The papers in this session consider Jewish literary texts from the 5th to the early 16th century in a comparative framework, to frame them as part of a common secular European heritage of travel literature and fable.
Abstract Paper -a:
Travelers’ stories attracted the human imagination from very early days. Beginning as an oral traditions, many of these stories were later written down. There are many examples of this genre in world literature from very ancient times, such as the Odyssey, composed at the 8th century B.C. A volume of such stories was included in tract Bava Bathra of the Babylonian Talmud. Most of the stories in this volume were told by the ammora of the 3rd –4th century A.D., Rabba Bar Bar Hannah. He was one of the sages known as nehutei, the rabbis that descended from the land of Israel to Babylon, where they related the Torah of the land of Israel, thus serving as the pipeline for conveying cultural and religious information across the borders between east and west, between two empires – Rome and Persia. Rabba Bar Bar Hannah who had been traveling in many far away countries, used to tell his listeners about his adventures overseas, in desert and sea. His stories are a mixture of fantasia and imagination, some are well known from earlier or later literary compositions like Pliny’s Historia Naturalis or The Adventures of Sindbad the Sailor. Therefore Rabba B.B. Hannah was not only a vehicle of transmitting cultural and religious information across borders, but he was also a link in the endless chain of transmitting travelers’ folk stories. In our lecture we will try to shed some historical light on the phenomenon by careful reading of the mentioned text.
Abstract Paper -b:
Unlike their brethren from the rest of Europe, the Jews of medieval christian Spain left a cultural heritage that has enriched not only the Jewish, but also the neighbouring christian cultural tradition, that is to say, Spanish thought and literature. The latter is due to the fact that the Jews of medieval Spain employed the romance languages on various levels of communication, including that of literary creation. It is necessary to stress the exceptional nature of this phenomenon, given that in no other medieval christian society did Jewish community adopt the native language of the country for their cultural production. Therefore, it seems important to ask why and for what kind of audience did Jewish authors of medieval christian Spain write in the vernacular languages.
In order to deal with this question, I shall use as the starting point the example of the 14th-century Castilian Jewish writer, Santob de Carrion.
Abstract Paper -c:
The world of the Yiddish romances contains work of high literary merit essential to our understanding of cultural interchange (and conflict) in the Middle Ages. The Yiddish romances remain key witnesses to the encounter between Jewish readers and the European chivalric romance tradition. In this paper a specialist in the history of the medieval chivalric romance looks at the Jewishness (yidishkeyt) of Eliahu Levita’s Bove Bukh, the most popular and distinguished of the Middle Yiddish romances, setting this Jewish Bevis against a long series of Bevises beginning with the Anglo-Norman Beuves d’Antona of the thirteenth century. (Catherine Batt suggested I send this in for Comp. Lit.)
Abstract Paper -d:
In the course of the 12th century there developed in Northern Europe a new approach to the commentary of the Talmud. The person most identified with this process is the grandson of Rashi- Rabbi Yaacov ben Meir, better known as Rabbenu Tam. Rabbenu Tam created in Ramerupt in Champagne from the 30’s of the 12th century, until his death in 1171. Students from all over Europe came to Rabbenu Tam’s Beit Midrash and upon their return to their countries of origin, they spread this approach, known as the method of the Tosafists. These students, as well as Rabbenu Tam’s responsa, were the vehicle through which this new approach spread far and wide.
This lecture will describe how Rabbenu Tam’s approach was disseminated and how it came to be accepted among the Talmud scholars of Ashkenaz.. We will first deal with the question of the cultural unity between Ashkenaz and France of the Middle Ages and then describe the preliminary resistance of the ancient Ashkenaz communities of Worms, Speyer and Mainz to Rabbenu Tam’s approach. We will suggest that it was this opposition that caused some of Rabbenu Tam’s disciples to head eastward to Regensburg and establish there a Beit Midrash with French characteristics. It was in this Beit Midrash that Rabbenu Tam’s responsa were preserved and thus the books of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yoel ha-Levi from Bonn, who was a disciple of the Regensburg scholars, are one of the main sources of Rabbenu Tam’s responsa. The signifcance of this description is that the new French approach was distributed through two main channels, the French channel and the Ashkenaz-Regensburg channel. By the beginning of the 13th century we find that there are no longer clear demarcation boundaries between Ashkenaz and France in this area as well as in other areas of Jewish learning.