This book grapples with much-disputed topics in medieval Jewish history and takes issue with a number of reigning views. The book provides a searching analysis of oft-cited halakhic texts of Ashkenaz, frequently with conclusions that differ from the current consensus. Part I questions the scholarly consensus that the roots of Ashkenaz lie deep in Palestinian soil. It challenges the widespread notion that it was immemorial custom that primarily governed Early Ashkenaz. It similarly rejects the theory that it was only towards the middle of the eleventh century that the Babylonian Talmud came to be regarded as fully authoritative. It is shown that the scholars of Early Ashkenaz displayed an astonishing command of the complex corpus of the Babylonian Talmud and viewed it at all times as the touchstone of the permissible and the forbidden. The section concludes with a radical proposal as to the source of Ashkenazi culture and the stamp it left upon the Jews of northern Europe for close to a millennium. Part II treats the issue of martyrdom as perceived and practised by Jews under Islam and Christianity. It claims that Maimonides' problematic Iggeret ha-Shemad is a work of rhetoric, not halakhah. This is followed by a comprehensive study of kiddush ha-shem in Ashkenaz. The book concludes with two chapters on Mishneh torah, which argue that that famed code must also be viewed as a work of art which sustains, as masterpieces do, multiple conflicting interpretations.