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The Wandering Arm

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In the fiction historical novel The Wandering Arm by Sharan Newman, a view into the life of the Jewish people in 12th century France is given by the accounts of many individuals, Christian and Jewish alike. The general feel of the community can be summed into a conversation had by two of the main characters, Solomon, a Jew, and Edgar, a Saxon Christian. Edgar says to Solomon, "You are not a foreigner, you were born in Paris!" and Solomon replies with, "I was born a Jew, I'm a foreigner everywhere" (page 33). Within Paris it can be seen that the Jews are enforced with rules, regulations, and a lower status than those Christian citizens. This can all be seen through kinship ties and social relationships which are closely tied to a fabulous story of mystery, lies, and deceit.

From the onset of the novel, Christian/Jewish family relations are constantly under the microscope. In the first chapter, Hubert internalizes the problems his daughter Catherine is having with child birth by thinking God was punishing his family because of his conversion to Christianity when the rest of his family was being persecuted and murdered for their faith (page 25). As a young child, he was separated from the living members, and only later finds them, but after having gone through a forced baptism much like the Jews of Spain in the 1400's. The truth of his past comes out, but only to his daughters, Catherine and Agnes, while his son Guillaume is left in the dark. Catherine is the only one to accept the members of the other faith as her family, while Agnes rejects, and even discriminates against them. The feelings that Guillaume and Agnes have towards Jews are considered standard with the Christian community, denying welcome into their homes, declining a place to stay in danger, and even using derogatory terms when talking about and to them such as "those people" and "infidels". To have a Jew in your family is something to keep hidden, it would bring trouble for the Christians and Jews, the act of merely consorting with them is enough to get people talking of being a crypto-Jew. Although in Hubert's heart he was born and Jew and will always be one, he will continue to go through the motions of being Christian because he has responsibilities to the people he loves (page 30). Not only would he lose the life he loved, people who had once been neighbors and friends would most likely turn against someone who left the faith (page 224). To be a Christian in this time with Jewish family members you love is extremely hard because as much as Hubert's family wants to announce allegiance with Eliazar, Johannah, and Solomon, the Jews must remain exiled from the family because of their faith.

In one of the many translated sayings at the beginning of each chapter, there is a Privilege that is granted by Louis VI that denotes the way Jews were to live within France, "We have granted that the Jews who are at present living in the village of the citadel of Saint-Denis, up to five householders with their families, are to be free of all our judgments and our taxes, and that they be place under the jurisdiction of the abbot" (page 38). In socially speaking manner, this is too idealistic of the way Jews were actually treated. As stated before, most of the Christian population had as little to do with the Jewish has possible, for they were the infidels who didn't see the truth, people who are "too stubborn to see what is obvious" (page 184). Not only does it change the way people view you once they learn of you faith as it did with Samson and Solomon, but it denies you privileges



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