Judaism

15th century Torah sold at auction for US$3.87 million

“The volume represents the very first appearance in print of all five books of the Pentateuch as well as the first to which vocalization and cantillation marks have been added,” said the Christie's auction house catalogue about the sale of a Torah, printed in Hebrew in Bologna in January 1482. An anonymous buyer paid US$3.87 million for the book. (photo)

Touring Judaic sites in Spain

After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, much of Sephardic Jewish history and culture was destroyed, but some does remain. Gisela Dés of The Jerusalem Post offers a feature article on the "lost Jewish kingdom" in Spain.

Pre-14th century mikvahs discovered in Portugal

Plumbers fixing a leak in a building in the central Portugal city of Coimbra found something they were not expecting: several 600-year-old mikvahs, Jewish ritual baths.

Lewis-Gibson Genizah Collection: "a unique and vibrant window into a lost age"

In 1896, twin sisters Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson brought a collection of Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts from Egypt and deposited them at the United Reform Church's Westminster College in England. Recently Oxford and Cambridge Universities teamed to buy the collection at auction for UK£1.2m.

Vatican teams with Bodleian for US$3.2 million digitization project

Thanks to a US$3.2 million grant from the Polonsky Foundation, rare manuscripts from the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana will be digitized and made available online through both libraries. NPR's Annaliese Quinn has the story and interview.

Hobby Lobby president purchases world's oldest Jewish prayer book

“This is the oldest Jewish prayer book known to exist in the world,” said Steven Green, the president of the retail chain Hobby Lobby, on the purchase of a 9th century parchment manuscript. Green, a collector of religious artifacts, plans to donate the book, along with his collection to the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.

"Lost" Jewish cemetery found in Vienna

In 1943, Nazis encouraged the destruction of the gravestones in Vienna's oldest Jewish cemetery. Now through the use of ground-penetrating radar, some of the stones, dating back to the 16th century, have been re-discovered.

Remains of Spanish Jews "well preserved"

In 2008, archaeologists unearthed a 13th century Jewish cemetery in Toledo, Spain. A comprehensive study of the burials was recently completed, identifying and cataloguing the 107 tombs. Experts declared the remains “well preserved” and deposited unusually deep in the ground.

Oldest Torah scroll discovered in university library

In 1889, a librarian at the University of Bologna in Italy made a terrible mistake. He dated and labeled a scroll to the 17th century, but recent tests have placed the document in the 12th century, making it "the oldest complete text of the Torah known to exist." (photo)

Cologne excavations reveal rich Jewish history

For years, archaeologists have concentrated on Roman excavations in western Germany, largely ignoring its medieval past, especially when it came to Jewish history. Now the discovery of over 250,000 artifacts in Cologne, is revealing new insights into "one of Europe's oldest and biggest Jewish communities."

17 Jewish "souls are now at peace" in Norwich

In a recent burial service considered an "historic event," 17 sets of remains of Jewish descent were laid to rest in Norwich, England. The bones were discovered in 2004 in a well, and are believed to be victoms of 12th century religious persecution.

11th century Jewish documents found in Afghan fox den

Two years ago, the chance discovery of a collection of documents in a cave in Afghanistan gave experts a first ever glimpse of 11th century "religious, cultural and commercial life of the Jewish community in a central location on the trade route between China and the West."

15th-century prayer book highlights "the grandeur of Spanish-Jewish artwork"

A Jewish prayer book, created in 15th century Spain, is a survivor. The book includes liturgies for the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement and managed to survive both the Inquisition and the Holocaust.

16th century woman's prayer book reissued for modern readers

Seder Nashim, a 16th century siddur for women, and written in the Ladino language, is being reissued in Hebrew by the Ben Zvi Institute. The book The book was written by Rabbi Meir Benbenishti.

British remember "lost" Jewish cemetery

In 1231, the Jews of Oxford, England were given a small piece of land for a cemetery. The site was used until 1290 when Edward I expelled all the Jews from the country. Now a memorial stone has been placed to mark the "lost" burial ground.

4th century synagogue vandalized in Israel

Israel Antiquities Authority deputy director Uzi Dahari reports that vandals, possibly ultra-Orthodox Jews, have damaged a rare 5th century mosaic in a synagogue in the northern Israeli city of Tiberias.

Samson mosaic graces "monumental synagogue" discovery in Galilee

A team of archaeologists has discovered a "monumental" synagogue dating to the 4th or 5th centuries C.E. in excavations at Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee. The excavations revealed a "stunning" mosaic depicting Samson "placing torches between the tails of foxes." (photo)

The exemplary life of Dolce of Worms

A famous elegy, written in the 12th century, extoles the virtues of Dolce of Worms, a medieval Jewish woman in Germany. The elegy, and its preface, were written by her husband R. Elazar who depicted his wife as the perfect Jewish woman. Renee Levine Melammed profiles husband and wife.

Evidence of early Jewish presence on Iberian Peninsula

Archaeologists have found the earliest evidence yet of Jews on the Iberian Penninsula. An excavation of a Roman villa in Portugal has revealed a marble slab, probably from a tombstone, with a Hebrew inscription dating to 390 CE.

13th century Jewish marker Germany's oldest

A tombstone, bearing the name of  “Frau Dolze” daughter of “Herr Asher,” has been discovered in Erfurt, Germany near the city’s Old Synagogue. The marker, one of 58, dates to the year 1259. Officials in the city have applied to make the cemetery a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.

Isabel López before the inquisition

In September 1516, Judeo-conversa Isabel López, along with her mother María, was arrested by the Inquisition  in Cogolludo, Spain, observing the Sabbath by dressing in holiday garb and joining others to celebrate. Her trial is the subject of an article by Renée Levine Melammed for the Jerusalem Post Magazine.

Medieval Jewish documents prove existence of community in Afghanistan

Experts are baffled by the appearance of more than 200 rare, medieval Jewish manuscripts found in Afghanistan, proving the existence of a Jewish population in the country during the Middle Ages. The mystery? No one seems clear on how or where the documents were found.

Jewish bread stamp found in Acre

In the Israeli city of Acre around 500 CE, Larry the Baker left his mark. A ceramic Byzantine bread stamp has been unearthed bearing the classic Jewish seven branch Menorah and the name "Laurentius" written out in Greek letters.

Khazaria: the third superpower

In the 7th through 10th centuries, two super powers ruled Eastern Europe: Byzantium, "bulwark of Christendom in the east," and the Arab empire, but some historians name a third. Khazaria, a Jewish kingdom, played a crucial a part in the stemming of the Arab advance into Europe. (map)

Bodleian Library digitizes Mishneh Torah

One of the most important manuscripts in the Bodleian Library's Hebrew collection is the 12th century Mishneh Torah, a guide to Jewish law handwritten and signed by Hebrew scholar Maimonides. The manuscript has now been digitized and is available online.

The venerable bagel

Long a New York favorite and portable feast choice of SCA college students everywhere (hint: they can be easily smuggled out of dining halls), finding solid documentation for the bagel as a medieval foodstuff has been a challenge.

Life of Jewish patroness Benvenida Abravanel explored

In an article for The Jerusalem Post Magazine, writer and professor of Jewish history Renee Levine Melammed explores the life of Benvenida Abravanel, a 16th century resident of Naples and Ferrara, known for her philantrophy and patronage of David Hareuveni, the 16th century messianic claimant.

"Arrogant Jewish woman" revisited by modern historian

In 1171, Pucellina, a Jewish moneylender with ties to Count Thibaut of Blois, France, was arrested, along with 40 other Jews, for the killing of a Christian child. Her execution by burning is now attributed to a witness' aversion to an "arrogant Jewish woman with the gall to consider Count Thibaut her patron."

Papers sought for "The Crusades and Visual Culture"

Elizabeth Lapina of Durham University in Great Britain reports that she is seeking papers and proposals for the upcoming publication, The Crusades and Visual Culture. The submission deadline is December 1, 2011.

Tale of a 15th century Spanish "conversa"

In an article for the Jerusalem Post, professor of Jewish history and dean at the Schechter Institute, Renee Levine Melamme tells the story of a family of 15th century "crypto-Jews" tried by the Spanish Inquisition in Ciudad Real.