Inclusion and Exclusion at the End of the Middle Ages: Christian-Jewish Relations in Late Medieval Italy

Bratchel, M. E.
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The Southern African Society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (SASMARS)
Recent studies of Jewish communities in western Europe have qualified the earlier image of Christian-Jewish relations as guided by entrenched principles or consistent programmes of action. The qualifications relate both to the cohesion and integrity of the Jewish communities themselves, and to the changing local concerns of the Christian societies within which they lived. With regard to the former, historians have revisited the heroic stance (or cultural insularity) of Jews of the Franco-German diaspora in and after 1096. It now appears that, long before the large-scale conversions of Iberian Jewry, apostasy was much more common in medieval Europe than has been traditionally conceded. More significantly, contemporary historiography has been inclined to question the blanket hostility of Jewish communities towards apostates – with implications for the incidence of acculturalization, or at least transferring the emphasis to those variables within Christian Europe that might determine (or permit) acculturalization. This article is concerned with these variants and with their consequences for Jewish/Christian relations. Late fifteenth-century Italy, with a Jewish population rising to perhaps 50,000 even before the expulsions from Spain, offers a useful case-study. What follows will focus primarily, though not exclusively, on the Jewish communities of the city-territories of northern and central Italy.
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