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Commercial Forms and Legal Norms in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt


Scholars agree that medieval Jewish legal writers responded to “the needs of the times” in making their legal rulings, carefully choosing the legal sources and precedents upon which they relied, rereading or even rejecting those sources in light of their quotidian reality. Particularly in the Geonic Period, as Talmudic norms encountered a geographically expansive community experiencing radical social transformations in the engagement with Islam, as well as rapid economic development concomitant with the rise of the ʿAbbāsids, which urbanized and transformed the economic life of the Jewish community, classical sources of Jewish law faced new pressures. Geonic leaders responded to these pressures by making recourse to the traditional institutions of taqqana (Hebrew, “legislative enactment”) and minhag (Hebrew, “custom”). Therefore, it is widely accepted that the vicissitudes of daily life influenced both the responsa of the Geonim and their contributions to the expanding codificatory literature. On the other hand, the potential influence of Jewish legal norms upon daily life remains an unsettled area in the study of the history of the premodern Jewish community. A paucity of documentary or archaeological evidence complicates this problem, and edited literary texts of various genres remain themselves among the most important witnesses to Jewish life in the period.

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Chibli Mallat, An Introduction to Middle Eastern Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 83.

Phillip I. Ackerman-Lieberman, “Legal Writing in Medieval Jewish Cairo,” in ‘From a Sacred Source': Geniza Studies in Honour of Professor Stefan C. Reif, ed. Siam Bhayro and Benjamin Outhwaite (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 1–24

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
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