Final Judgement and the Dead in Medieval Jewish Thought

BookFinal Judgement and the Dead in Medieval Jewish Thought

Final Judgement and the Dead in Medieval Jewish Thought

Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


November 30th, 2019





Through a detailed analysis of ghost tales in the Ashkenazi pietistic work Sefer Ḥasidim, Susan Weissman documents a major transformation in Jewish attitudes and practices regarding the dead and the afterlife that took place between the rabbinic period and medieval times. She reveals that a huge influx of Germano-Christian beliefs, customs, and fears relating to the dead and the afterlife seeped into medieval Ashkenazi society amongst both elite and popular groups. In matters of sin, penance, and posthumous punishment, the infiltration of Christian notions was so strong as to effect a radical departure in Pietist thinking from rabbinic thought and to spur outright contradiction to talmudic principles regarding the realm of the hereafter.Sefer Ḥasidim enunciates a unique stance on prayer for the dead which carries Augustinian overtones, and its author espouses a harsh vision of posthumous judgement that reflects a particular ideology not shared by his contemporaries, isolating him within his own Pietist circle. Although it is primarily a study of the culture of a medieval Jewish enclave, this book demonstrates how seminal beliefs of medieval Christendom and monastic ideals could take root in a society with contrary religious values—even in the realm of doctrinal belief.

About The Author

Susan Weissman is Chair of Judaic Studies and Associate Professor of Judaic Studies, Lander College for Women, Touro College and University System