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Jewish Courts in Medieval England


Basing their conclusions on Latin documents, historians have painted the Jewish courts of medieval England as limited and haphazard affairs, their jurisdiction limited mostly to family law. They have also assumed that rabbinic courts ceased their activity in England after 1242. Hebrew rabbinic sources from the same period—some of which have never been published—provide more detailed information. These sources describe several professional courts staffed by learned scholars and adjudicating a range of legal issues. These courts existed throughout the thirteenth century—until the Expulsion of 1290—and included some of the leading rabbis in medieval England: Benjamin of Cambridge, Moses of London, and Moses’s son Elijah Menahem. The London court of Rabbi Elijah Menahem in particular possessed significant powers and utilized Elijah’s royal connections to enforce its rulings. Besides correcting the scholarly perception of rabbinic courts in medieval England, this article demonstrates how crucially important rabbinic texts and responsa are for historians as a source alongside other types of medieval documentation.

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Correspondence to Pinchas Roth.

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Roth, P. Jewish Courts in Medieval England. Jew History 31, 67–82 (2017).

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  • Medieval England
  • Divorce
  • Moneylending
  • Rabbinic literature