THE JEWS OF ARAB LANDS: A History and Source Book by Norman A. Stillman

THE JEWS OF ARAB LANDS: A History and Source Book

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KIRKUS REVIEW

At long last a work has appeared to fill a large gap in both Jewish and Mid-eastern history. Stillman's brief, enlightening narrative and sourcebook of documents together depict a variegated Jewish existence in the Mideast from Muhammad to the mid-19th century. There are glimpses of social history in descriptions of Baghdad Jewry during the reign of Harun al-Rashid (of the Thousand and One Nights), in a medieval curriculum of advanced Jewish and secular studies, in the story of the rise and fall of a family of court Jews, and in the various Jewish sects which disputed the authority of the Talmud. Clarifying two seemingly opposite interpretations of Muslim-Jewish relations--that Jewish life under Islam was the antithesis of medieval European persecution, and that the Jews were a persecuted minority in the Mideast--Stillman skillfully steers through the ebb and flow of this relationship as it existed in various periods under different regimes. It is no wonder that the apogee of classical Islamic civilization in Spain, for example, coincided with a flourishing Jewish culture, while the Mamluke regime in Egypt, fighting both the Crusaders and the Mongols, strictly enforced Muslim rules for minorities which conferred second-class status on all Peoples of the Book. The Ottoman Turks, while providing a haven for refugees from the Inquisition in the 16th century and even supporting Jewish-inspired projects for developing the Holy Land, treated both Arabs and Jews with contempt during the subsequent centuries of their Empire's decline. The introduction of the European elements into the Mideast during the 19th century only whets the appetite for more scholarship on a hitherto neglected field. Updating the classic work of his teacher S.D. Goitein, Jews and Arabs: Their Contacts Through the Ages (3rd ed., 1974), Stillman not only adds new material but, via thorough documentation with notes and extensive bibliography, he has made a substantial contribution to the field of Mideast history.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Jewish Publication Society