Jews and Jousting

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Guest post by Rabbi Eli D. Clark

Two recent blog entries cite halakhic sources relating to jousting in the Middle Ages. See here and here. The earlier source is Tosafot (Sukka 45a, s.v. mi-yad tinokot), which describes young men (or boys) engaging in jousting as a form of entertainment at weddings. The later source is a responsum from the 15th century, in which the Mahari Bruna (Responsa no. 71) permits Jews to attend tournaments.
 
The following source suggests that Jews actually participated in jousting tournaments, in suits of armor, presumably jousting against non-Jews, in late 12th–early 13th century Germany. The source is a responsum of R. Eliezer b. Yoel HaLevi (no. 1027), known as the Ra’avyah (see biographical details below). The responsum appears in V. Aptowitzer, Sefer Mevo HaRa’avyah, p. 213 (see original here):

Reuven sued Shimon and claimed: I came to you to borrow your suit of armor (shiryonekha) in order to return it to you after two weeks or to pay you (26) [27] old  Cologne denarii. I deposited collateral (mashkon) with you. When I returned from the tournament (tournier), I told you that the armor was lost and I needed a portion of that collateral, and I gave you 14 new Cologne denarii on account. Now I come to redeem my collateral – (17) [14] new Cologne denarii – and the balance, and [in exchange] I will pay you the 27 [old] Cologne denarii.

Reuven borrows a suit of armor from Shimon, promising to return the armor after two weeks or pay the lender 27 old denarii, which apparently was the agreed value of the armor. Reuven gives Shimon some unidentified collateral. After the tournament, Reuven returns but the armor is gone – lost, stolen or irreparably damaged in the tournament. In need of part of his collateral, Reuven takes a portion of it back and replaces it with 14 new denarii. Some time later, Reuven returns to redeem his partial collateral, plus the additional 14 new denarii, in exchange for the 27 old denarii Reuven had originally committed to pay.
 
The rest of the text is translated below.
 
Notes and comments:
 
Ra’avyah lived in Germany from around 1160-1240. He was the grandson of the Ra’avan, studied under R. Eliezer of Metz (author of the Sefer haYere’im) and his best-known student was R. Yitzhak b. Moshe of Vienna, the author of the Or Zarua.
 
The Ra’avyah’s responsum deals with a halakhic question relating to the laws of interest. He does not even comment on the facts of the underlying transaction, i.e.,  that one Jew lent a suit of armor to another Jew for use in a tournament.
 
The text suggests that the borrower in question borrowed the armor to wear in a tournament, and this is how Dr. Aptowitzer, the editor of the volume, understood it. However, it is possible that the borrower was a merchant who intended to sell or lease the armor to tournament participants.
 
The passage continues with Shimon’s reply:

Shimon replied: From the time of the exchange more than half a year has passed and you were required to repay the debt to me immediately. But you pushed me off day after day, until I could forebear no longer and I sold 12 new coins for 13 old ones, and everyone in our city knows that this was the exchange rate. But now the old ones have gone down in value and I traded 14 [old ones] for 12 simple new ones. And that is why you come to sue me and besmirch (le-ha`alil) me. Moreover, I told you then explicitly that I did not want to accept them except at an exchange rate of 12 for 13, and you agreed. Also I was responsible for looking after your collateral and preserving your profit if the value increased. But if the value had decreased I would have left it, and not [acted] in this way (?). Reuven said: I deposited them as collateral and you have no right to receive interest from me. Answer: Based on their statements, it seems to me that if [Reuven] deposited collateral that required an appraisal, Shimon should not have sold it, except by order of a court or three others who [would arrange that] an appraisal be performed by experts. And if it increased in value in the hands of the lender or in the hands of the depositor, then so it did and that is his good fortune.

Shimon rejects the claim. First, Shimon already exchanged 12 of the new denarii he was holding as collateral for 13 old denarii. In addition, Shimon insists that the value of the old denarius has decreased from 0.92 new denarii (a ratio of 12:13), to 0.857 new denarii (a ratio of 12:14), meaning that 27 old denarii are now worth only 23 new denarii. In other words, if Reuven wants his collateral returned, he will have to pay Shimon more to compensate for the decrease in the value of the old denarii.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

9 comments

  1. Time to go back and reread “Ivanhoe”.

    Modern jousting — where you try to put the lance through a small ring rather than knock another rider off his/her horse — is the state sport of Maryland.

  2. Too cool. I can just imagine all the spectators coming to watch the tournament: Men in tights, women in pointy hats, and Jews seated in a separate section in cloaks with yellow circles sewn on the front and back and standard yellow Judenhuts. Must have been a blast! Why are there no Jewish Renaissance festivals? 😉

  3. Remarkably, Tosafot in Sukkah 45a permit jousting which damages the opponent’s horse or clothing, but say nothing about damaging the body of the opponent. I take this an implicit support to R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin’s essay “Mishpat Shylock Lifee Hahalakhah” (published in his Li’or Hahalakhah) that wounding another individual prohibited even if the other person grants advance permission, because the human corps belongs to HaKadosh Barukh Hu. [For this reason, I encourage throwing exclusively soft candies at a bar mitzvah.]

  4. >Remarkably, Tosafot in Sukkah 45a permit jousting which damages the opponent’s horse or clothing, but say nothing about damaging the body of the opponent. I take this an implicit support to R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin’s essay “Mishpat Shylock Lifee Hahalakhah” (published in his Li’or Hahalakhah) that wounding another individual prohibited even if the other person grants advance permission, because the human corps belongs to HaKadosh Barukh Hu. [For this reason, I encourage throwing exclusively soft candies at a bar mitzvah.]

    How does that follow more than that bodily injury was rare?

  5. Thank you, R’ S., for the interesting observation. Food for thought…

  6. Shalom Spira: “For this reason, I encourage throwing exclusively soft candies at a bar mitzvah”

    Throwing any candies at a bar mitzvoh bochur is a relatively new phenomen, and is a matter of contention, having been opposed, for example, by gedolim such as Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, Rav Dovid Povarsky, the Steipler Gaon, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and Rav Schach ז”ל, and להבדיל שליט”א Rav Y. S. Elyashiv, see discussion in שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק ד’, 449-451 (by the way a fine English rendering of synopses of chapters of Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz I-IV has just come out and is being distributed by Feldheim).

    Actually, al pi מנהג אשכנז it is not done at the aufruf of a chosson either, rather they follow the ancient minhog of throwing wheat kernels on the day of the chassunoh, cf same sefer for more on that.

  7. MiMedinat HaYam

    wheat kernels — ?today rice, at the ceremony?.

    2. SA mentions such “throwings”.

    3. syrian custom (adopted by my shul; i did it to friends) — no bags, just loose candy (though individually wrapped for hygiene sake). and for those afraid it brings problems, our shul has plenty of young “mice” children who make sure nothing is left on the floor / crevices / too close to pesach.

  8. Thank you R’ Mordechai and R’ MiMedinat HaYam for the insights. Candy for contemplation…

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