A window into Jews and Jewish life in 1000 C.E.

NEW YORK — Children married as young as age 11.

Men often traveled long distances buying and selling spices, needles and silks, while their wives managed the family business from home.

Girls were generally not educated in schools, and Jews settled in certain areas based solely on the good will of local landowners.

In many ways, Jews today have little in common with their counterparts in 1000 C.E.

Alfred Ivry, a professor of Jewish and Islamic philosophy at New York University and a leading authority on medieval Jewish life, said Jews at the time felt like their lives were good "but who knows what will be in the future?"

In the year 1000, Jews were spread around the globe in communities large and small from Babylonia to Spain and North Africa, as well as to the Byzantine Empire, whose capital sat where Istanbul is today.

Babylonia, the area known now as Iraq, was the seat of Jewish religious scholarship and authority. From famous academies, or yeshivot, flowed religious writing, teaching and a dissemination of Torah commentary so wide that it reached the far corners of the Jewish world.

And during what is now called Jewry's Golden Age in Spain, tremendous cultural creativity took root and poetry flourished.

There were marked differences among the various empires in which Jews lived. But it was, on the whole, a time of flourishing economic stability and some political involvement.

Still, Jews lived completely separate religious lives from the non-Jews around them. And as a result, the turn of the first millennium was a complete non-event for Jews, according to Daniel Frank, assistant professor of Near Eastern languages and cultures at Ohio State University.

"Christians seemed to be aware of the existence of the millennium, and their millennial concerns were a driving force in the Christian world at the time," he said. "But Jews lived by their own calendar."

Though valued for their contributions to local economies, Jews were just as often reviled for being "unbelievers."

Persecution was a hallmark of the years bracketing the end of the first millennium, as Jews were attacked by Muslims, Christians and Berbers.

Well before the First Crusade, which was called by Pope Urban in 1095, rampaging mobs murdered the entire Jewish population of several towns.

The First Crusade, which began in 1096, "happened because people were looking at the end of the century and saying, 'We will have missed our new kingdom [with the return of Jesus] if something doesn't happen,'" said Ephraim Kanarfogel, a professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women in New York.

In the decades leading up to that point, while there were tensions between Christians and Jews, the two groups interacted in the Byzantine Empire through business, Kanarfogel said.

"Jews did a lot of trading, some of it international, bringing goods to and from the East, and in local commerce. Around the year 1000 there were some Jewish landowners, but that wasn't common," he said.

In the 10th century, Jews were making their way to the Ashkenaz — Rhineland Germany and France. They were encouraged to settle by Christian rulers for economic and political reasons.

"Jews were attractive to Christian rulers because they were international traders — but they were powerless, so their loyalty would be unquestioned since they couldn't serve as the agents of another army," Frank said.

Christian landowners, some of whom were also church leaders, signed treaties with the Jews promising them physical protection while at the same time preaching against Jews and Judaism in church, according to Judith Baskin, chair of the department of Judaic studies at the State University of New York at Albany.

Jews were tanners, metalsmiths, and engaged in other similar trades and industries. It is clear, from both Jewish and church documents, that Jews employed Christians and Christians employed Jews, said Kanarfogel.

Church officials passed laws against Christians working in Jewish homes as servants and wet nurses "because Jews were not supposed to dominate Christians," Kanarfogel said.

In Ashkenaz, boys were usually given Hebrew names and taught Hebrew along with the local language.

Girls, though, were bestowed with names no different than those of their Gentile neighbors, such as Brunnetta, Fleur de Lis, Floretta, Glorietta, Liquoritizia and Polcelina.

Jewish girls were, with occasional exception, educated at home and taught to be literate in the local language. A few elite women, the daughters of rabbis, had some Hebrew learning, particularly if their fathers didn't have any sons, Baskin said.

Rabbinic responsa are the source of many details about Jewish life at the time. One, from a 10th-century German rabbi, says that it was the custom of men to put their wives in charge of financial matters, Baskin said.

It was also a time of important change in the status of women in Jewish law, or halachah. Around the year 1000, Rabbi Gershom of Mainz, who was viewed as the first important religious decisor of Ashkenaz, ruled that polygamy was no longer acceptable for the Jews of his region and that a man was no longer permitted to divorce his wife without her consent.

In the Islamic empire that ruled Spain, where the lingua franca was Arabic — spoken by both Jews and Muslims — the majority culture had great influence on the Jews.

"Jews were expanding their cultural horizons beyond those with which they had been familiar for 1,000 years," said Ivry.

"You didn't have secular poetry or science prior to this ever in the Jewish experience," Ivry said.

In the 11th century came the shining example of Jewish success in medieval Spain: Shmuel HaNagid, a political and military leader, as well as a philosopher and a poet. He headed the Jews of Grenada, where his meteoric rise was the highest achievement of a Jew in Muslim Spain.

Babylonia, meanwhile, was the center of religious strength in the medieval Jewish world.

The reach of the leading rabbis, the Gaonim, was so great that the first Jewish prayerbook, compiled by the Gaon of Sura, was written in about 875 C.E. at the behest of a Jews in Northern Spain.

"Despite the far-flung nature of the Jewish community, communication existed across great distances and even one so far away as Spain would turn to an authority in Babylonia," Frank said.