Mothers and Children: Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe


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Oct 24, 2013
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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.

Awards and Recognition

  • Winner of the 2008 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award in Gender Studies, Association for Jewish Studies
  • Winner of the 2005 Koret Jewish Book Award in History, Koret Foundation
  • Runner-Up for the 2005 National Jewish Book Award in Women's Studies category, Jewish Book Council