No Place of Rest
Jewish Literature, Expulsion, and the Memory of Medieval France
Susan L. Einbinder
2008 | 280 pages | Cloth $59.95
Religion | Literature
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Isaac b. Abraham HaGorni: The Myth, the Man, and the Manuscript
Chapter 2. Form and History: Hebrew Pantograms and the Expulsion of 1306
Chapter 3. God's Forgotten Sheep: Liturgical Memory and Expulsion
Chapter 4. A Proper Diet: Medicine and History in Crescas Caslari's Esther
Chapter 5. Physicians and Their Daughters: Memory and Medicine during the Plague Years
Chapter 6. Refrains in Exile: French Jewish Poetry in Northern Italy
Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]
Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the ground; but the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark.
Your inheritance languishes,
Your dove goes from devastation to devastation.
The dove does not find
A place of rest.
—Reuben b. Isaac, "Adonai, ro'ced ve-h'ared"
The expulsion of the Jews from France in 1306 was neither the first nor the last time a Christian ruler ordered the departure of Jews from his land. As far back as the twelfth century, the kings of France—to be sure, a much smaller France than now—had experimented with expulsion. Toward the end of the thirteenth century, however, expulsion signaled the failure of policies that had achieved ever greater isolation of the Jews within Christian society, not the conversion that was ostensibly their aim. In hindsight, a series of small expulsions from territories west of the royal kingdom were an ominous harbinger of things to come: Gascony (1287), Anjou (1289), and Maine (1289) all expelled their Jews early. The small Jewish communities of these territories disappeared over neighboring borders with barely a trace, and they are unremembered today. In 1290, Edward I expelled the Jews of England, and a Jewish population of approximately 2,000 debarked, in a more or less orderly fashion, from English ports for the Normandy of their ancestors, some moving on to Paris and other parts of royal France. Those who lived another sixteen years would take the roads into exile again, a small minority among the 100,000 men, women, and children who fled following a surprise mass arrest on a Sabbath morning in August 1306.
The expulsion of 1306 by Philip IV of France and its traces in later Jewish literature are the subject of this book. Nonetheless, this is not a straightforward retelling of the great expulsion of French Jews as they experienced and then remembered it; sadly, the extant Jewish sources do not permit such a reconstruction. Two literary sources cited frequently are, unsurprisingly, prose passages whose reference to expulsion is unmistakable. One is by the Provençal writer Qalonymos b. Qalonymos and appears in the eclectic work known as the Even boh ? en. Some scholars believe that it actually refers to the expulsion of 1322, a problem characteristic of Hebrew expulsion texts and one that we shall encounter throughout this study. The other passage is found in Yedaiah Bedersi's Beh ? inat 'olam, which I discuss in Chapter 2.
Yet these two sources really do not tell us much that we would like to know. The mechanics of expulsion have been excavated and retold from other documents and descriptions: what Jewish literature lacks in this regard has been, with work, found in other sources. Most recently, the historian William C. Jordan has meticulously investigated the expulsion of 1306 and the political, administrative, and logistical decisions surrounding its execution. Like all stories of catastrophes we have nearly forgotten, this one is moving in its details and sobering for its efficiency as much as for its administrative shortcomings. Chief among the latter was the lack of an organized plan for evacuating those affected by the expulsion decree or for protecting them on the roads; the terse mentions of this incident in royal chronicles note that many of those sent into exile died of hunger and thirst along the way. This must have been the fate of a majority of French Jews from the northern and central parts of the kingdom, for whom the distance to safety was long.
In 1306, however, the majority of French Jews lived in the southern part of the kingdom, in the area known as Languedoc on the border of Provence, which was not yet part of France. Provence offered haven to many exiles from the north, and it was particularly convenient to Jews fleeing from Languedoc, so it is not surprising that this region, like Catalonia, preserves most of this expulsion's traces. Accordingly, all the writers treated in this book are men of the Midi—some originally from the north or the descendants of northern Jews, and some southerners for generations but witnesses, in one form or another, to the influx of French Jewish refugees and their struggles to adapt to new surroundings.
The story of expulsion is unlike the story of other catastrophes, which may be terminal for their victims but unfold among communities that remain relatively intact. Medieval incidents of judicial execution, for instance, commemorated as tales of martyrdom, involved a discrete event affecting a discrete subgroup of one or more victims known to a community and posthumously commemorated. In contrast, expulsion casts its collective victims, each with his or her own memories of home and experiences of dislocation, into a multiplicity of new settings. Moreover, in the case of French Jews, expulsion was also a trauma experienced repeatedly. The great expulsion of 1306 was not ten years old when Louis X, Philip IV's son, rescinded his father's decree. True, only a small number of exiled French Jews heeded the invitation to return. Of that number, those who survived the bleak years of famine and violence that followed found themselves all too quickly reliving history when they were expelled again in 1322, many returning to Aragon and Provence.
Twenty-six years later, those lands, too, proved fragile reeds against the violence that accompanied the devastation of the Black Death (1348). Ironically, there is a bounty of Hebrew literature commemorating the persecution of Jews (who were often blamed for the outbreak of plague) during the Black Death, much of it from Ashkenaz and much of it in the traditional forms of commemorative poetry. But anti-Jewish violence was not the worst blow dealt by the pandemic: the plague, estimated to have killed one-third to one-half of the population of Europe, struck down Jews as well. It also uprooted communities and age-old ways of life, rendering even more tenuous the anchors of communal memory and the ways that earlier traumas would be remembered and retold. The papal lands of the Comtat Venaissin were unique in offering protection to Jews fleeing plague-related violence elsewhere, and the influx of new refugees fragmented even further a coherent sense of the past.
In 1359, France again admitted Jews into its borders, mainly from Switzerland and in very small numbers. The royal incentive was financial—the king's desire to reap the profits of Jewish business (lending) in order to finance a disastrous war. As revealed by the story of the physician Jacob b. Solomon, treated in this book, other Jews must have quietly returned to France during the 1360s and 1370s as well. This chapter, too, had an end, in 1394, when the Jews of France were expelled once again, not to return for centuries. Ironically, France's annexation of Provence in 1484 restored French identity to the descendants of exiled Jews, while bestowing it equally upon Jews who had never thought of themselves as French at all. Both groups almost instantly learned the price of that identity, exacted in anti-Jewish violence, emigration, and high—astonishingly high—rates of conversion to Christianity.
In other words, the story of 1306—and how it was remembered by French Jews—is far from a single story, even among those exiles and their descendants who continued to live nearby in Aragon, Provence, or the Comtat. The fragmentary, indeed kaleidoscopic, picture of the Jewish fourteenth century becomes even more variegated when we find its shards among communities farther away—for instance, over the Alps in northern Italy or over the Mediterranean in the Maghrebi kingdoms of northern Africa. Here, too, as we shall see, Jewish memory of a French past persisted through the lens of later experience. In Italy and Africa, that meant the indelible trauma of the Spanish expulsion of 1492, which poured frightened and destitute refugees into their communities. Some of them, of course, had French ancestry themselves, but in many cases, particularly in Africa, the memory of former "Frenchness" would rapidly be subsumed under the tidal wave of "Spanish" loss and commemoration.
Over the process of research and writing, this book gradually evolved from a search for the core experience of 1306 as it was commemorated by survivors to embrace the wider sweep of the century and its cycles of expulsion and trauma. The following chapters trace the arc of a century of dislocation and hence of collective memory in a near-continuous process of reconstitution or collapse. I begin with a Gascon poet whose fate anticipates many of the themes and concerns raised in subsequent chapters, and I end with a small group of poets in the Piedmont whose presence in northern Italy dates from the expulsion of 1394. In between, I treat texts produced in Majorca, Catalonia, the Comtat Venaissin, Algiers, and Salonika, which refer variously to dislocations from 1306 to the century's end. Indeed, each of these journeys takes us beyond the terminus point of 1394 to explore the fate of these fourteenth-century texts and the past that they sought to preserve or suppress in later times.
The attempt to recuperate this piece of the Jewish past has taught me many lessons, as much about forgetting as remembering, but certainly about the strategic ends of both. The last decades have seen the appearance of a multitude of important books on the construction of collective memory and identity, the strategic uses of the past, and the ways that both processes contribute to the formation of group or national identity. So, too, the material history of texts, the literature they transmit, and the role of both in constructing group memory have received worthy attention. From writers like Benedict Anderson to Dipesh Chakrabarti, from Hayden White and Stephen Greenblatt to scholars like Thomas Burman, Gabrielle Spiegel, Steven Justice, Andrew Taylor, Ross Brann, and William Granara, recent scholarship has demonstrated increasing cunning in negotiating the distance between texts (what a small group of people wrote about) and context (what happened while they did), between history and the past. Another relatively new, interdisciplinary field, diasporic studies has also scrutinized productively the dynamics and dialectics of relationships between populations at home and displaced. Some of its insights have been helpful to me in conceptualizing the ways in which communities of French Jews in exile modified, reified, and sometimes fabricated the yearning construct of France and home.
Despite its significance, this scholarly activity has made few inroads into the study of medieval Jewish history and texts. On the contrary, medieval Jewish texts, especially Hebrew texts, continue for the most part to be read flatly, as windows, unwarped and transparent, onto a uniform experience of the past. Scholars of modern Jewish history and literature have been quicker to realize the significance of these new tools than those who work in earlier periods have. As a result, they have been able to ask new questions about the Enlightenment's construct of an Andalusian Golden Age; pre-Statehood European intellectuals and Zionist settlement in Palestine; collective memory and Israeli history; or, for instance, the reframing of Iraqi Jewish experience to conform to Zionist narrative expectations. So, too, the theoretical concept of "post-memory" has yielded rich results when applied to post-Holocaust memory and writing. Jewish medieval studies stand to benefit from these methodological insights and approaches.
Moreover, just because they are contemporary and written in Hebrew by Jews, texts do not necessarily represent the same past at all. We know this intuitively, if only from the discordant images of the present that we are asked to filter and interpret day to day. Put simply, different people have different notions of what happened, and this is true whether or not they are from the same nation or city; the same political, class, gender or confessional background; or writing in the same language. Even in medieval Provence, where the class of Jewish writers was homogeneous—elite, educated, male—it is possible to discern the fault lines of difference. Indeed, one of these fault lines has been amply treated by historians: the bitter—at times, tumultuous—controversy that erupted among southern Jews over the value of secular ("Greek") learning. Yet it has rarely been asked how strongly held convictions opposing or favoring the study of "Greek science" translated into choices made in daily life. How, moreover, might they have permeated the outlook and writing of the authors when they wrote grammars or biblical commentaries, liturgical or philosophical poetry, medical texts or romances? Even more pertinent to this study, how did one's faith and convictions, whether a commitment to traditional religious values or to rationalist inquiry, influence the way that one understood recent history and its cataclysmic reach into personal life?
In this regard, it becomes striking how little French Jewish writing about expulsion survives in traditional, commemorative genres, particularly liturgical poetry. One reason may have been the intellectual temperament of those who wrote and their disinclination for traditional attitudes and practices. Yet how many Jews were represented by this elite? For the majority, traditional approaches to catastrophe presumably retained their meaning and value. The writers who represent this majority are nonetheless hard to find, and only two of the following chapters are dedicated to liturgical verse. The absence of more exemplars of this genre reminds us, for one thing, that although a large population in France, Jewish exiles rarely resettled in groups large enough to warrant commemorative works for communal (i.e., synagogal) use. At the same time, the surviving texts confirm that when refugees did cluster in a particular location, this type of commemorative writing was an option still valued and exercised. Chapter 3 treats the penitential hymns of Reuben b. Isaac, expelled from Montpellier in 1306. Reuben's hymns are simple lyrical pieces that rely evocatively on familiar biblical tropes of dispossession and loss; their generic imagery is undoubtedly one reason that they remained popular among later users in the Comtat and in Algiers. The northern Italian poets discussed in Chapter 6 all use the name Trévoux, identifying them as exiles from that town on the Savoyard border, whence their ancestors had arrived from Lyons in 1306. Unlike Reuben's hymns, many of the laments written by the Trévoux poets are insistently threaded with local referents, which may have doomed these poems to historical oblivion. They do not seem to have been used beyond this immediate community and its itinerant descendants in Provence and the Piedmont.
In both cases, the ability of later users to link early and later experience through a careful manipulation of tropes and sequencing illustrates the great strength of liturgical writing—namely, its ability to read all subsequent tragedies as echoes of earlier prototypes. Thus, its listeners might be assured that whatever the catastrophe, they, like their righteous ancestors, lie safely within the framework of a divinely ordained plan. The durability of this message is evident also in the material biography of the manuscripts that preserve these poems, which testify to generations of use and the accretion of traumas nearer to the reader's present than the expulsion of 1306.
The competition between local detail and generic topoi, analyzed brilliantly by Dan Pagis in late fourteenth-century Hebrew laments from Spain, is implicit in much of this literature, too. It was not always the generic topoi that triumphed, although over time the gradual erasure of local referents contributed to the misreading or abandonment of once-popular works. As Ann Carmichael has noted of early modern plague literature, the embrace of local detail and personal narrative were also stylistic choices that might serve the end of wider, more universal, appeal. The poignant essay treated in Chapter 5 is a good illustration of this claim. The work of the physician Jacob b. Solomon, describing his daughter's death from the plague in 1382, it aims for a much wider audience than those who might decipher its polemical attacks.
Like Jacob's essay, however, much of the literature discussed in God's Forgotten Sheep is generically eccentric, representing literary forms unfamiliar to students of Jewish literature of this period and sometimes of later periods as well. Elsewhere I have referred to the tendency of 1306 writers to invest in "highly perishable forms of commemoration." This is, I think, not an accident, but a by-product of the elite, highly literate, and acculturated tastes of its authors. Jacob b. Solomon was a determined traditionalist, a man shaped by a northern French past he barely knew, but he is unusual among this group. His literary corpus is equally distinctive and represents the collision of many worlds, north and south, traditionalist and rationalist, even the medical instruction at the University of Paris versus that at the University of Montpellier. In contrast, authors like Yedaiah Bedersi, Joseph b. Sheshet Latimi, or Crescas Caslari were rationalists shaped by intellectual training and outlook. Sometimes philosophers and often physicians, they were less inclined to see the world around them as God's stage for collective punishment or redemption; indeed, a concern with expulsion as an allegory of spiritual alienation, or with personal salvation through enlightenment rings through the highly abstruse and formalistic elegies by Yedaiah and Joseph, treated in Chapter 2. The two Esther romances of Crescas Caslari, a successful physician whom expulsion landed in Avignon, are treated in Chapter 4. They reveal an educated physician's perspective on problems of recent history and politics, providing in the process a glimpse of the witty, cultured world of luxury and ideas accessible to a privileged Jewish elite.
Was the prominence of physicians who penned the texts of expulsion partly responsible for the misappropriation or oblivion that found those texts later on? Certainly, physicians were a subgroup among the exiles who were more equipped to adapt and even thrive in new surroundings. The fourteenth century was, in many respects, a golden age for medicine in Spain and Provence, and Jewish physicians, too, had access to wealth and unprecedented prestige. Their intellectual interests, which of necessity included a broad exposure to Christian learning, made it easier for them to separate themselves from the conditions and struggle of fellow exiles. Danièle Iancu has documented their high rate of conversion at the end of the fifteenth century, and it seems likely that their conversion rates, as a professional subgroup, in the late fourteenth century were high as well. In brief, these were not men inclined to think of the "destiny of the nation" and their personal destiny as identical problems; nor was catastrophe likely to inspire their reflection in the plaintive language of biblical lament. Cultured and acculturated, their views of themselves and the world around them often had more in common with the perspective of Christian physicians than with that of traditional Jews (again, Jacob b. Solomon will prove an exception). One literary consequence was that they were less than likely to respond to communal catastrophe in traditional genres of commemorative writing or with the traditional Jewish tropes of exile and return.
Yet for both traditionalists and rationalists, a past defined by expulsion could, and often did, become a construct for survival, either in a community forged in exile or in a small elite group of Jews disdainful of new neighbors and ways of life. Certainly, the laments of Reuben b. Isaac, recited in Algiers with those of Simon b. Zemah Duran (a late fourteenth-century descendant of exiles from Provence and probably France before that), or those of the various Trévoux poets aggressively cohere a community in exile around the signposts of a shared history. That history is also shaped implicitly and explicitly by the genre in which it is rendered. A liturgical hymn can, by virtue of recognized conventions, assert certain kinds of historical connection and causation: suffering is inflicted by God as a means of chastising a wayward people; politics is merely God's way of imposing His will; expulsion and degradation in exile will someday conclude in restoration and privilege. Likewise, a Neoplatonic elegy subtly modulates from external chaos to an interior landscape; chaos and strife in the social world become allegorical representations of the unenlightened soul. Narrative prose, in contrast, excels in nuanced, sometimes ironic, depictions of human beings in dialogue and interaction, permitting an emphasis on complex psychological states, motives, and passions. These distinctions become clear in those cases where the authors represented in this book wrote in more than one genre—for instance, Yedaiah Bedersi, Crescas Caslari, Jacob b. Solomon, and some of the Trévoux authors. The sensitivity of these men to the requirements and limitations of a given medium asks us to acknowledge that their own views are not necessarily defined by their words—or, at least that what is expressed by their words must be filtered through the conventions of the genre in which they write them. The attention to genre in decoding these texts has been underemphasized by previous scholarship, but I think that it is of major significance.
A combination of genre and social constraints also implies that texts inevitably may vigorously suppress evidence of parallel narratives of expulsion, struggle, homesickness, suffering, and faith. Indeed, all the texts here that "remember" expulsion do so at the expense of others whose memories are expunged. Sometimes those others may be their own wives, sisters, or daughters, or the nameless "ordinary" Jews arriving, destitute and desperate, to depend upon the generosity of Jewish communal resources and goodwill in foreign lands. They might be Muslim refugees fleeing to Maghrebi towns and cities in the late fourteenth to fifteenth century, or indigenous Algerian or Italian Jews deemed culturally inferior by the émigrés. These figures may be invisible in the literature cited in this book, but there are sometimes clues to their presence outside of the space limned by texts.
The material history of the manuscripts preserving these poems also contributes mightily to the story told in these pages. Like the poems of Reuben b. Isaac and the Piedmontese Trévoux, many of the texts discussed in this book have never been published. With a combination of old scholarship and new catalogs and databases, I have found them in manuscripts scattered among libraries far and wide. The world of Hebrew manuscripts is a very special world, one that brings together scholars with a variety of interests, backgrounds, and skills—often in the chilly microfilm reading room of the Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM) in Jerusalem, without which this book could not have been written. Paleographers are particularly stern about reminding the bleary-eyed denizens of the microfilm library that Hebrew manuscripts, fragmentary witnesses to a perilous journey, are not just the purveyors of disembodied "texts" to be copied, annotated and corrected, and naively read; they are physical objects, and the clues to their fabrication and transmission reinsert them into a moving historical narrative whose scenery changes over time. To the extent that this is possible, we must try to see them in that landscape, not only to enrich our reading of their contents but also to comprehend some of the scope of the world that they were either incapable of representing or chose not to represent.
By now, it may seem that this book is not unlike one of those salvage operations whose commander, regarded dubiously by outsiders and sometimes by herself, stubbornly persists in dredging the depths for treasures she is not entirely sure exist. Thankfully, they do exist. And if this particular hunt was launched by a question, it was a question that bore some answers. How could a great Jewish community—great in size and in cultural achievement—disappear without leaving some record of its journey into exile? Reformulated, that question became the following: How did fourteenth-century Jews remember their own past, and what happened to their story later? In this form, the hunt truly began to yield riches.
Treasure hunters need maps, and mine, at least initially, appeared in volumes 27 and 31 of L'histoire littéraire de la France, authored by J. Ernst Renan and Adolphe Neubauer in the late nineteenth century. These works, to which I have become fiercely attached, are unmatched by any modern scholarship. Their exhaustive résumés of authors and titles were supplemented by any number of regional studies of French and Provençal Jewry, many also nineteenth-century works. Any quest of this sort would be incomplete without the invaluable catalogs of manuscripts—some old, some new—the IMHM database and microfilm library, and the actual manuscript collections at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds, the JNUL in Jerusalem, and my own beloved Klau library in Cincinnati. And the librarians, oh, the librarians, to whom I owe thanks.
All these resources pointed the way to the manuscripts and authors discussed in this book. Significantly, very few of my authors referred explicitly to the fact of expulsion, presumably sometimes because they did not want to and sometimes because the rules of the genre in which they wrote precluded explicit statements of the kinds modern historians prefer. As a result, many of the texts treated here would have yielded little to a critical lens posed frontally but spoke eloquently when viewed from other angles. This turn to sidewise reading, with a combination of imagination and literary tools, was ultimately rooted in my conviction that no work of literature is immune to the forces that shape the world of its creators. The author and his scribes, the users and transmitters of a poem or romance or scientific work, are all part of the world. They suffer in its wars, famines, and plagues, or uneasily exult in their safety; they compare themselves with some and distance themselves from others; they write, by day or night, or they read, by day or night, while other things are happening, and those "things" unexpectedly but inevitably mark the creation of a text.
For this reason, it is important, in reading what these men wrote and in reading what I have written about them, to remain sensitive to the marginal role of these texts in most people's lives. One reason is that the men who wrote literature about expulsion were the rare few who managed to regain sufficient stability, income, and repose to sit at a desk with a pen. That cannot have been the fate of most men and women cast rudely from home into exile. Moreover, there is no evidence that most of those unmoored men and women heard or read the majority of the literary compositions discussed in these pages. Only the simple, haunting lyrics of Reuben b. Isaac were works designed and destined for popular use, and we know that they were cherished in the Comtat and Algiers for centuries. Perhaps, if we take him at his word, Crescas Caslari's vernacular Esther romance also entertained "women and children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren." But did they know what it meant?
And if he had heard them, how would a French Jew, brutalized on the roads to Catalonia or Castile, have felt about the stylized verses of Yedaiah Bedersi or his epigones, converting the upheavals and sufferings of expulsion into the mental torments of the unenlightened soul? Would he not have felt disdain—or despair? Amazingly, scholars have continued to project a world of lived experience from the words of small groups of educated, privileged men. Even if the texts we had at our disposal reasonably reflected the literary output of medieval French Jews and their descendants, they would at best reflect the perspectives of a privileged minority. As these things go, however, the attitudes and experience of privileged men with pens say little about the attitudes and experience of most men and women. In this context, what is truly striking about Yedaiah's eccentric experiments in commemorative verse is not that they were popular but that we, today, who also sit and write safely in grievous times, share his weakness for thinking that our enlightenment matters. And does it? Probably not—but as for all these writers, from Isaac haGorni to Yedaiah Bedersi, Joseph Latimi, Reuben b. Isaac, Crescas Caslari, Jacob b. Solomon, Simon b. Zemah, and Peretz Trabot (Trévoux) and his kin, we are the record that will exist.
That said, it is significant that these texts, and many of their authors also, have been largely forgotten over time. This is partly because Jewish history swept onward, cruelly, to the upheavals of the fifteenth century and the final wave of European expulsions of the Jews from Spain (1492), Portugal (1497), Provence (1500), and Orange (1505). The Spanish expulsion in particular swiftly reconfigured the shape of the past. Indeed, to this day, it is the expulsion most likely known to students, scholars, and laymen beyond our university walls. In its wake, the Jewish past, and history, were dramatically reformulated as the parallel narratives of two super-communities, Ashkenaz (the Jews of Germany, France, England, and later, Central and Eastern Europe) and Sepharad (those communities descending from Iberian Jews, namely in the Maghreb, the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire). The Jews of the Middle East and eastern Arab world, Iraq, Iran, and Yemen, were sidelined until the twentieth century. For the study of the European Jewish past, which is my concern here, what matters is that a multiplicity of communities distributed about the European and North African Mediterranean disappeared also because of the tenacious appeal of the Ashkenaz versus Sepharad binary. As these poets and their writings make evident, other identity options were once available, and it is time to bring them back to light.
Regretfully, most of the texts excerpted or cited here will not be easy for readers to find in full. A few have been published in old and uncommon journals, where those lucky enough to live near great Judaica libraries will find them. Many others, as I have noted, are still in manuscript. Over the next few years, some will make their way to light: my own translation of Yedaiah's "Elef alafin" (Supplication of 1,000 alefs) will appear in a Festschrift in honor of Professor Raymond Scheindlin of the Jewish Theological Seminary, edited by Jonathan Decter and Michael Rand. Two students of Professor Tova
Rosen of Ben-Gurion University, Uriah Kfir and Margalit Schallman, are working, respectively, on critical Hebrew editions of the poems of Isaac haGorni and the "Supplication of 2,000 Mems" by Shem Tov Ardutiel. Professor Benjamin Bar-Tikva of Bar-Ilan University has for some years been working on an anthology of critical Hebrew editions for all known Hebrew poetry from medieval Provence. I hope to produce editions and translations of some works in this study myself, perhaps to appear in a separate anthology.
Let me conclude this introduction with a turn to my simplest and perhaps most lyrical poet, Reuben b. Isaac of Montpellier. Reuben b. Isaac, lamenting the fate of his fellow Jews and himself, turned repeatedly to the image of God the Shepherd responsible for His flock. Straining to harmonize the cruel hand of history with the mercy and vigilance of an all-knowing God, Reuben evokes biblical echoes of wandering sheep, sometimes abandoned by their shepherd, sometimes straying in the hills, and once, frighteningly, forgotten altogether. God, too, it seems, has a memory, and sometimes it lapses, erasing wicked and innocent alike. So this book is not only about human memory and forgetting but also about human faith in the apparent face of divine disaffection. So, too, it is a story of literature in a time of expulsion, impoverishment, dispossession—and indifference, sometimes recorded and sometimes implicitly voiced between the lines. It is also about the rich and creative, even movingly optimistic, ways in which individuals try to cope and live fully in times of uncertainty and upheaval. We who write from safety, but well within reach of the news, will find it unsurprising that a God faced with humanity might be tempted at times to forget. From a mortal perspective, remembering is only part of a greater human challenge. Those of us who write attempt our small acts of salvage. Other gestures undoubtedly make a greater difference, and it puts us in our place to know it. The point, I suppose, is not to abandon our desire to understand the past but to struggle