The Impact of Ḥasidei Ashkenaz in Northern France: The Evidence of Sefer Ḥasidut and Ḥayyei ‘Olam

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This article examines several medieval pietistic works in northern France and Germany that shed light on the influence of Hasidei Ashkenaz. It also considers recent scholarship by Israel Ta-Shma, Ephraim Kanarfogel, Haym Soloveitchik, and Benjamin Richler. Ta-Shma and Kanarfogel have argued that the Tosafist school of Evreux was influenced by the religious ideals of the Ashkenazi pietists, whereas Soloveitchik has insisted that no significant Ḥasidic influence can be detected in the Tosafist school. Relying on manuscript evidence, Richler claimed that Sefer ha-Yir’ah, which had long been attributed to the Catalan scholar Jonah of Gerona, was an Ashkenazi work titled Ḥayyei ‘Olam. Nevertheless, the scholarly consensus today views the traditional attribution as correct. The present study contends that the medieval practice of copying and circulating the works of others upholds Richler’s theory. One can therefore rightfully distinguish between Jonah’s activities as an independent author and his role as a scribe who transferred material from France, where he studied in his youth, to Spain, where he became an influential scholar and public figure. Following the reconstruction of the textual history of Ḥayyei ‘Olam-Sefer ha-Yir’ah, this article makes the case for how pietism or radical piety moved to France, that is, from Ḥasidei Ashkenaz to Evreux. Two German works were likely the main catalysts: Sefer Ḥasidim attributed to Judah he-Ḥasid and works written by Eleazar of Worms. Although little is known about the reception in France of the texts composed by Eleazar, it would seem that the modification of Sefer Hasidim evolved into Sefer Ḥasidut and impacted the formation of Ḥayyei ‘Olam.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-175
Number of pages21
JournalJewish History
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.


  • Evreux
  • German Pietists
  • Jonah of Gerona
  • Sefer Ḥasidim
  • Sefer Ḥayyei ‘Olam
  • Tosafists


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