Shulchan Arukh

(ca. 1570)

Context

Jews in the Middle Ages (ca. 500–1450) found themselves for the first time in competition with other monotheistic religions. Both Islam and Christianity claim to have roots in Judaism but to have superseded Judaism with subsequent revelations and prophets. This led to times of great oppression for Jews. With the endorsement of Christianity by the emperor Constantine I as a legal religion in 313 CE, it quickly became the favored religion of the Roman Empire. Jews were heavily persecuted by the Romans, and Jewish communities were controlled by severe restrictions that perpetuated the idea of Jews’ inferior status.

As Jews were forced out of various European countries, Judaism became a religion of exile. Jews were driven out of England in 1290, expelled from France in 1394, and barred from numerous districts of Germany, Italy, and the Balkan Peninsula between 1350 and 1450. In 1478, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile began the Spanish Inquisition with the...

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Jewish man preparing for prayer (Library of Congress)

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