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metic^ was much used, it may be well to point out that the
order of subjects is a rather curious one: Multiplication,
Division, Addition, Subtraction, Fractions, Proportion,
Square Root. As, however. Addition starts with the sum.
mation of series, it is not so strange that it succeeds Mul-
tiplication and Division. After Arithmetic and other
mathematical subjects, including Music, the pupil com-
menced the study of Aristotle's Logic as interpreted by
Averroes. It is necessary to point out that the only
immediate disciples whom this great Arabian philosopher
inspired were Jews. Then the student took a systematic
course of Natural Science and Metaphysics.

The Spanish Jews were, as the result of this training,
men of the widest possible culture. One detects no note
of medievalism at all in their works and their lives, unless
it be the absence of special bent. Whatever their ultimate

1 The order is the usual one : first Berachoth, then Moed, then the larger
Orders, Nashim, Nezikim, etc. ^ Steinschneider, loc. cit.

' The Book of Numbers (naDDn -leo), ed. M. Silberberg (Frankfort, 1893).

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Popular Ignorance 367

business in life was to be, the Jew of this liberal school
was trained in all the arts and sciences of the day. The
Rabbi, the financier, the man of letters, was also poet,
philosopher, and often physician.

In contrast with this breadth, the acquirements of the
medieval Jews in the rest of Europe shrink to insignificance.
It is certain, however, that their culture was far higher than
is usually supposed. Zunz, writing in the middle of the
present century, when the struggle for enlightenment in
Jewish educational methods was only half won, was scarcely
just to the French and German Jews of the middle ages.^
He agrees, however, that the Jews were better educated
than their Christian contemporaries, but says with truth
that a great deal of ignorance prevailed on natural phe-
nomena, and that the Jewish atmosphere as well as the
Christian was filled with demons and monsters. Birds
grew spontaneously in the air on the trees,^ and the Sea of
Galilee flowed into the ocean.^ Jews in the thirteenth
century took omens from dreams like the rest of the world.
The mystical movements of the middle ages were also the
source of the admission into Jewish life of a good deal of
ignorant superstition. Jews knew of men who had no
shadows, of evil spirits lurking in caverns,* they feared the
evil-eye, believed in witches and ghouls who devoured
children, trusted to spells and incantations. In all this
the Jews were in the same position as the Christians.

Admitting these and many similar facts, it still remains

1 Zar Geschichti (1845), p. 177.

2 Meir of Rothenburg, Responsa (ed. Lemberg), 160.

* Raben, 54. CI. Gudemann, i. p. 117.

* Spanish Rabbis like Maimonides were remarkably free from such
superstitions. Abraham Ibn Ezra even denied in set terms the existence of
demons; a remarkable feat for the twelfth century.

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368 The Scope of Education

clear that the intellectual attainments of the Jews of Europe,
even outside the realms of theology, were by no means in-
considerable. Zunz remarks that a Rabbi like Samson of
Sens had got no farther in his mathematical knowledge of a
square than the certainty that ' the diagonal must be more
than seven-fifths of the side.' But surely this was a very
accurate approximation. Similarly, the great eleventh-
century French Rabbi, Rashi, obviously knew no ' Indian
Arithmetic,' but the calculations in his commentaries,
though cumbersome, are completely accurate, and display a
real grasp of first principles.^ Some mathematical know-
ledge is displayed by the French Rabbi, known as Rashbam,
in his famous Commentary on the Pentateuch. ^ It was, in
fact, impossible to understand certain parts of the Talmud
as the students in the great continental j/«>^«^(zr did, with-
out a considerable knowledge of mathematical principles,
and it is instructive that in the seventeenth century we
find appended to the legal decisions of a German Rabbi a
list of propositions of Euclid needed for the elucidation of
the Law.^ The Jewish calendar, which the French and
German Rabbis thoroughly understood, demanded some
astronomical knowledge. It is the fact, too, that out of
such a school there arose, in the eighteenth century,
accomplished mathematicians like the so-called Gaon,
Elijah of Wilna. . Jewish children, be it remembered, in
the middle ages were taught the meaning of numbers
together with the alphabet.* The Jews of northern France

1 See Rashi to T. B. Succah, 8 a; Zebachim, 59 b.

2 See e.g. on Exodus xxvi. 9, etc.

* See the end of Jonah Landsofer's npnx 'jiyo, where he proves Euclid I.
I, 9, II, 22, etc.

* Cf. Giidemann, i. 118. They were taught that N = i, a = 2, j = 3, and
so forth.

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Theology and Philosophy 369

were well acquainted with French, and transcribed it in
Hebrew characters with phonetic precision.^ Maharil, the
great German Rabbi of the fourteenth century, was an
adept at vocal music, and records many melodies.

Undoubtedly, however, the mass of the Jews failed to
attain the lofty level of the Arabo-Spanish culture. The
deficiency was great in volume, but greater in point of view.
The difference was one of mental attitude rather than of
mental attainments. To the Jews of Spain, Italy, and
Provence, theology did not exhaust culture. Elsewhere
nothing but the literature of religion was considered worthy
of study. Theology absorbed the whole mind, and the
dabbling of the young in metaphysics was not only con-
sidered useless, but also dangerous. It sapped faith and
produced a divided allegiance to God. The violent reaction
against philosophical inquiry which broke out, even in Spain
and Provence, over the remains of Maimonides was not
stayed in Jewish life until the era of the French Revolution.
In the intervening centuries the Jews were driven in masses
to the non-cultured lands of Europe, and the Universities
were closed to them except by the road of baptism. The
Jews were expelled from France and Spain, and the only
cultured land left open to them was commercial Italy.
For a long period the Jews of Turkey continued the
Spanish tradition, and only lost their old culture in mod-
ern times under the stress of internal and external degen-

I have just said that the Jews of Italy and Spain did not
bound their intellectual horizon on all sides by theology.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, that while they

1 Some of the oldest French extant is to be found in the glosses of Rashi.
Cf. E. Renan (and Neubauer), ^crivains Juifs franfais du XI V siecU, p. 389.

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370 The Scope of Education

regarded Religion as the ultimate goal of education, they
still considered other subjects necessary as handmaids or
adjuncts to theology. Joseph Ibn Caspi, in the early
decades of the fourteenth century, agreed that the funda-
mental principles of Judaism were not to believe but to
rationally know that God is, that he is one, that man must
love and fear him.^ 'How can I know God and that he
is one, unless I know what knowing means, and what con-
stitutes unity ? Why should these things be left to non-
Jewish philosophers ? Why should Aristotle retain sole
possession of treasures that he stole from Solomon ?^ No
one really knows the true meaning of loving God and
fearing him, unless he is acquainted with natural science
and metaphysics, for we love not God as a man loves his
wife and children, nor fear we him as we would a mighty
man. I do not say that all men can reach this intellectual
height, but I maintain that it is the degree of highest
excellence, though those who stand below it may still be
good. Strive thou, my son, to attain this degree ; yet be
not hasty in commencing metaphysical studies, and con-
stantly read moral books.' It was undoubtedly a narrow-
ing of religion to make Aristotle's works in Maimonized
form the only road to it. Ibn Caspi's assumption would
inevitably restrict the number of those who can serve God
with truth, for the ordinary mortal is not a philosopher.
One can understand the vigour and temper with which
the non-philosophers resented this attitude and, throwing
themselves into the opposite extreme, asserted that meta-
physics led not to, but from, God.

1 Joseph Ibn Caspi's IDIDH IBD in Eleazar Ashkenazi's D''Jpl Dyo (1854).

2 For the legend that Aristotle derived his philosophy from Solomon
on his supposed visit to Jerusalem with Alexander the Great, of. my article
in Mind, July, 1888. See also the Frankel-Gratz Monatsschrifi for i860.

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The Renaissance 371

Ibn Caspi was no doubt doing himself less than justice.
He meant that there were other interests in life besides
religion, but he asserted that these other interests were
religious. Another Jew of the same school placed the
matter in a clearer light. Yedaya Bedaressi (1280-1340),
the poet-philosopher, was satisfied to prove that secular
and scientific occupations were not inconsistent with a
complete belief in God or devotion to the demands of
religion. In his famous letter ^ to the half-hearted oppo-
nent of secular studies, Solomon ben Adret, he reveals the
strength of his own convictions. He even adds : 'It is
certain that if Joshua the son of Nun arose to forbid the
Provencal Jews to study the works of Maimonides, he
would scarcely succeed. For they have the firm intention
to sacrifice their fortunes and even their lives in defence
of the philosophical works of Maimonides.' The men who
wrote in this strain would certainly have stood in the van
of the literary Renaissance had not persecution laid its
cold hand on their enthusiasm for knowledge.

Modern investigations make it clearer and clearer that
the medieval Jews were kept from their share in the
Renaissance by external and accidental causes. In Italy
alone did they participate in the new expansion of men's
minds. Elsewhere they were denied the chance. But
they were, in truth, the pioneers of the Renaissance, whose
fruits they did not share. As the Arab science dwindled
and Latin learning took its place, the Jews of Provence at

1 Cf. Renan (and Neubauer), Les icrivains Juifs franfais du XIV' siecle,
pp. 31 seq. 'Comme tous les savants Juifs du moyen age, Yedaya etait
univeisel. Nous aurons bient6t 2i apprecier le philosophe et le moraliste.
II s'occupa egalement des etudes taUnudiques, notamment de la partie
agadique, sur laquelle il fit des commentaires. Ajoutons qu'il etait medecin,
puisqu'il a fait des gloses sur le Canon d'Avicenne ' (op. cit. p. 13).

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372 The Scope of Education

the end of the thirteenth century were well equipped to
lead the change. 'The Jews,' says Renan, 'ought to have
played a great part in the work of the Renaissance. One
of the reasons why France was slow in gaining by the
great transformation is that, about 1500, France was
quite destitute of a Jewish element. The Jews to whom
Francis I was forced to have recourse for the foundation
of his college, le Canosse, Guidacier, were Italian Jews.' ^
When at last it did come, the Renaissance for which
it had waited fell on Jewish life like a strong stream
swollen by a long-gathered accumulation of waters. The
sharpening of the mind produced by several centuries'
devotion to Talmudical dialectics provided the Jews with
a keen instrument for cultivating the fields fertilized by
the rushing streams of emancipation. The postponement
of the Jewish middle ages until the fifteenth century, and
the late birth of the Renaissance at the end of the eigh-
teenth, produced effects which could not vanish in a day.
But because it came late, the Jewish Renaissance was all
the more comprehensive. It will need, however, the lapse
of at least another generation before its full effects, for
good or evil, will have unfolded themselves.

^ Renan, Les Ecrivains yuifs franfais du XIV' Steele, p. 393 : ' A partir de
la seconde moitie du xiii« siScle, I'arabe n'est plus connu des Juifs de
Provence, k moins d'une etude speciale; mais, d'un autre c6t6, ces Juifs
provensaux, pour I'astronomie et la medecine, avaient des sources d'exci-
tations toutes particulieres. A mesure que la science arabe disparaissait,
la science latine naissait; cette evolution nouvelle de I'esprit humain allait
donner au travail Israelite tout son prid. Les Juifs devaient avoir une part
considerable dans I'ceuvre de la Renaissance. Une des raisons pour
lesquelles la France fut en retard dans cette grande transformation, c'est
que, vers 1500, elle s'etait i. peu pres privee de I'element juifs. Les Juifs
auxquels Franjois I"^ dut avoir recours pour la fondation de son College, le
Canosse, Guidacier, etaient des Juifs italiens.'

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A MERRY spirit smiled on Jewish life in the middle ages,
joyousness forming, in the Jewish conception, the coping
Stone of piety. There can be no greater mistake than
to imagine that the Jews allowed their sufferings to blacken
their life or cramp their optimism. Few pastimes of the
middle ages were excluded from the Jewish sphere. The
Jew rarely invented a game, but he adopted a good thing
when he saw it. The stern, restraining hand of religion
only occasionally checked the mirth and light-heartedness
with which the Jew yielded himself to all the various
pleasures of which his life was capable.

We have already seen that the day of rest was not a day
of gloom. To walk abroad in the fresh air on the Sabbath
was a favourite delight of the Jews in the middle ages. On
the festivals they strolled by brooks and streams, and
watched the fishes disporting themselves in the water.
They carried food with them which they threw into the
streams, and derived a simple pleasure from the pastime,
even though it was not strictly in accordance with Jewish
ritual law.i The service in synagogue was not lengthened

1 Mabaril, lyion h\n n«Sn.

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374 Medieval Pastimes and Indoor Amusements

beyond measure, so as to 'preserve the pleasure of the
festival.' ^ Industrious as the Jewish women were, they
had many holidays. On the new moon they did no work,
but amused themselves in ways to be described below,
while the men and women, besides their other home-games,
spent part of Purim in light and pleasant reading, in
making preparations for a forthcoming wedding, or in
embroidering gay garments for future wear.^

Joyous wedding parties and bridal feasts were held even
on the Sabbath, — the day of peace, but not of repression,
— singing and dancing occurred sometimes to the accom-
paniment of instrumental music, and, as we shall soon
note, indoor amusements, such as chess and other table-
games, were permitted on the seventh day. The board
was spread with the choicest viands that the husband's
purse could buy, the wine flowed, and conversation tripped
along, witty, religious, and cheery, interspersed with semi-
religious songs set to merry tunes. If the Jew visited his
Rabbi, he heard many a humorous anecdote or quaint intel-
lectual quip, told with a smile to a responsively smiling
audience, who the more willingly applied the moral because
they enjoyed the tale. The Jewish observance of the
Sabbath was strict but not sombre ; it was Judaic and not
Puritanical — two terms far from identical in significance.
Life was transfigured on the Sabbath day, and a tone of
elevated joy was the prevailing note.

Religion did, however, seriously affect the Jewish amuse-
ments in two significant particulars. These were the
suppression of gambling and the interference with such

1 See e.g. the interesting statement to this effect in the Machzor Romania
(Constant. 1573), New Year, 30 a.
^ jvp l>-ix I'NB' 13T Sj, Kolbo, 46 b.

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Intellectual Games 375

recreations as involved free intercourse between the two
sexes. These points, however, will best be approached in
the process of a general treatment of the favourite Jewish
recreations of the middle ages.

Intellectual pastimes were far more common than physical
as the middle ages advanced. But in the fourth century
Jerome, when on a visit to Syria, saw ' large, heavy stones
which Jewish boys and youths handled and held aloft in
the air to train their muscular strength.' ^ At the same
period, the Palestinian Jews were wont to practise archery,
probably as a form of recreation.^ Considerably earlier
Tacitus, a hostile witness, says that 'the bodies of the
Jews are sound and healthy, and hardy to bear burdens.' ^
Unhappily everything connected with the ancient gymnasia
became distasteful to the Jews after the wars with Rome,
and athletic exercises became a portion of ' foreign culture '
which was tabooed.*

Jewish antipathy to another favourite sport — hunting —
was much deeper. Already in the Bible the figures intro-
duced as devoted hunters — Nimrod and Esau — are by no
means presented in a favourable light. Herod is the first
person described in post-Biblical Jewish history as 'a most
excellent hunter, in which sport he generally had great
success owing to his skill in riding, for in one day he once
killed forty wild beasts.' ^ Herod was also a ' most straight
javelin-thrower and a most unerring archer.' Now, as the

^ On Zechariah, xii. 4.

2 See Bacher, Revue des Aiudes jfuives, xxvi. pp. 63-68. The recreation
is described by the phrase D'^in niip.

* ffist. V. 6 : ' Corpora hominum salubria et ferentia laborum.'

* That athletics were included by the Talmud under mjii noan, ' Greek
wisdom,' may be seen from B. Kama, 83 a, and Sola, 49 b,

^ Josephus, Wars, I. xxi. 13.

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376 Medieval Pastimes and Indoor Amusements

Jews were frequently forbidden in the middle ages to carry
arms, even in Spain, and as, moreover, Jews were never
noted riders,^ it is obvious that the moral objection to
sports in which weapons and horses were necessary acces-
sories must have gained overwhelming strength from com-
pulsion. Hunting in particular was resented as cruel, and
therefore un-Jewish. ' He who hunts game with dogs, as
non-Jews do, will not participate in the joy of the Levia-
than,' says a great medieval Jew.^ The very vehemence
of this prohibition prepares us to expect that, as a matter of
fact, Jews did at least occasionally participate in hunting.
Nor are indications wanting that this was the case, though
rarely, throughout the middle ages. Zunz cites an in-
stance.^ In Provence, too, the Jews possessed trained
falcons, and used them in hawking, themselves riding on

Mr. Joseph Jacobs has unearthed an even more interesting
case, which occurred in Colchester in 1267. ' A certain doe '
was started in Wildenhaye Wood by the dogs of Sir John
de Burgh, and in her flight came by the top of the city of
Colchester. ' And there issued forth Saunte son of Ursel,
Jew of Colchester, Cok son of Aaron, and Samuel son of
the same, Isaac the Jewish chaplain, Copin and Elias, Jews,
and certain Christians of the said city. And these with
a mighty clamour chased the same doe through the south
gate into the aforesaid city, and they sc worried her by
their shouting that they forced her to jump over a wall,

1 Nowack, Lehrhuch der Hebr. Archaologie, i. p. 367.

2 Meir of Rothenburg, n" w (ed. Mekitse Nirdamim) , p. 7, § 27. Cf. Talmud
B. Aboda Zara, 18 b. The feast on the flesh of the Leviathan typified the
joys of paradise.

* Zur Geschichte, p. 173.

* Berliner, Aus dem inner en Leben, p. 17.

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Hunting 377

and she thus broke her neck. . . . And there came upon
them Walter the bailiff and Robert the Toller, beadle of
the same city, and carried thence the game, and had their
will of it.'i Evidently the Jews could not resist the
instinct of joining in the chase when the animal crossed
their path. But though other instances are on record,
it may be doubted whether the Jews, even when their
relations with Christians were friendly, could heartily par-
ticipate in the chase, seeing that they could not eat the
game so killed, in company with Christians.^

With more readiness, however, the Jews surrendered
themselves to the pleasures of the tourney and other
knightly exercises which involved no cruelty to animals.
We have seen above that in their wedding festivities Jews
often performed mimic fights. Jewish duellists were not
unknown.^ They would no doubt have been ready to join
in martial sports had they been permitted. But in most
places the Jews were not allowed to bear arms even in
their own quarters and for self-defence. In 1181 it was
enacted in England that ' no Jew shall keep with him mail
or hauberk, but let him sell or give them away, or in some

1 J. Jacobs, jfewish Ideals, p. 226. The narrative is from the Forest Roll
of the county of Essex (1277). The Jews were severely punished for this
breach of the forest laws.

2 It will be noticed that in the Colchester case the Jews did not eat the
doe, for an animal slain in the chase is unfit for the Jewish table. At a much
later date Jews who indulged in hunting abstained from eating the hunted
animal (S. Morpurgo, npnx B'Dif T^"^v, p. 66 b). For other (late) references
to Jewish hunters, see law onn, l"> "n, §§ 52, 53; J. Reischer, ap))' nuu', ii.
§ 63. The chief JeviTsh objection to hunting was based on its cruelty. Yet
Isserlein mentions the cropping of a dog's ears and tail to improve its looks
(D'3n3i D'pDs, 105). Cf. p. 128 above.

' Depping, Les Juifs dans le moyen age, p. 182 : ' Judicatum est quod Calfot
Judaeus poterit sequi Abraham Judaeum per duellum de Kemino' (=in an
open road). The date of this entry is 1207.

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378 Medieval Pastimes and Indoor Amusements

other way remove them from him.'^ Before that date sev-
eral English Jews seem to have ranked as knights. The
Jews of Worms were practised in bearing arms,^ while in
Prague this was even more notably the case.^

In Spain the Jews highly prized the privilege of wear-
ing arms, styling themselves knights, and bearing stately
names. Frequent attempts were made to prevent this,
especially towards the end of the fourteenth century. In
1390 the Jews of Majorca were forbidden to carry arms in
their ghetto ;* in 1412 the King of Castile resolved that no
Jews might ' carry swords, daggers, or similar arms in the
cities, towns, and places of my kingdoms.' ^ In Portugal
as late as 1481 the following representations were made to
John II : 'We notice Jewish cavaliers, mounted on richly
caparisoned horses and mules, in fine cloaks, cassocks, silk
doublets, closed hoods, and with gilt swords.' ® The Jews
in Italy held sportive tourneys, in which the boys fought on
foot with nuts as pellets, while their elders rode on horse-
back through the streets, flourishing wooden-staves, and,
to the blast of horns and bugles, tilted at an effigy repre-
senting Haman, which was subsequently burnt on a mock
funeral pyre.^ Possibly the Jews actually took part in
real tourneys in the fourteenth century, and an instance
of such participation is recorded in Weissenfels in 1386.^

^ Jacobs, yews of Angevin England, cf. p. 75 with p. 260.

2 Rokeach, § 196.

' G. Wolf, Die Juden (of Austro-Bohemia), p. 8. Cf. ch. iv. above.

* Revue des Etudes Juives, iv. 38.

^ The Ordinance of Cifuentes, § 7 ; Llndo, p. 204.

* The Cortes of Evora, Lindo, p. 317. '' Kalonymos, D'llD n3Dn.

8 Hecht, Wertheimer's Jahrhuch, iii. 169. But compare Berliner, op. cit.
p. 16, and Zunz, Zur Geschichte, p. 184, from which it would seem that the
fight was not in sport, but earnest, and that the Jews merely defended them-
selves against the attack of a party of armed bandits.

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Athletic Amusements 379

The old religious objections to the classical gymnasia
would probably have left little impress on medieval Jews
had the latter been allowed a free choice.

Other amusements, of a more or less athletic nature,
were also much favoured by Jews. They were extremely
'fond of foot-races. Both men and women frequently
played games in which balls were used. The scene of
this pastime was the street, or a public open space, and in
France the game seems to have resembled tennis. Some
authorities even permitted the game to be publicly played
by women on festivals, others restricted the licence to
children.! In place of a ball, round fruits, such as nuts
and apples, or even eggs and spherical stones, were some-

Online LibraryIsrael AbrahamsJewish life in the middle ages → online text (page 30 of 38)