02 June 2015

Experiments in Teaching Medieval Jewish History, part IV: early medieval Ashkenaz (up to c. 1230)

For this unit, I relied heavily on sources I found in R' Binyamin Sendler's The Chosen Path. Below I include only sources I found without the help of his excellent textbook (some of which he also includes). I didn't give all of these to my class.
As usual, I haven't inspected the sites I link to here; they are provided merely as a convenience. 

-A description of the education of a knight. I was tempted to use passages from The Once and Future King, but those are extremely funny and I wanted something more solemn.
-If they didn't all know how to play chess I would have taught them.
-We don't know the identity of the “King Charles” who invited the Jews to Ashkenaz to start a yeshiva. Still, I gave them the paragraphs from Einhard's Life of Charlemagne about Charlemagne's appearance and how he was “tolerant of foreigners” (paragraphs 21-23).
-The story of how Waterbury, CT wound up with a yeshiva parallels this episode nicely.
-The rather bizarre story of Charlemagne and the mouse.
-Piyut by R' Moshe ben Kalonymus.
-A list of "Occupations of the Jews" from Israel Abrahams (who, alas, grows less reliable each time I check his sources)
-The charter inviting Jews to the new city of Speyer
-The takanos of Rabbeinu Gershom
-Rn. Bussel's explanation of how to learn Rashi
-Letter from Mainz to the Jews of France warning them of the impending first Crusade
-The first paragraph of the prologue to The Canterbury Tales tells you a little something about the mindset of the Crusaders
-Kinna – kumi l'chi. This is an unusual kinna in that it is not about the devastation wreaked by the Crusaders but about the fact that they were going to Eretz Yisrael and we were not.
-Rashi's kinna about the People's Crusade
-Rachel and Her Children (very graphic) – also from the People's Crusade
-Many of the kinnos we say on Tisha b'Av are about the Crusades -- e.g. no. 25, also from the People's Crusade.
-Rashi's teshuva about the forced converts
-Christian account of William of Norwich
-The Forced Conversion of the Jews of Regensburg - 1137
-Kinna by R' Ephraim of Regensburg (Elokai b'cha achavek).
-Kinna for Blois by Baruch of Magenza.
-Sefer haYashar by Rabbeinu Tam. I didn't go through the whole sefer to get a sense of it and pick the most suitable piece; I just grabbed something, and that something was the fifth midda in the sixth shaar: what is atzlus, what causes it, what to do about it. This went over well.
-Tosafos Bava Metzia 70b – about why nowadays (i.e. in the times of Tosafos) so many of us are engaged in money-lending.
-There is also a Tosafos somewhere about marrying off one's daughters young due to the upheaval of the times.
-Tosafos on Sukka 45a: jousting as chasuna shtick. background information
-Jousting shu"t; I haven't read it closely recently but will note here anyway that standard practice was that if you lost a tournament you forfeited your armor and horse to the victor.
- Sefer Hasidim – paras. 94 (about knights), 135 (about the power of a wife's influence), 136 (about how books got copied), 149 (in which he invokes the queen coming to visit as a mashal for Shabbos - it means more when you realize that the queen was very real), 200 (about women cross-dressing for protection while traveling), 220 (about pretending to be non-Jews for protection while traveling), 702-703 (more about how women may protect themselves, e.g. dressing as nuns). One of these days I should get around to posting translations of these paragraphs. Let me know if you want any of them sooner.
-The Rokeach's hesped for his wife Dulce and his daughters Bellet and Chana. I haven't found the original text. If you can find it for me I'll be extremely grateful.
-Epitaph for Urania of Worms
- Ki hineh kachomer, in the Yom Kippur machzor, was composed, I think, in 13th-c. France. (In Portland we use the niggun of Acheinu for it.)
- Rav Hirsch's essays on Iyar are largely about the time of the Crusades. I gave the girls the third, to put the massacres of this unit in perspective.

There are lots of horrific texts about the devastation the Crusaders wreaked on the kehillos of Ashkenaz, which I didn't give my class because I don't want to wear out such texts before the girls are old enough to understand tragedy when they see it.
And there are many disgusting little tracts containing the accusations of the libels at Norwich, Blois, etc., which I didn't share either because the idea of giving the girls tabloids to read, even medieval tabloids, is just too disturbing.
The libels got to be such a trope that images of them were popular engravings on walking sticks, like a medieval Hello Kitty.
(Hello Kitty was the analogy I told the class; but I have since noticed that even in our own times, it is considered laudable by people on our block to demonstrate their neighborly holiday spirit come Halloween by hanging skeletons in nooses in the trees in their yard.)