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Join us this spring for the Leon Levy Foundation Lectures in Jewish Material Culture. Miriam Frenkel will deliver three lectures in a series entitled “The Matter of Things: Material Culture in the Medieval Islamicate World.”


Lecture 1
Wednesday, February 5
Texts and Textiles: The Cultural Meaning of Clothing and Ornaments in the Geniza Society. Read more and register.

Lecture 2
Wednesday, February 12
“Making Many Books”: Books as Artefacts in the Medieval Islamicate World. Read more and register.

Lecture 3
Wednesday, February 19
Home and Food: The Jewish Home and the Mediterranean Diet as Reflected in the Geniza. Read more and register.

The series concerns material culture in the medieval lands of Islam with special focus on Jewish material culture. “Islamicate” refers to the areas and societies ruled by Muslims but that also included other significant communities who were full participants in the social, economic, cultural, and intellectual activity and discourse. These communities–Muslims, Jews, and Christians–shared not only cultural and discursive traits, but also daily material culture.

Frenkel will draw on rich documentary material of the Cairo Geniza and on archaeological finds from digs conducted in Israel and Egypt. The Cairo Geniza, a still under-appreciated source for knowledge of medieval material culture, is a hoard of medieval Jewish manuscripts deposited at the Ben Ezra synagogue in Fustat, Egypt. It contains, alongside noteworthy literary pieces, a great deal of mundane material reflecting almost every aspect of contemporary material culture, and offers a compelling view into the everyday life of medieval Jews in the lands of Islam. Commercial letters, bills, legal documents, trousseau lists, medical prescriptions, inventories and more provide us with evidence for the way ordinary people dressed, ate, furnished their homes, wrote, and read letters and books. Frenkel will also examine excavations in locations with central Jewish communities such as Fustat, Jerusalem, Ramla, Caesarea, and Tiberias which enable comparisons with the abundant information from the Geniza, with text and artefact providing frameworks for one another.

Miriam Frenkel is Associate Professor in the Department of Jewish History and the School of History at the Hebrew University. She is also the Menahem Ben Sasson Chair in Judaism and Islam through the Ages and vice president of the Society for Judeo-Arabic Studies [SJAS.] Her main fields of research are Geniza studies, cultural and social history of Medieval Judaism in the lands of Islam, and medieval cultural encounters between Judaism and Islam. Her book “The Compassionate and Benevolent”: The Leading Elite in the Jewish Community of Alexandria in the Middle Ages (2006) was awarded the Shazzar Prize in 2007. Frenkel has also published several articles on various aspects of medieval Jewish life under Islam including literacy, poverty, charity, pilgrimage, slavery, and material culture.