- Near Eastern Studies
- Program in Judaic Studies
On leave 2016-17
I study the social history of the medieval Middle East, with particular interests in women’s history, family history, and the history of religious practice. My research focuses primarily on urban Jews in Fatimid and Ayyubid Egypt (969–1250 A.D.), a subfield I was drawn to because of a specific body of source material: the Cairo Geniza documents, a cache of thousands 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).
I stumbled into Geniza studies after beginning graduate school at the University of Chicago intending to work on medieval rabbinic literature. I had become increasingly curious about how the authors of the texts I was studying had lived; I wanted to understand what, if anything, the formal ideas and institutions that dominate medieval Jews’ writing had really meant beyond the page, in ordinary time. The Geniza seemed like an obvious place to turn, because it preserves some of the most varied and intimate evidence for daily life to have survived from the pre-modern world. Eventually I became interested in using this material to understand not only Jewish history, but also that of the medieval Middle East in general.
Most of my research to date has focused on kinship, gender, and rabbinic law in medieval Egypt—as they worked both in theory (i.e., according to prescriptive legal texts) and in practice. My first book, Coming of Age in Medieval Egypt: Women’s Adolescence, Jewish Law, and Ordinary Culture will examine how all three institutions interacted to shape Jewish women’s coming of age and transition to first marriage.
Other topics I’m working on include 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: their relationships with the Fatimid state, the ways in which they reproduced rabbinic law, and how and why Jews used them.
I’m also deeply committed to collaborative work aimed at making Geniza documents more accessible and comprehensible and at improving the methodologies that can be brought to bear on them. With Jessica Goldberg, I’m editing an introductory handbook to Geniza research: its history, practice, and future prospects. I’m also writing a different kind of handbook with Marina Rustow and Craig Perry, which will trace common terms and features across Jewish and Islamic legal and administrative documents from the Fatimid period (a project funded by fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities).
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 as a Rabin post-doctoral fellow in the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia University.
(with Marina Rustow), “F ormula as Content: Medieval Jewish Institutions, the Cairo Geniza and the New Diplomatics,” 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).