Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate


In a book with a bold new view of medieval Jewish history, written in a style accessible to nonspecialists and students as well as to scholars in the field, Marina Rustow changes our understanding of the origins and nature of heresy itself.
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In a book with a bold new view of medieval Jewish history, written in a style accessible to nonspecialists and students as well as to scholars in the field, Marina Rustow changes our understanding of the origins and nature of heresy itself.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The Cairo Geniza documents have been at the center of Jewish scholarship for over a century. Rustow has reviewed the medieval and modern models that emerged on the basis of the rich polemical literature and challenges them against the extant contemporary correspondence that describe the actual interactions. . . . This well-written and reader-friendly major contribution is accessible to neophyte and scholar alike, and will engender a new, nuanced view of the social relations among Jews and Muslims in the medieval Mediterranean. Highly recommended."—Choice

"Rustow's book provides us fascinating new insights into the history of Jewish Eastern communities of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine during the crucial and politically unstable period of the rule of the Fatimid caliphs. . . . Her focus on documentary and epistolary sources and on the caliphal administration allows Rustow to present a picture of Rabbanite-Karaite relations which differs from the more standard views of modern scholarship . . . that present Karaism as a separatist 'sect' and a threat to Judaism. . . . On the contrary, Rustow shows, the Karaites constituted one among other Jewish groups of the period and were fully engaged in Jewish community life as a whole."—Journal of Jewish Studies

"Beautifully written and brilliantly conceived, this book is more a voyage of discovery than an academic monograph. It takes us to a time—the Middle Ages—and a place—the Middle East—in which there were many different visions of Judaism's future, and it teaches us that this future emerged out of an infinitely richer dialogue than most of us thought possible. Marina Rustow shows us how the jostling of many peoples has shaped our understanding of the history of rabbinic Judaism's emergence. Her crowd of characters ranges from the sages of Babylon and Palestine to the Sultans of Cairo, from desperate captives pleading for ransom to the proud princes of rival Jewish communities, from pillaging crusaders to modern manuscript hunters. The result of their polyphonic interactions is an extraordinarily learned yet lyrical book that transforms our knowledge of how the various different visions of Judaism dealt with their differences in the distant past, and thereby gives us a new sense of how they might do so in the present."—David Nirenberg, Committee on Social Thought and Department of History, The University of Chicago

"Heresy and the Politics of Community is a fine piece of historical scholarship, presenting the new and exciting idea that the sectarian divide between Rabbanites and Qaraites in the tenth and eleventh centuries in the Middle East not only was not as deep and antagonistic as usually assumed but also hardly existed at all in certain areas. Marina Rustow substantiates this claim through the judicious marshalling of evidence in a book that is highly professional, well conceived, and well executed. It will have a definite impact on the study of medieval Jewish history and is an important contribution to our understanding of Jewish religion and life."—Daniel J. Lasker, Norbert Blechner Professor of Jewish Values at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

"Estrangement and rift between medieval Rabbanite and Qaraite Jews is a commonplace of modern scholarship. Through a detailed analysis of documentary sources from the Cairo Genizah, Marina Rustow brilliantly challenges this view. She proposes fresh insights into intellectually diversified Jewish life in Fatimid times."—Judith Olszowy-Schlanger, Professor of Medieval Hebrew Palaeography, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris

"Heresy and the Politics of Community is a superb book that indicates the remarkable value of the documentary materials in the Cairo Geniza. Using these materials, Rustow brilliantly revises the traditional picture of Rabbanite-Qaraite relations, which was based entirely on literary-polemical sources. In the process, she also amplifies considerably our understanding of Jewish communal functioning in the medieval Mediterranean world and contributes notably to the broader issue of mainstreams and so-called schisms on the medieval scene."—Robert Chazan, Scheuer Professor of Jewish History, New York University

"Relying on meticulous research of Genizah documents, Marina Rustow rewrites the history of the Jewish communities of the eastern Mediterranean during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Her nuanced assessment of the tripartite communal structure of the Jews of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria places the Qaraites at the very center of Jewish life and redefines the frequently shifting relationship among Babylonian, Palestinian, and Qaraite congregations and communities of that time and place. Heresy and the Politics of Community is a rich and brilliant study of the complex power relations within a minority religious community."—Ross Brann, Cornell University

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Marina Rustow is Charlotte Bloomberg Associate Professor in the Humanities at the Johns Hopkins University.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Maps

Note on Transliteration, Transcription, and Citations

Pt. I The Shape of the Jewish Community

1 The Tripartite Community 3

2 Jewish Book Culture in the Tenth Century 36

3 The Limits of Communal Autonomy 67

Pt. II Rabbanites, Qaraites, and the Politics of Leadership

4 Qaraites and the Politics of Powerlessness 111

5 "Nothing but Kindness, Benefit, and Loyalty": Qaraites and the Ge'onim of Baghdad 134

6 "Under the Authority of God and All Israel": Qaraites and the Ge'onim of Jerusalem 156

7 "Glory of the Two Parties": Petitions to Qaraite Courtiers 176

8 The Affair of the Ban of Excommunication in 1029 200

Pt. III Scholastic Loyalty and Its Limits

9 Rabbanite-Qaraite Marriages 239

10 In the Courts: Legal Reciprocity 266

Pt. IV The Origins of Territorial Governance

11 Avignon in Ramla: The Schism of 1038-42 291

12 The Tripartite Community and the First Crusade 323

Epilogue: Toward a History of Jewish Heresy 347

Glossary 357

Guide to Places and People 361

Manuscript Sources 365

Bibliography 395

Index 417

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