This book presents a synthetic history of the family--the most basic building block of medieval Jewish communities--in Germany and northern France during the High Middle Ages. Concentrating on the special roles of mothers and children, it also advances recent efforts to write a comparative Jewish-Christian social history.
Elisheva Baumgarten draws on a rich trove of primary sources to give a full portrait of medieval Jewish family life during the period of childhood from birth to the beginning of formal education at age seven. Illustrating the importance of understanding Jewish practice in the context of Christian society and recognizing the shared foundations in both societies, Baumgarten's examination of Jewish and Christian practices and attitudes is explicitly comparative. Her analysis is also wideranging, covering nearly every aspect of home life and childrearing, including pregnancy, midwifery, birth and initiation rituals, nursing, sterility, infanticide, remarriage, attitudes toward mothers and fathers, gender hierarchies, divorce, widowhood, early education, and the place of children in the home, synagogue, and community.
A richly detailed and deeply researched contribution to our understanding of the relationship between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors, Mothers and Children provides a key analysis of the history of Jewish families in medieval Ashkenaz.
"Baumgarten's writing of Ashkenaz medieval history as seen through a gender perspective advances a more inclusive reading of Jewish history."--Jewish Book World
"[T]horoughly researched and lucidly written. . . . Baumgarten has opened an erudite and well-constructed window into an area of Jewish life . . . that has long eluded sustained productive treatment by modern scholarship. She has advanced the field considerably in this estimable work."--Ephraim Kanarfogel, American Historical Review
"[Baumgarten's] scholarship is thorough and meticulous, and her judgment is intelligent and reliable. . . . She has thus made a major contribution in so carefully and convincingly delineating the interconnections of medieval Jewish and Christian family life."--Sarah Lipton, Medieval Review
"In Elisheva Baumgarten's erudite and captivating chronicle of Jewish family life in the Middle Ages, several surprising revelations may cause us to rethink our presumptions about medieval Jewish women. . . . Baumgarten displays not only mastery of Jewish sources, but a considerable familiarity with Christian texts and anthropological literature."--David Wolpe, The Jerusalem Post
"This thoughtful and elegant work is guided by an overriding big idea: with respect to childbirth and nurturing, Jewish parents in medieval France and Germany developed many practices very similar to their Christian neighbors. The strength of Baumgarten's work arises from two achievements. One is her wide and wise reading of the historical literature on gender and society in medieval Europe. The other is her sensitive use of a wide range of original sources, including manuscripts as yet unavailable or little used in Jewish social history. This book will be read with pleasure and benefit by all those interested in medieval and early modern Europe."--Miri Rubin, Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London
Table of Contents:
Chapter One. Birth 21
Chapter Two. Circumcision and Baptism 55
Chapter Three. Additional Birth Rituals 92
Chapter Four. Maternal Nursing and Wet Nurses: Feeding and Caring for Infants 119
Chapter Five. Parents and Children: Competing Values 154