History

The condition of Jewish people in 16th century Ottoman Jerusalem

Ottoman Jerusalem El-Kouds 1898-1914

Amnon Cohen, on the Jewish condition in the 16th century Ottoman Jerusalem:

“Their possessions were protected, although they might have had to pay for extra protection at night for their houses and commercial properties. Their title deeds and other official documents indicating their rights were honoured when presented to the court, being treated like those of their Muslim neighbours… The picture emerging from the sijill documents is baffling. On the one hand we encounter recurring Sultanic decrees sent to Jerusalem – in response to pleas of the Jews – to the effect that “nothing should be done to stop them from applying their own law” regarding a variety of matters. There are also many explicit references to the overriding importance of applying Shari’a law to them only if they so choose. On the other hand, if we look closely at some of the inheritance lists, we see that the local court allocated to female members of Jewish families half the share given to male members, exactly as in Islamic law. This meant, ipso facto, a significant improvement in the status of Jewish women with respect to legacies over that accorded them by Jewish tradition, although it actually meant the application of Islamic law in an internal Jewish context… he [the Muslim Judge] defended Jewish causes jeopardized by high-handed behaviour of local governors; he enabled Jewish business people and craftsmen to lease properties from Muslim endowments on an equal footing with Muslim bidders; more generally, he respected their rituals and places of worship and guarded them against encroachment even when the perpetrators were other Muslim dignitaries.”

Amnon Cohen, ‘A World Within: Jewish Life as Reflected in Muslim Court Documents from the Sijill of Jerusalem (XVIth Century)’. Cohen, an American Jewish historian, studied the 16th century documents stored in the archives of the Shari’ah religious court of Jerusalem (commonly known as sijil), whereby he found 1000 Jewish cases filed from the year 1530 to 1601 CE. Cohen published his research in 1994 during which he made many astonishing discoveries.

Categories: History

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