Early Ashkenazic Poems about the Binding of Isaac

This article reviews a corpus of poems retelling the Binding of Isaac composed by Ashkenazic Jews (mainly from the German territories) during the Middle Ages and early modern era. The poems, written in both languages of the Ashkenazim – the vernacular Yiddish and the literary Hebrew – are: Akeda Piy...

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Bibliographic Details
Published in:Naharaim
Main Author: Roman, Oren, Jerusalem 1978-
Format: Electronic Article
Language:English
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Published: 2016
In:Naharaim
Year: 2016, Volume: 10, Issue: 2, Pages: 175-194
Further subjects:B Binding of Isaac Piyyut, Yiddish Sacrifice of Isaac Ashkenaz
Online Access: Volltext (Verlag)
Description
Summary:This article reviews a corpus of poems retelling the Binding of Isaac composed by Ashkenazic Jews (mainly from the German territories) during the Middle Ages and early modern era. The poems, written in both languages of the Ashkenazim – the vernacular Yiddish and the literary Hebrew – are: Akeda Piyyutim, some 40 liturgical penitentiary poems written in Hebrew, and Yudisher Shtam, an epic poem written in Yiddish, of which an unusually extensive number of copies survived. These Hebrew poems and the Yiddish poem have been – independently from one another – the subject of thorough research. However, no comparison of the two corpora has ever been done. The present paper offers such a comparison, thus illuminating key cultural-historical aspects of pre-modern Ashkenazic society, including cultural transfer between co-territorial Jews and Christians; Hebrew versus Yiddish texts; ritual versus belletristic literature; written versus oral transmission; elite (educated) versus lay audiences; male versus female audiences; and the private versus the public sphere. The article identifies similarities in both form and content between the poems in the two languages. For example, they both employ a similar stanzaic form; they both describe the exemplary behavior of Abraham, Isaac, and Sarah in a sentimental tone; and they both make contemporary references within the classic narrative to Christianity as a persecuting religion. The differences between the two corpora relate also to both form and content. For instance, the Hebrew poems are much shorter than the Yiddish poem, and they reflect a deeper familiarity with classical Jewish sources and are more stylistically refined, while the Yiddish poem is more belletristic and conveys the influence of the medieval German epic. Also, whereas the Hebrew Piyyutim were contained in Maḥzorim used in the synagogue, there is no certainty as to the intended purpose of Yudisher Shtam. By identifying the differences and similarities between the two corpora, as well as their possible meanings and implications, the article sheds light on an interesting case in the history of the Jews in the German territories involving cultural exchange, cultural identity, and literary tradition.
ISSN:1862-9156
Contains:In: Naharaim
Persistent identifiers:DOI: 10.1515/naha-2016-0014