Conversion, Circumcision, and Ritual Murder in Medieval Europe

By :  The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary Posted On Mar 17, 2021 / 5781 | Author Conversations: Between the Lines

Author and professor Paola Tartakoff of Rutgers University discusses her new book, Conversion, Circumcision, and Ritual Murder in Medieval Europe, which explores the “Norwich Circumcision Case” from multiple perspectives.

In England in 1234, Jews were accused of having abducted and circumcised a five-year-old Christian boy. As a result of this charge, Jews were executed, and Jewish homes were looted and torched. Christian accounts of this case have accused Jews of attempting to convert the boy or to crucify the boy to mock the crucifixion of Jesus.

Dr. Tartakoff’s analysis brings to light new data on Christian conversion to Judaism in medieval Europe. It explains links between accusations of circumcision and accusations of ritual murder, and it exposes the predicaments of children whose religious identities Jews and Christians contested. Through her investigation, Professor Tartakoff proposes a solution to the mystery surrounding the events of 1234. 

This event was sponsored by The JTS Library. Dr. David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian and professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, JTS, served as moderator.

About Dr. Paola Tartakoff

Dr. Paola Tartakoff is Professor in the departments of History and Jewish Studies, and Chair of the Department of Jewish Studies, at Rutgers University, where she teaches courses on antisemitism, Jewish-Christian Relations, and Medieval Spain. Her new book, Conversion, Circumcision, and Ritual Murder in Medieval Europe was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2020. Her first book, Between Christian and Jew: Conversion and Inquisition in the Crown of Aragon, 1250–1391, was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2012. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies, the European Institutes for Advanced Study, the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her research has appeared in journals including the Jewish Quarterly Review, Speculum, Jewish History, Medieval Encounters, and the Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies.