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Book Review

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Reviewed by:

  • David B. Levy

Monsters and Monstrosity in Jewish History: From the Middle Ages to ModernityEdited by Iris Idelson-Shein and Christian Wiese. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019. xiv + 269 pp.

The past two decades have witnessed a surge of interest in monsters and the monstrous, but none from the perspective of Jewish studies except for some of the work of David Ruderman, who in a number of pioneering articles in the 1970s and 1980s analyzed early modern Jewish representations of conjoined twins, unicorns, and child prodigies, shedding light on the relationship of monsters and omens, teratology, and anthropology, science, religion, and magic. In addition, Jay Geller's Bestiarium Judaicum: Unnatural Histories of the Jews (2018) investigates the productive relationship between the animalization of Jews in Christian works, up to the depiction of animals in works by Kafka and Freud.

Thus this timely, well-written, erudite, well-researched book imports the increasing interest in monstrosity into the field of Jewish studies. The book gathers the scholarship of fourteen distinguished international academics, shows how, as Joshua Trachtenberg did, the mechanism by which Jews as the feared "outsider and other" have been demonized negatively into monsters by medieval Christians. Robert Chazan, Miri Rubin, and Sara Lipton have shown it was during the Middle Ages that the Jewish otherness coupled with Christian theology led to accusations of host desecrations, well poisonings, and ritual murder.

Publisher's Statement

Originally published in Shofar, 38(1), 303-306. © 2020 Purdue University Press. The original material can be found here:



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