ABSTRACT In 1222, an anonymous Christian deacon was executed for heresy in Oxford after converting to Judaism and marrying a Jewish woman. The first known execution in England for heresy, this paper explores how devout masculine standards in Judaism had the potential to create incentives and rationales for Christian clerical conversion to Judaism at a time when the Church was showing a new determination to enforce clerical celibacy and eradicate father-son religious relationships. This paper argues that his conversion to Judaism might be understood as a reclamation of a masculine identity that had come to be forbidden by the Church. It further suggests new points of contentions between Jews and the Church during the thirteenth century in that the Church seems to have had reasons to regard Jewish masculinity itself as threatening as it offered secular clergymen something they wanted but which the Church now withheld: legitimacy for married, religious men.
ABSTRACT A vivid depiction of a jousting scene in an illuminated Hebrew prayerbook allows a unique pictorial representation of a custom common among Jewish young men in Northwestern Europe during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: jousting-like tournaments at Jewish weddings. The article contextualizes this image more broadly with contemporaneous sources originating in different genres, including rabbinic literature, vernacular documents, illuminated Hebrew manuscripts, frescos that decorated affluent Jewish homes, epitaphs, and archaeological findings, to describe the lives, self-image, and social expectations of medieval Ashkenazic men. Moreover, the article sheds light on the influences of the surrounding culture on medieval rabbinic gender constructs and on the constructions of gendered identities among these young men, and particularly on two indicators of identity: daily conduct and clothing. The article argues that these Jewish young men were navigating two masculinities, and that they internalized complex identities, which enabled them to identify as Jews and at the same time to feel that they were part of mainstream urban culture to some degree.
ABSTRACT This article explores the denigration of Jewish manhood on the English Renaissance stage and the ways that the inherently performative space of the theater and the collective experience of spectatorship created the ideal conditions for reconstructions of Jewish-Christian power relations. I argue that canonical late sixteenth-century plays incorporated emasculating humor about Jewish men to exercise control over those that challenged white Christian dominance. By analyzing a dramatic culture that represented Jewish male figures as being unfit for martial action, humiliatingly emotional, and physically inferior, I show how gendered constructions of Jewishness provide evidence of Renaissance theater’s celebration of Christian supremacy in one of the most popular secular spaces of the day at the same time that it secured associations of Jewish unmanliness in the English cultural imagination for centuries to come.
ABSTRACT This essay begins by conceptualizing a “kabbalistic masculinity” characterized by pious discipline and a presumption to cosmic influence. This ideal was embodied in the kabbalistic discourse about the sin of “wasted seed,” or improper emission of semen. Kabbalists developed theories and practices intended to prevent the wasting of seed, atone for its spiritual consequences, and neutralize its demonic effects. I then trace these themes in texts from seventeenth-century Poland, beginning with Meir Poppers’ ethical text Or Tzadiqim, which wove theoretical Lurianic kabbalah into everyday routines and embodied practices. Finally, I turn to Poppers’ relative and student Joseph b. Solomon Calahora, the darshan (preacher) of Poznań. Calahora composed and published the first Hebrew book devoted exclusively to the causes, consequences, and cures for wasted seed: Yesod Yosef (Frankfurt an der Oder, 1679). These texts and their contexts show how the kabbalistic discourse on wasted seed played out, both individually and communally, in the bodies of early modern Jewish men in East-Central Europe.