Ageing in Medieval Jewish Culture

BookAgeing in Medieval Jewish Culture

Ageing in Medieval Jewish Culture

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


July 1st, 2022





With its exploration of cultural attitudes to old age among Jews of the medieval Mediterranean and Near Eastern regions as well as of the social history of ageing, this is a seminal study of an important topic. 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 is provided by comparative perspectives from the Muslim milieu, as well as from Spain and Provence and other areas of Christian Europe that were influenced by the Arabic Andalusian cultural orbit. 

The study draws on a vast terrain of 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 reality and a cultural paradigm in medieval Jewish society.

'Wide-ranging, methodologically sophisticated, and deeply learned, Russ-Fishbane has read systematically in literary and documentary sources, both Jewish and Islamic. Few scholars possess such broad competence. The book’s geographic and chronological parameters are logical and natural. Stylishly written and clearly structured, the work is extremely engaging and easily digested.’ Daniel Frank, Ohio State University

‘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

Author Information

Elisha Russ-Fishbane is Associate Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, and the author of Judaism, Sufism, and the Pietists of Medieval Egypt (2015), which was awarded the Salo Wittmayer Baron Book Prize for best first book in Jewish Studies by the American Academy for Jewish Research.

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
IntroductionI. Conceptions and Perceptions of Ageing1. How Old Is Old?2. Longevity and Its Limits 3. Ageing Body, Ageing Mind II. Ageing in Family and Community 4. Grandparents and the Multigenerational Home5. Family Networks of Care 6. Community SupportIII. Ideas and Ideals of Old Age7. The Dignity of Age 8. Facing Mortality: Towards a Hebrew Poetics of Ageing 9. The Sabbath of Life: Age and Wisdom in Medieval Jewish Thought Appendix: Life Expectancy and Medieval Mediterranean JewryAfterword: On an Integrative Approach to the Study of Old AgeBibliographyIndex