Jewish Women's Lives in the Muslim World
Part I: Marriage
Early Marriage Determined a Young Woman’s Life
The marriage her parents arranged for her when she was thirteen or fourteen, usually to a considerably older man, would determine the course of a young woman’s life. The community, following Talmudic norms, took it for granted that marriage was the natural state for both men and women. A sermon found in the genizahexplains that the wife is a wall around her husband, bringing atonement for his sins and peace to his domicile. And marriage, the text continues, preserves a man from sin and, through sons who study Torah and fulfill the commandments, ensures physical and spiritual continuity…
The first preference for a spouse—generally a first cousin or other suitable relative—was intended to preserve prosperity within the extended family, while also offering security and familiarity to the young bride. Marrying outside the family, however, was an opportunity for merchant families to widen their connections and enhance their strength.
It was not uncommon for marriages to be arranged between young men in Persia and young girls from Syria or Egypt, to strengthen business ties between two trading house by establishing family alliances. Sometimes young businessmen from abroad would endeavor to marry into a successful local family as a way of establishing a foothold and eventually attaining a prominent position in the new country….
Nor were all marriages contracted on purely economic grounds; there was often an effort to marry a girl from a scholarly family in the expectation that she would produce “sons studying the Torah.”
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