A look at the Iberian Peninsula in the 13th century discovers a period of profound changes, of cultural remodeling and readjustments between old and new values, where different life options were set forth, many previous lifestyles questioned and new ones offered; a time in which separation from the world and the repudiation of material goods, was an expression of perfection and wisdom. At the same time, the enjoyment of pleasure (women, wine, wealth, etc) was also defended. This ‘struggle’ with regard to the wealth-poverty (or wealth-wisdom) binomial is a recurring subject among Jewish writers in this era. In some of their books, Yehudah Ibn Shabbbetay or Shem Tov Ibn Falaquera offer us a heterogeneous conception of poverty and defend different attitudes in resignation of worldly goods, not always according to traditional Jewish thought. I propose to analyse this topic in its literary and socio-cultural context in some of these narrative texts written in the 13th century.
Sefer ha-Ma’asim, The Book of Tales from Northern France, is one of the largest and most impressive Hebrew story collections from the Middle Ages. Notions of pleasure in Sefer ha-Ma’asim are implied from (a) the beautiful design of the compilation; (b) its entertainment function within the context of the Medieval Renaissance in France; © its narrative representations, which I will classify according to three categories: food and lavish meals, wealth and abundance, and finally, love and pleasures of the flesh. I will discuss these representations in two contexts: Jewish traditions inherited from earlier rabbinical literature, and Christian notions of pleasure in the Middle Ages. Differences and similarities will emerge which shed light on both Jewish and Christian perceptions of pleasure.