A Kaleidoscopic View
Edited by Josef Meri
A Critical Edition and Translation of Zikhron Divrey Romi, Divrey Malkhey Yisraʾel, and the Midrash on Zechariah
This chapter examines the scholarship of A.S. Yahuda through an exploration of his analysis of Muslim-Jewish relations in al-Hidāya ilā farāʾiḍ al-qulūb (“The Right Guidance to the Religious Duties of Hearts”), and the language of the Pentateuch. In 1912 Yahuda, a scholar of the Bible and Semitics, published an Arabic edition of al-Hidāya, a popular work on Jewish ethics and spirituality originally written in Judaeo-Arabic. His edition presented the first complete Arabic-script version of this text, along with a detailed analysis of the Islamic influence on al-Hidāya. Through an examination of the way in which Yahuda studied al-Hidāya and Hebrew-Egyptian relations in the Pentateuch, this chapter attempts to contextualise Yahuda’s scholarship within the ethos of Wissenschaft des Judentums. It suggests that his understanding of Jewish literary creativity, while orientated towards the Wissenschaft, is also the product of his strong sense of belonging to the “Jews of the East”.
Norman A. Stillman
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.
Ruth F. Davis
This essay explores, through the medium of popular song, different ways in which Tunisian Jews and Muslims have attempted to come to terms with the rupture caused by the mass exodus of Jews in the years following independence. The introduction of commercial recording in Tunis in the early twentieth century gave rise to a new type of popular song called ughniyya whose exponents until World War Two were primarily Jews. With its simple strophic structures, earthy, colloquial language, themes depicting real-life situations, and its adoption of modes, rhythms and musical instruments from the wider Mediterranean and Levant, the early ughniyya provided the foundation for the future development of Tunisian popular song. In Jewish circles, the tunes were set to sacred Hebrew texts and sung in a variety of religious and celebratory contexts. With the rise of the nationalist movement the cosmopolitan ughniyya was denigrated as decadent and corrupt; following the mass exodus of the Jews, it disappeared from mainstream musical life. Yet the songs continued to be performed by Tunisian Jewish diasporic communities in France and Israel; on the island of Djerba, they remained the staple repertory of the iconic musician Yacoub Bsiri (1912–2009) who provided a continuing link with the vibrant musical culture of the protectorate era.
Since the late 1980s, Tunisian Muslims have attempted to rediscover and rehabilitate the popular songs of the protectorate era, regarding them as a vital part of the Tunisian cultural heritage. While some have acknowledged and celebrated their former Jewish associations, others have ignored or actively erased them by presenting the songs as part of a timeless, anonymous rural folklore. The songs continue to be performed in both Arabic and Hebrew versions at the annual pilgrimage to the miraculous synagogue known as ‘the Ghriba’ on the island of Djerba, where Tunisian diasporic Jews reunite with Tunisian Jews and Muslims in a nostalgic celebration of their shared Jewish-Arab past.