Law, Liturgy, and Intent: Isaac of Corbeil's Liturgical Innovation in Thirteenth-Century France

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Sometime during the second half of the thirteenth century, Isaac of Corbeil composed a list of the commandments relevant for Jews living in medieval times and divided it into seven parts.1 The division into seven was meant to facilitate the recitation of a daily portion of commandments, so that the entire list would be recited each week by all male members of the Jewish community. As we shall see below, Isaac hoped that through this recitation he could improve the religiosity of French Jewry. Later Isaac wrote a commentary to the list of commandments which became his legal handbook 'Amude golah (Pillars of exile), otherwise known as Sefer mitsvot katan or by its abbreviation Semak.2 In most manuscripts, and in all printed editions,3 the original seven-part list of commandments was copied at the beginning of the Semak, where it also served as a table of contents. It is hard to gauge the circulation of the list of commandments as an independent work; a mere few pages in length, the chances of its survival from the Middle Ages were small. The Semak, however, which opened with the list, was one of the most copied works in Ashkenaz in medieval times. It seems fair to say that the work was a best seller in the medieval Ashkenazic book world.4 The content of the list is very basic; it generally cites the title of the commandment and its biblical or rabbinic source, and at times adds some amplifications or even some legal details. However, it rarely includes lengthy legal discussion related to its implementation. Since the list was meant to be recited ritually, as an act of devotion to be completed weekly, brevity was crucial.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-261
Number of pages27
JournalThe Jewish Quarterly Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2024

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