Were Jewish children in the Middle Ages treated differently by their parents than their gentile counterparts? How have Jews traditionally viewed the death of a child? What effect did the Jewish education system have on the Jewish child? These issues and many others are explored in "The Child in Jewish History" by John Cooper, a panoramic survey of Jewish childhood from biblical times until the mid-twentieth century. Beginning with an account of the family structure in the biblical age, this intriguing social history examines such topics as circumcision, breast-feeding, the abolition of child sacrifice, debt-bondage, and the socialization and education of children. The impact of the clash with Greco-Roman civilization on Jewish childhood is discussed, including the adaptation of the primary school into the heder which became the main conduit for transmitting knowledge of the Torah from generation to generation, and the abolition of abortion and infanticide for the purpose of limiting family size. In the examination of Jewish childhood during the Middle Ages, the development of ceremonies surrounding childbirth, circumcision, and initiation into the heder are explored, as is the heartbreaking slaughter of children by their own parents to prevent then from enforced conversion during the Crusades. In the early modern period, the decline of the system of universal heder education which began in the eighteenth century, and the rise of leisure activities and youth-centered thought, are explained in relation to their impact on Jewish children. Moving toward the present day, the modernization of Jewish youth in Germany, Britain and the United States is detailed. The reasons for low infant mortality rates among Jewish families, a unique feature of Jewish childhood, child-rearing practices, and the Jewish insistence on prolonged education are also discussed. With its comprehensive look at an often-neglected topic, "The Child in Jewish History" will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in Jewish history and sociology.
by John Cooper
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