Jewish Education in Muslim Lands

In Muslim countries, Jewish boys learned the whole range of Jewish and secular subjects.

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What about the education of Jewish girls?

There is really no information on the education of Jewish girls in Muslim lands, although it is known that Muslim girls often received formal education, and some became important poets. There is extant only some Arabic poetry by Jewish women in Mus­lim Spain, and mention of the names of a few others in Arabic sources. Legend ascribes a Hebrew poem to the daughter of Judah ha‑Levy, but this is likely a myth. We know of no Jewish women who were scholars in Muslim or Christian Spain, such as the few mentioned in Germany and elsewhere. Women did, however, play an active role in hiring teachers for their sons and even in endowing schools, particularly in Spain.

The Medieval Jewish Ivy League

Older boys usually went on to study the Talmud in established yeshivot, just as in European countries. The most famous, of course, were the great acade­mies in "Babylon” (Iraq), where the Talmud itself had been composed, and which continued under the leadership of the geonim until the end of the eleventh century.

Other famous schools included those of Qayrawan in North Africa, another later at Fez, and Fustat and Alexandria in Egypt. Goitein has mentioned the frequent travel by scholars from one to the other of such yeshivot, and even from country to country. [Shlomo D. Goitein, a historian of  medieval Mediterranean society.] We find French rabbis in yeshivot in Muslim lands, as well as in Egypt and Baghdad. Indeed, the yeshivahof Qayrawan was established in the tenth century by a scholar from Italy. In al‑Andalus in Spain, the ­yeshivot first at Lucena and then Cordoba‑­Granada won international renown. La­ter in Christian Spain, of course, there were numerous outstanding yeshivot headed by famous scholars.

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Norman Roth is a professor of Jewish History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.