Maimonides and the Merchants

Jewish Law and Society in the Medieval Islamic World

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Mark R. Cohen
  • Philadelphia, PA: 
    University of Pennsylvania Press
    , June
     2017.
     248 pages.
     $65.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780812249149.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Description

The advent of Islam in the seventh century brought profound economic changes to the Jews living in the Middle East, and Talmudic law, compiled in and for an agrarian society, was ill equipped to address an increasingly mercantile world. In response, and over the course of the seventh through eleventh centuries, the heads of the Jewish yeshivot of Iraq sought precedence in custom to adapt Jewish law to the new economic and social reality.

In Maimonides and the Merchants, Mark R. Cohen reveals the extent of even further pragmatic revisions to the halakha, or body of Jewish law, introduced by Moses Maimonides in his Mishneh Torah, the comprehensive legal code he compiled in the late twelfth century. While Maimonides insisted that he was merely restating already established legal practice, Cohen uncovers the extensive reformulations that further inscribed commerce into Jewish law. Maimonides revised Talmudic partnership regulations, created a judicial method to enable Jewish courts to enforce forms of commercial agency unknown in the Talmud, and even modified the halakha to accommodate the new use of paper for writing business contracts. Over and again, Cohen demonstrates, the language of Talmudic rulings was altered to provide Jewish merchants arranging commercial collaborations or litigating disputes with alternatives to Islamic law and the Islamic judicial system.

Thanks to the business letters, legal documents, and accounts found in the manuscript stockpile known as the Cairo Geniza, we are able to reconstruct in fine detail Jewish involvement in the marketplace practices that contemporaries called "the custom of the merchants." In Maimonides and the Merchants, Cohen has written a stunning reappraisal of how these same customs inflected Jewish law as it had been passed down through the centuries.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Mark R. Cohen is Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East, Emeritus, and Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Emeritus, Princeton University. He is author of Poverty and Charity in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt and Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages.

Add New Comment

Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.

Log in to post comments