History 113




Professor Marc Saperstein


(This course is being offered in conjunction with Blackboard. Every student registered for the course will have access to it through the GW system.  More detailed information about individual sessions, links for additional resources, and a chat room for discussing issues pertaining to the course, will be available.  Most important: assigned readings in addition to the four required books will be accessible through Blackboard in the Gelman electronic reserve, enabling you to access them from your own computer.


Examines the position of the Jews in relation to church and state; traditional Jewish society and self–government of the Jewish community; movements of Jewish spirituality in their cultural contexts (philosophy, mysticism, German and Polish Hasidism); changing population centers; the background of emancipation and enlightenment. 




Jacob R. Marcus The Jew in the Medieval World (revised edition, with an introduction and updated bibliographies by Marc Saperstein. Page assignments below are to this edition, not to the old one. Students should bring this to class regularly, as we will be referring to it virtually every meeting.)

Kenneth Stow, Alienated Minority: The Jews of Medieval Latin Europe (bookstore)

Jacob Katz, Tradition and Crisis: Jewish Society at the End of the Middle Ages (bookstore)

Jonathan Israel, European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism, 1550–1750 (bookstore)

Readings on Electronic Reserve, available as link on Blackboard; indicated by * below.




1. Thurs, Sept 1—Introduction: Jewish History from Without and Within


2. Tues, Sept 6—The Jews in Antiquity


  Marcus, pp. xxv–xxiii (Preface), xiii–xxiv (Introduction).

  Marcus, pp. 3–13, 120-23

  *Gavin Langmuir, “Majority History and Postbiblical Jews”


3. and 4. Thurs, Sept 8, Tues, Sept 13—Jews in Christian Europe Before 1096


  Marcus, pp. 22-26, 124-27, 404-6, 270-73

  *Charters in Chazan, pp. 58–63 (bring to class on Thursday)

  Stow, 8–73, 77–101

  Recommended (for Sept. 8): Agobard of Lyons, “On the Insolence of the Jews” (Blackboard link)



5. Thurs, Sept 15—The Crusades, Martyrdom


  Marcus, pp. 128-36, 147-52, 340-41

  Stow, pp. 102–20

  Recommended: Antiochus Strategos, “The Sack of Jerusalem”

       “Contemporary Christian historians on the attacks against Rhineland Jews” (both links on Blackboard)


6. Tues, Sept 20—Shifts in Jewish–Christian Relations (12th Century)


  Marcus, pp. 27–30, 135–46

  Stow, pp. 231–47 


7. Thurs, Sept 22 – Shifts in Jewish–Christian Relations (13th Century)


   Marcus, pp. 153–73

   Stow, pp. 247-80.

   Innocent III's “Constitution” on behalf of the Jews, and “Letter to Philip Augustus of France,” (links on Blackboard)


8. Tues, Sept 27— Inner Life: Jewish Law, Talmud Study, Community  


  Stow, pp. 135–209

  Katz, pp. 113–24

  Marcus, pp. 341-42, 447-51

  Responsum of R. Joseph Colon (attachment on Blackboard)

  Recommended: A court case and rabbinic responsum regarding a daughter’s inheritance, Barcelona, 1293 (link on Blackboard)


A short written exercise (3–4 pages), analyzing the passage entitled “Responsum of R. Joseph Colon,” available on Blackboard as an attachment for this session, is due on Tues- day, September 27.  It will not be accepted late, as the text will be discussed in that class.


9. Thurs, Sept 29—Inner Life: Rationalism and its Opponents (NB: Guest Instructor: Prof. Max Ticktin; Prof. Saperstein will be out of town)


  Marcus, pp. 214-18

  Judah Alfahar, “Letter to R. David Kimhi,” ca. 1233 (attachment on Blackboard: print out, prepare, and bring to class)

  Stow, pp. 73–77

  *Yitzhak Baer, Conflicts over Philosophy, from A History of the Jews in Christian Spain, 1: 96–110, 289–305

Tuesday, October 4: No Meeting, Rosh Hashanah (see Lev. 23:23–25, Nehemiah 8:1–12)

10. Thurs, Oct 6— German Hasidism (Hasidut Ashkenaz)


  Marcus, pp. 432-33

  Stow, pp. 121–34

  “The Doctrine of Repentance of German Pietism” (attachment on Blackboard: print out, prepare, and bring to class)


11. Tues, Oct 11¾ Classical Jewish Mysticism (Kabbalah)

Zohar: “The Bodies of the Torah and the Soul of the Torah” (attachment on Blackboard: print out, prepare, and bring to class)

  Stow, pp. 73-77

  Katz, pp. 190–94

  Israel, pp. 65-66

  *Baer, “Social Background ... of the Zohar,” from A History of the Jews in Christian Spain, 1: 261–77 

Take-home Mid-Term will be distributed at this meeting, due in class on Thursday, Oct. 20


Thursday, October 13: No Meeting, Yom Kippur (see Lev. 23:26–32)


Tuesday, October 18: No Meeting, First day of Sukkot (see Lev. 23: 34–44)


12. Thurs, Oct 20—Fourteenth Century Disasters (Black Death, 1391 Pogroms)


  Marcus, pp. 49-55

  Stow, pp. 281–97

  *Solomon Alami, “Why Catastrophes Come” (“Iggeret Musar”)

Take-home mid-terms are due in class


13. Tues, Oct 25—Conversos and the Spanish Inquisition


  Marcus, pp. 195-201

  “The Establishment of the National Inquisition in Spain” (distributed)

  *“Inquisitorial Trials of Ines Lopez” (Gelman Electronic Reserve)

  Recommended: Catholic Encyclopedia article in “Inquisition”

            “The 1432 Synod of Valladolid and the Reconstruction of Castilian Jewry”

            (both links on Blackboard)

(The class will meet on this day, although it is the end of the Sukkot holiday (Lev. 23:39). Instructor will arrange a make-up session for students who cannot attend the class for religious reasons.)


14. Thurs, Oct 27—The Expulsion from Spain and its Aftermath


   “The Edict of Expulsion” (link on Blackboard: print and bring to class) 

   Marcus, pp. 59-64

   Stow, pp. 297–302


A short written exercise (3–4 pages), analyzing the passage entitled “The Edict of Expulsion” (link for October 27) is due at the meeting on October 27.  It will not be accepted late, as the text will be discussed in that class.


15. Tues, Nov 1¾Refuge, Forced Conversion, and Massacre in Portugal


   Marcus, 65-69

   *Yerushalmi, The Lisbon Massacre of 1506 and the Royal Image in Shevet Yehudah, pp. 48-62


 16. and 17. Thurs, Nov 3 and Tues, Nov 8¾ Renaissance and Italian Jewry


   Marcus, pp. 191-94, 283-88, 438-46, 458-67, 477-81, 489-91, 497-501

   Stow, pp. 302–308

   Israel, pp. 13-18, 60-64, 143-49, 160-62

  *Cecil Roth, “The Jews in Renaissance Society”


18. Thurs, Nov 10—Reformation; Jewish Communities of Germany and Central Europe


  Marcus, pp. 185–90, 224–26

  Luther, selections from “On the Jews and Their Lies” (link on Blackboard)

  Israel, pp. 4–13, 72–89, 157–60


N.B.: statement of paper topics due on Thurs, November 10


19. Tues, Nov. 15—Jewish Communities of Poland, Catastrophe in 1648


  Marcus, pp. 233–39, 513–22

  Katz, pp. 65–112, 183–84

  Israel, pp. 22-28, 151-57


20. and 21. Thurs, Nov 17, Tues, Nov 22:

“Traditional Jewish Society” in Central and Eastern Europe


   Marcus, pp. 221, 372-80, 491-96, 505-12, 523-32

   Berakhiah Berakh, from Introduction to “Sefer Zera Berakh” – Distributed: a response to the Catastrophe of 1648. Compare with Nathan Hanover in Marcus, pp. 234-36.  

   Israel, pp. 119-50

   Katz, pp. 3–62, 124–69 (bring to class)


Thursday, November 24: Happy Thanksgiving


22. Tues, Nov 29—17th-Century Challenges to Traditional Society:

“Marrano Skepticism”


  *Uriel da Costa, “My Double Life and Excommunication” (electronic reserve)

  Marcus, pp. 381–90,

  Israel, 177-84


23. Thurs, Dec 1—17th-Century Challenges to Traditional Society: Sabbateian Movement


  Marcus, pp. 295–303

  Katz, pp. 170–79, 184–90

  Israel, pp. 169-77


24. Tues, Dec 6¾ Polish Hasidism


  Marcus, pp. 309–19

  Katz, pp. 195–213

  Israel, pp. 210–15


25. Thurs, Dec. 8¾Enlightenment and the Beginnings of Emancipation


  Marcus, pp. 76–79, 97–110, 391–95

  Katz, pp. 214–53

  Israel, pp. 101-18, 194-210


N. B. Papers (see below) are due on Thursday, December 8





In addition to thorough reading, regular attendance, and thoughtful participation in class discussions, requirements for the course are as follows:


1. a brief written exercise (3–4 pages) analyzing the passage “Responsum of R. Joseph Colon,” due in class on Tuesday, September 27 (10% of final grade)

2. a brief written exercise (3–4 pages) analyzing the passage “The Order of Expulsion,” due in class on Thursday, October 27 (10 % of final grade). 

3. a take-home mid–term exam, distributed Tuesday, October 11, due in class on Thursday, October 20 (15%)

4. a short paper (10–12 pages) analyzing one primary text or an issue of dispute among historians, the topic to be chosen by the student from a list to be distributed or in consultation with the instructor. A statement of the paper topic should be submitted to the instructor by Tuesday, November 10, and is due at the final meeting of the course, Thursday, December 8. (30%)

5. a final exam, which must be taken by all students (30%).  This exam will be cumulative (especially in the essay questions), but will emphasize material in the second half of the course.

6. participation in class discussions, 5% of the final grade, will be used to determine a grade in borderline cases