Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Q. #2 Do you have a favourite person, theme or event to study about the Jews of medieval England?

This question comes from an anonymous reader.

Short answer: Yes I do.

Long answer: The individual who I always end up coming back to is Aaron of York (c. 1190-1268). Aaron’s story is on of major contrasts. During by the 1230s he rose to the highest rank a Jew could occupy in medieval England: that of Arch-presbyter of the Jews (presbyter Judaeorum). However, Aaron was particularly heavily hit by the tallages of the 1240s to the point that during the 1260s he couldn’t even afford a £5 tallage payment. As far as I am concerned it’s one of the most tragic stories in English history and one which has never been told properly. Indeed, while three basic surveys of Aaron’s life have been produced (Adler: 1939, pp. 127-173; Stacey: 2004; Hillaby: 2013, pp. 427-431), I don’t think any of them are ambitious enough. This is not least because I have collected a plethora of references to Aaron in the published records alone over the last two years and while this started out as an attempt to understand more about Aaron, it’s developed a great deal since its inception to include Aaron’s extended family and his interactions with other Jews which has revealed an awful lot about the way that gender and social structures were integrated into Aaron’s family. Not that anybody would want to read it – or that any publisher would want to publish it for that matter – but it’s my dream to write a book entitled ‘Aaron of York: From Super-Plutocrat to Penury’ (or some derivative thereof) which actually explores Aaron properly to the extent that he deserves. I think that such an exploration would answer a lot of unanswered questions about Anglo-Jewish life and raise a whole host of other questions.

Just a thought, it’d be interesting if any of the other people who work on the Jews of medieval England (to some extent or another) wanted to write an answer to this question (I know there are at least half-a-dozen if any of you have time) to show the range of interest in this subject.

Work Cited:

Adler, Michael, Jews of Medieval Britain (London, 1939).

Hillaby, Joe and Caroline, The Palgrave Dictionary of Medieval Anglo-Jewish History (London, 2013).

Stacey, Robert, ‘York, Aaron of’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), available online at accessed on 27 April 2016.

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