The lulav: Early modern polemical ethnographies and the art of fencing

Ahuvia Goren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In recent years, scholars have devoted a great deal of attention to the history of scholarship in general and, more specifically, to the emergence of critical historical and anthropological literature from and within ecclesiastical scholarship. However, few studies have discussed the Jewish figures who took part in this process. This paper analyzes the role played by historiographical and ethnographical writing in seventeenth-and eighteenth-century Italian Jewish–Christian polemics. Tracing various Christian polemical ethnographical depictions of the Jewish rite of shaking the lulav (sacramental palm leaves used by Jews during the festival of Sukkot), it discusses the variety of ways in which Jewish scholars responded to these depictions or circumvented them. These responses reflect the Jewish scholars’ familiarity with prevailing contemporary scholarship and the key role of translation and cultural transfers in their own attempts to create parallel works. Furthermore, this paper presents new Jewish polemical manuscript material within the relevant contexts, examines Jewish attempts to compose polemical and apologetic ethnographies, and argues that Jewish engagement with critical scholarship began earlier than scholars of this period usually suggest.

Original languageEnglish
Article number493
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2021


  • Early modern history
  • History of scholarship
  • Italy
  • Jewish–Christian polemics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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