Nota bene: This essay is available via Professor Tolan’s academia.edu page.
Survey of the evidence relating to the tabula in medieval England.
I am frequently, and consistently, disappointed by the state of scholarship on the English Church and England’s medieval Jews. Where some first rate work has been produced for other European countries (particularly Spain), in the case of England the literature is very limited (e.g. Edwards: 2003). So when somebody recently asked me about sources for medieval Anglo-Jewry and wanting to look at the relations between Church and Jews I was at a loss to recommend something other than this paper, which is the one of the few pieces of serious scholarship in this area. This essay explores the context and implications of the imposition upon Anglo-Jewry of the so-called tabula which was to represent the two tablets of Mosaic Law. Now I should point out that this point that I am of the H. G. Richardson school of thought when it comes to the tabula, in that I argue that the order was a token gesture which was widely flaunted, so I approach this article from that perspective.
In this essay, Tolan starts with a survey of the arguments and the contemporary situation in England in the aftermath of King John’s death and the First Baronial Revolt. I have to say that this is the least successful element of Tolan’s article because I think that the argument was to focused upon the tabula. For me the more interesting thing is that the tabula was the only serious concession which was to survive throughout the thirteenth century that was made by the Regency government to the Church and I would have liked to have seen something upon the reasons for this (or my argument put down at least). Following on from this, Tolan begins his discussion of the exemptions which were purchased by the Jews, and the reaction of the Church to those. This essay concludes with a discussion of the implications of the 1253 Statute of the Jewry and I find this to be a lucid and convincing argument. Finally, Tolan includes several caricatures of Jews wearing the tabula and I find this to be very disappointing because, there is no context given and, in the case of one of the Rochester Chronicle caricatures, the text doesn’t really fit with the image (as can be seen by actually accessing the chronicle – something I strongly recommend as it’s beautiful). There are, however, a couple of things that I would like to see in future discussions of this nature. First, I think that integrating the work of art historians, like Sara Lipton, who argue that one reason for the imposition of the badge in England so early was a reaction to the fact that Anglo-Jewry did not develop a distinctive dress code – not a discussion I know enough about to intervene in, but interesting nonetheless. Second, I also think that the argument in this article could be refined further, and even expanded, on the basis of Rebecca Rist’s recent study of Papal-Jewish relations (Rist: 2016). Overall, however, I think that this is a superb article which is well worth a read.
John Edwards, ‘The Church and the Jews in Medeival England’, in Patricia Skinner (ed.), Jews in Medieval Britain (Woodbridge, 2003), pp. 85-95.
Rebecca Rist, Popes and Jews, 1095-1291 (Oxford, 2016).