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CHAPTER 3 Jewish Women under Islam: The Near .East North Africal and Spain to 1492 OVERVIEW The Growing Jewish Diaspora Egypt, Syria, and Babylonia had large and well-established Jewish communities by the seventh century C.E. Smaller settlements could also be found throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and west along the northern Mediterranean coast. The Jews in these communities lived in diverse situations with varied lifestyles, but the position of women tended to be relatively similar everywhere. Women could attend synagogue and were allowed a degree of religious participation. There was as yet no consistent separation of the sexes for prayer-at least not in the land of Israel.! However, much evidence points to Jewish women's continued isolation from public life. As can be seen below, even women who gained some degree of fame because of their accomplishments or through a propitious marriage were routinely left unnamed in contemporary reports. This was totally consistent with the position of gentile women in the societies of the Near East and North Africa and represented little change from earlier centuries. The Rise of Islam Women's status was hardly altered even after the middle of the seventh century, when Muhammad, an Arabian from the Hashemite clan (571-632 C.E.), created a new religion: Islam. Based partially on the monotheistic teachings of Jews and Christians, Muhammad's new religion recast first 47 48 The JPS Guide to Jewish Women the Arabian Peninsula, then the entire Middle East, and would ultimately affect most of the Western world.2 Although Muhammad did establish some legal protections for women, the new Muslim culture made their isolation in the home and their subservience to men a matter of Islamic law. After Muhammad's death in 632, his followers crossed the borders of Arabia, conquering and converting the peoples of the neighboring lands. Once Islam controlled the Middle East, Arab culture and trade began to flourish, first under the unified rule of the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750) and then the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258). The scattered and diverse Jewish communities of the Diaspora also became more unified and enjoyed a parallel cultural growth. Widespread improvements raised the economic position of the Jews, giving them specific rights. Under Arab rule, Jews along with all other minority groups became dhimmis, restricted but also protected.3 Babylonia In the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries, under Muslim rule, Babylonian Jewish power reached its highest level. Muslims allowed the Babylonian Jews almost complete self-government, although the Resh Galuta (Exilarch) had to have the formal approval of the sultan after being chosen by the Jewish community. SUII-SAIIARAN AFRICA FIG. 5. After the rise of Islam, the Jewish communities of the Middle East became more united. Jewish Women under Islam 49 The Resh Galuta appointed judges and collected taxes from the Jews, but he shared his power with the two most important scholars (geonim). The geonim headed the major academies in Babylonia and answered queries put to them by Jews and Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora. Because they used the new compilation, the Talmud, as the basis for their legal decisions, they spread knowledge of talmudic law to communities all over the world. The geonim did not make any radical changes in the customs of the times, but because they actively worked toward consistency of Jewish practice, the laws and standards they imposed affected all Jews living in the lands of the Diaspora. By the mid-eleventh century, the influence of the geonim had already begun to wane. Jewish immigration to Egypt, North Africa, and other Diaspora communities increased, and Babylonian Jewry went into a decline from which it never recovered. But the geonic rulings, made over the course of four or five centuries, remained standard practice throughout most of Europe and the Middle East. Arabia and Yemen Jews had been living in northern Arabia and Yemen from the period of the Second Temple. Like the Arab population, they were organized according to clans and tribes. Despite a high degree of assimilation, including a common language and culture, the Jewish tribes were considered a separate group. Jews seem to have influenced some Arab tribes to accept monotheism and to observe the Sabbath. Therefore, it was not always clear whether monotheistic tribes or individuals were Jewish. Assumptions were sometimes made by non-Jewish historians with little factual evidence beyond the knowledge that these groups or individuals worshiped a single God or celebrated one or two Jewish rituals. Sarah, the Yemenite poet...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780827609747
Related ISBN
9780827607521
MARC Record
OCLC
676699912
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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