The unique historical experience and self-image of Portuguese Jewry during the medieval period will be celebrated in this lecture. Jews of Portugal lived in a long and intimate contact with both Islam and Christendom, a confluence as decisive for the Jews as for Portugal itself. From this fundamental fact so much else derived: the proverbial hubris and elitism of a sophisticated courtier class which was proud of its cultural and educational accomplishments and a particular vitality and richness of Jewish religious polemic. We will meet the Jews who yearned for Zion while at the same time maintaining an unusual sense of permanence and attachment to Portuguese soil. We will learn of the Jewish astronomers and physicians at the royal courts, and how these men survived in two radically different spheres – those of Jewish and Christian society.
This series will take us to strong and vibrant Jewish communities in the medieval period in Spain, Provence and Portugal. Each lecture comprises a detailed look at the history of these communities, their prominent members and scholars, how they functioned, their defining characteristics, and any visual remains of their presence still extant in these places.