Beyond Conflict and Coexistence: Towards an Entangled History of Jewish-Arab Relations

Principal Investigator:

Teresa Bernheimer and Nathan Gibson

Funded by:

Federal Ministry of Education and Research



For many centuries, the great majority of Jews spoke Arabic and lived under Muslim rule. Until 1880, this group remained the majority even among the growing Jewish community in Palestine. The demographic changes in favour of European Jews, paired with an ambivalence towards Islam in the modern period, have lead to polarising views on the historical relationship between Arabs and Jews in scholarly literature, which tends to either highlight conflict between the communities or provide a romanticised utopia of coexistence. The present project brings together six postdoctoral projects based at the universities of Heidelberg, Munich, and Halle Wittenberg, all of which aim to move beyond the polarising paradigms of conflict and coexistence, and instead bring the historical entanglement of Arabs and Jews to the fore.

The perspective of entangled history is particularly suitable for the study of Jewish-Arab history, as religious and everyday practices of Jews and Muslims, and many of their respective traditions, converged in the close cohabitation of space—a shared religious, intellectual, social, linguistic, and economic world. As a result, where certain practices and traditions originated and who adopted and adapted them could no longer be differentiated: origins and adaptations were entangled. The religious laws of both traditions (Sharīʿa and Halacha), their liturgies and holy books (the Qur’an and the Torah), and their poetic forms, musical practices, and scientific and philosophical concepts are filled with parallels and resonances. Highlighting the ubiquity of entangled histories of Jewish-Arab relations, the six projects examine a wide chronological and topical spectrum, according to three main research trajectories:

Research trajectory I: Jewish-Arab cultures of knowledge (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg)

1.     Dr Tamir Karkason: Jewish Enlightenment in the Muslim World: The North-African Haskalah 

2.     Dr Michal Ohana: Jewish Thought in North Africa 16-18th century, and its relationship to medieval and post-classical Muslim philosophy

Research Trajectory II: Jewish-Arab linguistic cultures (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich)

3.     Dr Teresa Bernheimer: Colour Terms in Judaism and Islam 600–1200

4.     Dr Nathan Gibson: Arab Literary Personalities in Jewish Documentary Sources

Research Trajectory III: Jewish-Arabic cultures of animosity (Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg)

5.     Dr Mennaallah Abukhadra: From Enemy Studies to Cold War? A History of Egyptian Israel Studies 

6.     Dr Nimrod Lin: Going Native: Arabised Jewish Militias in Ottoman/British Palestine (1882–1948)

Based at three different universities, the researchers will be in regular dialogue and share their results publicly through a colloquium, workshops, lecture series, and conferences. 

Team members