Appropriation and Differentiation: Jewish Identity in Medieval Ashkenaz

Elisheva Baumgarten

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This article discusses the ways scholars have outlined the process of Jewish adaptation (or lack of it) from their Christian surroundings in northern Europe during the High Middle Ages. Using the example of penitential fasting, the first two sections of the article describe medieval Jewish practices and some of the approaches that have been used to explain the similarity between medieval Jewish and contemporary Christian customs. The last two sections of the article suggest that in addition to looking for texts that connect between Jewish and Christian thought and beliefs behind these customs, it is useful to examine what medieval Jews and Christians saw of each other's customs living in close urban quarters. Finally, the article suggests that when shaping medieval Jewish and Christian identity, the differences emphasized in shared everyday actions and visible practice were no less important than theological distinctions. As part of the discussion throughout the article, the terminology used by scholars to describe the process of Jewish appropriation from the local surroundings is described, focusing on terms such as influence and inward acculturation, as well as appropriation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-63
Number of pages25
JournalAJS Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Association for Jewish Studies.


This article began as a talk at the Davis Center at Princeton University in the spring of 2014. I thank the participants in that seminar and especially Professor William Chester Jordan, who responded to the paper and challenged me significantly, leading to what I hope is a better essay. I also am grateful to Caroline Walker Bynum, Judah Galinsky, Debra Kaplan, and David Shyovitz, who read drafts of the essay and made very useful suggestions. Many thanks to the readers for the journal for their helpful critique and comments. The research for the article was completed as part of a grant awarded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant 681507), Beyond the Elite: Jewish Daily Life in Medieval Europe.

FundersFunder number
European Union’s Horizon 2020
Princeton University
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme681507
European Research Council


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