Applying analytical strategies from linguistics, literature, and history, Kirsten Fudeman demonstrates that language played a central role in the formation, expression, and maintenance of medieval Jewish identity and that it brought Christians and Jews together even as it set them apart.
2010 | 240 pages | Cloth $65.00
Literature | Religion
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Table of Contents
Notes on Translations and Transcription and Typological Conventions
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: The Medieval French Jewish Community in Its Linguistic Context
Chapter 1. Language and Identity
Chapter 2. Speech and Silence, Male and Female in Jewish-Christian Relations: Blois, 1171
Chapter 3. Texts of Two Colors
Chapter 4. Hebrew-French Wedding Songs: Expressions of Identity
1. Hebraico-French Glosses and Texts
2. The Medieval Jewish Wedding Song 'Uri liqra'ti yafah, gentis kallah einoreie
The Medieval French Jewish Community in Its Linguistic Context
Gloss It for Me in French!
A thirteenth-century text called the Desputoison du juyf et du crestien (Disputation between the Jew and the Christian) records a fictional debate between two men. Though side by side, they seem to come from two different worlds, separated not only by creed but also language. The text begins with the Christian declaring one of the mysteries of his faith, the virgin birth, in Latin. At the most basic of levels, the Jew does not understand. "Parole a moi françois," he says, "et espon tes paroles. . . . Ce que diz en latin, en françois le me glose!" (Speak to me in French and explain your words! . . . Gloss for me in French what you are saying in Latin!) The Christian obliges him, the dialogue continues, and, as is typical in texts of this genre, the Jew is won over to the Christian's way of thinking.
The Christian and Jew of the debate both inhabit the so-called Latin Middle Ages of Ernst Robert Curtius and Erich Auerbach, but only the Christian is comfortable with Latin. Had he persisted in speaking that language, or had the Jew insisted on using Hebrew, there could have been no exchange of ideas. Communication between them was possible only through French.
In the area roughly corresponding to today's northern France, French, the vernacular, was the linguistic point of contact between medieval Latin culture and medieval Hebrew culture and the medium through which Christians and Jews communicated with one another. Though during this time Latin and Hebrew had greater prestige than French, having been used to record sacred Scripture, liturgy, and countless other texts, and being preferred by scholars, it was French that Jews and Christians spoke most often in the territory that concerns us here, among themselves and to one another, day after day.
This book is concerned with the roles played by language in shaping identity and culture. How did language affect how Jews thought, how they interacted with one another and with Christians, and who they perceived themselves to be? What circumstances and forces led to the genesis of a medieval Jewish textual tradition in French and helped shape it? Who were the writers, and how did they choose to write in the vernacular or Hebrew? What types of speech-related behaviors did Jews see in Christians, and which inspired trust or distrust? How and in what terms did Jews define their relationship to the larger French-speaking community? In beginning to offer answers to these and other questions I draw on a variety of sources, of which the most important are three sets of medieval Jewish texts produced in northern France: Old French texts in Hebrew letters, bilingual Hebrew-French texts, and selected Hebrew texts that are explicitly preoccupied with verbal interactions with Christians. A fundamental assumption underlying this book is that by studying language, we will be able to sketch a more comprehensive picture of the Jewish community in medieval France and better understand the way the Jews themselves perceived their relationship to and place within the larger Jewish and Christian communities. This is what "identity" refers to in this book: the consciousness of individuals that they exist in relation to communities, and the ways in which objective characteristics of those communities contribute to the way individuals represent themselves and are represented by others.
A major theme that emerges from studying the historical, literary, and scholarly documents treated in the following chapters is that language was a tremendous force behind the construction of Jewish identity in the twelfth, thirteenth, and early fourteenth centuries and a means of expressing, maintaining, and preserving that identity. Many or most Jews living in northern France during that period assimilated major elements of the vernacular culture, and certain aspects of their identity were intimately bound to the status of French as their mother tongue, with all that entailed. Especially relevant here is that Jews partook of French-language culture, enjoying and to a limited extent producing literature in medieval French. Most of their textual production was in Hebrew, but in linguistically mixed texts, French, their mother tongue, seems literally to seep through the cracks in the form of glosses, lines of poetry, and occasionally complete poems and prose texts in French. More subtly we find medieval French influence on the spelling, morphology, syntax, and semantics of their Hebrew, and Hebrew influence on the way they used French. Although it appears that in many situations the Jews' French was more or less indistinguishable from that of Christians, there is extensive written evidence that in other situations, the Jews' French was distinctive and that its distinctiveness resulted especially from Hebrew influence. Jews used the Hebrew alphabet for writing French. They incorporated Hebrew loanwords into their written French and, we may assume, their spoken French as well. Words in their French texts sometimes combine a Hebrew root with French suffixes, and sentences in bilingual texts sometimes begin in one language and end in the other. Another type of interaction between French and Hebrew in the Jews' daily lives is seen in documents like the letters written in response to the Blois incident of 1171, which use Hebrew to report conversations that took place in French. Knowing that the conversations have been translated not only from one language to another but also from one system of symbolic references to another helps the scholar read them with greater sophistication.
Did medieval Christians recognize or think they could recognize a Jew based on his or her vernacular speech? Could a Jew recognize a fellow Jew just by the way he or she spoke French? These are two of the questions I attempt to answer in Chapter 1. I argue that while there can be no doubt that the mother tongue of most northern French Jews in the Middle Ages was French (the same varieties of French spoken and written by Christians), in some situations the Jews' French was made distinctively Jewish through their use of Hebrew loanwords and code-switching. The most prominent linguistic marker of Jewishness, however, remained Hebrew, even though only some Jews learned it well, and some Christian scholars also studied it.
Chapter 2, comprising three main sections, offers a close reading of Hebrew texts written in response to the burning of over thirty Jews in Blois in 1171. In the first section, I argue that one of these texts, called the Orleans letter, serves as both a record and an attempt to explain and understand the tragedy that befell the Jewish community of Blois, and I speculate that the explanation may lie in the words of Proverbs 6:16-19. I argue furthermore that the authors of the Orleans and three other letters pay special attention to linguistic behaviors and to the way that Christians used speech and silence during the incident. In the second section, I argue that the Blois letters, as well as later accounts of the incident from Ephraim of Bonn and Joseph Ha-Cohen, point to deep differences between the linguistic channels available to medieval Jewish men and women and illuminate the relationship of gender to formality and informality in language. Limitations on women's access to Hebrew meant that even women with some knowledge of the language were less able to engage in style-shifting, limiting in turn the repertoire of public identities that they were able to assume. Finally, the Blois documents and the Blois incident itself demonstrate the extent to which the Jews were integrated into Christian society but at the same time were set apart. For their own safety and self-preservation, the Jews sought help from those in authority, all the while remaining deeply distrustful of them. The interplay of French and Hebrew in the unfolding of the Blois incident is illustrative of this complex Jewish-Christian relationship.
Chapter 3 is concerned with bilingual Hebrew-French manuscripts that graphically illustrate the dual identity of the medieval French-speaking Jewish community. Jewish texts in French appeared centuries later than non-Jewish texts in French, but even late medieval Jewish texts in French are strikingly similar in certain respects to the earliest Old French texts, which date from the ninth and tenth centuries. Why did a medieval Jewish textual tradition in French take so long to emerge? And why should it be similar to a Christian tradition that predated it by centuries? An exploration of similarities and differences between Christian and Jewish society and the Latin and Hebrew textual traditions offers possible answers to these and other questions.
Chapter 4 begins with two bilingual Hebrew-French wedding songs and their manuscripts and ends with thirteenth- and fourteenth-century persecutions and expulsions of the Jews. Analyzing the wedding songs from the standpoints of language, ritual, community, and identity, I argue that their lover-warriors and noble brides challenge the notion of a French identity that is inextricably bound to Christian beliefs and that the songs present a forceful vision of a dual French-Jewish identity at odds with the representations of Jews in Christian texts from the same period.
These four chapters, framed by an introduction and an epilogue, are ordered deliberately. The central question of Chapter 1, whether and how the Jews' vernacular differed from the French spoken all around them by non-Jews, is central to the book's larger concern with language and identity. Chapter 2 addresses documents that reveal an authorial concern with speech and serves as a reminder that despite this book's concern with vernacular texts, most medieval Jewish documents from northern France are in Hebrew. Both chronologically and conceptually, it precedes the discussion of the remaining chapters: Chapter 3 builds on the first chapter by offering a closer and more extensive look at Jewish texts in Old French and also, through its focus on the development of literary languages, serves as a bridge to Chapter 4, an examination of specific Hebraico-French literary texts, two wedding songs. The limits of this study are addressed further below.
Judeo-French, Hebraico-French, and the Scholars Who Have Studied Them
In this volume I use the term "Hebraico-French" to refer to Old and Middle French texts written in Hebrew letters. (The scholarly division between these two stages of the language is generally placed in the first half of the fourteenth century, but there was never a moment of transition: speakers called their language simply romanz or françois.) Even if some of the texts discussed here are bilingual, composed in both Hebrew and French, Hebraico-French texts are not necessarily linguistically mixed: "Hebraico" refers solely to the alphabet used.
Except in discussions of earlier scholarship, I avoid using the term "Judeo-French" to describe texts. Although favored by many scholars, including Raphael Levy and D. S. Blondheim, the term "Judeo-French" is ambiguous, since it has been used to describe French texts recorded in the Hebrew alphabet, as well as a hypothetical Jewish dialect of Old French whose existence will be taken up in Chapter 1. The Comencement de sapience (Beginning of wisdom), a 1273 French translation by Hagin le Juif of an astrological treatise by Abraham ibn Ezra, is unique in being the only known Jewish text in Old French to have been written in the Roman alphabet, the reason being that Hagin dictated it to a certain Obert de Montdidier, a Gentile. Some have suggested that Hagin did not know how to write; more precisely, it seems that he did not know how to write in the Latin alphabet. The translation itself seems to have been intended for an erudite Christian patron, Henry Bate, in whose house (in Malines) the translation was made. We might call Hagin's translation a French Jewish text, a term that applies equally well to Hebraico-French texts but that I generally avoid because it, too, is ambiguous and can refer simply to any Jewish text written in French or produced in a French-speaking area. Mathieu (Mahieu) le Juif, a possible Jewish convert to Christianity about whom little is known, wrote poetry in Old French on worldly themes. Neither his subject matter nor his audience nor the script in which his work is recorded (the Latin one) justify calling his poetry "Jewish."
Although scholars have long been aware of the existence of Hebraico-French glosses, and to a lesser extent, texts, we can date the beginnings of intense scholarly interest in Hebraico-French literature and Judeo-French language to the mid- to late nineteenth century. The most famous of the early researchers were Arsène Darmesteter (1846-1888) and David S. Blondheim (1884-1934). Both edited and published Hebraico-French texts and glosses but died tragically young. Among their most famous publications are compilations begun by Darmesteter and completed by Blondheim of the Old French glosses scattered throughout the biblical and talmudic commentaries of the celebrated medieval commentator Rabbi Shlomo Yitsḥaqi (Solomon ben Isaac) of Troyes, better known as Rashi (1040-1105). Blondheim was a particularly fine editor, and I have often been impressed by the exceptional accuracy of his work.
Here we must also mention Louis Brandin, who in 1905, along with Mayer Lambert, published an edition of a Hebrew-French glossary owned by the Bibliothèque nationale de France. This volume was one of the first to make the major genre of the medieval Hebrew-French glossary available to a wide modern public, even if the glossaries themselves, of which several survive today, had already been studied to some extent by scholars such as Darmesteter, Joseph Österreicher, and Leopold Zunz.
In the mid- and late twentieth century, major researchers in the field of Judeo-French studies included Menahem Banitt, Hiram Peri (formerly Heinz Pflaum), and Raphael Levy. Menahem Banitt (born Max Berenblut) edited with great skill and meticulousness a number of Jewish texts in French, among them two major glossaries, Le glossaire de Bâle and Le glossaire de Leipzig, and various shorter works. He engaged in extensive historical, linguistic, and graphic analysis of these texts and others and explored issues such as the Judeo-French dialect question and the use of the vernacular in medieval Jewish education. Peri's contributions to the field include a fine edition of two Jewish hymns in Old French and a survey of Jewish prayer in the vernacular. Levy is most famous for his edition of the aforementioned Comencement de sapience and for his lexicographical work. Levy's lexicographical and other linguistic studies of "Judeo-French" were criticized by Banitt as selective and non-scientific. Nonetheless, they are valuable resources for the modern scholar, who, for example, can use Levy's Trésor de la langue des Juifs français au moyen âge or Contribution à la lexicographie française selon d'anciens textes d'origine juive to identify attestations of particular Old French words in Jewish texts. Other twentieth-century scholars who have made important contributions to the field include Moché Catane (born Paul Klein; 1920-1995) and Joseph Greenberg, who published editions of Rashi's Old French glosses, and who studied glosses by Joseph Kara and Rashbam (Rabbi Samuel ben Meir), respectively, as well.
Recent years have seen a surge of interest in Jewish texts and glosses in French. Scholars Daniel Fano and Yona Bar-Moaz, working on the Miqra'ot Gedolot "HaKeter" project in Israel, have performed meticulous comparative analysis of Old French glosses found in manuscripts of medieval commentaries in Hebrew, in many cases correcting transmission errors. This makes the Miqra'ot Gedolot "HaKeter" series the most reliable source available to scholars wishing to study the glosses of the northern French commentators in full context. Cyril Aslanov has published selected Old French glosses from commentaries on Ezekiel by Joseph Kara and Eleazar of Beaugency, and I have published the glosses from Kara's commentary on Isaiah and glosses from fragments of his commentary on Psalms, as well as analysis of Kara's Job glosses, and studies of two Hebrew-French wedding songs and the Troyes elegy. Jordan Penkower has prepared editions of glosses from the commentaries of Rashi and pseudo-Rashi. Marc Kiwitt and Stefanie Zaun have both worked extensively on a Hebraico-French medical treatise from the late thirteenth century or early fourteenth century, and Kiwitt has also worked extensively on glossaries.
The importance of the Hebraico-French corpus is perhaps best illustrated by the fascination it engenders in scholars in related fields. These include Samuel Rosenberg and Wendy Pfeffer, specialists in medieval French literature, and Susan Einbinder, specialist in medieval Hebrew literature and Jewish history, who have all written studies of individual Hebraico-French poetic compositions. The specialized knowledge of medieval French and Jewish history, literature, and music that these scholars possess gives their studies a freshness and originality that I have found stimulating, and like them, I strive always to study Hebraico-French texts in their larger social, cultural, and historical context.
Despite these many contributions to the study of Jewish literature in French, this corpus is sometimes ignored or deemphasized by modern scholars. To be fair, this is not without reason: it is far smaller and more limited in terms of genre than the corpus of medieval Jewish texts in Hebrew or of medieval French texts in the Latin alphabet. Marius Sala estimates the number of Hebraico-French manuscripts at at least one hundred. Although I believe the actual number is somewhat higher, most are Hebrew manuscripts that contain only words in French. (See Appendix 1.) Moreover, the Hebraico-French texts that we do have tend to be short, often containing fewer than ten lines. Only eleven Hebraico-French poetic works are known, including a mere couplet in a longer Hebrew text. Aside from Hebrew-French glossaries, only one full-length Hebraico-French text is known—this is the aforementioned medical treatise.
It is nonetheless striking that from the end of the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, Hebraico-French poetry was often mentioned in surveys of Old French literature, such as Lajard's Histoire littéraire de la France, or the surveys written by Paul Zumthor and Urban T. Holmes. In more recent general works, these poems are typically not mentioned.
Jewish studies scholars have remained more or less conscious of Hebraico-French texts and glosses ever since Darmesteter brought the Troyes elegy to the public's attention. Nonetheless, the Hebraico-French corpus often seems to be overlooked by scholars studying medieval Jewish literature in Hebrew and Arabic. Chaim Rabin, contrasting the abundance of Judeo-Arabic texts with the (relative) absence of Jewish vernacular texts in continental Europe, asserts, "In France, pre-1290 England, and Germany, mishnaic Hebrew was the language for all written purposes, including religious poetry (there being no worldly poetry in that society)." Norman Golb writes of medieval Normandy during the Angevin period, "[Hebraic culture] was all embracing, including the study and practice of Jewish law, religious worship, the formulation of communal and regional enactments, and personal written expression, all taking place in Hebrew rather than in Latin or French." That Hebraic culture embraced Jewish life in medieval France cannot be denied; and on almost every occasion that a medieval French-speaking Jew put pen to parchment, it was indeed to write in Hebrew. But if Hebrew culture was all-embracing in some respects, then vernacular culture was all-embracing in others. The vernacular was the mother tongue and the spoken language par excellence for all ages and both genders. Hebrew was indeed the language of Jewish law, worship, communal enactments, and a host of other matters, but discussion of these was carried on not only in Hebrew but also in the vernacular. The content and structure of Hebrew-French biblical glossaries, for example, suggest that the study and teaching of the Hebrew Bible was accomplished through the medium of the spoken language. Evidence also suggests that in addition to the written, Hebrew Bible, the Jews of medieval France had an oral, vernacular version, called by Banitt the Old French Vulgate.
Limits of This Study
This study focuses on the relationship between language, history, and identity, and at its core are Hebraico-French and Hebrew-French texts that survive in medieval Jewish manuscripts, some published previously, some newly edited for this project. This core determined which of the many threads that make up the linguistic culture of medieval French-speaking Jews would be taken up here, and which I would leave for other scholars or future studies. The focus on Hebraico-French texts has led me to pursue topics such as influences on the genesis of Hebraico-French writing, even when it led away from the French Middle Ages into earlier times and other lands; the roles of French and Hebrew in texts and in daily life; the evolution of Hebraico-French textual production; the narrative structure and themes of the Hebrew-French wedding songs; and the distinctiveness of the written and spoken French of medieval Jews. The discussion in Chapter 2 about the Blois incident of 1171 focuses on several texts written in Hebrew, not French, but these texts illuminate verbal, vernacular interactions between Jews and Christians.
As we have already seen from the discussion of Judeo-French language and literature as a field of inquiry, much of the research already done on Hebraico-French textual production has focused on individual texts and glosses. While some scholars, notably D. S. Blondheim, Hiram Peri, and Pnina Navè, have taken a comparative approach and considered Hebraico-French texts within the larger context of Judeo-Romance, there has not yet been a concentrated attempt to place Hebraico-French texts within the context of Old French textual production in general or the history of the Jews in France. One of my goals has been to consider these larger issues, a task facilitated by the fine work on individual manuscripts, texts, and glosses published by other scholars.
The geographical boundaries of this study are determined by the location of Jewish settlements known to have produced Hebraico-French texts, as well as the extension of the French-speaking area during the medieval period. The second is easier to establish, and I will do so here in broad terms.
Today's France covered three main linguistic regions during the Middle Ages. In the north, most of the population spoke dialects of French (langue d'oïl), while in the south, which falls outside the boundaries of this study, most people spoke dialects of Occitan (langue d'oc). A large pocket in the east was the domain of Francoprovençal. Other languages were also represented within this territory. For example, the north was home to pockets of Breton, Flemish, German, and Walloon speakers, and the south to speakers of Basque and Catalan. The use of French extended into today's Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, not to mention various courts where French served as a language of culture. Outside the continent, French was spoken in Norman Sicily (1060-), Lusignan Cyprus (1192-), the crusader states of Outremer, and especially England. The Normans who invaded England in 1066 brought their dialect of French with them, and while many of the inhabitants of England remained Anglo-Saxon speaking, the Jews of England, for the most part of Norman heritage, spoke primarily in French. Some knew English as well. At least one prominent Anglo-Jewish family, that of Elijah Menahem ben Moses of London, came from the Rhineland, and descent from Rhenish families, combined with cultural contacts between the Jews of England and those of the Rhineland, would have led to some exposure to German among English Jews, even if it was not spoken in the Anglo-Jewish community itself.
Where did Jews compose Hebraico-French texts? In most cases, we are not able to assign a precise geographical origin to Hebraico-French texts or to the Hebrew manuscripts that contain them. According to Colette Sirat, only 3 percent of medieval Hebrew manuscripts contain a precise indication of this sort. Nevertheless, in a number of cases, we are able to determine the region, and occasionally the town, where particular Hebraico-French texts or sets of glosses were composed or copied. First, limiting ourselves to the territory belonging to today's France, we know of Hebraico-French texts originating or written in the dialects of Champagne (e.g., Rashi's and Joseph Kara's glosses), Lorraine (several poetic compositions), Normandy (glosses), Picardy (sermon fragments), and the Loire valley (an incantation), among others. The colophon of a Hebrew-French glossary to the Bible held by the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma states not only the name of the scribe (Jehiel ben Rabbi Eleazar) but also the date he completed the manuscript (16 Av 5039 ) and the place, Delsberg, today Delemont in the Ain region of the Swiss Jura (formerly Thalisperc). The author of the Troyes elegy seems to have been from Lorraine, as both his name, Jacob bar Judah of Lotra (Lotharingia), and the dialect of the elegy indicate. In fact, the number of Hebraico-French texts in the Lorraine dialect (Lotharingian) is significant enough to win for Lorraine the title of Hebraico-French textual center. It is notoriously difficult to ascertain whether certain Hebrew manuscripts were produced on the continent or in England, but one Hebraico-French text of certain English provenance is a glossary of bird names edited by Menahem Banitt from ms. Valmadonna 1. We can also mention the Old French glosses of Moses and Elijah of London. The present study focuses on the heart of Hebraico-French textual production, the region that medieval Jews called Tsarefat, which we can roughly translate "northern France," although its borders reached beyond northern France and especially into the Rhineland. When I refer to "France" in this book, I usually mean Tsarefat.
Cultural and linguistic boundaries among medieval French, English, and German Jews were porous, and in some sense they formed a single culture, that of Ashkenaz. Eleventh- to twelfth-century French Jewish scholars such as Rashi and Joseph Kara studied in German-speaking lands, and in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Rhenish Jewish scholars like Meir of Rothenberg and Ephraim of Regensburg studied in northern France. The Tosafist commentators of French and Germany and the English rabbis cited each other's scholarship. French, German, and English Jewish scribes all used the same basic script style. There is, however, reason to distinguish among these groups, as medieval Jews did themselves: for example, Aryeh Graboïs has commented on the medieval Jewish differentiation between the Rhine basin, Lorraine, and northern France. In a study like the present one, in particular, it makes sense to study the Jewish communities of medieval France apart from others in Ashkenaz. The Jews living in English- and German-speaking milieus belong, by definition, to other speech communities—a fact that is reinforced by the distinction between the terms la'az (literally, "a language other than Hebrew," but generally used by medieval exegetes to refer to French) and leshon ashkenaz ("language of Ashkenaz," i.e., German). The multilingual situation of England raises its own problems and complications, as has been discussed by Robert C. Stacey. Jews there primarily spoke French, and this increasingly set them apart after the Anglo-Norman period as English gained importance as a mother tongue for all non-Jews, regardless of social class or family origins.
The terminus a quo of the present study is relatively straightforward, determined by the earliest known Jewish glosses in Old French in the eleventh century. The terminus ad quem is more difficult to establish. Philip Augustus's expulsion of the Jews from the royal domain in 1182 did not end the Jewish presence in medieval France. Their exile was relatively short-lived (in 1198 he announced that they could return); and the royal domain at that time consisted, in the words of William Jordan, only of a "more or less narrow strip of territory, not entirely uninterrupted, running from the Beauvaisis in the north to Bourges in the south." It was the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries that would prove catastrophic to Jewish settlements in England and France. The Jews were expelled from England by Edward I in 1290 and from the French royal domain during the reigns of Philip IV the Fair (1306), Charles IV the Fair (1322), and Charles VI the Mad (1394). (Whether there was a formal edict of expulsion in 1322 is unclear.) After 1322, according to Jordan, the presence of Jews in the French royal domain (whose area had increased significantly since Philip Augustus's ascension to the throne) was negligible. Some Jews remained in French-speaking borderlands, such as the Franche-Comté, but they were hardly more welcome there, and soon after the expulsion from the royal domain in 1322, they were expelled from the Franche-Comté as well. As reported by Jordan, they are believed to have returned there "relatively quickly" as Capetian influence diminished. We do have two late bilingual Hebrew-French documents from the Franche-Comté, but they date from before the expulsion of 1322: these are two account books prepared by an association of Jews based in Vesoul, located in today's France not far from the German and Swiss borders. The earliest date in the account books is 1300, and the latest 1318.
Jews expelled from the French royal domain also moved into areas such as Flanders in the northeast, and Savoy, the Dauphiné, Comtat-Venaissin, and Provence, all beyond the Rhône. Some moved even further east or south, contributing to the significant number of Hebraico-French texts preserved in libraries and archives in northern Italy, Switzerland, and Germany. Others settled in the Iberian kingdoms. French-speaking Jews continued to copy and perhaps even produce Hebraico-French glosses and texts in their post-expulsion homes until Hebraico-French textual production waned and died with the death of the expulsion generation or soon after. The bilingual wedding song beginning 'Uri liqra'ti yafah, discussed in Chapter 4, was copied sometime between the late fourteenth century and second decade of the fifteenth, apparently in a German-speaking (or bilingual French-German) environment. A recipe for haroset with ingredients in French (see Chapter 3) was copied in northern Italy in 1470. It seems probable that even at this relatively late date, an undeterminable number of descendents of northern French Jews in northern Italy and elsewhere were continuing to speak and even occasionally to write in their ancestral tongue.
Vernaculars and Literary Languages
The mobility of individual Jews and entire Jewish communities, by choice or by force, has led Malachi Beit-Arié to call them "agents of cross-cultural contacts and influences and intercultural confrontations." Set Jewish mobility against the backdrop of the already multilingual Middle Ages, and the result is a complex linguistic web woven of threads of many colors. The literary languages Hebrew, Latin, and Aramaic contribute many strands, for written languages can be adapted to different styles, from lofty to most humble. The threads representing medieval vernaculars, of which there were many, split and merge according to geography, social class, and time period. And languages can be mixed: vernacular speech might be interspersed with words or phrases in the learned tongue, a learned text might incorporate vernacular glosses, or a poet might compose a hybrid text, drawing from two or more linguistic and literary traditions at once.
Even the lowliest and least educated Jew born in northern France during the Middle Ages came into contact with a number of different languages in his or her lifetime, of which the most important to Jewish identity and culture would have been French, the mother tongue, and Hebrew, which we might call the father tongue, since it was generally transmitted from fathers and other male authority figures to sons and was based outside the home in the male domains of the yeshiva and synagogue. (Note that study and worship would often have taken place in the same physical space, one that may have been used for other purposes as well.)
Hebrew, this father tongue, the holy tongue, was also what we call a literary language by virtue of its conservatism, the relative stability with which it was used over vast stretches of space and time, and its transmission through texts. That it was conservative does not mean it was frozen, and we can identify at least three varieties of Hebrew to which educated Jews in the medieval period would have been exposed: biblical, rabbinic, and medieval. Biblical Hebrew is the language of the Hebrew Bible, with modern scholars distinguishing between the language of early biblical poetry, that of pre-exilic prose writings, and that of the latest, post-exilic writings. Rabbinic Hebrew is the language of the texts created by the Jewish sages called the Tannaim (c. 20-200 C.E.) and Amoraim (c. 220 to 360-370 C.E. in the Land of Israel, c. 220-500 C.E. in Babylonia) and is properly divided into Tannaitic and Amoraic Hebrew, with the Amoraic period stretching into the Middle Ages. The Hebrew in which European medieval Jews composed their commentaries, poetry, and other texts grew out of rabbinic Hebrew, and though medieval Jews using Hebrew wrote in an array of styles, we can classify them together as medieval Hebrew.
Two other literary languages of great importance to medieval French Jewish culture were Aramaic and Latin. Medieval Jews encountered Aramaic, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew, when studying the Gemara, particular sections of the Bible (Gen. 31:47, Jer. 10:11, Dan. 2:4-7:28, Ezra 4:8-6:8 and 7:12-26), Targumim (Aramaic translations or paraphrases of the Bible), and various other texts. Aramaic also influenced Amoraic and medieval Hebrew vocabulary, morphology, and syntax. Among all the languages of the world, "Aramaic is closest but not quite equal in status to that of Hebrew," Steven Fraade has stated, summing up an idea found in rabbinic sources. It is both "a revealed language" and "a language of revelation."
If French and Hebrew, the latter accompanied by and sometimes mixed with Aramaic, can be considered the Jews' mother and father tongues, then from approximately the eighth or ninth century on, Latin, so important in Christian thought and worship, might be called the "other tongue" and the "language of the other." One of the four languages, along with Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic, in which the Torah was given, according to the Midrash, it, too, was a language of revelation.
Prior to the eighth and ninth centuries, when Romance speakers in Gaul still considered their speech Latin, and Latin texts could be read aloud so that even the uneducated could understand, Latin was not yet the language of the other for Jews living in northern and southern France—it was their mother tongue, as it was for their Christian neighbors. This claim is common sense, although we are hard-pressed to find written evidence for it. Few Jewish manuscripts from any region, even fragmentary, survive from that period; the oldest Jewish codices from Latin Europe date from the eleventh century. Jewish inscriptions in Latin dating from the eighth century or earlier have been found in Auch, Bordeaux, Narbonne, and perhaps Avignon, but not apparently in the north of France. That Jews living in what is now France once had Latin as their mother tongue is perhaps best reflected by particular words of popular Latin origin that are attested in Hebraico-French texts and glosses but that are not attested or are attested only rarely in other medieval French documents. It is possible that these words were used by Jews and non-Jews alike in Latin Gaul but that they gradually fell out of use among non-Jews.
By the period that concerns us most here, the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, Latin was no longer a living language, and learning it required formal study. Although some Jews in northern France studied Latin, it seems that most did not and that Latin study among Jews was greater in Spain, Provence, and Italy, all of which are known for the production of translations of Latin works into Hebrew.
We can name specific Spanish, Occitan, and Italian Jews, such as Moses of Palermo (thirteenth century), Immanuel of Rome (b. c. 1261, d. before 1335), and Léon Joseph de Carcassonne (fourteenth to fifteenth century), who are known to have become proficient in Latin. Gersonides (Levi ben Gershom or Gerson, or Léon de Bagnols, 1288-1344) may have known Latin as well, though he wrote exclusively in Hebrew, with Occitan glosses, and there is no textual evidence that he consulted non-Hebrew sources.
In contrast to the situation in Spain, Occitania, and Italy, evidence regarding the Latin proficiency of individual Jewish scholars from northern France is scarce. It is known that Joseph of Orleans, also known as Joseph Bekhor Shor (mid- to late twelfth century), learned Latin in order to read Christian texts, and David Berger has stated in more general terms that Jewish authors concerned with the Jewish-Christian polemic "surely read Latin." Berger also writes, "When Jewish works . . . refute Christological interpretations that are found only in Christian commentaries and not in polemics, we have reason to suspect that the Jewish authors got the information from a literary source, and a systematic investigation along these lines may well prove rewarding," and he mentions a section, "probably interpolated," in the Munich manuscript of the Nizzah?on vetus on Psalms that refers to Christian translations and glossa in a way that suggests that the Jewish author had read the texts.
All too often, however, evidence regarding the Latin knowledge of individual Jewish scholars is ambiguous or altogether lacking. Take the case of Samuel ben Meir, known as Rashbam (c. 1085-1174). Rashbam engaged in discussion with Christian scholars, and it has been claimed that he knew Latin based on his discussion of Exod. 20:13 and the commandment "You shall not murder." Rashbam asserts that the verb r-s-h "always . . . refers to unjustified homicide." He contrasts it with h-r-g and m-w-t, which "sometimes refer to unjustified homicide . . . and sometimes to justifiable homicide," then continues: "I offer this explanation as an argument against the heretics and they admitted that I was right. Even though in their Latin books [i.e., the Vulgate] the same verb is used to translate the verb [m-w-t] in the phrase (Dt. 32:39) 'I deal death [amit] and I give life,' and the verb [r-s-h] in this verse, their translations are inaccurate." The verb that the Vulgate uses in both verses is occidere. Martin Lockshin, from whose work the above translation of Rashbam's commentary comes, correctly asserts that this passage does not prove that Rashbam knew Latin. Rashbam may simply have discussed this issue with Christians and so learned that the Vulgate uses the same verb in its translations of Deut. 32:39 and Exod. 20:13. Rashbam may have known Latin, but as Lockshin emphasizes, we know with certainty only that he engaged in discussions of biblical exegesis with Christians, even in cases such as this one where the passage was not central to Jewish-Christian polemics.
In the miracle story De l'enfant resuscité qui chantoit Gaude Maria by Gautier de Coinci (1177/78-1236), a Christian boy sings, "Erubescat Judeus infelix qui dicit Cristum ex Josef semine esse natum" (May the unfortunate Jew who says that Christ was born from the seed of Joseph be ashamed; ll. 148-49) in the street of the Jews—referred to in the text as the rue des gaingnons (street of the curs)—before a large impromptu audience of clergymen, knights, lay folk, and Jews. This verse so enrages one of the Jewish listeners that he kills the boy. Gautier was not the first to relate this story, although his version is both better known and more elaborate than any of the earlier ones. I have argued elsewhere that Gautier based his comments about Jews more on tradition than personal experience, and we must therefore exercise caution in drawing conclusions about Jewish culture in medieval France based on Gautier's writings. We might ask, is the opening premise of De l'enfant resuscité qui chantoit Gaude Maria plausible? Would a Jewish man in Gautier's time have understood the Latin words sung by the boy? This question is more complicated than it appears. Although I believe that proficiency in reading and writing Latin was rare even among literate Jews living in northern France, it is likely that many Jews learned isolated Latin words and phrases that were current in the surrounding environment, and given repetition, context, and cues such as tone of voice, facial expressions, and audience reactions, the overall intent of the verse sung by the boy might have been clear to nearly any Jew witnessing such a scene.
As evidence that Latin literacy among medieval northern French Jews was not commonplace, we can first cite the general absence of Jewish writings from northern France or England in Latin or Latin script. (The aforementioned Comencement de sapience, translated by Hagin le Juif, but written down by Obert de Montdidier for a Christian patron, is an exception.) Further evidence comes from the fact that legal transactions often required two scribes, one to compose a document in Hebrew, and the other to compose one in Latin, the alternative being one scribe proficient in both. Thus we find English and Norman legal documents written in Latin and accompanied by a full or shorter version of the record in Hebrew, and sometimes only an endorsement or signature. Latin literacy was of course also limited among Christians.
The assumption that most Jews of medieval northern France, including those who were relatively well educated, did not learn Latin is further strengthened by the introduction to the thirteenth-century Desputoison du juyf et du crestien with which this introduction began. Let us examine the text here in greater detail. As the debate begins, the Christian is intoning a hymn about one of the mysteries of his faith, the virgin birth, in Latin. Listening is a Jew:
natus est parvulus.
in alvo virginis
Et carne tegitur
maiestas numinis. (ll. 1-4)
(The nation of all believers
a child is born,
He puts on flesh
in a virgin's womb,
And is clothed with flesh,
glory of the God-head.)
The Jew does not understand. "Speak to me in French," he says, "and explain your words!" The Jew means this at a basic level: he wants the Christian to explain the sense of the Latin words. But the Christian misunderstands and attributes the Jew's lack of understanding to his being Jewish. Such a reaction on the part of a Christian might well have been commonplace: Jews were frequently accused of being stupid, unable to understand the Christian mysteries of faith. At around the same time the Desputoison was written, Gautier de Coinci wrote, following a long Christian tradition, that the Jews are "Plus bestial que bestes mues" (Stupider than the speechless beasts) and that "Li dyables leur dort es testes, / Qui bestïaus les fait com bestes" (The devil sleeps in their heads, making them stupid like beasts). He complained that Jewish reading of Scripture was akin to chewing on the shell of a nut without realizing what is inside, a well-known Christian image for the Jews' purported inability to understand Scripture figuratively—an image, moreover, that the Christian uses in the Desputoison itself.
The dialogue might have ended here, except that the Jew persists. It is not the content that is difficult for him, he explains, but the language, and the Christian should translate all that he has just said into French.
Ne t'entent pas, por ce c'oscurement paroles.
Parole a moi françois et espon tes paroles!
N'est pas gieus a entendre ainsi oscure chose.
Ce que diz en latin, en françois le me glose! (ll. 5-8)
I don't understand you, because you are speaking in an obscure way.
Speak French to me and explain your words!
A Jew can't understand a hidden thing like this.
Gloss for me in French what you are saying in Latin!)
Even if the author of this text had other reasons to switch from Latin to French (namely, to make the work understandable to a broad Christian audience, including the less educated), the specific way in which he frames the switch here suggests that even educated Jews did not typically know Latin well and that Christians were aware of that fact. From this exchange, and from the other evidence, both positive and negative, available to us, we can infer that the typical French-speaking Jew did not know Latin well, whether he or she was literate in Hebrew or not. Although here and there individual medieval French-speaking Jews like Joseph Bekhor Shor studied Latin, on a communal level, Latin remained the language of the Christian other.
Returning to the debate, the Christian obliges the Jew's request and begins to explain the mystery in French.
Ge paroil du filz dieu qui ci nasqui en terre;
S'ooille avoit perdu qu'il est venuz requerre.
Il est nez de la virge come d'espine rose.
Issuz est de sa chanbre parmi la porte close:
Si entra et oissi du ventre de la feme
Que sa virginité n'i perdi onc la dame,
N'i ot corrupcïon ne avant ne arriere.
Au concevoir, au nestre et enprés fu entiere.
Si con puet par le voirre et issir et passer
Li soleus, sanz le voirre maumetre et dequasser,
Ensement et encor par plus soutil maniere
Entra diex en la virge et s'en rissi arriere. (ll. 9-20)
(I speak of the son of God who was born here on earth;
He had lost his flock and came to seek it out.
He was born of the virgin like a rose on its bush.
He emerged from her womb through its closed door:
He entered and emerged from the belly of the woman,
In such a way that the lady never lost her virginity,
Nor was defiled before or after.
During conception, during the birth, and afterward she remained whole.
In the same way the sun can pass through glass
Without damaging or shattering it,
In a similar way, but even more adeptly,
God entered into the virgin and afterward came out again.)
If the Christian thinks he has stumbled across a fool, the Jew declares, he most assuredly has not (ll. 35-36)! How could a virgin give birth? How could God, so great that the whole world cannot contain him, be enclosed in the belly of a woman? How could the One who has always existed have had a beginning? How could one God be three? Speech follows speech, with the eloquence of the Christian matching that of the Jew. The turning point comes when the Christian interprets for the Jew the prophecy of Isa. 11:1-2: "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding" (NRSV). The Christian explains, "La verge c'est la virge; par la flor doiz entendre celui qui en la virge daigna por nos descendre" (ll. 385-86) (The branch is the virgin; by the flower you must understand the one who deigned to come down for us in the virgin). Other verses from Isaiah and Jeremiah are offered by the Christian and, finally, a paraphrase of Moses' words in Deut. 28:66, which medieval Christians commonly understood as referring to the Jews' failure to recognize Christ.
Sez que dit de sa mort Moÿsés, vostre maistre[s]?
"El fust verras ta vie devant tes ieus pendue.
Ta vie ert devant toi, ne par toi n'ert creüe."
Cil qui fu mis en croiz, cist estoit nostre vie
Qui pendoit devant vos et nel creüstes mie. (ll. 419-23)
(Do you know what Moses, your teacher, said about His death?
"You will see your life hanging before you on the cross.
Your life will be before you, but you will not believe it."
The one who was placed on a cross, He was our life,
Which was hanging right before you, and yet you did not believe.)
The Jew, finally convinced of the Christian's authority, proclaims that the Messiah has come and says, "ge me vo[i]s baptoier et ma mauvaitie secte gerpir et renoier" (ll. 429-30) (I am going to get baptized and forsake and renounce my wicked sect). The Christian has the last words: "Bien est; bien ai tendu a ce que j'ai mené, puis que j'ai un juÿf a creance amené" (ll. 431-32) (Good. Rightly I persevered in accomplishing my task, for I led a Jew to faith). We might add: in French.
The characteristics of the use of Old French versus Hebrew among medieval French-speaking Jews fall into a classic pattern that scholars call "diglossia." Diglossia is the stable and widespread use of two or more distinct codes (styles, dialects, languages) in a culture, each with specific functions. Traditionally, it has referred to the use of two related languages or dialects, a usage established by Charles Ferguson using such examples as the coexistence of Standard French and Haitian Creole in Haiti. Here I assume the broader interpretation of diglossia introduced by Joshua Fishman that covers the coexistence of unrelated languages, each with separate functions.
In a diglossic situation, high (H) linguistic varieties are prestige tongues, generally learned through formal education, and low (L) varieties are mother tongues, acquired by infants. Among medieval French-speaking Jews, Hebrew was the high linguistic variety and a regional variety of French the low one. This diglossic situation was set in a larger society that was itself diglossic, with the high variety being Latin and the low one again regional varieties of French.
Drawing on Fishman's work, within a diglossic culture, the high linguistic variety
(1) typically has greater prestige than the low variety;
(2) has a rich literary heritage, which often includes the liturgy and sacred texts;
(3) is learned in formal settings;
(4) is highly codified, with fairly established rules of grammar, spelling, pronunciation, and so on;
(5) is used for most written and formal spoken purposes; and
(6) is generally not used for ordinary conversation.
All of this is true of Hebrew during the period in question. Hebrew's prestige was great. It was believed to be the language in which God's finger wrote the tablets of the covenant given at Horeb (Deut. 9:10). Its rich literary tradition stretches back to antiquity. It was transmitted through formal education, whether in the home or outside it, and its spelling and grammar were standardized to a great extent, even if, to quote Angel Sáenz-Badillos, the Romance-speaking Jews who wrote in Hebrew sometimes used "poor style, dubious morphology, and questionable syntax." Within a descriptive, rather than prescriptive, linguistic framework, these irregularities of style and grammar are best viewed less subjectively. Sara Japhet and Robert Salters ask, "are they not rather the result of various forces brought to bear on the language, giving it new direction?"
We have already seen that medieval French Jews used Hebrew for most written purposes. It is impossible to know how often they used Hebrew in conversation, but the times at which Jews spoke Hebrew to one another would have certainly been outnumbered by their interactions, with each other and with Christians, in their mother tongue, French.
Linguists beginning with Ferguson have shown that two languages in a diglossic relationship often interact in similar ways. Lexical borrowing from the high variety into the low one is common. Words are also borrowed, though less often, from the low variety into the high one. Both types of borrowing took place in medieval French Jewish society. Hebraico-French texts regularly feature Hebrew or Aramaic borrowings, for example, hatan ("bridegroom"), kallah ("bride"), and 'asqer ("engage in study of the law"). (This last example bears a French infinitival suffix.) The opposite is also amply attested: for example, Hebrew texts written in response to the martyrdom of over thirty Jews in Blois in 1171 incorporate the Old French words peau (skin, hide), vaire (pale, mottled; made of squirrel or miniver), and golier (debauchee), as do many other medieval Hebrew documents produced in France, most famously the commentaries of Rashi of Troyes.
Low linguistic varieties typically exert a phonological influence on high varieties, and often a grammatical influence as well. In medieval northern France, the pronunciation of Hebrew was influenced by French, as were its morphology and syntax. Although these phenomena generally fall beyond the scope of this book, I note a few examples here. In the documents relating to the Blois massacre of 1171 invoked above, the gender and form of the Hebrew masculine noun 'or (hide) is adapted to the gender of its French counterpart, peau, resulting in feminine 'orah, which seems to be a hapax legomenon. In a Hebrew-French glossary of bird and animal names in a miscellany owned by the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma, discussed in Chapter 3, the gender of the Hebrew possessive suffix is sometimes influenced by the vernacular translation of the Hebrew word to which it refers. Thus, the masculine noun 'atalef (bat), translated into Old French as feminine pie (magpie), is described as "the bird [ 'of, m.] that is wrapped [me'ulaf, m.] in her wings [bi-knafeyha]." The last word bears a third-person singular feminine suffix.
We have already pointed out that high linguistic varieties tend to be used for formal, written purposes, and low linguistic varieties for informal, conversational ones. While this is essentially true, we must also heed the words of scholars such as Jan Ziolkowski, who, writing about the Latin Middle Ages, has warned against distinguishing between "oral and literate . . . or popular and learned" too sharply. French may have been used by medieval Jews primarily for oral purposes, but this book would not have been written if they had not sometimes put it in writing. Hebrew was fundamentally a written language, but this did not prevent an oral culture from growing up around it. Even illiterate Jews spoke Hebrew aloud while praying or reciting benedictions. They sang in Hebrew, too. Hebrew or Aramaic borrowings almost certainly made their way into the Jews' spoken French, just as they infiltrated their written French and oral performances. In short, two languages in a diglossic relationship may occupy separate functional spaces, but these spaces can and do overlap, and the languages do as well.
Diglossia is about groups, not individuals, and so it does not matter if some Jews had little or no Hebrew knowledge. The culture as a whole was diglossic because certain functions were associated with Hebrew and others with the vernacular. In a similar way, medieval Christian culture has often been termed diglossic, with the high variety Latin and the low variety the local vernacular. It does not matter that many, if not most, Christians were illiterate or that even "as the age of print neared, many peasants, burghers, and even aristocrats remained essentially within oral-aural culture," as Brian Stock observes. Literacy was not a prerequisite for inclusion in the Latin-language community, which, following Stock, refers to the textual community formed by Christians, both litterati and illiterati, who lived lives centered around Latin texts or literate interpreters of them. Diglossia is not bilingualism.
Scholars seem to agree that most Jewish men in late medieval Europe, and specifically twelfth- to thirteenth-century northern France, learned to read and write Hebrew to varying degrees. Of course, the ability to read texts did not entail the ability to write them. One could learn to read Hebrew well and sign one's name without learning to write it fluently, a skill that Sirat identifies with certain professions, such as those in law and education. Jewish boys in France were initiated into the study of Hebrew and Torah, and hence into the male sphere, as early as age five or six. Prior to this they spent most of their time in the care of their mothers and other women. The association between maleness and learning was made clear in a number of childhood rituals, beginning with naming and circumcision in infancy, and culminating with a boy's initiation into schooling. In England, literacy among male Jews appears to have been similarly common.
Jewish communities sometimes assumed the responsibility of paying for the education of boys from poor families through charity, but not universally. Ephraim Kanarfogel has demonstrated that the education of poor children did sometimes suffer as a result of the financial situation of their parents. In the region roughly corresponding to today's Germany and northern France, teaching was generally done by a melammed (tutor), hired by the child's father or a group of fathers. In the absence of money to hire a melammed, a child had to rely on charity, which was not always available, or on his own father, who was not always willing or able to teach him. Similarly, Irving Agus, drawing on responsa literature, has argued that in Germany, Jews living in "small and isolated communities," of which there were many in France as well, were less likely to attain high learning.
Jewish girls and women were exposed to Hebrew and learned Hebrew prayers, but their education was generally a practical one not involving formal study of Hebrew or Hebrew texts. Exposure to prayer in Hebrew may have helped them develop a basic familiarity with the language, but it would not have enabled them to become proficient. Unlike Jewish men, women were not obligated to study the Law, and it is specified in the Talmud that a Torah scroll, tefillin, or mezuzot copied by women are pesulim, or invalid. Most evidence for a lack of Hebrew proficiency among Jewish women is indirect. The Mishnah allows the translation of certain religious texts and prayers into the vernacular for the benefit of those who do not know Hebrew, and religious authorities of many places and periods have reiterated this, including Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi (eleventh century), Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) in Hilkhot Tefillah (Laws of prayer), Jonah ben Abraham Gerondi (c. 1200-1263), Isaiah ben Elijah di Trani (d. c. 1280), Asher ben Jehiel (c. 1250-1327), and his son, Jacob ben Asher (d. 1340). One rabbi who put this into action was Solomon Ha-Qadosh of Dreux or Rouen (twelfth to thirteenth century), who is said to have recited the Passover Haggadah in French (be-la'az)—only up to the end of the four questions—so that even women would understand. Another is Jacob ben Judah of London, author of Ets Hayyim (Tree of life; c. 1286), who is said to have translated the entire Haggadah into the vernacular, presumably French, again so that women and children would understand. At Passover, on the seventh day, it was customary, according to the Mahzor Vitry, to translate the Parashah and the Haftarah readings in the synagogue into the vernacular; however, women are not specifically mentioned there as benefiting from this practice. The aforementioned Spanish scholar Jonah ben Abraham Gerondi observed that in his own time, Jewish women everywhere, including in France, prayed in the vernacular rather than Hebrew. It is possible to be proficient in Hebrew and yet choose to pray in another language. However, the custom among women of praying in the vernacular rather than Hebrew, even in the synagogue, is more readily understood if they were less proficient in reading and understanding Hebrew than were Jewish men.
In various places, Jewish women's lives and educations reflected trends found in the larger, non-Jewish milieu. Many Christian women of medieval Europe became famous as writers, and while their numbers were smaller and their fame less, a few exceptional medieval Jewish women from the Rhineland and probably also France left writings as well, as Sirat shows. A women named Hannah copied a manuscript of Isaac ben Joseph of Corbeil's Sefer Mitsvot Qatan (Small book of commandments) in the late fourteenth century, probably in or near Cologne. A Bible copied in France or the Rhineland in the twelfth or thirteenth century bears the signature of a female owner, Sarah, as well as corrections and notes in her hand that demonstrate a profound understanding of biblical grammar. Finally, many Jewish women in medieval France must have had basic record-keeping and arithmetic skills in order to engage in financial pursuits, such as moneylending, as a significant number of medieval Jewish women in northern France are known to have done.
We have seen that in the multidimensional linguistic environment of Tsarefat, the linguistic point of contact between Christians and Jews was French. French was the mother tongue of Christians and Jews in the communities treated here. It was acquired by children, whereas Latin and Hebrew had to be learned. But what French? All languages are dynamic systems, and in the next chapter we explore how medieval Jews might have used French in different social contexts, and what French might have meant for them.