December 2016 , No.6 
Convert of the Month


The Accidental Convert
It was the seventh day of the feast of Tabernacles, sometime in the early thirteenth century, Alexandria. For the Jewish Ibn al-Muallim family, the day started off badly, and deteriorated quickly. The father, Yaaqub Ibn al-Muallim, had an argument with his crossed-eyed son. When they set off to the market, the argument continued, and Yaaqub took his shoe and hit his son with it, with the crowd watching.
For the young son, definitely not more than 15 year old, that was too much. He opened his mouth and shouted something about Islam. It is not clear what exactly, but he probably uttered the Muslim declaration of faith, the shahada, or claimed to be a Muslim. Be that as it may, his shouts made the difference – the surrounding Muslims intervened on his behalf, and quickly took him to see the governor.        
At the governor's palace, it seems that the hot-tempered father and son started to realize the consequences of their morning actions. The Muslims took the son for his words, and expected of him to become a Muslim. The boy and his father probably said that he did not mean that, and that he wished to remain Jewish as he was. This was evidently considered as apostasy, the punishment (Arabic: hadd) for which was death. The boy exclaimed "The hadd of Islam does not apply to me, I am not yet legally an adult!" – but to no avail. The qadi,, the Muslim judge, ruled that the boy's hasty conversion is valid, and he reaffirmed his conversion to Islam.
This case is a fine example of what Thomas Sizgorich has called 'Accidental Conversion'. It started in a family dispute, and was probably not thought through. It was made possible only because of specific circumstances – the public marketplace, the humiliating hitting, the insistence of the surrounding Muslims, and the zealotry of the specific judge. The new convert was not famous – he is not even known by his name. Even our knowledge of the story is accidental – we know of it only because a son from Alexandria wrote about it to his father in Cairo, and the letter was luckily preserved in the Cairo Geniza of the ancient synagogue of old Cairo. 
Similar cases of running away and converting to Islam are mentioned in the literature. One of them, from tenth-century al-Andalus, Muslim Spain, is quite similar. A boy ran away from his parents, converted to Islam, and was given shelter at a Muslim's house. The same day his parents found him and persuaded him to return to his family and community. The qadi had to be convinced that it is permissible, and indeed a legal answer was given that since he is still a minor, his re-conversion to Judaism does not count as apostasy. For the crossed-eyed son of Yaaqub Ibn al-Muallim in Alexandria, though, things probably never came back to what they used to be.
Moshe Yagur 




In November of 2016, a book edited by Ephraim Shoham-Steiner entitled: Intricate Interfaith Networks: Quotidian Jewish Christian Contacts in the Middle Ages will appear in the History of Daily Life series with Brepols Publishers. This collection of essays, which evolved from a conference held in 2010 at the Central European University in Budapest organized by Prof. Gerhard Jaritz and Dr. Ephraim Shoham-Steiner, explores a variety of everyday encounters, contacts and networks that existed between Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe from the bedchambers in Iberia to the eastern gates of Budapest. The volume discusses inter-religious encounters among scholars, physicians, artists and businessmen as well as among courtesans, concubines and their lovers, thieves and criminals. The volume’s publication was generously supported by the CSOC. The index was prepared by Dr. Keren Abbou Hershkovits.


In November of 2016, CSOC academic board members Prof. Nimrod Hurvitz and Dr. Ephraim Shoham-Steiner met with a team of Fordham University scholars in New York headed by Prof. Magda Teter, the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies and head of the Jewish Studies Program at Fordham. The meeting explored plans for future collaboration between Ben-Gurion University and Fordham University with an emphasis on The Center for the Study of Conversion and Inter-Religious Encounters. As an immediate result of the meeting, some Fordham University faculty members will attend the May 2017 Agents of Conversion Workshop in an attempt to expose faculty from the CSOC and Fordham University to each other’s work and research interests.


The Thanka Academy is a center dedicated to the study of traditional Tibetan Buddhist painting. It is located in the Tibetan city of Shangrila in Yunnan Province. It serves both as a school for young Tibetans who wish to master Thanka painting and as a place where Han Chinese and foreign tourists can visit for a “Tibetan experience.” While the founder of the academy presents the center's objectives in terms of ethno-cultural preservation, many of the teachers and local students are devout Buddhists who view their studies in overwhelmingly religious terms.
The fieldwork conducted there by Dr. Gideon Elazar in August 2016 focuses on the parallel narratives and experiences in action at the Thanka Academy: as a center dedicated to saving local culture in the face of rapid Sinicization; as a purely recreational center for tourists interested in a taste of Tibetan authenticity; and as a Buddhist institution with a subtle missionary nature, catering to the many Chinese and westerners curious about Tibetan Buddhism.
The Thanka Academy staff with Dr. Elazar


Public Lectures


A series of eight lectures (given by members of the Center, in Hebrew) will be held at The Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures, Beer Sheva, discussing various aspects of their research regarding calligraphy, words and documentation.
Each lecture will be  followed by a guided tour featuring unique aspects of the exhibition or of an artist's workshop. Coordinated by Dr. Keren Abbou Hershkovits, member of The Center for the Study of Conversion and Inter-Religious Encounters.
The schedule of the full Hebrew program is appended to this newsletter. 




November 8, 2016
                               Prof. Daniel J. Lasker                                
CSOC, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev   


November 22, 2016
                               Prof. Iris Shagrir & Neta Amir                                
The Open University of Israel & The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Future Events


December 6, 2016
                               Dr. Roni Weinstein                                
  The Hebrew University of Jerusalem   


December 20, 2016
Prof. Ora Limor & Dr. Eyal ben Eliyahu
CSOC, The Open University of Jerusalem & University of Haifa


January 10, 2017
Dr. Jonthan Brack
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


March 14, 2017
Prof. Reuven Amitai
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


March 28, 2017
Dr. Menashe Anzi
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev


April 25, 2017
Dr. Lena Salaymeh
Tel Aviv University 


May 9, 2017
Prof. Jean-Claude Schmitt
École des hautes études en sciences sociales, EHESS 


June 6, 2017
Dr. Debra Kaplan
Bar-Ilan University


International Conference


"CSOC- 5th Annual Conference"
 Agents of Conversion
  Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
May 22-25, 2017
Details T.B.A 


Faculty Activities




Amir Ashur: 
“Prices of Slaves - Economy, Ethics and Gender,” Workshop: Ethics, Globalisation and Business in the Judaeo-Islamic milieu, Cambridge University, UK, 17-20.7.2016.

“Catalogue of Maimonides and Maimonidean related documents in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah collections in Cambridge University Library – an up-to-date report,” Society for Judaeo-Arabic Studies conference,  Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, 15-18 August 2016.


Avital Davidovich-Eshed: 
'Out of the Melting Pot: Young Israelis Reclaiming Old Identities', North American Community leaders in the Shalom Hartman Institute Community Leadership Program (CLP), July 4, 2016.
'Jewish Rites of Passage: Circumcision, Marriage and Mourning Rituals - Texts and Contexts, series of three Lectures to North American Rabbis at the Shalom Hartman Institute Rabbinic
Torah Study Seminar (RTS),  July 12-15, 2016.
'The Story of a Beautiful Maidservant: Economy, Eros and the Bending of Halacha'  Workshop:  Ethics, Globalization and Business in the Judaeo-Islamic Milieu, Cambridge University Library, July 18, 2016.
1.    'Women and Doubts in the Talmud: Body, Knowledge and Sexual Anxiety'.
2.    'On Reasonable and Unreasonable Doubts – The Sages and Capital Cases', two workshops in a Summer School for Ph.D students on Sceptical Thought in Antiquity, arranged by The Maimonides Center for Advanced Studies, University of Hamburg, August 5-8, 2016.


Avraham Yoskovich: 
“The Meaning of Yotze Le-Tarbuth Ra’ah (Went astray) in Rabbinic Literature,” workshop for young scholars of antiquity related studies, 26-27.9.2016, University of Haifa. 


Daniel J. Lasker:
“What did the King of the Khazars Know and When Did He Know It?,” Society for Judaeo-Arabic Studies conference,  Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, 15-18 August 2016.

Prof, Lasker also gave a series to lectures about Jewish thought in September to members of the Japanese Makuya movement in Tokyo, Osaka and Hiroshima.


Dennis Halft:
“Missionaries as Intermediaries: The Arrival of Arabic Bible Translations in Safavid Persia and their Twelver Shīʿī Reception,” Paper presented at the 11th Biennial Iranian Studies Conference, panel "Intellectual Networks and Issues of Provenance and Attribution in Pre-Modern Iran," University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria, 3 August 2016. 


Ehud Krinis: 
“A Shii Passage in the Duties of the Heart – Bahya ibn Paquda's Adaptation of the Shii Principle of Continuity,” Society for Judaeo-Arabic Studies conference, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, 15-18 August 2016.


Keren Abbou Hershkovits:
“The Things We Do for Love,” Interfaith Love: Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Islamicate World, University of Leiden, June, 2016. 


Moshe Yagur:
“Social Bonds between Jews and Apostates in the Geniza Society,” Society for Judaeo-Arabic Studies conference, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, 15-18 August 2016. 


Ronit Ricci:
“Sound Across Languages.” Keynote address at Asian Translation Traditions VII, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, September 2016. 


Uriel Simonsohn: 
“Women and Conversion to Islam: A Sample Analysis of Medieval Narratives and Legal Problems,” International Conference Coming to Terms with Forced Conversion, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, November 2016, Madrid.

Conference organizer:
The Self and the Others: Modes of Inclusion and Seclusion in Late Antiquity, University of Haifa, 2016.
First Annual Workshop for Young Scholars of Antiquity in Israel , University of Haifa, 2016.
Kadouri University – From Mandate to Occupation , University of Haifa, 2016 (co-organizer).
Other activity:
Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Konstanz, Summer 2016.


Yossi Yisraeli:
“Discovering the Rabbinic Landscape of the Primitive Church: Paul of Burgos and the New Christian Study of the Talmud,” The Latin Talmud annual workshop, Torre Vila-Puig, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. June 27-28, 2016.

“From Neophytes to Converts: The Converso Crisis of the 15th century and the Judeo-Christian Meaning of Conversion,” The Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, San-Antonio TX. November 19-22, 2016. 


New Publications


Alexander van der Haven:
“Hypothetical Religion: The Supernatural as an Experience and Experiment,” Super Religion: From the Supernatural to the Paranormal, Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks, ed. Jeffrey J. Kripal, Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2016: 263-276.

"Jerusalem (literature),” Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception vol. 13 (2016): 1075-1077.  


Amir Ashur:
“Jewish Marriage customs in Spain as Reflected in the Cairo Geniza documents”, Entre Orientey Occidente: Textos y espacios medievales, Cordoba 2016,:  141-150.

“An Eleventh-century pledge of allegiance to Egypt from the Jewish Community
of Yemen” (together with Dr. Ben Outhwaite, Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, CUL), Chroniques du manuscrit au Yémen 22  (2016): 34-48.
“On the Identification and Biography of the ‘Poet for all Seasons’ and his Contact with Maimonides,” in: 


Daniel J. Lasker :  
“The Interplay of Poetry and Exegesis in Judah Hadassi's Eshkōl ha-kōfer,” in Joachim Yeshaya and Elisabeth Hollender, eds., Exegesis and Poetry in Medieval Karaite and Rabbanite Texts, Leiden/Boston, 2016, pp. 187-206.

Book Review: Maud Kozodoy, The Secret Faith of Maestre Honoratus. Profayt Duran and Jewish Identity in Late Medieval Iberia; Sara Lipton, Dark Mirror. The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography; Michael Meerson and Peter Schäfer, Toledot Yeshu. The Life Story of Jesus; Carsten L. Wilke, The Marrakesh Dialogues. A Gospel Critique and Jewish Apology from the Spanish Renaissance, Journal of Jewish Studies, 67:2 (Autumn, 2016): 428-435.


Dennis Halft:
“The ‘Book of Books’ in Persian,” in: M. Pehlivanian, Ch. Rauch, and R. Vollandt, eds., Oriental Bible Manuscripts from the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – PK: An Illustrated History, Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2016, 150-154.

"A Persian Gospel Manuscript and the London Polyglot," in: M. Pehlivanian, Ch. Rauch, and R. Vollandt, eds, Oriental Bible Manuscripts from the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – PK: An Illustrated History, Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2016, 155-157.


Ehud Krinis:
Ehud Krinis, “The Philosophical and Theosophical Interpretations of the Microcosm-Macrocosm Analogy in Ikhwān al-ṣafā’ and Jewish Medieval Writings,” L'ésotérisme shi'ite, ses racines et ses prolongements, eds. M.A. Amir-Moezzi, M. De Cillis, D. De Smet and O. Mir-Kasimov, Turnhout, Brepols, 2016, pp. 395-409. 


Ephraim Shoham-Steiner:
'Burial ad sanctos for a Jewish Murderer? Alexander Wimpfen and Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg', Jewish Studies Quarterly 23 (2016): 124-141.

'From Speyer to Regensburg: Reexamining the Migration of the Pietistic Kalonymides from the Rhineland to the Danube' (Hebrew), Zion 81 (2016): 149-176.


Gideon Elazar:
'Translating Culture: Missionaries and Linguists in Contemporary Yunnan Province', Asian Ethnicity, in:


Keren Abbou Hershkovits:
“Galenism at the Abbasid Court Preliminary Thoughts,” in: Agents of Transmission, Translation and Transformation, Faith Wallis and Robert Wisnovsky (eds.), De Gruyter, 2016, pp. 39-62.

“Kinship, Expectations and God”, to be published in HAWWA (forthcoming).
Book Review: Avner Giladi, Muslim Midwives: The Craft of Birthing in the Premodern Middle East. Cambridge University Press, 2014. Historia 2016 (36): 113-116 [in Heb].


:Ora Limor
Review of Ryan Szpiech, Conversion and Narrative: Reading and Religious Authority in Medieval Polemic, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations (SCJR) 11, no. 1 (2016): 1-3.


Pnina Arad:
“Memory, Identity and Aspiration: Early Modern Jewish Maps of the Promised Land,” Imago Mundi 69.1 (2017): 52–71.


Ronit Ricci:
“Jawa, Melayu, Malay or Otherwise? The Shifting Nomenclature of the Sri Lankan Malays,” Indonesia and the Malay World 44.130 (November 2016) 409-423.


Uriel Simonsohn:
“Communal Membership despite Religious Exogamy: A Critical Examination of East and West Syrian Legal Sources of the Late Sasanian – Early Islamic Periods,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 75/2 (2016): 249-66.
“The Introduction and Formalization of Civil Law in the East Syrian Church in the Late Sasanian – Early Islamic Periods,” History Compass, 14/5 (2016): 231-44.