Com­ing of Age in Medieval Egypt: Female Ado­les­cence, Jew­ish Law, and Ordi­nary Culture

Eve Krakows­ki
  • From the Publisher
December 21, 2017

Much of what we know about life in the medieval Islam­ic Mid­dle East comes from texts writ­ten to impart reli­gious ideals or to chron­i­cle the move­ments of great men. How did women par­tic­i­pate in the soci­eties these texts describe? What about non-Mus­lims, whose own reli­gious tra­di­tions descend­ed part­ly from pre-Islam­ic late antiquity?

Com­ing of Age in Medieval Egypt approach­es these ques­tions through Jew­ish women’s ado­les­cence in Fatimid and Ayyu­bid Egypt and Syr­ia (c. 9691250). Using hun­dreds of every­day papers pre­served in the Cairo Geniza, Eve Krakows­ki fol­lows the lives of girls from dif­fer­ent social classes―rich and poor, seclud­ed and phys­i­cal­ly mobile―as they pre­pared to mar­ry and become social adults. She argues that the fam­i­lies on whom these girls depend­ed were more var­ied, frag­ment­ed, and flu­id than has been thought. Krakows­ki also sug­gests a new approach to reli­gious iden­ti­ty in pre­mod­ern Islam­ic societies―and to the his­to­ry of rab­binic Judaism. Through the lens of women’s com­ing-of-age, she demon­strates that even Jews who faith­ful­ly observed rab­binic law did not always under­stand the world in rab­binic terms. By trac­ing the fault lines between rab­binic legal prac­tice and its prac­ti­tion­ers’ lives, Krakows­ki explains how rab­binic Judaism adapt­ed to the Islam­ic Mid­dle Ages.

Com­ing of Age in Medieval Egypt offers a new way to under­stand how women took part in pre­mod­ern Mid­dle East­ern soci­eties, and how fam­i­lies and reli­gious law worked in the medieval Islam­ic world.

Discussion Questions