The advent of Islam in the seventh century brought profound economic changes to the Middle East and to the Jews living there. The Talmud, written in and for an agrarian society, was in many ways ill-equipped for the new economy. In the early Islamic period, the Babylonian Geonim made accommodations through their responsa, through occasional taqqanot, and especially by applying the concept that custom can be a source of law. Not previously noticed, however, in the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides made his own efforts to update the halakha through codification, in order to make it conform with Jewish merchant practice as illustrated in the business documents of the Cairo Geniza.


Mark R. Cohen is the Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East, Emeritus, and Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Emeritus, at Princeton University.  Educated at Brandeis University (B.A.), Columbia University (M.A.), and the Jewish Theological Seminary (M.H.L., Rabbi, Ph.D.), he is a well-known historian of the Jews in Arab lands in the Middle Ages.  His publications include Jewish Self-Government in Medieval Egypt; Under Crescent and Cross:  The Jews in the Middle Ages; Poverty and Charity in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt, and, most recently, Maimonides and the Merchants: Jewish Law and Society in the Medieval Islamic World. Until his recent retirement from Princeton, he was director of the Princeton Geniza Project, an on-line database of transcriptions of documents from the Cairo Geniza.


Moderator: Jessica Goldberg

Sponsored by the
UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies

Cosponsored by the
UCLA Department of History
UCLA Center for the Study of Religion
UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures