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Collected Essays: v. 2$
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Haym Soloveitchik

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9781904113980

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: February 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781904113980.001.0001

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Halakhah, Hermeneutics, and Martyrdom in Ashkenaz

Halakhah, Hermeneutics, and Martyrdom in Ashkenaz

(p.228) Chapter Eleven Halakhah, Hermeneutics, and Martyrdom in Ashkenaz
Collected Essays: v. 2

Haym Soloveitchik

Liverpool University Press

This chapter shows how the sustained, lethal pressure for religious conversion and the tragic modes of Jewish defiance led some medieval Talmudists and more than one modern scholar to read the rabbinic texts of the first millennium through the spectacles of the second. What further emerges from this study is the extent to which on occasion major — indeed, overwhelming — considerations do not register on the legal radar. The fate of the children in this world and, above all, their eternal death in the world to come, the absurdity of suffering a martyr's death and having one's offspring brought up as Christians or Muslims and lost forever to the Jewish people, are not meaningful categories in talmudic law. Not surprisingly, as in the large, deeply settled Jewish communities of talmudic times, both in the Holy Land and in Babylonia, the child of the martyr would be brought up by relatives or neighbors and the continuance of Judaism assured. Not so in medieval Europe or the Maghreb. Powerful forces were thus at work in medieval martyrdom which could not find expression in the traditional, normative idiom. Ineluctably, they created new idioms or refashioned old ones.

Keywords:   religious conversions, forced conversions, martyrdom, medieval Talmudists, rabbinic texts, halakhah, talmudic law, medieval martyrdom

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