Living with the Law: Gender and Community among the Jews of Medieval Egypt

Publication Year



Finalist for the National Jewish Book Award in the Scholarship category, granted by the Jewish Book Council

Living with the Law explores the marital disputes of Jews in medieval Islamic Egypt (1000-1250). Examining the rich documents of the Cairo Geniza, a unique repository of discarded paper discovered in Cairo synagogue, the book recovers the life stories of Jewish women and men working through their marital problems at home, with their families, in the street of old Cairo and in Jewish and Muslim courts. Despite a voluminous literature on Jewish Law, the everyday practice of Jewish courts has only recently begun to be investigated systematically. The experiences of those in legal, social and cultural disadvantage allow us to go beyond the image propagated by legal institutions and offer a view "from below" of Jewish communal life and Jewish law as it was lived.

Examining the interactions between gender and law in medieval Jewish communities under Islamic rule, Oded Zinger considers how women experienced Jewish courts and the pressure they faced to relinquish their monetary rights. The tactics with which women countered this pressure—ranging from exploiting family ties to appealing to Muslim courts—expose the complex relationship between individual agency, gendered expectations, and communal authority. Zinger concludes that, more than money, education, or lineage, it was the maintenance of a supportive network of social relations with men that protected women at different stages of their lives.


"Living with the Law is a well-written and thoughtful book utilizing documents found in the Cairo Genizah which enable an examination of the inner workings of Jewish life that deal in particular with marital strife...The presentation of so many interesting and often heartbreaking cases makes a serious contribution to the field of Genizah studies as well as to the study of the lives of medieval Jewish women...[I]n his fascinating first book, Zinger, the historian, has uncovered the ways in which these women maneuvered within as well as outside the legal system."—Medieval Encounters

Series Title
Jewish culture and contexts
University of Pennsylvania Press
Cloth: 9781512823790; ebook: 9781512823806