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Manual for Faculty
Unit 4: The Crucible of Europe
(Ninth to Fifteenth Centuries)
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Program Overview

"The Crucible of Europe" describes Jewish life in Muslim Spain and the Jews' great cultural achievements. Maimonides, who spent most of his adult life in Cairo, was heir to these traditions. In northern Christian Europe, the Jews were mainly merchants and developed their own unique religious customs. Although their Christian neighbors considered them alien and accused them of killing Jesus, the Jews were invited to help build new cities and develop urban economic life.

When the Christians conquered Spain, the Jews' "golden age" came to an end, but the Jews continued their cultural life and helped the new rulers translate Arabic works into their own language. Meanwhile, in the rest of Europe Jews were separated from Christians, subjected to violent attacks, and eventually expelled.

Anti-Jewish sentiment spread to Spain, where Jewish communities were devastated in 1391 and many Jews converted to Christianity. The government established an inquisition to investigate the religious sincerity of the Jewish converts to Christianity and then at the end of the fifteenth century expelled the professing Jews.

Learning Objectives
  • Assess the differing political, economic and social conditions of Jewish life in the medieval Muslim and Christian orbits.
  • Explore the ramifications of such differing conditions -- relatively open or closed societies -- on the evolution of medieval Jewish culture and society.
  • Delineate the causes of anti-Judaism in the medieval Christian and Muslim worlds.
  • Consider the impact of social-cultural tolerance and hostility on Jewish perceptions of the "others" (Christians and Muslims) and on Jewish self-awareness and self-definition.
  • Understand how the rise of anti-Judaism and economic competition led to the expulsion of Jews from Western Europe.

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