Medievalist to unravel a complicated epoch
The complicated relationship between Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the Middle Ages will be the topic of a scholar-in-residence Shabbat Nov. 19-21 at the Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth.
Benjamin Gampel, the Dina and Eli Field Family Chair in Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary, will draw on his courses and books on medieval and early modern Jewish history, with a special focus on medieval Sephardim.
“I think it is interesting in studying Jewish history to understand the complexity of Jewish civilizations and how they developed over time and established relationships with the surrounding culture,” said Gampel, who will be the fourth annual Dr. Julius and Ethel Mintz Scholar-in-Residence at the temple. “The more you study Jewish history, the more fascinated you become by its sophistication.”
Gampel is the author of The Last Jews on Iberian Soil and is at work on a book-length treatment of the riots and forced conversions of 1391 on the Iberian peninsula.
In his opening talk, on Friday, Nov. 19, Gampel will explore the conflicts among Jews in 10th century Andalusia (today’s southern Spain).
“Jews were quite successful economically and politically and were living in a culture that celebrated these achievements,” said Gampel. “What we will be exploring is those very successful encounters through the prism of Hebrew poetry from that period. The poetry expressed the conflict among religious topics and sensual topics.”
On Saturday he will examine the period between the 11th and 13th centuries, when Jews thrived under Muslim rule and then had to contend with Christian conquerors.
“It’s a gradual process but Jews were able to transfer their allegiance from the Muslims to Christians,” said Gampel.
The scholar will go on to discuss the complicated relationship among Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Jerusalem, each thinking they have “the very exclusive notion of what is right and what is wrong.”
“We always have the dream, whether it is in Andalusia or Jerusalem, of everyone holding hands and dancing off into the sunset, but reality is a bit different,” said Gampel.
The concluding program will focus on the 12th-13th-century Spanish scholar Nahmanides.
“Students and peers who have heard Gampel as a speaker told us the room lights up when he talks,” said event cochair Gustine Matt.