Thursday, April 26, 2012

The ideal medieval Jewish woman

Whenever one reads about Jewish women in medieval Ashkenaz, the name of Dolce of Worms is certain to appear. (Dolce is derived from the Latin for pleasant or charming). Her life is described in the famous elegy composed by her widowed husband which is his version of “A Woman of Valor” (Proverbs 31). This poetic composition is preceded by two paragraphs in prose that provide graphic details of her death in 1196.

The poem contains the author’s name, R. Elazar, in an internal acrostic; its content portrays an ideal woman who seems to have been involved in an unbelievable number of activities. Dolce and Elazar were German Jewish pietists, known as Hasidei Ashkenaz. Thus the emphasis in the elegy on her piety, her God-fearing lifestyle and her saintliness are part and parcel of the values of this society.

It seems as though Dolce never sat still for a moment, or at least not according to her husband’s account. She engaged in the usual wifely activities expected of an Orthodox woman, cooking for her family and allowing her learned husband to be totally involved in Torah study and good deeds and encouraging her sons to study. This might seem to have been enough to occupy her time, but Elazar was nowhere near finished. As it turns out, Dolce was busy spinning thread for tefillin and for binding books as well as scrolls. According to this report, she sewed approximately 40 Torah scrolls and prepared the wool for prayer shawl fringes.

Click here to read this article from the Jerusalem Post