Marriage Before the Bench: Divorce Law and Litigation Strategies in Thirteenth-Century Ashkenaz
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Scholars regularly refer to independently operating Jewish courts as prime evidence of Jewish autonomy and self-rule in medieval Christian Europe. Yet few have focused on the largely anonymous individuals who populated these forums, despite the vital role that litigants played in fueling the judicial system. This article joins a growing body of research devoted to a bottom-up examination of the institutions of law and justice in premodern Europe, highlighting the activities of those who made use of the courts rather than the structures that authorized them. Specifically, it considers a divorce suit adjudicated in the mid-thirteenth century by the rabbinic court of Rabbi Hezkiah b. Jacob of Magdeburg as a lens onto the legal knowledge of lay litigants, their expectations of the judicial system, and the litigation strategies they developed. The reactions of R. Hezkiah and his colleagues to these tactics demonstrate that litigation in the Jewish courts not only reflected current legal trends but could also affect them.
KeywordsMedieval Ashkenaz Jewish courts Litigation Divorce Rabbenu Gershom Magdeburg
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