January 2016 , No.4 


Reading into Islamization- January 2016


Conversion to Islam, particularly in its early centuries, remains a hotly debated question. For more than a century historians have studied why, when, and how many individuals converted to Islam. Due to the scarcity of sources that offer information regarding these crucial questions, scholars devised ingenious, yet speculative, methods of research. However, there are ample sources that reveal how the contemporaries perceived Islamization. As a consequence, most of the texts that were presented in a four-day workshop that was organized by Dr. Uri Simonsohn and Dr. Nimrod Hurvitz at The Center for the Study of Conversion and Inter-Religious Encounters, Ben-Gurion University, 4-7/1/2016, focused on how Muslims and non-Muslims perceived and experienced religious change.  
This workshop, Reading into Islamization, brought together 36 scholars of diverse disciplinary backgrounds to discuss texts that touch on different aspects of conversion to Islam in the classical period. In the course of the workshop twelve scholars presented texts written in Arabic, Syriac, Greek, Coptic, Persian, and Georgian, and translated into English. Each presentation was followed by two responses, one by a scholar from within the discipline of Near Eastern studies and another from outside of it. During the remaining second half of each session lively and fascinating discussions were held.
The texts included both thoroughly studied texts as well as recently studied ones, and the presentations were an attempt to conduct a close reading of narratives that touch upon conversion to Islam while taking cognizance of the relative positions of their authors and their target audiences. They included more than two dozen narratives of diverse chronological, geographical, linguistic, and religious topics, and drew upon a variety of genres such as biographies, historiographic accounts, hagiographies and martyrologies, legal regulations, administrative records, polemical treatises, and travelers' logs. Together, they spanned from the age of the Prophet to the 17th century, and covered a broad territorial stretch, from South-East Asia to Western Europe.
Dr. Nimrod Hurvitz 




Convert of the Month


Enrique Nuñes: A Converso Spying on Conversos
In 1497, the Portuguese king Manuel I ordered the forced conversion to Christianity of all the Jewish people who lived in his kingdom, almost without allowing them any option of leaving the country. From the moment of mass conversion until the year 1536, in which the Inquisition was established in Portugal, the converso group in Portuguese society increased in importance. This resulted in an intensive period of debates, tensions and internal contradictions. A clear example of the internal contradictions was the measures that different kings approved in relation to the New Christians. On the one hand, they prohibited investigating them concerning their former faith; on the other hand, they asked different persons to look into the New Christian communities in order to find Jewish practices among them. Enrique Nuñes, also known as Firme Fe, was one of these persons.
Nuñes was a Jew who was born in Borba (Portugal) who later converted to Christianity in Castile, where he worked under the order of the Inquisitor of Córdoba, Diego Rodríguez Lucero. What was his function in this institution? We do not know for sure, but, apparently, at this time, some former Jews were in charge of teaching Jewish prayers and ceremonies to the prisoners so that they could testify correctly concerning them. Perhaps Enrique Nuñes was one of those instructors. According to Acenheiro’s chronicle, afterwards Nuñes was in the Canary Islands, and from there he travelled to Portugal, where he met King João III twice. The king then put him in charge of “spying” on the New Christians. The conclusions of his “research” were collected in three letters that Enrique Nuñes wrote and that were found, also apparently, among his clothes after his death. There the convert expressed his fierce accusations against the conversos of Portugal, and he charged them with “not doing any actions according to their Christian names." Enrique Nuñez also accused specific people of judaizing, of having Hebrew books and Jewish calendars, of fasting on Jewish festivities, and of wearing tefillin. He even accused his own brother in the presence of the king!
Finally, his activity for João III was discovered by the New Christian communities, and their annoyance was quite acute. According to the chronicles of that time, the conversos paid two New Christians (presumably priests), Diogo Vas d’Olivensa and Amdre Dias de Viana, for killing Enrique Nuñes. They did this in July of 1524 in Valverde (Badajoz). Immediately the authorities started an investigation of the crime, and at the end they imposed the death penalty on them. Meanwhile, King João III called Enrique Nuñes as Firme Fe (Solid Faith) and different miracles were attributed to him.  People of the villages near the place where the crime had occurred visited this place because they believed that its soil could treat different diseases. In addition, Acenheiro, in his chronicle, explained how the dead body of Enrique Nuñes remained several days without emitting an odor, and his fingers were making the sign of the cross when they found him. According to the Portuguese chronicler, another element appeared which was attached to the converso’s clothing: a little note with the foreboding sentence “Jesu Christo lembrate de minha alma, que por tua fee me matão” (Jesus Christ remember my soul, they killed me because of my faith).

Carla Ramos Garcia


Public Lectures


Public course held at The Zalman Shazar Center, Jerusalem in cooperation with The Center for the Study of Conversion and Inter-Religious Encounters.
The course consists of 28 lectures (Thursdays, 11:00am-12:30pm).
Most of the lectures are being given by the members of the Center.
 For More Information 


A series of 6 public lectures (given by members of the Center) discussing different aspects of cultural & religious interaction.
Held at The Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures, Be’er Sheva in cooperation with The Center for the Study of Conversion and Inter-Religious Encounters.
 For More Information 


Future Events




March 8, 2016
                               Dr. Asher Salah                                
  Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem   


March 29, 2016
Prof. Anna Sapir-Abulafia
University of Oxford


May 3, 2016
Dr Jan Vandeburie
University of Rome III


May 17, 2016
Prof. Ellie Schainker
Emory College of Arts and Sciences


June 21, 2016
Prof. Gideon Avni
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem & Israel Antiquities Authority


International Conference


"CSOC- 4th Annual Conference"
Ben Gurion University
Details T.B.A


Faculty Activities


Alexander Van der Haven: 
13-14 December 2015, Tel Aviv: “Converts as Mediators” (response paper). Tel Aviv University
Center for Religious and Inter-religious Studies and CUPRiH, The Cambridge University Project for Religion in the Humanities,and sponsored by the Universities of Tel Aviv and Cambridge, and the Goethe University, Frankfurt, Tel Aviv University. 


Amir Ashur: 
4-5 November, 2015, Jerusalem: “Catalogue of Maimonides and Maimonidean related documents in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah collections in Cambridge University Library – an up-to-date report”. A Conference Commemorating S.D. Goitein, Yad Ben Zvi and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Daniel J. Lasker:
October 2015, Budapest, Hungary:“Why did Jews Write Anti-Christian Polemics,” at Pázmány Péter Catholic University.


Ehud Krinis: 
17 December 2015, Jerusalem: "The Dualist and Gnostic Myths and the Making of Early Shiʻism”. Lecture in the International Workshop “The Mythic Dimension of Islam: Examining the Sources through the Lens of Myth”. Van-Leer Institute


Ephraim Shoham-Steiner: 
1 December 2015, Ramat-Gan: "Between History and Literature or Who Really was Alexander Süskind Wimpfen?” The Program for Hermeneutics and Cultural Studies at Bar Ilan University. Conference: “Key Concepts in Cultural Studies”.

13-15 December 2015, Boston MA, USA: “Lions, Snakes a Rabbi and a ’Parnas’: A New Look at the Debate about the Art Work in the Medieval Synagogue in Cologne”. 47th Annual Conference of the Association of Jewish Studies


Gidon El'azar: 
 7-8 December 2015, Aarhus, Denmark: “The Challenge of Diversity: Evangelical Missionaries and Ethno-Christianity in Reform Era Yunnan”,  Workshop:  Religious Diversity in Asia. Organized by the Centre for Contemporary Religion, Aarhus University, funded by the Danish Research Council.


Leonardo Cohen:
3 November 2015, Tel Aviv: "The Literary Work of Portuguese Jesuits in Ethiopia in Early Seventeenth Century," Portugal and Its Culture in the Age of Colonial Expansion. Tel-Aviv University.


Nadia Zeldes:
20 November 2015, Boulder, Colorado, USA: “An uneasy coexistence: the case of Sicily” In Round table: What were the limits of ethno-religious plurality? Conference held at CU (Colorado University), The CU mediterranean Studies Group – Middle East History and the Mediterranean
23 November 2015, Denver, Colorado: Paper: “Conversos and the Inquisition in Sicily in the Age of Carlos V,”in panel of Muslims, Moriscos, and Christians: Conflictual Encounters,Conversions, and Exchange in the Early-Modern Mediterranean World, chaired by Diana Galarreta-Aima.Conference organized by The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA)


Ofri Ilany:
16-17 December 2015, Tel Aviv:Conference organizer: “Bible and Nationalism in the Modern World” – Tel Aviv University (Together with Prof. Avner Ben Amos). 


Ora Limor:
2 December 2015, Jerusalem: "Two Holy Lands – Terra Mariana and Terra Sancta: Connections between medieval Livonia and Palestine", The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


Uriel Simonsohn: 
 4-5 November, 2015, Jerusalem: “Conversion to Islam in the Early Muslim Period: The Familial Context.” A Conference Commemorating S.D. Goitein, Yad Ben Zvi and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

November 2015, Tel Aviv: “Communal Membership despite Religious Exogamy.” The  Yigal Arnon & Co. Law and History Workshop, Tel Aviv University
December 2015, Tel Aviv:  “Jewish-Muslim Relations in the Medieval Era.” Jews and  Muslims throughout History, Tel Aviv University


Future Events


Amir Ashur:
2 lectures, a symposium and a reading seminar on the Cairo Geniza to be delivered in Doshisha University, Kyoto, and Tokyo University, Japan, 22-31.1.16


Daniel J. Lasker:
Horace W. Goldsmith Visiting Professor, Yale University, January-July, 2016


Pnina Arad:
14 April 2016, London:‘Cultural Landscape in Early Modern Jewish and Christian Maps of the Holy Land’, in: Maps and Society Lectures, The Warburg Institute, University of London


New Publications


Daniel J. Lasker: 
Interview: “The Necessity of the Dialogue between Judaism and Christianity,” Studia Humana, 4:1 (2015): 36-38.


Ephraim Shoham-Steiner:
"The Struggle over the Lion and Snake Decorations of the Medieval Synagogue in Cologne" (Hebrew), Zion 80 (2015):175-205.: (an expanded version of this article is due to appear in Jewish History during 2016).  


Keren Abbou-Hershkovits:
“Migrating knowledge in Islam’ (Hebrew), in: The Song of Science, ed. Yivsam Azgad, The Weizman Institute, 2016.


Nadia Zeldes:
“Catalan Jews and Conversos in Sicily – migration, cultural encounters and social conflict”, in Els catalans a la Mediterrània medieval, eds. Lluís Cifuentes i Comamala, Roser Salicrú i Lluch, M. Mercè Viladrich i Grau, Barcellona, 2015 (http://www.viella.it/libro/9788867280131)

“Between Portugal and Naples: The Converso  Question in a Letter of Ferdinand the Catholic (1510)”, Sefer Yuhasin  N.S. 3 (2016): 55-68 (in press).


Ofri Ilany:
 “The Jews as Educators of Humanity– a Christian-Philosemitic Grand Narrative of Jewish Modernity?”. In: Vivian Liska and Steven Steven Aschheim (eds.), The German-Jewish Experience: Contested Interpretations and Conflicting Perceptions (Walter de Gruyter, 2015)


Uriel Simonsohn:
“The Legal and Social Bonds of Jewish Apostates and Their Spouses according to Gaonic Responsa, ”The Jewish Quarterly Review105.4 (2015): 417-39.