The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book

By Norman A. Stillman | Go to book overview

5
THE DAWN OF MODERN TIMES The Jews of Arab lands in the Nineteenth Century

CAIRENE JEWRY IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

There are in this country about five thousand Jews, most of whom reside in the metropolis, in a miserable, close, and dirty quarter, intersected by lanes, many of which are so narrow as hardly to admit of two persons passing each other in them.

In features, and in the general expression of countenance, the Oriental Jews differ less from other nations of South-western Asia than do those in European countries from the people among whom they live; but we often find them to be distinguished by a very fair skin, light-reddish hair, and very light eyes, either hazel or blue or gray. Many of the Egyptian Jews have sore eyes and a bloated complexion; the result, it is supposed, of their making an immoderate use of the oil of sesame in their food. In their dress, as well as in their persons, they are generally slovenly and dirty. The colors of their turbans are the same as those of the Christian subjects. Their women veil themselves, and dress in every respect, in public, like the other women of Egypt.

The Jews have eight synagogues in their quarter in Cairo; and not only enjoy religious toleration, but are under a less oppressive government in Egypt than in any other country of the Turkish empire. In Cairo, they pay for the exemption of their quarter from the visits of the Moḥtesib;1

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1
The muḥtasib was the inspector of the markets in Muslim countries and a sort of censor of public morals. Lane describes his functions in Cairo at this time in his Modern Egyptians, pp. 125-28. In the Middle Ages, the muḥtasib was also responsible for seeing that the laws of differentiation for dhimmīs and they

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