The 12th-century Hebrew literature about the Crusades of 1096 may have been used, in part, to influence adolescent Jewish boys who were at that time perceived as susceptible to conversion to Christianity. The adolescent audience is situated in a chain of Jewish glory via narratives of parental pride and depictions of children’s grief and awe for young martyrs. With the chronicles and poetic lamentations causing them to look back to their parents, whose hopes for the future rest with them, and forward to the generations they may inspire, the boys would be persuaded not to leave their religion and community.
Rituals of baptism and circumcision have been central to recent discussions of medieval religious practice and identity. This research has primarily focused on baptism and circumcision as birth rituals among Christians and Jews, respectively, in northern Europe. Less attention has been paid to these rituals as initiation rites for adult converts and the ways in which such rituals could be adapted to mark a repentant apostate’s return to Judaism. This paper will focus on 13th and 14th-century France, examining cases of ambivalent converts to Christianity who underwent multiple baptisms, as well as the use of debaptism and recircumcision rituals to reintegrate repentant apostates into the Jewish community. The paper will draw on evidence from rabbinic texts, chronicles, inquisitorial records, and episcopal visitation registers to argue that in certain circumstances, rituals of spiritual transformation could be both repeated and undone, as individuals crossed and re-crossed the boundary between the ‘Other’ and the ‘Familiar’.