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Beauty and the Beast: On a Doe, a Devilish Hunter, and Jewish-Christian Polemics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 October 2020

Sara Offenberg
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
E-mail address:


Hunting scenes are common in Jewish illuminated manuscripts and are understood as allegories of the Jew, usually represented as a hare or a deer, being persecuted by the Christian, shown as a hunter and his dogs. This article will discuss a hunt scene from the Worms Maḥzor, an Ashkenazic illuminated prayer book produced in 1272, probably in Würzburg. At the top of folio 130r, an illumination of the piyyut (liturgical poem) “ʾAyelet ʾahavim” (the loving hind, or doe) for Shavuot displays a deer being hunted by a devilish hunter and his dogs. Examining the illustration in the context of contemporary textual evidence, I shall demonstrate that the deer in the Worms Maḥzor portrays the Torah itself being persecuted by the hunter, who can be understood not only as a Christian or Esau, but also as Jesus.

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Copyright © Association for Jewish Studies 2020

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I am indebted to Daniel J. Lasker and Katrin Kogman-Appel for reading earlier drafts of this paper and making numerous suggestions and comments. Thanks are also due to Leor Jacobi and the anonymous reader, whose comments helped me to refine many of my arguments.


1. That said, it should be mentioned that Leor Jacobi recently published on medieval Jewish hawking and falconry practices that appear to have been marginal; see Jacobi, Leor, “Jewish Hawking in Medieval France: Falconry, Rabbenu Tam, and the Tosafists,” Oqimta 1 (2013): 421–504Google Scholar; Jacobi, “The Rabbis on the Hunt: From Palestine to Poland,” in Falconry: Its Influence on Biodiversity and Cultural Heritage, ed. Urszula Szymak and Przemysław Sianko (Bialystok: Podlaskie Museum, 2016), 169–86.

2. Ayali, Meir, “Halakhah and Aggadah in Haggadah Illustrations” [in Hebrew], ʿAle-Siaḥ 15, no. 16 (1982): 262–68Google Scholar; Marc Epstein, Michael, Dreams of Subversion in Medieval Jewish Art and Literature (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1997)Google Scholar; Horowitz, Elliot, “Odd Couples: The Eagle and the Hare, the Lion and the Unicorn,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 11 (2004): 252–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sara Offenberg, “Expressions of Meeting the Challenges of the Christian Milieu in Medieval Jewish Art and Literature” [in Hebrew] (PhD diss., Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 2008), chap. 4; Offenberg, “Illuminations of Kol Nidrei in Two Ashkenazi Mahzorim,” Ars Judaica 7 (2011): 7–16; Schubert, Kurt, “Wikkuach-Thematik in den Illustationen Hebräischer Handschriften,” Jewish Art 12–13 (1986–1987): 247–56Google Scholar.

3. Camille, Michael, Images on the Edge (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000)Google Scholar; Randall, Lilian, Images in the Margins of Gothic Manuscripts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966)Google Scholar.

4. Almond, Richard, Medieval Hunting (Gloucestershire: Sutton, 2003), 131–32Google Scholar; Pearsall, Derek, “Hunting Scenes in Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts,” Connoisseur 196 (1977): 170–81Google Scholar.

5. Debby, Nirit Ben-Aryeh, “Art and Sermons: Dominicans and the Jews in Florence's Santa Maria Novella,” Church History and Religious Culture 92 (2012): 171200CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Stow, Kenneth, Jewish Dogs: An Image and Its Interpreters: Continuity in the Catholic-Jewish Encounter (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006), 137–44Google Scholar.

6. Schubert, “Wikkuach-Thematik,” 251–54. The manuscript is found at Manchester, John Rylands University Library, MS. Ryl. Hebr. 6, fol. 29. The entire manuscript is available online:

7. Cohen, Gerson, “Esau as Symbol in Early Medieval Thought,” in Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies, ed. Altmann, Alexander (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), 1948Google Scholar.

8. Schubert, “Wikkuach-Thematik”; Schubert, Ursula, “Zwei Tierszenen am ende der Ersten Kennicott-Bibel la Coruna, 1476, in Oxford,” Journal of Jewish Art 12–13 (1986–1987): 83–88Google Scholar. For a positive interpretation of dogs in Hebrew illuminated haggadot from the fifteenth century, where the dog represents the coming of Elijah, see Shacham-Rosby, Chana, “Elijah the Prophet: The Guard Dog of Israel,” Jewish History 30 (2016): 165–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9. See the facsimile edition: Ms. Jewish National and University Library. Heb. 4 781/1. Complete facsimile in original size: (Introductory volume), ed. Malachi Beit-Arié (Vaduz: Cyelar Establishment; Jerusalem: Jewish National University Library, 1985). The entire manuscript is available online:; Sed-Rajna, Gabrielle, La mahzor enluminé: Les voies de formation d'un programme iconographique (Leiden: Brill, 1983), 1415Google Scholar.

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13. On the hunter's costumes, see Cummins, John, The Hound and the Hawk: The Art of Medieval Hunting (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988), 178–79Google Scholar.

14. Schubert, “Wikkuach-Thematik”; Bezalel Narkiss and Aliza Cohen-Mushlin, “The Illumination of the Worms Mahzor,” in Beit-Arié, Ms. Jewish National and University Library. Heb. 4 781/1, 79–89; Sed-Rajna, La mahzor enluminé, 20; Shalev-Eyni, Sarit, “Between Interpretation and Destruction: Image, Text and Context in the Illuminated Ashkenazi Mahzor” [in Hebrew], in Jewish Prayer: New Perspectives, ed. Ehrlich, Uri (Beer Sheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, 2016), 355–74Google Scholar.

15. Goldschmidt, Mahzor for Shavuot, 104.

16. The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary, trans. Jacob Neusner (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011).

17. There are ten remaining manuscripts from German lands and France with a commentary on this piyyut. Hollender, Elisabeth, Clavis Commentariorum of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry in Manuscript (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 234Google Scholar; Hollender, Piyyut Commentary in Medieval Ashkenaz (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2008), 2–6.

18. Add. Ms. 22413, fol. 49, British Library, London. See the volume at Sarit Shalev-Eyni, “The Tripartite Mahzor” (PhD diss., Hebrew University, 2001), 79–82.

19. Tripartite Mahzor, fols. 49–50.

20. As in the Hammelburg Maḥzor, Darmstadt, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek, Cod. Or. 13, fol. 150v, produced in 1348.

21. On artistic ways of writing such piyyutim in this manuscript see David Stern, “ʻJewish’ Art and the Making of the Medieval Prayerbook,” Ars Judaica 6 (2010): 23–44.

22. Madeline Harrison Caviness, “Reception of Images by Medieval Viewers,” in A Companion to Medieval Art: Romanesque and Gothic in Northern Europe, ed. C. Rudolph (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006), 71–72.

23. חשו גבנונים לקדם לסיני / חמד אלהים לשבתו הר-סיני

24. On the relation between the making of Torah codices in Ashkenaz and Jewish-Christian relations see David Stern, The Jewish Bible: A Material History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017), 105–26.

25. We have Hebrew accounts of the Talmud trial and a Latin text. Galinsky, Judah D., “The Different Hebrew Versions of the ‛Talmud Trial’ of 1240 in Paris,” in New Perspectives on Jewish-Christian Relations: In Honor of David Berger, ed. Carlebach, Elisheva and Schacter, Jacob J. (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 132–37Google Scholar. The Latin text was originally published by Loeb, Isadore, “La controverse de 1240 sur le Talmud,” Revue des études juives 3 (1881): 3957Google Scholar. For an English translation of the Latin text see Maccoby, Hyam, Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1982), 163–67Google Scholar.

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33. My translation. ואשאל היש תורה חדשה. בכך שרפו גליליך

34. Einbinder, Beautiful Death, 114.

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36. Berthold von Regensburg, Vollständige Ausgabe seiner Predigten, ed. Franz Pfeiffer (Berlin: Wien Braumüller, 1965), 1:401 (first published 1862–1880). I used Jeremy Cohen's translation, in Friars and the Jews, 134.

37. According to Gerson Cohen, the tradition of Esau and Edom as symbolizing Rome can be traced back to Rabbi Akiva (cf. Genesis Rabbah 65:21). This association with Rome was turned toward Christianity during the Middle Ages. According to Cohen, medieval Jews believed that “Esau might exchange his eagle for a cross, but he was Esau nonetheless.” Cohen, “Esau as Symbol,” 29. See also Offenberg, “Expressions of Meeting the Challenges,” 113–18; Yuval, Israel Jacob, Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006)Google Scholar.

38. Schubert, “Wikkuach-Thematik.”

39. Kaufmann Ms. A 388, vol. II, fol. 12v, Magyar Tudomanyos Academia, Budapest. The entire manuscript is available online: On this image see Rodov, Ilia, “Dragons: A Symbol of Evil in European Synagogue Decorations,” Ars Judaica 1 (2005): 71Google Scholar.

40. Such as the example from the Codex Manesse, produced in Zurich in the years 1305–1340, displaying Konrad von Suonegge (1220–1241) hunting a deer. Cod. Pal. Germ 848, fol. 202v, Heidelberg Universitätsbibliothek. On Codex Manesse, see the website and the facsimile Codex Manesse: Die Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, Kommentar zum Faksimile des Cod. Pal. Germ. 848 der Univeritätsbibliothek Heidelberg, hrsg. von Walter Koschorreck und Wilfried Werner (Frankfurt: Insel-Verl., 1981).

41. Tosefta Avodah Zarah 6:4; Talmud Yerushalmi Avodah Zarah 3:33.

42. Neusner, Babylonian Talmud.

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47. We find similar features in several descriptions of the antichrist in Christian literature. See McGinn, “Portraying Antichrist.”

48. Patai, Raphael, The Messiah Texts (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1979), 157–58Google Scholar. My highlights.

49. Dalman, G. and Laible, H., Jesus Christ in the Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, and the Liturgy of the Synagogue (New York: Arno Press, 1973)Google Scholar (first published in German in 1893), 10, 12, esp. 17–18; Eisenberg, “Reading Medieval Religious Disputation,” 84–88; Galinsky, “Different Hebrew Versions,” 122; Marcus, Ivan G., “A Jewish-Christian Symbiosis: The Culture of Early Ashkenaz,” in Cultures of the Jews: A New History, ed. Biale, David (New York: Schocken, 2002), 2:176–82Google Scholar; Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud, 82–94.

50. Berger, “Three Typological Themes,” 157–60; Dalman and Laible, Jesus Christ in the Talmud, 53–54.

51. Cohen, “Esau as Symbol,” 19–48.

52. Eisenberg, “Reading Medieval Religious Disputation,” 38–40; Hames, “Reason and Faith,” 276–77, 281n39.

53. Azriel, Abraham Bar, ʾArugat ha-bosem, ed. Urbach, Ephraim (Jerusalem: Meḳiẓe Nirdamim, 1939), 1:256–58Google Scholar. A similar description is found in Gaon, R. Saʿadiah, ʾEmunot ve-deʿot, ed. Kapheh, Joseph (Kiryat Ono: Mekhon Mosheh, 1999)Google Scholar, treatise 8, chap. 5, 245–46.

54. A similar story appears in the book Toledot Yeshu. Schäfer, Peter, Meerson, M. and Deutsch, Yacob eds., Toledot Yeshu (‘The Life Story of Jesus’) Revisited: A Princeton Conference (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011)Google Scholar.

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