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Subproject B11

Ritual Purity in Medieval Ashkenaz

Department and Research Field: Jewish Studies

Subproject Management

Prof. Dr. Hanna Liss

College of Jewish Studies
Landfriedstr. 12
69117 Heidelberg
Phone: +49 – (0) 6221 – 912526
Fax: +49 – (0) 6221 – 4385129 


Anette Adelmann

Project Program

Subproject B11 researches the Medieval Ashkenaz laws of ritual purity in (Christian) Central Europe (Germany, France, England). Its research approach includes two aspects. The first comprises the general history and history of mentalities (adoption of the laws of ritual purity from the biblical and rabbinic era and their innovation in the 10th to 15th century). The second aspect applies a systematic approach, investigating the categories pure/impure, holy/profane, agreeable to God/sinful in their symbolic depictions and application in the social scope of the community and the individuals as well as the constitution of laws of ritual purity among the respective agents.

Subproject B11’s research focus lies on the „theory and practice of ritual purity in Medieval Ashkenaz”. Both discourse and performance of the laws of ritual purity shall be investigated in equal measure. It is therefore necessary to reassess the rituals connected to ritual purity laws and their inherent dynamics. These rituals include ritual washing (full body washing through ritual immersion in the mikvah, the ritual hand washing), rituals in the context of ritual impurity due to genital discharges, rituals in the context of gender relations, dietary rules (Kashrut; shehitah, fasting), life-cycle rituals, rituals after contact with impureness, repentance rites/mortification as well as the revitalization of biblical-hieratical cultic practices. This description of inward and outward acts (performance) does not only address the question of the script-performance-relation, but also the spatiotemporal location of certain rituals. A closer look at Judaism in (Christian) Central Europe during the Middle Ages reveals the strengthening of the theoretical and/or practical laws for rituals subsequent to persecution and/or other catastrophes.

In a second step, we will investigate the discourse on ritual purity apparent in the medieval sources:

  • the symbolism of pure and impure and the dynamic inherent to this dichotomy;
  • the reflection on the intentio solemnis and the change in the perception of this symbolism in relation to the ritual performance;
  • the relation of the individual and the collective as constituted by the laws of ritual purity.

Subproject B11 aims to systematically gather the autochthonous reflections on washing rituals in Medieval Judaism and – deducted from the script – the related proof of a ritual dynamic.

Main Topics

Ritual dynamics and Crisis Management

Ritual and Halakha

Discourses on Purity in the so-called esoteric theology (torat ha-sod)