- 'Something on every subject': on pre-modern Hebrew and Yiddish encyclopedias
- Journal of modern Jewish studies
- Volume | Issue number
- 5 | 3
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam Institute for Humanities Research (AIHR)
The use of the term "encyclopedias" for pre-modern writings is problematical. Nonetheless, medieval and early modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature comprises a number of texts that reveal encyclopedic features and therefore can be considered to belong to the genre of encyclopedias. Their authors strove to transmit introductory knowledge on a broad variety of subjects and to make it easily accessible to their readers. As was the case in the non-Jewish world, the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries bore witness to heightened encyclopedic activity among Jews. Jewish encyclopedias were often composed in times of transition, change and crisis both in the non-Jewish and Jewish worlds. They may be viewed as responding to changed paradigms and as attempts to provide guidance. This article considers the "encyclopedic" nature of three major thirteenth-century Hebrew texts (Midrash hahokhmah, De'ot hafilosofim, Sha'ar hashamayim), three pre-modern Yiddish books (Brantshpigel, Sefer Lev Tov, Simkhes Hanefesh) and the late eighteenth-century Hebrew Sefer haberit, paying attention to the socio-intellectual context in which they were composed.
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