Imaginary Space meets Actual Space in Thirteenth-Century Cologne: Eliezer Ben Joel and the Eruv

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Eliezer Ben Joel ha-Levi’s Laws of Eruv, a crucial text in the medieval history of the eruv, redefines ancient definitions of space to fit that of a medieval town. It uses talmudic terminology to describe medieval reality; it reinterprets this terminology to fit this reality; and rules in a way that enables the whole Jewish quarter to be seen as one private space. This ruling shows that in medieval Europe the eruv was redefined to encompass the entire Jewish neighborhood. Thus, predating the walled Jewish quarter and Ghettos, the Jews defined their habitats in the town as a close (although not yet an exclusive) Jewish space, and created a city within a city: a Jewish one within the Christian one. This phenomenon corresponds to the rise of the “community” as the boundary line of Jewish identity.

Imaginary Space meets Actual Space in Thirteenth-Century Cologne: Eliezer Ben Joel and the Eruv





Daniel Lord SmailImaginary Cartographies: Possession and Identity in Late Medieval Marseille (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press1999) xi where he defines these ‘linguistic maps’ thus: “a map or maps . . . informed both by cartographic lexicons and cartographic grammars. A cartographic lexicon consists of all the toponyms or place names that speakers of a shared language attach to their landscape. These languages in turn configure toponyms according to a cartographic grammar a linguistic or cognitive framework that I shall call a template. Together toponym and template constitute a cartographic science or a way of knowing and classifying space.”


Charlotte E. Fonrobert“From Separatism to Urbanism: the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Rabbinic Eruv,” Dead Sea Discoveries 11 no. 1 (2004): 43–71 (the citation is from p. 45); see also Fonrobert “The Political Symbolism of the Eruv” in “Jewish Conceptions and Practices of Space” Jewish Social Studies n.s. 11 no. 3 (2005): 9–35.


Micha Perry“The Imaginary War between Prester John and Eldad the Danite and Its Real Implications,” Viator 41 no. 1 (2010): 1–23; Perry “Jewish Heaven Christian Hell: A Twelfth Century Jewish Perception of the Afterlife” forthcoming.


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    The courtyard and alleyway as described in the Mishna and Talmud (by the author)
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    Cologne’s Jewish Quarter, ca. 1340. From Adolf Kober, Grundbuch des Kölner Judenviertels 1135–1425 (Bonn: P. Hanstein 1920).
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