Jews lived in Libya for more than two thousand years. As a result of their isolation from other Jewish centers and their extended coexistence with Berber and Arab Muslims, the Jews of Libya were strongly influenced by the manners, customs, regulations, and beliefs of the Muslim majority. The late nineteenth century witnessed a growing European cultural and economic penetration of Ottoman Liibya, which increased after the Italian occupation of Libya in 1911. Italian rule continued until a British Military Administration was established in 1942-43. Libya became independent in late 1951. The changing political regimes presented the Jewish minority with different models of social and cultural behavior. These changes in the foci of inspiration and imitation had significant implications for the position of Jewish women, as Jewish traditional society was exposed to modernizing and Westernizing influences.
Economic factors had a strong impact on the position of women. Because of recurring economic crises in the late nineteenth century, Jewish families became willing to allow women to work outside the home. Some families also allowed their daughters to pursue vocational training and thus exposed them also to academic studies, especially at schools operated by representatives of European Jewish organizations.
Although economic and educational opportunities for women increased, the Jewish community as a whole remained traditional in its social structure, worldview, and approach to interpersonal relations. The principles upon which the community operated did not change drastically, and the male power structure did not alter in either the private or the public domain. Thus the position of women changed little within these spheres, despite the expansion of opportunities for women in education and economic life. Change was slow, evolutionary, and within the framework of traditional society.
Rachel Simon is an award-winning author and nationally known public speaker. She is best known for her critically acclaimed, bestselling memoir Riding the Bus with My Sister, which was adapted for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie of the same name. The book has garnered numerous awards, and is a frequent and much beloved selection of many book clubs, school reading programs, and city-wide reads throughout the country. Simon is also the author of the bestselling novel The Story of Beautiful Girl. She lives in Delaware and can be reached through her website, www.RachelSimon.com.
Featuring a new introduction by Mark R. Cohen, this Princeton Classics edition sets the Judaeo-Islamic tradition against a vivid background of Jewish and Islamic history. For those wishing a concise overview of the long period of Jewish-Muslim relations, The Jews of Islam remains an essential starting point.
The author’s broad-ranging and meticulous research has enabled him to reconstruct the contemporary history of the Jews in Libya with an incredible richness of detail, bringing into vivid relief the social, religious, cultural, and political lives of a people caught between centuries of tradition and a series of governments bent on plunging them headfirst into the modern world. This story—fraught with the passion, drama, tragicomedy, and conflict of a society in transition—will be an invaluable resource for scholars in Middle Eastern studies, Jewish studies, and contemporary European history. The wealth of documentation, much of it previously unknown or unpublished, makes this a particularly useful book.