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A partnership culture: Jewish economic and social life seen through the legal documents of the Cairo Geniza
By Phillip Isaac Ackerman-Lieberman
PhD Dissertation, Princeton University, 2007
Abstract: This dissertation explores economic partnership relations in the Jewish community of medieval Egypt, primarily as described in the documents of the Cairo Geniza. It also contains a corpus of transcriptions, translations and brief commentaries on just over one hundred heretofore unpublished legal documents from the Geniza concerning such partnerships. The corpus is attached to the dissertation as volume two.
The first volume of the dissertation presents a synthesis which seeks to evaluate the possible connections between partnership relations as seen in the documentary corpus on the one hand; and classical Jewish and Islamic legal sources on the other. The conclusions of this synthesis are that partnership relations within the Jewish community held to Jewish legal norms to the exclusion of Islamic legal norms much more closely than previously believed; and that the Jewish community relied upon both formal and informal vehicles in establishing and maintaining economic relationships. The first of these conclusions questions the assumption common among scholars of the Geniza that the Jewish documents depict a universal reality extending to the Islamic community; and the second confronts the underpinnings of the scholarly debate concerning the extent to which economic institutions in medieval Islamic culture were formal or informal.
The first chapter compares the partnership relationships described in the documentary corpus to the models of partnership presented by the classical Jewish legal sources and responsa alike. Where the legal sources are not univocal, the chapter outlines the underpinnings of the dispute within these sources.
The second chapter compares the partnership relationships described in the documentary corpus to the models of partnership presented in the classical Islamic legal sources by the various schools of Islamic law. Many of these sources have been synthesized by others, but the chapter includes a discussion of a number of legal schools heretofore unexplored in the literature.
The third chapter turns to the discipline of anthropology to evaluate partnership practice as practiced by the Jewish community, looking beyond the documentary corpus to other genres of Jewish literary and documentary production. Evaluating letters, Biblical commentary, waqf-agreements and the like allow for the description of a “partnership dynamic” rooted in concepts of trust and discretion and relying on formal and informal vehicles alike in forging and maintaining partnership relationships.
The fourth chapter relies upon the conclusions of the first two chapters to challenge a paradigm in the study of the Geniza documents which assumes Jewish and Islamic practice to be identical in the economic domain. In the light of this challenge, the chapter presents an alternative paradigm which relaxes this assumption. Presenting a more complex web of relations in the medieval Islamic world, this alternative retains a central role for the documents of the Geniza in the study of medieval Islamic social and economic history.