This dissertation examines how Jews in medieval Egypt negotiated marital disputes while maneuvering between individual desires, legal prescriptions and societal expectations. The main sources for this investigation are the documents of the Cairo Geniza, a rich cache of manuscripts discovered in the Ben Ezra synagogue in Old Cairo. The study of medieval Jewish communities is often dominated by a top-down approach that focuses on the elites and adopts the perspective of the communal leadership as it examines the 'Jewish community' as the fundamental manifestation of Jewish life. The present study complements this perspective by offering a 'view from below' of married life and communal institutions. Recovering the life-stories of non-elite individuals as they experience communal institutions and creatively negotiate the legal arena reveals a substantially different image of Jewish communal life. For example, I show how women experienced the legal arena differently than their husbands as communal officials tended to pressure women to compromise their monetary rights. This, in turn, led women to adopt certain characteristic practices and behaviors in their interactions with communal leaders so as to withstand these pressures. In this way, rather than seeing communal legal institutions as merely imposing religious law on deviant practice, I shift the focus to the litigants' point of view as "consumers" of legal resources whose navigation of the pluralistic legal arena depended on status and personal networks as much as on legal considerations. Gender and status are revealed to be crucial categories in our understanding of Geniza society and medieval patriarchy. The result of this analysis is a better understanding of the instability and flexibility of married life and of their implications for the pursuing of legal disputes in medieval Egypt. The study is accompanied by an edition of nineteen previously unpublished Geniza documents that demonstrate the various aspects of married life examined in the study.
|Advisor:||Cohen, Mark R.|
|Commitee:||Baumgarten, Elisheva, Cook, Michael, Jordan, William C.|
|Department:||Near Eastern Studies|
|School Location:||United States -- New Jersey|
|Source:||DAI-A 76/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Middle Eastern history, Womens studies, Near Eastern Studies, Gender studies, Judaic studies|
|Keywords:||Courts, Divorce, Egypt, Gender, Geniza, Law, Marital disputes, Marriage|
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