Featured weekly article: Tastes and Fragrances from the Old World: Memoirs by Egyptian Jewish Women

Tastes and Fragrances from the Old World: Memoirs by Egyptian Jewish Women

By Nefissa Naguib

Volume 9, Issue 1, pages 122-127

Introduction

History tells us that cosmopolitanism for the Jews has been an adaptive instrument for a persecuted people without a homeland, a people who always had to be prepared to flee and move on to another refuge. It is also true that cosmopolitanism is a deeply rooted feature in classical Arab-Islamic cultural heritage. The geographical location of the Arab Mediterranean, extending across frontiers and in different historical periods, from Spain to the Levant and beyond, has always made it a commercial, intellectual, strategic and sacred place visited by merchants, scholars, soldiers and believers of many ethnicities and cultural traditions. As such, it has served as a virtual cauldron of globally significant and critical events. The historical record tells us that cosmopolitan qualities and this region’s identity as a cross-roads of global encounters rendered it particularly tolerant to the Jewish presence. Arab Andalusia is, of course, particularly exalted as embodying Arab cosmopolitanism. Recently, scholars of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Arab world have been keen to point to the Mediterranean basin as more richly embodying cosmopolitanism than might be suggested by certain events witnessed during that period: phenomena such as the rise of geographically specific nationalisms, such as Egypt’s, belie the cultural, political, economic and intellectual inclusiveness that in fact attracted Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews to the region, and that housed the Karaaite Jewish community for centuries. […]

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