Love, Work, and Death
Jewish Life in Medieval Umbria. Littman Library of Jewish Civilization
The latter part of the thirteenth century is regarded as a key period in the history of Italian Jewry. During that time many Jewish communities sprang up in the regions of central and northern Italy. Their appearance marked a turning-point in the history of Jews in the Italian peninsula as the Jewish presence had previously been focused on Rome and the south.
In this much-acclaimed study, originally published in Italian, Ariel Toaff captures all the intricacies of everyday life in the medieval Jewish communities of Umbria. A thorough examination of Hebrew and Italian archival sources enables him to characterize in detail the defining features of Jewish life in the region at that time and to show clearly how the common stereotype of a single, undifferentiated Jewish community does not reflect the reality. Instead, he presents a picture of a complex society that-far from being a `mere' minority and somewhat isolated-actually contributed greatly to contemporary society and played a significant role in shaping it, while at the same time also being influenced by the surrounding Christian society.
Professor Toaff elaborates contemporary Jewish traditions and practices associated with love, marriage, food, work, sickness, and death in the context of everyday social relations between Christians and Jews. In so doing he presents a full and fascinating reconstruction of the Jewish life of the period that faithfully reflects the links and divides between the two communities.
Engagingly written, Love, Work, and Death: Jewish Life in Medieval Umbria will be of interest to the general reader, while its detailed references to archival documentation make it a particularly valuable source for students of medieval Jewish history and specialists in the social history of medieval and Renaissance Italy.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
`The book has much improved in its English translation: including an index (mandatory item) and a rich bibliography, both lacking in the original edition . . . Toaff is well versed in both Latin and Hebrew sources, and is able to present an impressive picture of the Jewish minority.'
- Alessandra Veronese, Mediterranean Historical Review `Professor Toaff is the acknowledged master of the social history of Umbrian Jewry. . . . It is to be hoped that the new ideas interspersed in Toaff's presentation will stimulate further research and yield fresh perspectives on medieval Jewish society and culture.'
- David Malkiel, Journal of Jewish Studies `A very thoroughly documented and most readable presentation . . . The Jews of Umbria and Love, Work, and Death constitute two very important and complementary contributions to the reconstruction of a significant and interesting chapter in the history of Jewish life in the pre-modern Diaspora by a scholar thoroughly at home in the relevant languages, literatures, and methodologies. Moreover, the English translation of Love, Work, and Death further opens up the history of the Jews of the Italian peninsula to the reader without Italian. Finally, while most welcome for its own sake, in a wider context, Professor Toaff's work marks an important contribution to the comparative analysis of different Jewish societies over the ages.'
- Benjamin Ravid, Jewish Quarterly Review `Fascinating and erudite . . . The fruit of detailed and extensive research, it succeeds in combining scholarly rigour with vivid readability: the result is a compelling picture of daily life in all its dimensions. . . . Toaff's sympathetic study, by setting the Umbrian Jews of an earlier period in the appropriate social context, allows us to view the more tolerant and complex world which existed . . . There is, perhaps, a lesson here for the Jewish historiography of our own time too.'
- Mark Mazower, Jewish Book News & Reviews