Religious Innovation under Fatimid Rule: Jewish and Muslim Rites in Eleventh-Century Jerusalem

In: Medieval Encounters
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  • 1 Senior lecturer, Department of Middle East Studies, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel
  • | 2 Professor of medieval Jewish history, The Department for Jewish History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
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This paper describes religious innovations introduced by Muslims in the (arguably) holy month of Rajab, and by Jews on the High Holidays of the month of Tishrei, in eleventh-century Jerusalem. Using a comparative perspective, and grounding analysis in the particular historical context of Fatimid rule, it demonstrates how the convergence of sacred space and sacred time was conducive to “religious creativity.” The Muslim rites (conducted on al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf / the Temple Mount) and the Jewish rites (on the Mount of Olives) shared a particular concern with the remission of sins and supplication on behalf of others, and a cosmological world view that envisioned Jerusalem as axis mundi. The Jewish rite was initiated “from above” by the political-spiritual leadership of the community, was dependent on Fatimid backing, and was inextricably tied to specific sites. The Muslim rite sprang “from below” and spread far, to be practiced in later periods all over the Middle East.

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