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Cleanliness and Convivencia: Jewish Bathing Culture in Medieval Spain

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Chapter Summary

The existence of public bath houses in the cities of medieval Spain might be seen as one of the most potent markers of an urban culture shared between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. All three religious groups patronized the public bath houses for reasons of hygiene, health, and sociability. Yet at the same time, bathing was also among the most religiously segregated and strictly unshared activities in medieval Iberian life. For Jews and Muslims, cleanliness was an important requirement of their faith that marked them as distinct both from each other and from Christians. Jewish law mandates bathing, especially before the Sabbath, and in medieval Iberia this cleansing would often have taken place in the steam, hot water, and communal atmosphere of a public bath house. Some public bath houses were open to all citizens of a town, regardless of religion, either at certain times or whenever patrons wished to bathe.

Keywords: Christians; cleanliness; Jewish bathing culture; Jewish law; medieval Spain; Muslims; public bath house



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