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3.2.  MIDDLE AGES PERIOD (500-1500 CE)

Table 4 presents major occurences during the Middle Ages Period, 500-1500 CE.

 Babylonian Academies  200-1040 CE
 Dark Ages in Europe   300-600    Violence against Jews in France/Spain/Rome
                                  Names for special days: Shabatei (Shabat),
                                   YomTov (holyday), Nisan (Pesach)
                       6th cent...Re-use of Ancient Period names, unused
                                   for 800 years:  Avraham, Aharon, Moshe,
                                   Noach, David, Shlomo, Yeshaia, Amnon,
                                   Elchanan, Baruch
 Feudal Europe         600-1000   Prosperous times for Jews in Europe
 Islamic Period        630-1200   Arabic names, e.g., Abdala, Dunash
  Omar takes Jerusalem 637
  Conquest of Spain    711        By Moslems
  Golden Age in Spain  750-1150   North Africa, east of Caspian Sea
                       850-950    Repeating names in alternate generations
                       900        Shem HaKodesh & vernacular names  *
                       900-1000   Jewish communities in Europe unite,
                                   begin independent cultural development.
                                  Jewish culture center shifts from the
                                   Middle East to Western Europe.
 High Middle Ages      1000-1492  German, Christian, Western European names:
                                   Julius, Justus, Kalonymus, Leon, Sofia;
                                   Yiddish names begin
 Turks take Jerusalem  1071
 Nine Crusades         1095-1272  Jews targeted as a group
  Maimonides           1190       Issues "Guide for the Perplexed"
  Rabbinic Decree      12th cent. Newborn boys must receive a Hebrew name
                                   at birth
 Catholic Persecution  1200-1500  Of Jews
 Medieval Inquisition  1233       By Pope Gregory IX;  Jews of South France
 Expulsion from England 1290      16,000 Jews
 Expulsion from France 1306       First, Philip IV
 Black Plague          1334-50    Killed 3/4 of population of Europe
                                  Persecution of Jews
 Hundred Years War     1337-1453
 Italian Renaissance   1300-...
 Expulsion from France 1394       Third, Charles VI
 Austrian persecution  1420
 Bavarian persecution  1450
 Persecution of Jews   1453       Of Germany, Silesia, and Poland
 Spanish Inquisition   1478-1820  By King Ferdinand V and Isabella
 Expulsion from Spain  1492

 *  Newborn boys were given two names at circumcision:  Shem HaKodesh
    (for use in synagogue and Hebrew documents), & a nickname or "Kinui"
    (secular name for everyday use).  Sacred names included:  all
    Biblical, Talmudic, old Aramaic, and Judaized versions of Greek names
    (e.g., Aleksander).

              Table 4.  Middle Ages (500-1500 CE)
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MIDDLE AGES (500 - 1500 CE)
Babylonia || Europe || Christianity ||


The Jewish presence in Babylonia began with the Babylonian Exile in 586 BCE and continued for about 1500 years.  The major Talmudic Colleges of Sura and Pumbeditha in Babylonia existed for eight centuries, from 200 to 1040 CE.  After the amazing creations of the Sofrim some centuries before, Judaea sank into obscurity and its level of scholarship dropped.  In Babylonia, on the other hand, a golden age had begun.  Even today, well after its fall, its name exercises a certain magic for Jews.  For it was in Babylonia that the superior Babylonian Talmud was written, it was in Babylonia that superior academies of Jewish learning existed, and it was Babylonia that carried the banner of Judaism in the Dark and Middle Ages.

However, the inevitable decline in Babylonia had already begun in the 10th century, and the centers of Jewish learning (including teachers) began to move from the Middle East to Western Europe, to Spain and Portugal.  The pre-eminence of Babylonia (Persia) in Jewish life then disappeared completely -- the end of a long era.

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As previously pointed out, during the High Middle Ages (1000-1492), the use of German, Christian, and Western European secular names became so widespread that the rabbis decreed in the 12th century that every Jewish boy must be given a purely Jewish (Hebrew) name at his circumcision.  Thus, it became customary to give two names:  Shem HaKodesh, the sacred name for being called to the Tora and for religious documents, and a Kinui, a non-sacred name for family, civil, and business purposes.  This rabbinic statute has validity today.

Ashkenazi Jews (German, Alsatian, Austrian, Polish, Russian), many of whom had only secular names, developed the following paths to associate Hebrew names with their secular names, in order to satisfy the rabbinic decree:

  1.  Direct translation of German names into Hebrew
      Gottlieb            Yedidya Gottlieb
      Bendit              Baruch, or Baruch Bendit
      Gottfried/Gotze     Elyakim, or Elyakim Getz/Getzl

  2.  Association
      Hirsch              Naftali Hertz, Zvi
      Wolf                Binyamin Volf

  3.  Use of Sound-Alikes
      Bunim               Binyamin
      Anselm/Anshel       Asher, or Asher Anshel

These new Hebrew double names were later formalized by the rabbis as legal Hebrew double names in Central and Eastern European countries and appear as such in the Given Names Data Bases.  Many other innovative associations were found between existing secular names for both men and women, and sacred Hebrew names.  Since females did not need sacred names for being called to the Tora, many never did have Hebrew names, but only a vernacular name. (4)

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The unifying force of the Middle Ages was Christendom.  With the collapse of Rome, Christianity became the standard-bearer of Western civilization.  The papacy gained secular authority;  monastic communities, generally adhering to the Rule of St. Benedict, did yeoman service in preserving civilized life;  and missionaries set out to convert the Germans and other tribes, and spread Latin civilization.  By the 8th century, a cultural milieu centered on Christianity had been established.

As Europe entered the period known as the High Middle Ages, the Church remained the universal and unifying institution.  Conceptually, feudalism, the Holy Roman Empire, and knighthood and chivalry assimilated Christian ideals with military and political institutions, and medieval asceticism was an outgrowth of a more singularly religious ethic.  Militant religious zeal was expressed in the Crusades, which also stemmed from the growing strength of Europe.  Security and prosperity stimulated intellectual life, newly centered in burgeoning universities which developed under churchly auspices.

During the High Middle Ages, the fanaticism of the Catholic Church reached its highest levels with intense persecution of Jews, and tens of thousands were slaughtered by Crusaders and others.  During the Crusades, which began about 1100 CE and lasted for nearly 200 years, Jews were killed during the beginning of each Crusade, being blamed that the Holy Land was not in Christian hands;  the Crusaders rampaged through the Rhine and Danube River regions, massacring Jews because "why should we attack the (Muslim) unbelievers in the Holy Land and leave infidels in our midst undisturbed?"  But there were also other reasons to kill Jews during the 14th century:  disastrous harvests, severe famine, the Black Plaque of 1334-50;  Jews were blamed for all of these, despite the fact that a large number of Jews also died as a result of the famine and Plague, although not in as large numbers, because of their higher level of cleanliness.

During the Crusades (1095-1272), Jews began to flee from areas covered by present-day Spain, France, and Germany to Bavaria, Austria, Bohemia/Moravia, and northern Italy, and later to present-day Poland.  The Mongol invasion in the 13th century brought death and destruction to Poland, and the Polish Princes invited settlers from Germany to stimulate the economy.  During the 14th and 15th centuries, Jews continued to flee eastward from Germany, Austria, and Hungary to Poland, and from the north shore of the Black Sea to Poland.  Jewish life flourished in Poland. Polish leaders welcomed Jews during the 13th and 14th centuries, issuing charters of legal rights for them.  From 1400 to 1500, the Jewish population of Poland exploded from about 15,000 to 150,000.  After 1500, Jews migrated more deeply into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and farther eastward.  By 1764, there were about 750,000 Jews in today's Poland and Lithuania, constituting 20-30 percent of the total population.

Beginning about 1400 CE, Jews were confined to ghettos, first in Spain and Portugal in Madrid and Barcelona, but ultimately also in Venice, Naples, Rome, Florence, Prague, and other European cities.

The given names adopted by Jews during this turbulent period reflected the mixture of regions in which they lived and from which they fled.  Some German names adopted by Jews during the High Middle Ages:  Achselrod, Ansel, Bere, Eberlein, Edel, Falk, Feischl, Gottleib, Gumprecht, Hirz, Lebe, Mendel, Schmolke, Susskind, Susmann, Vives, Wolf;  Gnena, Golde, Guta, Liebel, Maita, Minna, Perla, Rechel, Reine.

Some other European names adopted (from Spain, France, Italy, Bohemia, etc.):  Bendit, Benes, Benet, Bertrand, Bonami, Faywel, Fissel, Herkules, Issac, Janus, Josef, Kalonymus, Kopel, Martin, Motell, Phobus, Vital, Vivanti;  Bela, Blanca, Bruna, Czierna, Dobrisch, Dolza, Drazna, Estella, Flora, Genonna, Jenny, Muriel, Prive, Regina, Selda, Slava, Sprinza, Zlatka.

The transition from the medieval to the modern world was presaged by economic expansion, by political centralization, and by secularization.  A money economy invalidated serfdom, and a questing spirit stimulated the age of exploration that preceded the commercial revolution.  The Church was weakened by internal conflicts as well as by quarrels between Church and State.  Feudal strength was sapped by the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), and the modern nation state emerged in France and England.  A harbinger of intellectual modernity was the new humanism of the Renaissance, which partially overlapped the Middle Ages.

And finally, the great medieval unity of Christianity was shattered by the religious theories that culminated in the Protestant Reformation which began in 1517 when Martin Luther posted his challenge on the castle church door at Wittenberg.

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