Menachem Mendel

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The Legal Allegiances of Christians and Jews under Early Islam

H-Judaic has a review of Uriel I. Simonsohn’s A Common Justice: The Legal Allegiances of Christians and Jews under Early Islam.

In the year 1030 CE, Shelomo ben Yehuda, the Palestinian gaon (medieval Jewish religious authority), wrote a letter lamenting the impossible position he and his fellow leaders were in. As someone charged with upholding Jewish law and faith, the gaon was distressed over the number of Jews who turned to Islamic courts against the halakhic prohibition of bringing internal Jewish matters before Gentile judiciaries. Yet Shelomo recognized that he was relatively powerless in the face of this phenomenon; although he could excommunicate violators, this seemed to have little effect on Jews’ actual practice since they continued to bring all manner of cases before Muslim judges. Uriel I. Simonsohn addresses this conundrum in his impressive study, A Common Justice. Drawing on such sources as letters and responsa by geonim like Shelomo and by Eastern Christian ecclesiastical authorities, Simonsohn brings his readers into the world of Jewish and Christian elites who struggled to assert their judicial authority in the face of litigants who often preferred Islamic courts to those of their own confession.

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