Between Egypt and Yemen in the Cairo Genizah

In: Journal of Islamic Manuscripts
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  • 1 Center for the Study of Conversion and Inter-religious Encounters, Ben Gurion University and the Interdisciplinary Center for the Broader Application of Genizah Research, University of Haifa
  • 2 University of Cambridge

A study of two documents from the Cairo Genizah, a vast repository of medieval Jewish writings recovered from a synagogue in Fusṭāṭ, Egypt, one hundred years ago, shows the importance of this archive for the history of medieval Yemen and, in particular, for the role that Yemen played in the Indian Ocean trade as both a commercial and administrative hub. The first document is a letter from Aden to Fusṭāṭ, dated 1133CE, explaining the Aden Jewish community’s failure to raise funds to send to the heads of the Palestinian Gaonate in Egypt. It signals the decline of that venerable institution and the increasing independence of the Yemeni Jews. The second text is a legal document, produced by an Egyptian Jewish trader who intended to travel to Yemen, but who wished to ensure his wife was provided for in his absence. Both documents show the close ties between the Egyptian and Yemeni Jewish communities and the increasing commercial importance of Yemen to Egyptian traders.

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    J. Mann, The Jews in Egypt and Palestine, p. 367, read the last two words together as ‮אלגיוהומא‬, but there is a noticeable gap between them. Goitein, in his unpublished transcription read ‮ומא‬, but this would imply the letter was unfinished. We prefer the reading ‮ימן‬ or perhaps ‮ימין‬; the settlement of al-Ǧuwwa was not well known, so we might well expect the clarification ‘Yemen’ after it.

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