The Divergence of Judaism and Islam. Interdependence, Modernity, and Political Turmoil

(Joyce) #1

244 · Rachel Maissy-Noy

The claim of a free social and economic atmosphere is reinforced by
what the researchers had discovered in sale and purchase contracts in
the Cairo Geniza as well as in the documents of Santa Catherina.^38 These
documents prove that the Jews worked in a variety of fields and were not
excluded from any occupation except the military. Furthermore, it was
emphasized that they owned a great deal of private and public property
and that many of them were merchants who entered into business part-
nerships with Muslim merchants and sometimes, as in the case of Nissim
Nahari and Ibn ̔Ukal, even with the ruler himself.^39 According to Qasem
̔Abdu, all these examples prove that the Jews were an integral part of
Egyptian society and were not considered a separate national entity. He
therefore writes:

After all these examples, I think it is necessary to say that the society
offered the Jews maximum opportunities to use their skills for its
service. They were not considered a foreign community or a boycot-
ted one. They were treated as part of the Egyptian public and the
only difference was their religion.^40

Hitherto we have presented the claims of the researchers with regard to
the tolerant atmosphere that prevailed during the Middle Ages. It seems
that it will be quite easy to proceed from here to refuting the claim of
Jewish suffering. In fact, what is clear to the reader is that, compared
with the extensive description given by the researchers of the economic
and administrative achievements of the Jews in the Middle Ages, they
related only marginally to the hostility expressed toward the Jews. It is
true that the ̔Umar regulations about the special dress code of the Jews
are mentioned, pointing out the rulers who strictly enforced them. But
again and again it is emphasized that most rulers tended to ignore these
regulations and implemented them only in periods where the behavior of
the Jews was “irregular,” as they call it. In cases, for instance, where Qa-
sem ̔Abdu mentions the hostility of the environment toward the Jews, he
shows understanding and compassion with the agitation of the Muslims,
since, according to him, this agitation was inflamed by the ostentatious
behavior of the Jews who were deviating from the religious command-
ments of the ̔Umar Convention. In general, in cases where he admits the
existence of an aggressive act against the Jews, he describes it as an excep-
tion that does not prove the rule. One of the typical expressions therefore

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