This is a seminal study of cultural attitudes to old age among Jews of the medieval Mediterranean and Near Eastern regions. Rigorously researched and accessibly written, it will appeal to scholars across a range of disciplines as well as to the broader public. While the focus is on Jewish society and culture, critical context regarding the social history of ageing is provided by comparative perspectives from the Muslim world as well as from Spain and Provence and other areas of Christian Europe that were in the Arabic Andalusian cultural orbit.
The study draws on many literary genres and scholarly disciplines: philosophy and theology, ethics and law, biblical commentary, Hebrew poetry, medical literature, and a host of marriage contracts, personal letters, and family and communal records from the Cairo Genizah. The result is a nuanced portrait of ageing as both a lived reality and a cultural paradigm in medieval Jewish society.
‘Russ-Fishbane makes a significant contribution to a universal issue: attitudes to ageing. His approach to his subject is novel: he has written both a literary and a social history and attempted to integrate the two,putting the Jewish experience in the context of classical and Islamic sources. The author’s erudition is on impressive display, providing excellent source material for scholars of Jewish studies, Mediterranean studies, and medieval history and culture.’
Raymond P. Scheindlin, Professor Emeritus of Medieval Hebrew Literature, The Jewish Theological Seminary
‘Why read this book? Ageing is part of the human experience and most of us have or will have to deal with it directly or indirectly or most probably---both. If it is inescapable, it probably should be understood. Russ-Fishbane’s study of medieval Jewish outlooks on aging is a very good place to start. There are many reasons to enjoy this book. His synthesis of disparate material is creative and generates fascinating new perspectives, as does his melding of historical approaches and literary perspectives. The work is clearly constructed and coherent. It should be essential reading for anyone working in medieval Jewish history and in social history, while the broad perspective should make it no less useful for individuals studying other cultures and even their own.’
Shaul Stampfer, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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