Archeologists ‘Stunned’ By Evidence That Medieval Jews Kept Kosher

An image of Jews being beaten from a thirteenth century English manuscript. The figures in blue and yellow are wearing a badge in the shape of two tablets, identifying them as Jews. (Wikimedia Commons)

Archeologists in the UK digging at an excavation site of ancient shops overlapping Oxford’s old Jewish quarter “were stunned” to uncover solid evidence that medieval Jews living in England prior to the 1290 expulsion ate only kosher, The Jewish Chronicle reported last week.

The excavation was carried out five years ago but the findings, which “blew away” the archeologists were only revealed now. “Normally you would expect a mixture of cow, sheep, goat and pig,” said Dr. Julie Dunne, a bio-molecular archaeologist at Bristol University who worked on the 2016 project. “Instead we found a massive, I mean massive, amount of chicken and goose bones.”

As much as the archeologists dug, they found no evidence of bones from pigs, the hindquarters of cows, shellfish, or any other non-kosher animals at the site.

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Additionally, the archaeologists collected over 2,000 pottery fragments, and using organic residue analysis, identified the type of fat that had been absorbed in the 800-year-old ceramic vessels.

“This process allows us to distinguish animal fats from ruminants and non-ruminants, as well as from dairy products,” said Dr. Dunne, “and what we found was astonishingly precise.”

The fats absorbed in the vessels were also exclusively from kosher animals, with absolutely no traces of non-kosher fats or traces of mixtures of milk and meat in the same vessel.

These indications of kosher culinary habits were discovered only from the time period and area where Jews had lived in medieval England, with findings from other sites and time periods rife with evidence of non-kosher culinary practices.

It is the first solid evidence that medieval Jews in England adhered to kashrus despite the plethora of information about medieval Jews in Oxford, including preserved Jewish manuscripts, contracts, and property deeds.

Clifford’s Tower, the place where the Jews of
York were massacred in 1190. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The report added that the archeologists’ excavation of the Jewish site almost didn’t happen but a last-minute appeal by Pam Manix and Dr. Evie Kemp, members of the Oxford Jewish Heritage Committee, was approved just as commercial developers were about to gain planning permission.

“Oxford Preservation Trust got in touch just days before the last meeting,” recalled Ms. Manix, “and asked if I’d attend and raise an objection.”

“I realized at once this was an amazing opportunity. It was the first time in decades the site had been opened up and it was right on top of a property called Jacob’s Hall, which had belonged to Jacob of Oxford, one of the most important Jews in England.”

There are only three other findings that provide evidence that Jews kept kosher in medieval times, but all are on continental Europe rather than England. Additionally, according to Dr. Dunne, this is “the first time a religious dietary signature has been identified using pottery fragments.”

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)

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