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Medieval Jewish Culture

Additional Fragments of the Mahzor Eretz-Israel - Dr Michael Rand

The Mahzor Eretz-Israel is an extensive liturgical codex, the scattered remnants of which have been identified in the Cairo Genizah and published in a facsimile edition by Yosef Yahalom.

The codex is significant in that it represents a comprehensive Medieval Eastern Jewish liturgical book. In this regard, it differs from the overwhelming majority of liturgical materials contained in the Genizah, which mostly consist of booklets of limited liturgical scope (i.e., booklets containing liturgical materials for one festival, and the like).

In this project Dr Rand gathered together a number of new manuscript fragments stemming from this codex, identified their place within it, and analyzed their contents both in terms of the unique liturgical rite that the codex represents, as well as the texts of the poetic-liturgical (piyyut) compositions that are copied in them.

The results are expected to be published in an article in the Israeli journal Tarbiz.

An Edition of the Piyyutim (Liturgical Poems) of Eleazar be-Rabbi Qillir - Dr Michael Rand

This project, undertaken jointly with Professor Shulamit Elizur of the Hebrew University, aims at producing a critical edition of the liturgical poems (piyyutim) of Eleazar be-rabbi Qillir, a Jewish synagogue poet who composed in Hebrew in the late Byzantine period in Palestine (ca. early 7th century).

The piyyutim of Qillir are represented to various degrees in the several liturgical rites of medieval Europe (especially Germany and Italy), some of which are in active use to this day. The corpus of his poems is considered to constitute the backbone of the majority of the European rites, with the notable exception of the rite of Spain.

With the discovery of the medieval hoard of eastern Jewish manuscripts known as the Cairo Genizah in the second half of the 19th century, the corpus of Qillirian poems has been significantly expanded by new material. The aim of the project is to gather together all of Qillir’s poetry, both from the European liturgical codices as well as from the (frequently fragmentary) manuscripts of the Genizah, and to publish them in a critical edition, which includes a vocalized Hebrew text, variant readings, commentary, and an introduction.

Dr Rand and Prof. Elizur plan to publish several volumes, dividing the material up in accordance with the Jewish ritual calendar. The first volume, for Rosh Hashana (the New Year), is currently in an advanced state of preparation, to be published in 2014.

The researchers are simultaneously working on the following volume, for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). The publication of this material will represent a major milestone in the field of piyyut studies. It is anticipated that it will significantly deepen our understanding of Classical, Byzantine-period piyyut in general. 

A Reconstructed Codex of the Diwan of Shmuel ha-Nagid - Dr Michael Rand

This project, undertaken jointly with Jonathan Vardi of the Hebrew University, is aimed at reconstructing a medieval codex containing the Diwan of the Spanish Hebrew poet Shmuel ha-Nagid.

The Nagid was a figure of major political and cultural importance in 11th century Iberia. He is considered to be the first great poet of the Golden Age of Hebrew poetry in Muslim Spain. In accordance with the Muslim and Jewish practice of his time, his poems were gathered in a comprehensive collection known as a Diwan. Several copies of the Nagid’s Diwan were deposited in the Cairo Genizah not long after the Nagid’s death. One of these is an especially significant codex, being represented by close to 50 manuscript leaves—an unusually high number—now scattered among several of the Genizah collections of Europe and the United States.

The researchers have gathered these leaves together, and reconstructed the original codex on their basis. This material will be published in the form of a facsimile edition of the codex, and as such it will be one of a very few codices reconstructed from the Genizah fragments. In this regard, it will represent a significant contribution to the history of the Medieval Hebrew book as attested to in the Genizah.

The facsimile edition will also contain a transcription of the preserved poetic material, together with an introduction reviewing the history of the Nagid’s Diwan. This part of the work will represent an advance in the study of the Nagid’s poetry, and will eventually contribute significantly to the production of a new critical edition of this corpus.

Muslim-Jewish relations in Medieval Spain - Dr E.-M. Wagner

Dr Wagner is currently preparing an edited book with Maria Angeles Gallego (CSIC Madrid), in which she explores the life of Jews in Spain under Muslim rule as reflected in Genizah sources.

To read the project summary in full please click here

Wisdom and Greatness: the Alexandrian Trader Moses Ben Judah and His Circle - Dr E.-M. Wagner

Together with Dotan Arad (Bar Ilan University), a historian specializing in the Mamluk period, Dr Esther-Miriam Wagner is currently preparing an edition of mercantile letters from 15th-century Alexandria, which are part of the manuscript collections in the Bodleian.

To read the project summary in full please click here

A Human History of the Mediterranean - Prof. David Abulafia

David Abulafia’s work aims in understanding of Mediterranean history as a whole, both geographically and chronologically, and combines political with economic analysis across this vast area and through the centuries. The results of this project have been the monographs based on detailed archival research on the commercial history of Italian and Catalan trade, complemented with a 360 degree grasp of the Mediterranean economy.

In particular, "The Great Sea", a history of the Mediterranean from 22,000 BC to 2010 AD, depicts the middle sea as a vast crossroads, or interchange of culture and people, a space across which humans have travelled and exchanged goods and ideas across the centuries.

Jewish-Christian Relations in Medieval and Renaissance Europe -Dr Anna Sapir Abulafia

Dr Anna Sapir Abulafia is interested in the wider context of the medieval Jewish-Christian relations, including  the interfaith debate, the rise of anti-Judaism in the West (c. 1000-1150), and religious violence. Her current research concerns Jews and Muslims in Christian law and politics, c. 1140-c.1300.

Marriage and Domesticity in the Middle Ages -Prof. Liesbeth van Houts

Van Houts 1‘Marriage and Domesticity in the Middle Ages’ is a research project for which Professor Liesbeth van Houts was awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for 2015.

This project will offer a fresh perspective on the experience of medieval married life in its domestic environment. Although the emphasis will lie on Christian society in western Europe, contrasts and comparisons with other religion communities (Muslim and Jewish) will be made.

During the central Middle ages (c. 1000-1200) two developments caused a profound change in the experience of marriage amongst Christians. On the one hand the Church forbade its priesthood to be married, causing initial fierce protest from the clergy, while on the other hand these celibate priests were expected to advocate and police the laity’s marriages. Paradoxically, literature emanating from the protesting married priests provides a rich source for the practice of marriage in priestly households which was deemed by the pro celibacy faction to be indistinguishable from that of lay households.

Jewish and Muslim communities did not face such a crisis as their religious leaders were allowed to be married. The juxtaposition of such different attitudes to the home life of religious leaders, with special reference to their wives and children (rejected amongst Christians after c. 1100) provides a stark contrast.  A second new strand of the research project concerns married households of mixed ethnic couples in post-conquest areas (e.g. Visigothic/Ummajad Spain, Sicily or Norman England) in that I will concentrate on the practice of married life rather than on the normative legal or religious sources and their ideology of marriage with full use of recent studies from fields such as archaeology and material culture. The research will be published by Taylor and Francis for the series Medieval World.


Description of image: Emmanuel College, Ms 26 fol. 67r St Augustine, De bono conjugali (On the Good of Marriage), early 12th c. England or perhaps Normandy. Reproduced with kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.


Research and teaching in the field of Jewish Studies take place in a variety of faculties and departments across the University of Cambridge. The Cambridge Forum for Jewish Studies is an initiative whose objective is to join up this activity and communicate the range of expertise and wealth of research in the field that currently exists in the university. The Forum meets once a term to exchange information and ideas. It is hoped that it will encourage wider participation and a variety of perspectives.

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