On leave 2019–20
I’m a social historian of the medieval Middle East, interested especially in family life and in how law and religion worked in mundane, everyday settings. My research focuses on urban Jews in Fatimid and Ayyubid Egypt (969–1250), a population who accidentally left behind some of the most detailed and varied sources about ordinary life to have survived the premodern world: the Cairo Geniza documents, a cache of everyday writings (letters, legal documents, shopping lists, and so on) produced mainly in this period and preserved by chance in a synagogue in Fustat (old Cairo).
My first book, Coming of Age in Medieval Egypt: Women’s Adolescence, Jewish Law, and Ordinary Culture (Princeton, 2017; winner of the 2017 National Jewish Book Award in Women’s Studies and finalist for the 2017 National Jewish Book Award in Scholarship) used Geniza documents and Jewish and Islamic legal writings to examine how gender, kinship, and rabbinic law interacted to shape Jewish women’s coming of age and transition to first marriage in medieval Egypt and Syria. I’m currently working on a second book, a social history of early medieval Jewish writing (documents as well as literary works) that examines how and why new forms of Judaism developed and spread across the Islamic Mediterranean in the ninth to eleventh centuries.
Other topics I’m working on include Maimonides’ attempt in the late twelfth century to reform Egyptian Jewish women’s menstrual purity practices; responses to the death of children in Geniza letters; petitions sent to Jewish communal officials by socially isolated women; and several aspects of a longer-term project on the social history of rabbinic courts in the Fatimid empire. I’m also deeply committed to collaborative work aimed at making Geniza documents more accessible and historically legible. With Jessica Goldberg (UCLA), I’ve edited an introductory handbook to Geniza research, its history, practice, and future prospects, which will appear as a triple issue of the journal Jewish History in 2018. I’m writing a different kind of handbook with a group of researchers involved in the “Documents and Institutions in the Medieval Middle East” project (described here), which will trace common terms and features across Jewish and Islamic legal and administrative documents from the Fatimid period.
At Princeton I’ve taught courses on the Cairo Geniza and its relationship to other Middle Eastern documentary corpora; religious conversion and the formation of the Islamic Middle East; gender and social history; the history of marriage in Near Eastern monotheistic traditions; and NES 300, the department’s Seminar in Research Methods.
Before coming to Princeton, I spent two years as a Blaustein post-doctoral fellow in the Program in Judaic Studies at Yale University, and one year as a Rabin post-doctoral fellow in the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia University.
Coming of Age in Medieval Egypt: Female Adolescence, Jewish Law, and Ordinary Culture (Princeton University Press, 2017)
Documentary Geniza Studies in the 21st Century, Special issue of Jewish History (with Jessica Goldberg, forthcoming 2018)
“The Geniza and Family History,” Jewish History (forthcoming, 2018)
“Jews and Diaspora in the Medieval Islamic Middle East,” in Oxford Handbook of the Jewish Diaspora, ed. Hasia Diner (forthcoming)
“Formula as Content: Medieval Jewish Institutions, the Cairo Geniza and the New Diplomatics” (with Marina Rustow), Jewish Social Studies 20 (2015).
“‘Many days without the God of truth’: Loss and Recovery of Religious Knowledge in Early Karaite Thought,” in Pesher Nahum: Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature from Antiquity through the Middle Ages presented to Norman Golb, ed. Joel Kraemer and Michael Wechsler (Chicago, 2012).
“On the Literary Character of Abraham Ibn Da’ud’s Sefer ha-qabbalah,” European Journal of Jewish Studies 1 (2007).