Division of the dowry on the death of the daughter: An instance in the negotiation of laws and Jewish customs in early modern Tuscany
SIEGMUND, STEFANIE B. (University of Michigan)
Jewish History 16, (2002)
Tuscan notarial acts permit the exploration of the often elusive relationship of Jewish practice, Jewish law and the corresponding laws of the state. One issue in early modern Italian Jewish marriage negotiations was the eventual disposition of the dowry of a childless wife who predeceased her husband. Jewish law on the succession of the childless woman was complicated by traditional or regional customs and communal ordinances. Moreover, in sixteenth-century Tuscany there was no official code, court or arbiter of Jewish law. Nonetheless, Christian notaries who wrote pre- nuptial stipulations or pacts for Jews worked with the assumption that Jews were allowed to live according to their own law. This essay argues that individual Jews used to advantage the state’s assumption that they could follow Jewish law (despite the absence of any universally-acknowledged or applicable law on this specific sub- ject) by employing notaries to write contracts in disregard of both local statutes and well-known Jewish customs. In the second part of this essay I locate the stipulations in the Jewish marriage system and suggest that the process of negotiation over the fate of the dowry was integrally related to the system’s emphasis – in contrast to that of contemporary Christians – on universal marriage and procreation.