Liv­ing with the Law: Gen­der and Com­mu­ni­ty Among the Jews of Medieval Egypt

  • From the Publisher
December 19, 2022

Liv­ing with the Law explores the mar­i­tal dis­putes of Jews in medieval Islam­ic Egypt (1000 – 1250), relat­ing medieval gos­sip, mar­i­tal woes, and the voic­es of men and women of a world long gone. Prob­ing the rich doc­u­ments of the Cairo Geniza, a unique repos­i­to­ry of dis­card­ed paper dis­cov­ered in a Cairo syn­a­gogue, the book recov­ers the life sto­ries of Jew­ish women and men work­ing through their mar­i­tal prob­lems at home, with their fam­i­lies, in the streets of old Cairo, and in Jew­ish and Mus­lim courts. Despite a volu­mi­nous lit­er­a­ture on Jew­ish law, the every­day prac­tice of Jew­ish courts has only recent­ly begun to be inves­ti­gat­ed sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly. The expe­ri­ences of those at a legal, social, and cul­tur­al dis­ad­van­tage allow us to go beyond the image prop­a­gat­ed by legal insti­tu­tions and offer a view from below” of Jew­ish com­mu­nal life and Jew­ish law as it was lived.

Exam­in­ing the inter­ac­tions between gen­der and law in medieval Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties under Islam­ic rule, Oded Zinger con­sid­ers how women expe­ri­enced Jew­ish courts and the pres­sure they faced to relin­quish their mon­e­tary rights. The tac­tics with which women coun­tered this pressure―ranging from exploit­ing fam­i­ly ties to appeal­ing to Mus­lim courts―expose the com­plex rela­tion­ship between indi­vid­ual agency, gen­dered expec­ta­tions, and com­mu­nal author­i­ty. Zinger con­cludes that, more than mon­ey, edu­ca­tion, or lin­eage, it was the main­te­nance of a sup­port­ive net­work of social rela­tions with men that pro­tect­ed women at dif­fer­ent stages of their lives.

Discussion Questions