Where to Turn? How One Italian Rabbi Understood Ashkenaz, ca. 1600

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This study focuses on a member of the secondary rabbinic elite in northern Italy around the year 1600, Rabbi Jacob Heilbronn (d. 1625). Based on an examination of legal sources cited by Heilbronn in a responsum and a Judeo-German handbook of Jewish law that he prepared, the article argues that Heilbronn understood the notion of German, or Ashkenazic Jewry as a cultural construct that was independent of geography. He was interested in a specific legal tradition handed down from generation to generation, wherever it may have migrated to, not the practices of Jews living in the German lands. Thus, Heilbronn accepted Rabbi Moses Isserles (d. 1572) of Kraków as an authoritative voice of Ashkenazic practice. The study notes that in the years between the publication of Rabbi Joseph Caro’s legal code, Shulḥan ‘Arukh, in 1565 and its republication with Isserles’s glosses in Venice (1593), and probably for a few years thereafter, Heilbronn relied on Caro’s Shulḥan ‘Arukh even though it often represented Sephardic traditions. However, once Heilbronn had access to legal works from Poland, he not only adopted them in his own legal thinking but adapted them for the use of others through vernacularization.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJewish History
StateAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 2024


  • Ashkenazic Jewry
  • Italy
  • Jacob Heilbronn
  • Jewish law
  • Shulḥan ‘Arukh

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


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