Tag Archives: Levantine

Learning From Arab Jews

Guest Column: David Shasha, the founder and director of the Center for Sephardic Heritage in Brooklyn, New York, is one of my favorite weekly email reads. (You can subscribe, too, by contacting him directly.) Arab and Jew are not mutually exclusive categories. Quite the contrary. Anyone who tells you, as so many “pundits” do in this society when trying to explain the Middle East, that “Jews and Arabs have been fighting for thousands of years,” is speaking from ignorance. The idea of a conflict between “Jews” and “Arabs” is really only as old as modern political Zionism, and really only took on a generalized form in the second half of the 20th century amid the trauma that accompanied the creation of the State of Israel. Jews and Arabs had, in fact, lived together for hundreds of years in the Muslim world, and many Jews have always considered themselves Arab.

David Shasha makes the case that this branch of Judaism, what he calls the “Levantine Option”, is tragically silenced and excluded from the mainstream Ashkenazi and Zionist narrative that dominates discussion of the Jewish experience. He argues that while the Ashkenazi tradition was both heavily influenced by Western Christian traditions and also, because of persecution, evolved a far more narrow, insular “shtetl” outlook on Jewish identity. By contrast, he argues, the Sephardic experience, in the “convivienca” of Moorish Spain and the Arab lands in the Islamic golden age actually has much more to offer Jews looking for an expansive, universalist version of their identity in a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan world. It’s fascinating stuff: Read on!
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