The Academic Study of Islamicate Jewry

In: Jewish-Muslim Relations in Past and Present

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The scholarly study of Islamicate Jewry had its beginnings in the nineteenth century as a tangential part of Orientalist research on Islam. Until that time, European travel literature had taken notice of the Jewish communities living in Muslim countries. Medieval Judeo-Arabic civilization became one of the major foci of the Wissenschaft des Judentums scholars of Central and Western Europe. They took little interest in later periods and set the academic agenda that was to continue well into the twentieth century. The only exception being a few researchers in Mandatory Palestine and in the French colonial Maghreb. However, the mass exodus of most Jews from the Islamic world during the twenty-five years that following the establishment of the State of Israel and the end of European colonialism sparked an intense interest in the modern history, ethnography, and culture of Islamicate Jewry which was thought to be in need of “salvage” research before it disappeared with assimilation into Israeli and French societies. The 1970s marked a definite turning point worldwide in the development of the overall field of Islamicate Jewish Studies due to a concomitance of factors: the entry into the field of new young scholars in Israel, France, and North America, significant new trends in the wider world of academe, and a new recognition and institutional response within Israel which was partially a result of social pressures from within the society by the so-called ʿedot ha-mizraḥ (literally, “the communities of the East”).

This essay surveys the evolution of this field of academic endeavor from its beginnings in the nineteenth century to the present highlighting the major scholars and their publications.