Monday, November 15, 2010

Jousting bochurim at medieval Ashkenazi weddings.

Yitzhak of בין דין לדין has a great post about jousting in Jewish sources, beginning with the famous Tosafos ד"ה מיד תינוקות שומטין לולביהן on Sukkah 45a (link):

Since Yitzhak is a high falutin' scholar he didn't explain or translate, so I'll take the opportunity to do so.

The background is that the Mishnah writes that in the Temple, on the last day of Sukkot, the people would take the lulavs from the children and eat their Etrogs. Naturally there are two ways to understand this: one is that the people would eat the etrogs, the other is that the children did. But Rashi interprets it that it was the adults who would eat them. Therefore the Mishnah is describing a situation where the adults apparently grabbed the lulavim and esrogim from the hands of the children, and Rashi explains that this was not stealing - it was a fun game.

From this explanation Tosafos derives a principle: One can learn from here that those bochurim (youths) who ride horses and war with one another, before grooms, and tear each others clothing or hurt the horse, are exempt from the damage they've caused because this is the customary way of providing joyous entertainment for grooms.

Tosafos then goes on to give an alternate explanation, that it was the children themselves who removed the lulavim (from the attached willows) and ate the esrogim.

So there you have it: in the times of Tosafos the bochurim would get on horses and joust with each other for entertainment.

Interestingly, folio 16v of the Kaufmann Mishneh Torah manuscript A77, which was produced in Northeastern France, 1296, features a pair of knights jousting (although this illustration looks a little more serious than the wedding sport). Why jousting knights are illustrating this first page of the Rambam's Hilchos Yesodei Ha-Torah is unclear to me[1], but here you go.

Next time you see the shuffle at weddings, think of how far we've fallen - or how far we've come. Read the rest of Yitzhak's post for additional sources.

[1] מלחמתה של תורה?


  1. "Like taking «strike»candy«/strike» esreigim from a baby"

  2. Exactly - if the babies thought it was fun. At least according to Rashi.

  3. The famous Vatican (?) Rambam has jousting illustrating the first page of Sefer Ahava. I once heard the explanation that this was the result of a Christian artist not getting the title and thinking "ahava" equaled "romance" in the medieval sense (courtly love, etc.).

  4. "So there you have it: in the times of Tosafos the bochurim would get on horses and joust with each other for entertainment."

    I sure wish I could get a feeling as to the percentages.


  5. Phil-- how many Jewish communities could afford to lend two horses to irresponsible kids at weddings, with a significant chance of damage to the horse? Horses are really valuable.

    If I had to guess, I would say that at one wedding every five years or so you might see jousting. Then, people would remember why it's been five long years since the last one.

  6. >how many Jewish communities could afford to lend two horses to irresponsible kids at weddings, with a significant chance of damage to the horse?

    Don't think Anatevka 1910. There were many wealthy Jews in Ashkenaz, including people like Rabbenu Tam. Why do you think the nobles kept the Jews around?

  7. I wouldn't read too much into the knights. Illustrations may have been inspired by the commissioner's tastes. See the Duke of Sussex's German Pentateuch (can't find a full version on line but knight page is here,r:2,s:0).

    Also, Dreams of Subversion by Marc Epstein will blow your mind on this subject. Available online here ( but well worth the money in brick-and-mortar version.

  8. The knights aren't jousting, in the sense of formalized riding at each other with lances. Rather, these guys are waving short-swords at each other. More warlike than a formal duel. Perhaps it symbolizes milchamto shel torah? Or since it's Yesodei Hatorah, the valor with which we have to fight for ortho doxy, against heretics such as Karaites?

  9. hmmm and the noda b'yehuda writes that hunting isn't a Jewish thing to do... He would probably not be too happy with this either, I would presume

  10. Well, it's not hunting (i.e., wounding or killing animals for sport).

    That said, it's all theoretical. According to Rabbi Wikipedia, jousting was popular in Europe until the early 17th century - 100 years before the Noda Beyehuda was born. Judging by the responsum of the Mahar"i Bruna which Yitzhak of posted it was already not being practiced by Jews anymore in the 15th century.

  11. S.: Thanks! I should have known that you'd be interested in jousting, after all your pirate posts ...

  12. Push me up against the wall and do dirty things to me. Hey, i am looking for an online sexual partner ;) Click on my boobs if you are interested (. )( .)



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