2013 Penn Lectures in Judaic Studies: What Matters about the Jewish Middle Ages?
The lectures in Penn’s spring series represent the range and richness of current research on the Jewish Middle Ages. All the speakers are currently fellows at the Herbert D. Katz Center of the University of Pennsylvania. They bring excitement and light to this remote and seemingly “dark” period. The experience of medieval Jews—entangled among Christians and Muslims—can teach us much about the historical origins of important contemporary issues and is not only exciting but also relevant to understanding our own world. Though the Jewish Middle Ages was a time of persecutions and expulsions, it was as much a time of creativity and vibrancy in Judaism—from the proliferation of mystical (kabbalistic) texts and the composition of beautiful rhymed poems to the growth of scientific and medical knowledge and the appearance of new forms of piety. The lectures will touch on these topics and others such as the image of the Jew in legends of the Virgin Mary, the Jewish curriculum, childrearing and women’s practices, and the attitudes of Jews to war and worship. We hope you will come share in this veritable feast of learning!
Hebrew Treasures in the Spanish Collections: The Lives and Afterlives of Books from Medieval Spain
The presenter will walk the audience through the rooms of a virtual exhibition of Hebrew medieval manuscripts from Spain. This virtual exhibition—based on one held in 2012 at the Spanish National Library—includes luxurious biblical codices beautifully produced and lavishly illuminated; books of grammar; liturgical texts used in both private and community services; commentaries on the Bible; and polemical works. Of all these manuscripts only a few remained in the Iberian Peninsula after the expulsion of 1492 and, in some cases, Hebrew manuscripts were torn apart and used as filling material in the carpet pages of other books. The vast majority of the texts, however, left the Peninsula with their expelled owners sometime before 1498 only to return to Spain after years of “exile.” In walking these virtual rooms the audience will see that the fate of books was closely tied with the lives of those who produced, illuminated, and owned them.
Esperanza Alfonso is Research Fellow at the Center for Social and Human Sciences, Spanish National Research Council. She authored Islamic Culture through Jewish Eyes: Al-Andalus from the Tenth to the Twelfth Century (2007); and coedited Late Medieval Jewish Identities: Iberia and Beyond (2010).