Pre-Expulsion England in the Responsa

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It must have been a rash moment when I undertook to read a paper on Pre-Expulsion England in the Responsa before a gathering composed largely of experts. I confess that I was under no illusion from the very outset as to the difficulties involved. I saw before me a few small green patches that had already attracted the notice of formerg leaners in the field ofA nglo-Jewish history. But itw as only after applying myself to the task that I discovered tow hat extent these patches had been left denuded. Nevertheless, bearing in mind the saying that no man having set his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of heaven, I determined to persevere. And here I stand this evening with all diffidence venturing to offer you my handful of gleanings in the hope that they will not be entirely devoid of quality or value.

As a preliminary to the subject, a few remarks of a general nature on that branch of Rabbinic literature known as Responsa and of the sources I have utilized would not be out of place. Briefly, the Responsa are rulings and judgments given by Rabbis in reply to questions addressed to them by communities as well as individuals in search for guidance on all kinds of subjects?religious, domestic, social, economic, and political. Based as they are on the problems of the day, the Responsa throw much light on contemporaneous affairs, on Jewish external and internal organization, and communal social and moral relations, all of which serve to illustrate the conditions of the times in which they were penned. The Responsa have thus proved an attractive and fruitful source of investigation for the history of the Jews of the Middle Ages. The mass of data they supply helps to fill many a gap in the story of the vicissitudes of our people in different countries and climes.

Turning to Anglo-Jewish history, there is little which these Rabbinic records could add to the fullness of information we already possess, thanks to the unparalleled wealth of official records or Rolls, on the social, economic and general secular life of the early English Jews. The only aspects on which the Responsa might well be expected to shed new light are those relating to their internal affairs and religious life. But here, unfortunately, we meet with disappoint? ment. The material is much too scanty and sparse to satisfy our requirements. The wholesale destruction of Hebrew writings at the time of the Expulsion involved, as it is now known, the loss of a whole literature, including numerous and extensive Halachic works. The few literary productions in the domain of Rabbinics that have some? how escaped annihilation, the Etz Hayyim of Jacob b. Judah, the Hazzan of London,1 and the Commentary on the Tractate Bera choth and Order Zeraim by Elijah Menahem of London, discovered recently in the Hebrew University Library of Jerusalem, still await publication.2 The only printed material available is largely that which has been preserved

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