Practically, all Jewish second-Temple diaspora in the 7th and 8th centuries fell under the rule of Islam. How did rabbis respond to the new sister religion? Did they attribute any special qualities, prophecies, expectations?

I only know that at a very early stage of the conquest the Muslims changed their attitude toward the Jews from enmity to respect.

Not to confuse with "what-jewish-references-exist-of-the-rise-of-islam-and-muhammad".


3 Answers 3


We don't have much sources from the era. It was, after all, the era of the Savoraim, who were mostly focused on editing and redacting the Talmud.1 The following are the earliest sources I was able to find. If I find more, I'll add them.

  1. There's a disagreement about the lifetime of Rabbi Elazar Hakalir. Some say he lived in the Talmudic era while others say he lived later. Ezra Fleischer was of the opinion that the Kalir mentioned the Arab Conquest in one of his piyutim, which means that he lived during that time (see here, pp. 32-33):

"תשיב תגמלם גמוליהם
תיעבו גמול לועטי גמליהם
השבעתי תדריכם בטבת כולהם
תאלת תרשיש תתן להם"

Fleischer understood the stanza to mean:

"Give unto them their earnings

[as] their camel riders hated [the mishmar of] Gamul

I have sworn [You, Hashem,] to crush them in [the 10th of] Tevet

and place upon them [all of the] crises that befell the Mikdash."

Per this interpretation (and naturally, there are those that disagree), the Kalir, at least, saw the rise of Islam as a negative thing, apparently because of the Arab cruelty to Jews.2

  1. As @DoubleAA rightly noted, Targum Pseudo-Yonatan (whatever time and place its author may be identified with) contains some material from Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer, including material that may be related to the Arabic Conquest. Just one example (30:12):

"Rabbi Ishmael said: In the future the children of Ishmael will do fifteen things in the land (of Israel) in the latter days, and they are: They will measure the land with ropes; they will change a cemetery into a resting-place for sheep (and) a dunghill; they will measure with them and from them upon the tops of the mountains; falsehood will multiply and truth will be hidden; the statutes will be removed far from Israel; sins will be multiplied in Israel...he will hew down the rock of the kingdom, and they will rebuild the desolated cities and sweep the ways; and they will plant gardens and parks, and fence in the broken walls of the Temple; and they will build a building in the Holy Place; and two brothers will arise over them, princes at the end..."

It is thought by some scholars that the emphasized portions refer to Muslim construction on the Temple Mount. This implies a negative view of the Arab Conquest (although Avigdor Shinan (תרגום ואגדה בו, p. 164, note 344) thought that the Targum was more antagonistic towards Islam/the Arabs than PDE). For some more information, see here, for example.

  1. On the other hand, the 9th century scholar Pirqoi ben Baboi seems to have viewed the Arab conquest positively (see here, p. 398):

"...ובאו ישמעאלים והניחום לעסוק בתורה ולקרות קירית שמע ולהתפלל..."

Translation: "...and the Yishmaelim came and let them study Torah and say the Shema and pray..."

This is in reference to the gezerot shmad during the Byzantine rule of Eretz Yisrael and the subsequent Muslim-Arab Conquest.

  1. The Arab rule over Babylon is mentioned in Iggeret Rav Shrirah Gaon from the 10th century. Rav Shrirah states that the situation of the Rashei Galuta needing to buy their status from the Arabs caused the sages great pain.

  2. A reference to Malchut Yishmael is made in a piyut by Rabbi Yosef Ibn Avitur who lived in the 10th century (see here, pg. 2):

"לבדו ישראל מלך מחרבן ועד מלכות ישמעאל
ומאז משלונו חתן וחותן ונתחברו בקרית אריאל
סוד פלאיך מתי תגלה אל רם על כל אל
מי יתן מציון ישועת ישראל"


"Over Yisrael ruled from the destruction and until the Kingdom of Yishmael

And since then we are ruled by groom and father-in-law and they joined together in the City of Ariel [Yerushalayim]

The secret of your mysteries when will You reveal, mighty God above all gods

Who will bring from Tzion the salvation of Yisrael?"

In short, judging from these few sources, it seems that though Jews were not indifferent to the Arab rule (some regarding it negatively while others positively), they were pretty much indifferent to the Islamic aspect of it.

1 You can see here a compilation of some of the earliest direct Babylonian sources regarding the Muslims. They date to the 11th century and onwards. Add to that Iggeret Rav Shrirah Gaon, from the 10th century.

2 Worth mentioning that some of the Jewish Arabian tribes destroyed by Mohammed were priestly tribes, much like Gamul was a mishmar kehunah.

  • 1
    i wonder if there are clues in targum pseudo jonathon judaism.stackexchange.com/a/125511/759
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 14:54
  • @DoubleAA Oh! Thanks for reminding me. I was going to add in hints from the targum with a note on the dating dispute.
    – Harel13
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 15:17

During 1176 -1178 CE, Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon ("Maimonides") commented in "Mishneh Torah, Kings and Wars" [ Melachim uMilchamot - Chapter 11.7 ] that : "The Ishmaelite ('Mohammed'; see Source note #131) who arose after him [Jesus of Nazareth] will only serve to prepare the way for Mashiach's coming and the improvement of the entire world" (הַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִי שֶׁעָמַד אַחֲרָיו, אֵינָן אֶלָּא לְיַשֵּׁר דֶּרֶךְ לַמֶּלֶךְ הַמָּשִׁיחַ, וּלְתַקֵּן אֶת הָעוֹלָם)

[Source : https://www.sefaria.org/Mishneh_Torah%2C_Kings_and_Wars.11.7?lang=bi]

  • 4
    Maimonides is not an early rabbinic scholar during the time of the rise of Islam.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 2:48
  • Why does my Rambam end by halacha ד. and sefarias rambam coninues untill ט?
    – Shlomy
    Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 22:03
  • @Shlomy Rambam didn't number the paragraphs he made in each chapter, but did mark them with line breaks. Accordingly, many later printers got confused and added numbering as they saw fit, but those numbers don't always reflect Rambam's intention and can vary significantly with editions. Chapter 11 of Rambam's Laws of Kings originally has 13 paragraphs, as seen in an edition that checked Rambam's original line breaks, like mechon mamre mechon-mamre.org/i/e511.htm (they mark the "common printed" paragraph break numbers in brackets for convenience)
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 14:49
  • @Doubleaa my rambams halacha ד ends with same as sefarias halacha ד. Its missing the words of next halachos. I've seen in Frankel Rambam they have those words, all in halacha ד.
    – Shlomy
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 19:22

Similair to what חִידָה writes, the Rambam writes in his Iggeret Teiman:

Daniel in the latter part of his vision alludes to the Kingdom of the Arabs, to the rise of Mohammed and then to the arrival of the Messiah. Similarly Isaiah intimated that the coming of the Messiah will occur after the rise of the Madman, in the verse "A man riding on an ass, a man riding on a camel, and two men riding on horses." (21:7). Now "the man riding on an ass" is a symbolical reference to the Messiah as is evident from another verse which describes him as "lowly and riding on an ass" (Zechariah 9:9). He will follow the "man riding on the camel" that is, the Arabic kingdom. The statement "two men riding on horses" refers to both empires, the Roman and the Arabian.

Also, the Rambam writes that the Arabs were the people who, at the time the Rambam lived in, persecuted the Jews:

persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us

Similary, the Zohar (2:16b:13- 2:17a:1) explains that the Galut of Yishmael is the hardest one.

לֵית לָךְ אוּמָא מְכִּיכָא וּקְלִילָא וְנִבְזֵית קָמֵי קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא, כְּוָותַיְיהוּ דְּמִצְרָאֵי, וְיָהִיב לוֹן קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא שֻׁלְטָנוּתָא בְּגִינַיְיהוּ דְּיִשְׂרָאֵל. וְשִׁפְחָה כִּי תִירַשׁ גְּבִירְתָּהּ, דָּא הָגָר, דְּאוֹלִידַת לְיִשְׁמָעֵאל, שֶׁעָשָׂה כַּמָּה רָעוֹת לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, וְשָׁלַט בָּהֶם, וְעִינָּה אוֹתָם בְּכָל מִינֵי עִנּוּיִין, וְגָזַר עֲלֵיהֶם כַּמָּה שְׁמָדוֹת, וְעַד הַיּוֹם הֵם שׁוֹלְטִים עֲלֵיהֶם, וְאֵינָם מַנִּיחִים לָהֶם לַעֲמוֹד בְּדָתָם. וְאֵין לָךְ גָּלוּת קָשָׁה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל כְּמוֹ גָּלוּת יִשְׁמָעֵאל.

Despite the heavy persecutions by the Ishmaelites, the Yemenite Jews, the ones Rambam adresses in his Iggeret Teiman, were the one who intensified the observance and preservation of their customs. Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, in Peninei Halakhah writes:

The Yemenites, too, claim that their nusaḥ is most precise, for the Jews of Yemen, in all their years of exile, did not wander. Rather, in response to Arab persecution of Yemenite Jews, these communities intensified their dogged and meticulous preservation of their customs. Indeed, Yemenite Torah have been found to be closest in their precision to the Aleppo Codex, the standard of precision for the Torah text.

The Ran, Rabbi Nissim ben Reuven of Gerona, writes in his Derashos HaRan 1:12:

For when the people of a certain kingdom would oppress them, they would move on to a different land, where they could serve the L-rd as they desired, as is the case in our present-day exile. For when enforced conversion began in the Arab lands, the Jews fled to a different land, and, thence, back to the Arab lands.

So, according to the Rambam, Zohar and the Ran, the "Kingdom of the Arabs" (Rambam's translation) were oppressing the Jews. However, I think Ishmaelites is a better translation than "Arabs", since Rabbi Yosef Albo writes (Sefer HaIkkarim, Maamar 4:42:18):

and those who adopted the faith of the Mohammedans are called Ishmaelites, because the first converts were descendants of Ishmael.

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