The educated Jewish elite in northern France was highly acculturated. Their poetry--particularly that emerging from the innovative Tosafist schools--reflects their engagement with the vernacular renaissance unfolding around them, as well as conscious and unconscious absorption of Christian popular beliefs and hagiographical conventions. At the same time, their extraordinary poems signal an increasingly harsh repudiation of Christianity's sacred symbols and beliefs. They reveal a complex relationship to Christian culture as Jews internalized elements of medieval culture even while expressing a powerful revulsion against the forms and beliefs of Christian life.
This gracefully written study crosses traditional boundaries of history and literature and of Jewish and general medieval scholarship. Focusing on specific incidents of persecution and the literary commemorations they produced, it offers unique insights into the historical conditions in which these poems were written and performed.
In 1900, in a small Prussian town, a young boy was found murdered, his body dismembered, the blood drained from his limbs. The Christians of the town quickly rose up in violent riots to accuse the Jews of ritual murder—the infamous blood-libel charge that has haunted Jews for centuries. In an absorbing narrative, Helmut Walser Smith reconstructs the murder and the ensuing storm of anti-Semitism that engulfed this otherwise peaceful town. Offering an instructive examination of hatred, bigotry, and mass hysteria, The Butcher's Tale is a modern parable that will be a classic for years to come.
Winner of the Fraenkel Award and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2002.