IMC 2006: Sessions

Session 1302: Jewish Medieval Pietists and their Literature

Wednesday 12 July 2006, 16.30-18.00

Organiser:Simha Goldin, Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center, Tel Aviv University
Moderator/Chair:Elisheva Baumgarten, Department of Jewish History, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan
Paper 1302-aJewish Medieval Pietists: Concepts of Mourning and Burial
(Language: English)
Nati Barak, Department of Jewish History, Tel Aviv University
Index terms: Hebrew and Jewish Studies
Paper 1302-bThe Political Theory of the German Pietists
(Language: English)
Joseph Isaac Lifshitz, Tel Aviv University / The Shalem Center, Jerusalem
Index terms: Hebrew and Jewish Studies
Paper 1302-cConcepts of Leadership and the Use of Literature
(Language: English)
Simha Goldin, Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center, Tel Aviv University
Index terms: Hebrew and Jewish Studies

Abstract Paper -a: Many scholars have claimed that the Book of Hassidim is the most important, comprehensive, and significant composition creation in the medieval Ashkenazi culture. This argument is strongly based especially if we will pay careful attention to the mourning and burial customs and concepts inside this unique medieval composition. But much more important, few customs that were defined as late medieval customs are already mentioned in this significant book. For example, the custom of ‘four deaths’, which were symbolically inflicted on the remains, before burial, is according to many scholars very late. This custom is first unequivocally mentioned in a few testimonies from the end of the 14th century (1357, 1366, 1384 – all of them after the Black Death).

It is very curious, but little evidence inside this Book of Hassidim indicates to us that this custom (as well as other customs) were without doubt well known before the end of the 11th century. In my paper, I will focus on these customs, and on the attitudes towards death in the Book of Hassidim.

Abstract paper -b: The question concerning the political theory of the German pietists, if indeed they articulated one, has gone through some changes. While Fritz Bear (in 1938) held that the pietists, influenced by Christian orders, hoped to create a social movement focused on social and religious reforms, followed by a similar thesis by Gershom Sholem, Chaim Soloveitchik and Yoseph Dan instead hold that the pietist attempt was not political. Soloveitchik claims that the pietist’s attempt was mainly religious, and that their attack on the villains was not a social reform but a purely pietist one. Dan also claims that the pietist’s concern was mainly personal rather than social. Ivan Marcus holds a still more moderate approach. I would like to suggest that the German pietists did indeed have a political theory. As with other medieval political theories, so here too the religious is the justifying foundation of the political, and hence serves as a political theology.

Abstract paper -c: The subject of who were the Jewish medieval pietists (Hasidei Askenaz) and who were their leaders are main questions in the field of investigating the Jewish community in the Middle Ages. Did they come from one particular class, or were their ranks open to everyone? Were family connections the decisive factor in their acceptance as leaders, or was this dependent on economic acumen or scholarly abilities? What role, if any, did charisma play, and what weight did it carry in the leadership’s functioning?

We can trace those questions with the ongoing investigation of Sefer Hasidim, the main source of Hasidei Askenaz, and other sources of the group: Halakhic literature and commentaries, responsa literature, biblical commentaries, liturgy (piyyutim), and commentaries on this liturgy, as well as official government documents.