- Divorce was common in the Middle Ages (at least 20 percent Miriam says)
- Women sometimes attended cheder** (the ratio, she says, was about 1:8)
- Matchmakers were not used by poor Jews
- Teenage marriage was rare
All of this matters, as Miriam aptly notes, because Orthodox Jews argue for their own 21st century way of living on the grounds that there is something original or authentic about it in a First Cause sort of way. This is false, as one scholar after another has revealed. Their social practices, like their religious ideas, are contingent, and forever developing and changing in ways large and small.
This need to be repeated as often as possible, if only because too much human happiness is stifled for the sake of achieving a false authenticity.
Foot notes and more after the jump
** Women also attended shul in far greater numbers than black-hatters today imagine. I know this from Life Is With People an excellent little sociological study of life in the shtetl by Mark Zborowski and Elizabeth Herzog. In fact, some learned women even served as the Zogerin, a sort of female chazan who read the prayers aloud for the benefit of the illiterate or those too poor to purchase prayer books.
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