Jewish conversion to Christianity in medieval Northern Europe encountered and imagined, 1100–1300
This dissertation, "Jewish Conversion to Christianity in Medieval Northern Europe Encountered and Imagined, 1000-1300," addresses Jewish perspectives on apostates encountered and apostasy imagined followed by Christian perspectives on conversion imagined and converts encountered by drawing on a variety of Jewish and Christian sources including legal texts, rabbinic responsa, Papal letters, miracle tales, exempla and folklore.
Consideration of the experiences of Jews of Ashkenaz who crossed, or at times straddled, the boundary between a minority (Jewish) community and a majority (Christian) one raises fundamental questions about the permeability of that boundary. This investigation of how the Jewish community and its members responded to apostates and the threat of apostasy illuminates the anxieties and efforts at "community maintenance" of a community that has previously been assumed to have been secure in its religious identity, a finding that is consonant with contemporary trends in the historiography of medieval Ashkenazic Jewry. My examination of the ways in which Christians envisioned ideal Jewish conversions, on the one hand, and the ways in which they responded to actual Jewish converts, on the other, sheds light on the importance of Jews to the medieval construction of Christian identity and the challenges that Jewish converts posed to that identity.
This work also examines Jewish conversion to Christianity through the lenses of age and gender. The conclusions that young, unmarried, adolescent Jewish men were among the groups most susceptible to conversion to Christianity but that Christian images of idealized Jewish conversions center on young Jewish boys or young virginal Jewish women raise intriguing questions about the presumed insularity of the Jews of medieval Ashkenaz as well as about how Christians construed Jewish and gender identity in tandem. These issues, at the front and center of contemporary historiographic writing on medieval Ashkenazic Jewry, suggest stimulating avenues of further research.
0320: Religious history
0751: Judaic studies