The emir of Al-Andalus (approximately the Iberian peninsula) declared himself a new caliph, breaking off from the caliphate in the east, circa 950 CE. I have read that the next couple hundred years were particularly good -- as European medieval history goes -- for the Jews. Histories of the time talk about the freedoms available to Jewish businessmen and professionals (like doctors). The ones I've found are light on "daily life", particularly for women.

From the perspectice of Jewish practice, what did a typical day look like for a woman living then and there? Did she pray (how?), participate in Jewish education (e.g. as a teacher), study Jewish topics (what?), have any leadership role in the community? What customs or halacha governed interactions with men, or with the non-Jews living there at the time?

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    Inspired by this week's topic challenge: meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/848/… Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 1:55
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    According to Sefer ha-Qabbalah, the Karaite community of 12th century Spain had a female leader whom they referred to as al-Mu'allima (Arabic for the teacher). Sefer ha-Qabbalah was written by Abraham ibn Daud, an ardent Rabbinite who sought to advance the view that Rabbanism is the only true form of Judaism and Karaism is heresy. I wrote about this at my blog below. wp.me/p2MerI-3p Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 21:13
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    @MonicaCellio, Last night I took a very quick look through Sefer ha-Qabbalah (written last 12th Century Spain) and aside from the aforementioned Al-Mu'alllima nothing jumped out to me as relevant to your question. Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 16:16
  • @ABlueThread, drat -- that looked promising. Thanks for checking! I didn't know that source before now. Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 16:20
  • @MonicaCellio The Jerusalem Post ran an interesting article about some Karaite women from Toledo who settled in Ramle and excommunicated a couple who had recently adopted Karaite Judaism. The article has some cultural references of interest to your question. I comment on the article at my blog: wp.me/p2MerI-ht and the article can be read here. jpost.com/Jewish-World/Judaism/… Commented Mar 18, 2013 at 15:05

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Here's a start. The historian Norman Roth, in his Daily Life of the Jews in the Middle Ages, writes about the role of women in Spain (as well as Ashkenazic lands) at that time. On pg. 54, he writes:

...in all Muslim lands, and in Christian as well as Muslim Spain, women had equality with men in all business transactions. This meant that they could acquire goods and property in their own name, sell the same, and often engage in significant commercial transactions. In Christian Spain, at least, property was in joint ownership of husband and wife, and documents of purchase or sale bear the signatures of both. There were, both in Egypt and in Christian Spain, examples of women who achieved considerable success in commerce and became quite wealthy. In Europe generally, Jewish women often engaged in business, assisting in farm work or selling goods, and this helped family finances, or in some cases was the sole means of support while the husband pursued talmudic studies (that became far more customary than in the early modern period in eastern Europe).

All women could sew, as well as spin wool or cotton and weave, and many also earned money this way (this was probably not the case with the more aristocratic women in Muslim lands). Young girls were taught these skills by their mothers.

For more information, see the "Jewish Women in the Middle Ages" chapter in Jon Bloomberg's The Jewish world in the Middle Ages. One of the most important books for your question is Jewish Women in Historical Perspective, ed. Judith R. Baskin. A great chapter called "Sephardi Women in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods" by Renee Levine Melamed particularly covers a lot of ground. For example, on pg. 133-134 she writes:

The discovery that Jewish women participated in the medical profession in medieval Spain is unexpected in light of the meager education usually provided for girls of all faiths in Spain. Most women were illiterate, although "their illiteracy was not an obstacle to carrying on practical business." Ashtor explains that a girl's education was the responsibility of her mother, who taught her spinning and other forms of domestic work. Both Jewish and non-Jewish women supported themselves by spinning, knitting, or weaving, while those in comfortable financial situations learned these crafts as pastimes. Beyond needlework, the poor Jewish woman had very limited options. There are examples of Jewish girls as servants in Jewish homes, but this was the exception rather than the rule, and most household servants were not Jewish. Sometimes the community provided means of livelihood for less fortunate women. For instance, "Jewish and Moslem women were engaged as professional wailers by Christians as well as by their own coreligionists."

Hope that helps.


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