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Amsterdam Yiddish Symposium 14: Yiddish Knights

23/01/2020 ,13:00 - 17:30

Yiddish literature is a Jewish literature. It is also a European literature and its literary materials and forms reflect contacts with Jewish and non-Jewish cultures. It is therefore not surprising that we find Yiddish texts about knights from the Middle Ages and early modern period. In the specialist lectures at this symposium, which will all be presented in English, we encounter epic poems and romances resulting from contact with Hebrew (biblical, midrashic), German and Italian literatures.

The fourteenth Amsterdam Yiddish Symposium is organized by the Menasseh ben Israel Institute in co-operation with the Chair of Yiddish Culture, Language and Literature at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. All lectures will be in English.  

Dr. Oren Roman (Haifa University): Chivalric scenes in Yiddish retellings of the Books of the Former Prophets 

Prof. Dr. Astrid Lembke (Freie Universität Berlin): When may a knight choose not to act? Differing concepts of valor, love, and gender roles in a Middle High German romance and in its Yiddish adaptation

Jun.-Prof. Dr. Miriam Edlich-Muth (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf): The artifice of being a medieval knight in Elye Bokher’s Bovo d’Antona

Datum:                donderdag 23 januari 2020, 13.00-17.30 uur
Plaats:                 Uilenburgersynagoge, Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat 91, Amsterdam
Kosten:                € 10,–; voor donateurs van het instituut  € 5.-
Registratie:          via email of telefonisch 020-5310325 

Oren Roman teaches Yiddish at the University of Haifa and at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. He is a researcher of Yiddish literature in all periods, and of the cultural history of Ashkenazic Jews in the Early Modern Era. His current research project is a trans-generic comparison of the retelling of Genesis 22 (the Binding of Isaac) in medieval European literatures.

He received his Ph.D in 2015 from the Yiddish Department at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was a visiting fellow at the University of Oxford, and a post-doctoral fellow at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Heinrich Heine University (Dusseldorf). He is currently a Kreitman post-doctoral fellow at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

Chivalric scenes in Yiddish retellings of the Books of the Former Prophets

The Old Yiddish epics on Books of the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) bring the stories of the Hebrew Bible in German attire. Their language, poetical form, and even some of their thematic content reflect a strong influence of German epic and chivalric romance. As such, these Yiddish works indicate the strong connections that once existed between Jews and their Christian neighbors. It is estimated that these epics have been composed around the 15th and 16th centuries, although it is assumed that they continue earlier literary traditions from the Middle Ages.

The paper will analyze selected scenes from these works of literature, providing lively examples in which the ancient Hebrew warriors are presented as contemporary European knights. It will also discuss cultural-historical conflicts in these texts, such as historical perspective and anachronism, the experience of the Jewish minority in Christian Europe, and the depictions of romantic love.


Astrid Lembke is Professor for Medieval German Literature and Language with a Focus on Old Yiddish Literature at Freie Universität, Berlin. Her research focuses on German courtly romances, Jewish adaptations of non-Jewish sources, modern reworkings of medieval texts, and hagiography. Her major publications include a monograph on questions of identity and community in medieval and early modern Jewish stories about relationships between human men and demonic women (Dämonische Allianzen. Jüdische Mahrtenehenerzählungen der europäischen Vormoderne, Tübingen 2013) as well as two special issues on Jewish reworkings of non-Jewish texts (Aventiuren in Aschkenas. Jüdische Aneignungen nichtjüdischer Texte und Erzählstoffe im vormodernen Europa, Aschkenas 25 (2015) and on Christian and Jewish perspectives on biblical animals (Biblical Creatures – The Animal as an Object of Interpretation in Pre-Modern Jewish and Christian Hermeneutic Traditions, Interfaces 5 (2018).

When may a knight choose not to act? Differing concepts of valor, love, and gender roles in a Middle High German romance and in its Yiddish adaptation

Wirnt von Grafenberg’s Middle High German romance Wigalois features a hero who proves his knightly excellence not only actively when fighting male opponents but also passively when threatened by aggressive women. By killing his most dangerous opponent and burying that opponent’s wife, Wigalois overcomes his passivity and turns into an unquestioned sovereign ruler. The protagonist of the romance Widuwilt, on the other hand, a late medieval anonymous Yiddish adaptation of Wirnt’s Wigalois, is characterized as passive and helpless throughout the text. Instead of overcoming his most dangerous opponent, the hero is overcome himself. Until the very end, he depends upon the help of others, especially of women. This transformation points to a preference for symmetrical relationships between men and women as well as to a concept of valor and heroism that places the hero within his community instead of apart from it.


Miriam Edlich-Muth holds the Chair for Medieval English at the University of Düsseldorf. She completed her doctoral thesis on the adaptation strategies shaping Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur at the University of Cambridge in 2014. Since then her research has continued to focus on romance culture and she has a particular interest in applying comparative approaches to late medieval romance texts from across Europe. In this context, she has recently been awarded a DFG-grant for a three-year project investigating the cultural and material adaptation of the famous romance Bevis of Hampton across different European regions. Her most recent publications include the essay collections Medieval Romances Across European Borders, ed. Edlich-Muth (Turnhout: Brepols, 2018) and Der Kurzroman in den Spätmittelalterlichen Sammelhandschriften Europas ed. Edlich-Muth (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2018).

The artifice of being a medieval knight in Elye Bokher’s Bovo d’Antona

The popular romances that were adapted across Europe in the late medieval period represent a wide range of intercultural encounters and settings that generate powerful narratives concerning the identities of the knights and their implied readers. This paper will consider how the representation of personhood and identity in Elye Bokher’s famous Old Yiddish romance Bovo d’Antona offers different templates for what might constitute a knightly identity and invites past and present readers to identify with different aspects of Bovo’s ‘person’. In this context, it will explore how Bovo’s shifting fortunes and wide-ranging adventures give rise to a dynamic model of social identity, in which his social station, masculinity and ethnicity are constantly being re-defined and re-asserted.




13:00 - 17:30
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