The Self in Social Context: Asher ha-Levi of Reichshofen's" Sefer Zikhronot"

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During the early seventeenth century, Asher ha-Levi of Reichshofen penned his memoirs, entitled Sefer Zikhronot. In this text, Asher recounts that which transpired to him and to his family, often including details which seem extraneous to the modern reader, and to the genre of modern autobiography. By examining this text in light of how early modern writers thought and wrote about themselves, the reasons for including this material emerge. Sefer Zikhronot reflects Asher's identity and his identification with various larger groups, including his family, the local Jewish community of Alsace, and the larger Ashkenazic world. Corresponding data from other sources allow the scholar to glean historical information from the text of Sefer Zikhronot. Rich detail about daily and family life, gender, the impact of the Thirty Years War upon rural Jewry, local communal organization, leadership and structures, and larger intra-communal networks within the Jewish world are all found in the text. These particulars are valuable to the social historian; so is the text itself, as it is one of few Jewish self-texts from this time period. In addition, the mere inclusion of information about those larger groups to which Asher belonged suggests much about his identity formation. As a Jew living in a rural community, Asher faced myriad difficulties on a daily basis. Belonging to a larger group such as pan-Ashkenaz was psychologically beneficial, as it could serve as an effective counterbalance to the remoteness and challenges of Jewish life in a small village.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)201-236
JournalJewish Quarterly Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2007


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