"The Work of Her Hands": Marital Contracts, Long-Distance Marriage, and Jewish Women's Exercise of Economic Agency in Medieval Egypt Open Access

Moran, Kate West (2015)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/1831ck127?locale=en


This thesis examines the social and economic implications of long distance marriage for Jewish women in medieval Egypt, doing so in the context of the ways in which the particular conditions of these marriages affected wives' acquisition of social capital. The period of study will be the Fatimid and Ayyubid periods of rule, from 909-1250 CE. For the years in question, the Geniza is the only documentary source we have to illuminate the lives of Egyptian Jewish women. However, the vast majority of documents discussing women's livelihoods and remunerative activities in the Islamicate world date from the Mamluk period onward. Thus, evidence and analysis will also be provided from the beginning of this era, mainly, the early 14th century, for the purposes of engaging a broader historical context. My study draws on a variety of sources, with particular emphasis on ketubbot (marriage contracts) and pre-departure legal agreements made between spouses. This combination of documents offers valuable insights into the ways in which Jewish women in medieval Egyptian society economically advocated for themselves. Was divorce a potential source of such capital for these women, or were wives who found themselves in long distance marriages socially, legally, and/or financially compelled to consider alternative sources of empowerment? To answer this question, it is crucial to understand the extent to which pre-nuptial agreements and individual clauses written into ketubbot influenced marriages during periods of extended absence, how these agreements defined the terms of a divorce, and how these terms were reflected or reiterated in arrangements drawn up prior to a husband's departure. This thesis also explores female involvement in the commercial space--specifically, women's sources of livelihood during periods of separation from their husbands. Understanding not only the theoretical frameworks that were in place, but the historical reality of women's remunerative activities, is critical to the study of female agency in this time period.

Table of Contents


The Genizah: A History of the Islamicate World's Jewish Men and Women 1

Chapter One:

The Ketubba: A Theoretical Basis For Social Capital Acquisition 25

Chapter Two:

Pre-departure Arrangements and Marital Correspondence: Economic Implications 43

Chapter Three:

While You Were Away: Women's Livelihoods and Commercial Involvement 59

Conclusions, Potential Areas of Further Study 81

Index of Genizah Documents Consulted 85

Bibliography 86

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