Isadore and Rosalie Sharpe Lecture
Ephraim Kanarfogel (Yeshiva University)
"Reverting Apostates as Converts in Medieval Ashkenaz"
Rashi (d. 1105), among other rabbinic authorities in northern Europe, considered those who converted to Christianity, under duress or even willingly, as Jews, whose subsequent return to the Jewish community did not require any special acts of contrition or other formal rites to mark their reversion. Beginning in the late twelfth century, however, the leading talmudists and halakhists in northern France and Germany, known as the Tosafists, developed a series of more nuanced requirements for those who sought to revert to Jewish practice and life following their conversion to Christianity. While several German Tosafists ruled that reverting apostates ought to be treated largely as converts to Judaism, their northern French counterparts maintained clear halakhic distinctions between these two categories. These differing views were predicated on the distinct ways that the German and French Jewish communities approached conversion to Judaism, and on the evolving positions of Christians at this time on the nature and status of Jews and Judaism.
Ephraim Kanarfogel is the E. Billi Ivry University Professor of Jewish History, Literature and Law at Yeshiva University, where he is a core faculty member at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. Professor Kanarfogel is a lifetime fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research, and he has been a fellow of the Center for Advanced Jewish Studies at the University of Pennsylvania for many years. He has held visiting professorial appointments at Penn and at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and has served as a vice president of the Association for Jewish Studies. An internationally recognized authority in the areas of medieval Jewish intellectual history and rabbinic literature, Prof. Kanarfogel is the author of Jewish Education and Society in the High Middle Ages (1992), which won the National Jewish Book Award for scholarship, and ‘Peering through the Lattices’: Mystical, Magical and Pietistic Dimensions in the Tosafist Period (2000), which was a finalist for the Koret Foundation Award in History. Both books were published by Wayne State University Press, and updated versions have been published in Hebrew. In addition, Prof. Kanarfogel is the editor of three volumes on medieval Jewish history, literature and thought, and the author of more than one hundred articles. His book, The Intellectual History and Rabbinic Culture of Medieval Ashkenaz (WSUP, 2013) won the prestigious Goldstein-Goren Award (for best book in Jewish Thought, 2010-2013) from the International Center for Jewish Thought at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; and the Schnitzer Prize from the Association for Jewish Studies for best book in Biblical and Rabbinic Studies. His most recent book, Brothers from Afar: Rabbinic Approaches to Apostasy and Reversion in Medieval Europe (WSUP, 2021), identifies and traces the changing rabbinic attitudes toward apostates from Judaism and their return, against the backdrop of Church policy and societal conventions and responses. Professor Kanarfogel is also co-editor of the international academic journal, Jewish History.
This lecture will be delivered in-person at JHB100 and virtually via Zoom. To attend virtually, please click THIS LINK on Monday, October 24 at 4 PM.