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Are Gaonic Responsa a Reliable Source for the Study of Jewish Conversion to Islam? A Comparative Analysis of Legal Sources

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Chapter Summary

This chapter explores Jewish conversion to Islam in the early Islamic period. The sources at its center are responsa issued in the gaonic academies of Iraq during the ninth through eleventh centuries in reply to questions stemming from individual conversions of Jews to Islam throughout the Near East and Mediterranean basin. The author argues that gaonic responsa can indeed serve as historical evidence for the process of Jewish conversion to Islam when considered alongside contemporaneous non-Jewish legal sources. The problems posed to the geʾonim and their replies provide an elaborate and detailed description of the legal issues at stake. At the same time, the responsa are almost completely bereft of concrete references to the names of petitioners or of those individuals of whom they speak, to their geographic origin or type of settlement, and any other detail that would afford a glimpse into their personal lives.

Keywords: gaonic responsa; Iraq; Islam; Jewish conversion; non-Jewish legal sources



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