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Yosef ben Asher (of Chartres)

Yosef ben Asher of Chartres was born in the second half of the 12th century and a paytan active in France. Joseph was a disciple of Rabbeinu Tam and of Rashbam. He is cited in the "Semag" of Moses of Coucy (Prohibition 113) in connection with the ordinance forbidding the descendants of Ammon and of Moab to enter the Jewish community. He composed an elegy commencing with the words , on the massacre of the Jews of York, England, in 1191. He is doubtless identical with the Bible commentator Joseph me-Karṭesh. He was the brother-in-law of Joseph b. Nathan of Etampes, and great-uncle of the author of "Joseph le Zélateur." The latter reports in that work (No. 24) a discussion which Joseph had with an ecclesiastic. "A monk asked R. Joseph of Chartres why God had manifested Himself in a bush rather than in a tree. Joseph answered: 'Because it is impossible to make an image [crucifix] thereof.'"

אֱלֹהִים בְּעָלֽוּנוּ | Elohim B’alunu — a seliḥah on the York massacre of 1190 by Joseph ben Asher of Chartres (trans. Isaac Gantwerk Mayer)

Contributed on: 01 Jun 2023 by Isaac Gantwerk Mayer (transcription & naqdanut) | Isaac Gantwerk Mayer (translation) | Yosef ben Asher (of Chartres) |

This seliḥah poem, written by R. Joseph of Chartres, commemorates the martyrdom of approximately 150 Jews in Clifford’s Tower, York, England, in the year 1190. A summary of the events of 1190, sometimes referred to as “the English Masada,” can be found here. Like many medieval Jewish poems about massacres, Elohim B’alunu carefully treads the line between assuming guilt and declaring innocence. This poem, interestingly enough, directly calls out the person seen by R. Joseph of Chartres as ultimately responsible — the crusader King Richard Ⅰ. Beloved in Christian memory, this radical zealot of a king has a much darker, more horrific reputation among Jewish and Muslim groups. . . .

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