The Case of Qayrawān: A Jewish Community in Muslim North Africa in the Making of the New Jewish "Bookshelf"

Apr 03, 2018
05:00 PM to 07:00 PM
Alumni Lounge, Nittany Lion Inn

Dr. Menachem Ben-Sasson, University of Jerusalem

On the southern shores of the Mediterranean, a new city was built towards the end of the 7th century, named Qayrawān. Rapidly it became the political, commercial, religious and intellectual hub of the whole Mediterranean. This presentation will focus on the Jewish intellectual life that flourished in Qayrawān, the creation of a new Jewish "Bookshelf" that spread throughout the Jewish world. The Jewish community in Qayrawān produced many pioneering works in all branches of knowledge, from Astronomy and Mathematics to Philosophy and Mysticism, as well as Law, secular and religious Poetry, Medicine, Linguistics, and History. Startling in its breadth, this literary productivity made breakthroughs in many fields. This local creativity occurred in dialogue with the global intellectual revolution following the Muslim conquest, and added to a deliberate trend of building rich libraries in Qayrawān at that time. Much of the current Jewish bookshelf is an "heir" of the Qayrawān Medieval "project". 

Menahem Ben-Sasson is a Professor in the Department of the History of the Jewish People at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. A historian of the heritage including Jewish Communities in Muslim Lands; the Relationship Between Religion and Economics; and Law and Spirituality as Sources of Authority in Medieval Oriental Society. He also specializes in the study of Maimonides, Geonic responsa and texts, Saadya Gaon's works and leadership, and the Cairo Genizah. Professor Ben-Sasson is Chancellor and past-President of the Hebrew University. He is a past Member of the Israeli Knesset, where he served as Chairman of the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, and headed the Knesset Lobby for Higher Education. He has also served as President of the World Union of Jewish Studies, Vice-President of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, Chairman of the Ben-Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East, and on the board of directors at Yah Vashem. 

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