The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was not an auspicious period for the Jews of Europe. In contrast, the Jewish communities of Christian Spain seem to have been the exception as for the most part achieved a certain degree of normalcy. In the area of medieval Rabbinic literature, we observe an unprecedented growth in literary creativity. At a time when Rabbinic literary activity was on the wane elsewhere in Christian Europe, we witness in the thirteenth century a flourishing in the writing of legal commentaries on the Talmud and during the fourteenth the composition of codes and handbooks for the Rabbi, judge and educated layman. In the paper I discuss the unique phenomenon of the fourteenth century, focusing on the works aimed at improving religious observance among the laity. I will elucidate the various factors leading, both from the “supply” side, i.e. the authors (for ex: the success of the Talmudic academies) as well as from the “demand” side, i.e. the local religious leadership and possibly the layman. The rationale for this approach is that the sustained production of a specific type of work (handbooks to improve religiosity) could not have taken place, over so long a period, without the reciprocal interest of the readership: rabbis, preachers, teachers and even the layman. The growth in 14th century halakhic literature may suggest a rise in lay piety among the Spanish Jewish communities of the time.
|Jewish Quarterly Review
|Published - 2008