The Jewish culture Essay

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Jewish Society and its Influence

Jewish society is a rich and dynamic one that has developed over a long period of time, with records going back thousands of years before the birth of Christ. Numerous events in the annals of mankind have been influenced by culture. The people who follow this legacy are currently dispersed throughout the world, but they are mainly found in the Gulf Region, where they first lived before spreading to other parts of the globe. Since the inception of Islam, they have shared this ancestral home with Muslims, and this has shaped relations between the two groups ever since. Many historical accounts have shown how the two communities have interacted with each other and how these interactions have affected the current state of the two communities.

Thesis Statement

The subject of symbiosis against the "Vale of Tears" attempts to describe the historical stand on the relationship between Judaism and Islam. This document attempts to illustrate that despite continuous conflict between the two communities, symbiosis remains the foundation upon which their relationship continues to exist and thrive over time. This symbiotic relationship between the two doctrines is very evident in several historical accounts and even respective religious manuscripts as discussed below.

The Spread of Accounts and the Basis of Religious Texts

During the conception of the Islam religion, cultural practices and accounts were passed on from one generation to the next by word of mouth. These accounts spread far and wide due to activities such as trade and formed the basis of their faith as science was unknown to most of them (Firestone, Reuven 288). The accounts were however altered from one narrator to the next. This led to different communities having different versions of the same accounts and explains the small differences in religious accounts in the bible and the Qur'an. The stories ended up forming the basis of religious books used by Jews and Muslims respectively. The similarity in religious text also favored coexistence between Jews and Muslims in the region.

Discrimination and Autonomy under Islamic Rule

In some Mediterranean societies however, there was discrimination between the Muslim majority and the Jewish minority. There were laws that prevented Jews from wearing certain garments and holding public office as Muslims considered themselves superior to the Jews. Furthermore, Jews were required by law to distinguish themselves from their fellow Muslims by wearing distinctive colors and markings. These regulations existed in law but were however, not strictly enforced as the Muslims heavily depended on the industrious Jewish community to maintain the standards of their cities. This even allowed some Jews in some Mediterranean towns to hold office in lower ranks in order to ensure their cities retained their high regard.

Cohen, Mark (234) in Jews in the Middle Ages points out the legal position of Islam towards Jews. Islamic laws allowed Jews to retain autonomy under their rule as they were treated as subjects under their Muslim rulers. This was a stark comparison to their European counterparts under the rule of medieval Christians. The groups were subjected to slavery at the period and constituted the property of individuals. Islamic laws of the time such as the pact of Umar prohibited the construction or restoration of religious buildings with the obvious exception of mosques. This law, if strictly enforced, would have hindered the growth of non-Muslim communities. This was however, not the case as many cities under Islamic law allowed generous interpretations of this law to add exceptions for other "People of the Book" as described by Cohen. The phrase "People of the Book" was used to refer to other religious communities that had divine scriptures revealed to them and ascribe to them. This included Jews and Christians among several other religious communities. Cohen also alludes to the symbiotic relationship between Muslims and Jews as the latter were required to pay a fee that allowed them to retain their autonomy in some cities under Islamic law. This fee would then be used to expand their cities and increase activities such as trade that eventually contributed to the economic well-being of both communities living in these cities. Thus despite the enforcement of subjective laws by Muslims upon Jews, dependence was the key driver of their relationship during this time.

The Growth of Hebrew and Coexistence in North Africa

Islam used Arabic as their primary language of communication. The nature of the language allowed it to transcend beyond prayer in the mosque to common expression and even in erotic poetry. This ability to use a language to convey contradicting ideas prompted the growth of Hebrew both in use and development. The language grew to transcend beyond prayer in the synagogue to common daily expression and that allowed the inclusion of texts such as the Songs of Solomon into sacred texts (Menocal, Maria Rosa 143).

The northern coast of Africa has many cities whose dwellers were predominantly Muslim. According to Romanelli (312), the cities had synagogues in them where Jews were allowed to worship freely. Jewish traders from the cities were allowed to conduct business with each other and even some were given positions in their local governments. Records from the same work show neighboring households that subscribe to Judaism or Islam living harmoniously. Some business establishments were even owned in partnerships by Muslim and Jewish partners.

Contributing Factors

To Peace

Peace between Muslims and Jews existed in peace in many cities where they lived. This was mainly due to various economic activities. Activities such as trade not only promoted amicability between both communities; it also favored the growth of both religions as it was the means by which the message of both religions was spread (Romanelli, Samuel 319). Trade allowed Jews to live comfortably amidst a majority of Muslims in an environment of persecution. This is because often the laws that imposed the persecution upon the Jews were waived in order to allow the circulation of commodities in their cities through trading with the Jews. This factor enabled many Jews to settle across the Mediterranean region even in areas that are predominantly occupied by Muslims.

In al-Andalus, Jews thrived among their fellow Muslims in political, social, and economic facets. This was enabled by the generous interpretation of Islamic laws that protected communities that ascribe to a divine text such as the Hebrew scriptures of Judaism or the Qur'an. This not only allowed for harmonious coexistence between the two communities but also allowed sharing of ideas and culture in the form of poetry that subsequently caused the Hebrew language to grow in use beyond prayer and the confines of the synagogue (Goitein, Shelomo 231).

During medieval times, Cohen describes Islamic laws that prohibited public displays of religion. These laws were, however, designed and targeted at Christians and many Jewish occasions and rituals were celebrated in public as the relationship between them and Muslims was amicable. This relationship was also evident in interpretations of many other laws by Islamic judges and legislators. These interpretations were generous enough to allow both communities to coexist but still maintained the superiority of Muslims to non-Muslims.

To Conflict

According to Dallal, Mark (37), conflict between the two communities was propelled by insistent persecution upon the Jews by the Muslim majority. Muslim leaders and other religious fanatics exerted this in an attempt to convert them to Islam. This conflict was because of ideological differences because each tried to assert the sanctity of the scripture or text they subscribe to. Historical accounts indicate each group trying to assert the principle in the scriptures they read from and the sanctity of such scripture with others even fronting arguments to discredit their opponents. This caused many Jews to defect to Islam and even adopting their culture. Some accounts record that in the places where such persecution was observed, there was more similarity between Jews and Muslims than there was between Jews of different places.


Jewish and Islamic cultures have been co-dependent since their conception as they were founded around similar ideological principles. The two share plenty of concepts and ideas that have shaped relations between the two communities over time. There may have been instances of conflict between the two communities but this has been kept in check by the strong dependence on each other that they share. Furthermore, the conflict eventually caused growth and fostered relations between the communities. Fingerprints of this symbiotic relationship are evident in the architecture of many Mediterranean cities that portray both Jewish and Islamic influences. Ancient texts and religious books also show this symbiosis. This is seen in the many similarities in ideas and even entire accounts all alluding to the fact that Judaism and Islam draw from similar heritage.


Cohen, Mark R. under crescent and cross: the Jews in the Middle Ages. Princeton University Press, 1994.

Dallal, Ahmad. "On Muslim Curiosity and the Historiography of the Jews of Yemen." Bulletin of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies 1 (1999): 77-112.

Firestone, Reuven. Jewish culture in the formative period of Islam. Schoken Books, 2002.

Goitein, Shelomo Dov. A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, Vol. I: Economic Foundations. Vol. 1. Univ of California Press, 2000.

Menocal, Maria Rosa. "Culture in the Time of Tolerance: Al-Andalus as a Model for Our Own Time." Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics, and Culture 8.4 (2002): 173.

Romanelli, Samuel. Travail in an Arab land. University of Alabama Press, 2004.

July 07, 2023

Race and Ethnicity

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