The Holiness of Rizba: A Study of a Rabbinic Historiography

Shalem Yahalom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study deals with the public declaration by the Tosaphist R. Yitzhak ben Abraham (Rizba) about his inability to consummate his marriage during its first few years. Ephraim Urbach, the great mid-twentieth century Jewish historian, considered this confession to be an expression of holiness and purity and to the ability to dissociate sexuality from feelings of guilt and shame. This assessment reflects the pretensions of Judaic studies of the era to understand the characters and predilections of rabbinic figures at a remove of hundreds of years. This paper rejects Urbach's conclusions, maintaining that the compunctions associated with nudity and sexuality are modern phenomena. In medieval Europe, men and women bathed together, and this practice was considered perfectly acceptable in both Jewish and non-Jewish circles. Likewise, the intimate lives of married couples were not private. Consequently, Rizba's disclosure does not attest to his being holy or pure to an unusual degree.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-165
Number of pages20
JournalReview of Rabbinic Judaism
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Shalem Yahalom, 2023.


  • Ephraim Urbach
  • Tosaphists
  • Yitzhak ben Abraham
  • sexuality in religion


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