Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Jews in German Towns (12th-14th Century)

Identity, Names, and Acculturation

Lilach Assaf

Part of the research project “Gender, choice of names, and marriage. On the construction of social identity in late medieval urban society”


The modern historiographical discussion on Jewish-Christian relationships in medieval Germany was until recently dominated by a religion-based analysis and the assumption that religion constitutes the immediate context of each interaction between Jews and Christians. Moreover, scholars have often used absolute terms such as segregation in order to describe Jewish-Christian relations. The aim of this research project is two-folded: first, to reconstruct a variety of Jewish identities instead of focusing solely on the religious one; second, to reveal various social contexts in which Jews and Christians in the medieval German town played different social roles.

For this purpose I will focus on two exemplary fields: name-giving and name usages among German Jews in High and Late Middle Ages; noble and courtly culture practiced by Jews. Names as well as symbols (for example, on medieval Jewish seals) are considered to be tools for self-fashioning and the presentation of the self. As “badges of identity” they indicate multiple-layered Jewish identities which are tightly related to complex Jewish-Christian relations that reveal not only violence and hatred, but also cultural exchange, social integration and cultural borrowing.

This project will be guided by the following questions: Which cultural repertoires were available to Jews in the medieval German town and which repertoires were actually practiced or adopted by them? Which political identities were constructed among urban Jews? Which role did the inter-Jewish relations play in the shaping of identities? Did Jewish communities distinguish themselves from each other and developed unique self-images? Where do Jewish-Christian relations come into play? How did the relatively frequent pogroms shape the possibility to construct identities?



Gabriela Signori,Karin Czaja (ed.): Häuser, Namen, Identitäten. Beiträge zur spätmittelalterlichen und frühneuzeitlichen Stadtgeschichte, Konstanz: UVK, 2009. (Spätmittelalterstudien 1)


Christof Rolker und Gabriela Signori (ed.): Konkurrierende Zugehörigkeit(en). Praktiken der Namengebung im europäischen Vergleich, Konstanz: UVK, 2011. (Spätmittelalterstudien 2)

Konkurrierende Zugehörigkeiten. Mittelalterliche Praktiken der Namengebung im europäischen Vergleich
Vortrag im Rahmen der Clustertagung, Juli 2010, Ittingen
Gabriela Signori, Christof Rolker, Karin Czaja, Lilach Assaf
lectures, presentation (both in German)