Thursday, January 03, 2008

Jews and Slavery in Medieval Ashkenaz

I have always been curious about why European Jews don't look very Middle Eastern. Just read an article that quotes Raphael Patai as saying that the reason why has to do with the medieval slave trade in Europe. His conjecture is that while Jews were prohibited from owning Christian slaves, there was no prohibition against pagans. Jews, especially the Radhanites, were already heavily involved in slave trafficking of Russians and other Slavs, and so it was the case that many Ashkenazic Jews came to own Gentile slaves, whom they needed to help run their households. Unlike the Sephardic Jews who lived in much larger communities and hence could find household servants among Jews, the Ashkenazim had to resort to Gentiles, which in turn introduced multiple halachic problems, such as bishul akum, pas akum, and yayin nesach. In order to circumvent these problems, the Gentile slaves were converted, and eventually, they or their descendants became fully fledged Jews. Likewise, female slaves and their children, were converted and upon manumission became fully fledged Jews without any stigma of geirus or illegitimacy.


Blogger -suitepotato- said...

You no doubt have heard of the theories of Arthur Koestler who wrote that the Jews of Europe were largely of Turkic origin by way of the conversion of the khazars as well. While genetic evidence doesn't support it, it doesn't eliminate it as having a part to play.

Like attracts like in human sociology and it would not be surprising if the converted Khazars in their wanderings intermarried to existing Jewish European populations.

The mystery of the lack of solid records regarding any large migrations of European Jews eastward is somewhat still in place though.

I wonder what numbers of Jews were moving with the Romans though in their colonization... Must remember to check into it some time.

January 03, 2008 6:39 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Yes, and this theory plays a big part of many of the anti-zionists who use it to deny the validity of the Jewish claims to Israel...

I don't know what happened to the Khazars in terms of integrating with the Jewish world. If the Khazars, as most believe, were a Turkic people, I would expect Ashkenazic Jews to resemble Uzbeks or Azeris or Turks, which they don't appear to at all.

I believe that Patai's theory is the integration of Slavic blood into Ashkenaz, not Khazar. Unfortunately, I don't have the original text, so I cannot say for sure what his theory is.

January 03, 2008 9:56 PM  

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