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17 - The Jews in Europe and the Mediterranean Basin

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

David Luscombe
University of Sheffield
Jonathan Riley-Smith
University of Cambridge
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the eleventh and twelfth centuries, for Jewish life in Europe and the Mediterranean basin, were characterised, above all else, by diversity and flux. Jews were spread across this vast and heterogeneous area in enclaves that differed considerably from one another in size, antiquity, economic foundations, political and social relations with the non-Jewish majority, and religious and intellectual creativity. More important yet, patterns of Jewish living shifted markedly during these two centuries. The innovation well documented in majority society is – not surprisingly – amply attested in the Jewish minority as well. The end result, in Jewish life, is a period of considerable change, some highly beneficial, with positive reverberations in subsequent Jewish experience, and some profoundly deleterious, with harmful impact through the following centuries.

For a broad sense of the distribution of these Jewish communities, we can do no better than to follow in the path of the twelfth-century Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela. Benjamin has left us a rich, albeit often cursory, record of his journey from Spain into the Middle East. While it is not altogether certain where his first-hand observations end and his reporting of hearsay evidence begins, there is little doubt that, for the area of interest to us, he has left his own personal impressions. Benjamin made his way down the Ebro river from his native Tudela through Saragossa and Tortosa to the Mediterranean. He then proceeded up the Spanish coast and into southern France, across the Italian peninsula and into the Byzantine empire, and across the Mediterranean and into Syria and Palestine. On his return journey, he probably visited Egypt.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2004

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