Friday, January 04, 2008

Jews and Slavery (con't) - Abraham ben Yiju

So the idea of Jews marrying female slaves and then converting them as described in the previous post seems to be supported by the Cairo Genizah. In the Genizah we find the history of a certain Abraham be Yiju, a wealthy Tunisian trader...

In the 1120s, as a young man, Abraham Ben Yiju took off for the Orient to make his fortune in Indian trade. His correspondence tells of his arduous trip, and his marriage to an Indian slave girl, Ashu. The documents reveal the saga of Abraham Ben Yiju's family and fortunes: his business acumen in the import-export business - sending iron and spices to his Jewish partners in Aden, and importing arsenic, paper and other commodities to India; the birth of his three children; and the early death of a son in India.

After almost 18 years in India and at the urging of his Aden-based partner, Ben Yiju left India for good in 1149, joining the Jewish community in Aden. He attempted to locate his brothers and sisters with whom he had lost contact when they fled Tunisia in the wake of the Norman Conquest.

Responsa uncovered in the Geniza, and penned in Ben Yiju's own hand, reveals the cold reception the Jewish merchant received at the hands of some members of the Jewish community who questioned the validity of his marriage. (source)
Apparently, the RAMBAM himself got involved in the issues surrounding the validity of the marriage and conversion of his Hindu wife. Interestingly enough, this story became the basis of a novel by Amitav Ghosh:
Ghosh, an Indian Hindu, first read about a medieval (12th century) Jew and his Indian slave while a student at Oxford. He became fascinated almost to the point of obsession. After studying Arabic, he enrolled at a university in Alexandria, Egypt to perform further research.


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