The World, or Women
The world of women in traditional Islamic society existed for the most part alongside, yet separate from, the world of men. Islamic, Middle Eastern, and North African culture dictated almost total segregation of the genders, limiting the world of women to the family and the community of women, except in one important arena: economics. In discussing Jewish women in that region, therefore, we must look at the ever narrowing concentric circles of the larger Islamic society, the smaller circle of the Jews, and the even smaller circle of Jewish women.
The premodern, or traditional, Middle Eastern world was a complex one, yet in a general cultural sense it was united. The Ottoman Empire and Morocco of the eighteenth century were multiefhnic, pluralistic, and diverse; the Persian Empire was less so. Jews, as dhimmi, were part of this milieu, with a strong religious identity. That does not mean that all Jews were the same, for they too identified themselves according to their differences in social class, economic status, gender, and specific customs. Jewish women were also members of many different social categories, but their lives were alike enough in the sum of their parts to permit generalization. The main exceptions to most generalizations were the women of Yemen, Kurdistan, and those living in tiny rural farming villages because the Jews were an urban group for the most part.
Middle Eastern society held it as a truism that men and women had different natures and capacities and so ought to play different roles. Male superiority was assumed, and all were brought up to accept the gender inequalities as part of the natural order, along with accepting one's place in society and one's deference to superiors. When a girl child was born into this premodern Jewish world, the celebration was more muted than had the child been a boy. Judaism had several rituals for boys, but for girls it had only the