also the author of the award-winning books Jewish Education and Society in the High Middle Ages (1992), Peering through the Lattices: Mystical, Magical, and Pietist Dimensions in the Tosafist Period (2000), and The Intellectual History and Rabbinic Culture of Ashkenaz (2012), all published by Wayne State University Press.

Who was a Jew in the Middle Ages? Brothers from Afar illuminates the complexities at the intersection of Jewish law and medieval Jewish identity, conversion and gender, Ashkenaz and Sepharad. Kanarfogel’s penetrating scholarship contributes an important new chapter to the historical development of halakhah.

– Elisheva Carlebach, Salo Wittmayer Baron Professor of Jewish History, Culture, and Society, Columbia University

An erudite and richly documented study of how medieval European rabbis required reverting apostate Jews to undergo a range of rites of passage to return to the fold. It revises the approach of the late Jacob Katz, who claimed that this process occurred only in early modern times. Precisely because of their social proximity to Christians, medieval Jews needed boundary markers to reassure themselves that returning apostates could be trusted again. A masterful contribution to the social contexts of Jewish legal history that dazzles on every page.

– Ivan G. Marcus, Frederick P. Rose Professor of Jewish History, Yale University

This learned study is essential reading for those interested in the history of Jewish apostasy and reversion to Judaism. Its meticulous analysis of manuscript evidence fundamentally reorients understandings of the attitudes of medieval rabbinic authorities toward apostasy, opening new avenues for research in medieval Jewish-Christian relations.

– Paola Tartakoff, professor of history and Jewish Studies at Rutgers University

Through extraordinary industriousness, Kanarfogel has unearthed a gold mine of material buried in medieval Hebrew manuscripts that sheds a whole new light on the place of repentant apostates in medieval Jewish societies and Jewish consciousness over the course of five centuries.

– Edward Fram, Solly Yellin Chair of Lithuanian and Eastern European Jewry, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Drawing on previously unknown manuscript sources and the vast literature of Jewish law, Brothers from Afar offers readers a pathbreaking reassessment of the much-debated subject of apostasy. In this work of superb scholarship, Ephraim Kanarfogel reveals the inner workings of medieval Jewish public policy and the wider implications for Jewish-Christian relations in the Middle Ages and beyond.

– Jay R. Berkovitz, distinguished professor (emeritus) of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst