Colloquium

Like a Journey to a distant Land: Considering Conversion in Late Medieval Germany

Ahuva Liberles-Noiman

How did the option of conversion affect relationships between Jews and Christians in late medieval Germany? To what extent did previous ties come unraveled, and what affinities continued between a convert-to-be and the society that he had abandoned? How did the Jewish community react towards rebellious Jews and how were they treated in view of the community’s needs and political considerations? And finally, was there a growing gap between a person’s religious identity and his own sense of belonging as perceived by his social network?

This paper focuses on Kalman (d. 1470), cantor of Regensburg, perhaps the largest Jewish community in late medieval Germany, who was on the threshold of baptism. While considering baptism, Kalman lived in the Weih Bishop’s residence, ate with the clergy during Holiday feasts and accompanied the ecclesiastical leaders of the city to public sermons. As he tried to balance his liminal position between Christianity and Judaism, he was perceived by the Jewish and Christian communities as offering an opportunity for confirming speculations about the competing religions, and he was appointed to compose polemic writings based on his scholarly background in both religions. After some time, Kalman regretted his new path and decided not to convert, because, as he claimed: “Conversion is like a journey to a distant land, leaving all my friends and all my goods behind.” When he stood trial as a renegade, Kalman was questioned not about his beliefs and his change of heart, but about secret passage ways, stolen saints and the powers of the Eucharis. Based on an exchange of letters between the city of Regensburg and Duke Ludwig of Bavaria-Landshut, records of receipts, and especially the six-page confession of the almost-Christian cantor uncovered in the city archive of Regensburg, this unique case sheds light on the thirst for greater knowledge of the neighboring religion and on the balance between political and secular power. Analyzing evidence from a variety of primary sources, Hebrew, German and Latin, may help to complement our understanding of Jewish attitudes toward baptism and communal boundaries in late medieval Ashkenaz, revealing in the process a wider spectrum of Jewish identities that shift from Christianity to Judaism, influenced by religious, economic, political and family ties.

 

AHUVA LIBERLES-NOIMAN

After completing my MA studies at Hebrew University (2014), I am currently a PhD candidate at the Department for History of the Jewish People and Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I hold a Doctoral Fellowship for the Study of German-Jewish History and Culture (Leo Baeck Institute London and Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes) and carried out my research at the Minerva Rosenzweig Center in Jerusalem and as a fellow of the I-Core ‘Center for the Study of Conversion and Inter-Religious Encounter’ at BGU. I am a history lecturer at the David Yellin College of Education in Jerusalem and in 2012-2016 held a position as book review editor at Zion: The Israeli Historical Society’s journal for Jewish History.  My fields of interest focus on early modern German history, social and intellectual history and the study of conversion and inter-religious relationships between Christians and Jews. My dissertation, under the supervision of Prof Israel Yuval and Dr. Ephraim (Effie) Shoham-Steiner, focuses on the social history of converts in early modern Germany (1450-1519). Based on Hebrew, Latin and German sources from the archives, I examine the diversity in the relationships between converts and their former and new society.