View Full Version : Sources and suggestions for medieval Judaism?

08-27-2006, 12:42 AM
OK...I am a Gentile, I admit it. Hope I can present my questions intelligently.

WIP is a historical romance, involving a man who is Jewish but was torn from his parents as a child (which happened at that time, unfortunately) and was given to be adopted by a Christian couple. He was forced to convert, but is still Jewish in his soul. He's learned to give the appearance of being a Christian, but doesn't really believe it; in fact, he doesn't believe much of anything spiritually.

But I'd like to portray his journey, in such a perilous time for the Jewish people, back to his roots of faith.

His father was a physician and he was raised in Spain, which I believe was called Navarre at that time. It was illegal for doctors to treat Jews (yet another stupid law...) but his father does it anyway and that is how the MC gets taken from his family.

Sorry for that long blurb -- so here are a few respectful questions:
1. Suggestions for sources that describe Jewish family life at that time?
2. Names of endearment, or sources for Hebrew words, phrases, and names of the period? Specifically parent-to-child and sweethearts.
3. Would they have spoken Hebrew as Jews in medieval Spain/France, a mix of Spanish and Hebrew, or what? (if any of you scholars might know)

I hope any ignorance I might show in my post doesn't offend.

08-27-2006, 09:51 AM
The book sounds like a really good read. The Hebrew term for this type of person is "Tinok Shenishba". Traditionally, the children would be kidnapped as babies and raised as Christians never knowing they were Jewish. They may have vague memories of their previous life but nothing real because they were too young to have learned anything.

Does your story take place during the Spanish inquisition? At that time there were many Jews that were forced to either leave Spain or convert to Christianity (or face death...). Many chose to stay and pretended to convert. These Jews are called "Morano"s. It may be more realistic for your MC to be one of these and bestruggling with the fact that he has this secret life.
Many of the Moranos ended up escaping to places like the Netherlands that allowed Jews to practice freely.

I am pretty sure that they would have spoken Ladino in Spain in those days. It is simillar to Yiddish. Only it is a Creole of Spanish and Hebrew. Many of the upper class Jewish families would have just spoken Spanish and used Hebrew as a "Lashon Kodesh" (holy language).

Feel free to PM me about any specific questions. I can't think off the top of my head of any books that discuss this time period that are readily available in the mainstream world (i.e. not written in Hebrew) but I will see what I can dig up...

Good luck with the book!
:Hug2: 10000

02-14-2007, 12:01 PM
It might be weird to say I found some excellent (it seems) sources online for medieval Judaism. But in case anyone else needs, here are two of them:


Sean D. Schaffer
02-14-2007, 07:09 PM
I don't know if this will help you out or not, Bree, but I'm reading a book right now called What Do Jews Believe? The Spiritual Foundations of Judaism by David S. Ariel. It deals with Jewish beliefs in rabbinic times, as well as other times including Medieval. It gives quotes from such Medieval Jewish scholars as Moses Maimonides, who, as I understand it, is quite respected.

The publisher is Schocken Books of New York, and the ISBN is:


I got it at the local Barnes & Noble. So far, I'm finding it a good resource.

I hope this helps. I wish you all the best with your research. :)

02-17-2007, 12:09 AM
Thanks, Ian! Moses Maimonides is in the time period just before my novel takes place, so I might allude to him or something. I will look for the book at B&N down the street.

My biggest challenge is the spiritual part of this story. I am using a Christian character's perspective from New Testament theology, and a Jewish character's from the Torah to portray a love story -- woman to man/man to woman, and God's eternal to Man/Man loving God.

The Song of Songs(Solomon's) is a vehicle I'm using as it was a "popular" book to study in the 11th-16th centuries. What's cool is that I didn't know this, when I started the book and was drawn to the Song.

(I hope I don't offend anyone by not using God's name here, I'm not familiar with how to use the "G--" form)

I've got the characters pretty well down, as usual -- my weakness is PLOT and how to make it come together. And of course, I want to honor both religions and be respectful, yet bring something new to the reader as well.