Legal document: T-S 20.117

Legal document T-S 20.117



Statute in the hand of Efrayim b. Shemarya. In Hebrew and Judaeo-Arabic. Dating: Early 11th century. Condemning and prohibiting all the alleged abuses in vogue at the sanctuary at Dammūh. Here is Goitein's summary of the document (Med Soc V, 21–22): I have no doubt that this document was issued at the time of the rigorous enforcement of Islamic law and mores by the caliph al-Ḥākim (996–1021). When the Jewish authorities realized what was happening in their environment, they understood that they had better put their own house in order. Like al-Ḥākim himself they overreacted, and, as happened with the caliph's reforms, the disapproved practices at Dammūh probably surfaced again after some time. In order to enable the reader to join me in the study of this intriguing document, which is almost a thousand years old, I provide here a full analysis of its contents. As so often happens in the Geniza, about one half of the sheet is torn away and much precious material is lost. It is all the more remarkable how much can be learned from what has been preserved.The Hebrew preamble states that "the Court," that is, the judge, and the elders had proposed to the members of the community to take action to remove all abuses from the sanctuary of Dammūy, that the community had accepted the proposal, whereby it had become a statute binding for all and forever, like an ordinance imposed by the God-fearing sages of old and approved by God. In the [Judaeo-]Arabic text, as far as preserved, the following points are stressed, enumerated here in the sequence they appear in the manuscript. The reader must keep in mind that originally there was at least one item between each two items noted here. 1. All should attend solely for devotion. No merrymaking would be tolerated. 2. Marionette shows ("Chinese shades," the medieval movies) and similar entertainments are not permitted. 54 3. No beer should be brewed there. 55 4. No visitor should be accompanied by [a Gentile] or an apostate. 56 5. No woman should be admitted except when accompanied by [a father, a husband,] a brother, or a grown-up son, unless she is a very old woman. 6. The synagogue building should be respected and revered like any other synagogue. 57 7. Boys, or a grown-up man together with a boy, should not [ ... ], in order not to expose themselves to suspicion and make for themselves a bad name. 8. Both men and women should take utmost care not to desecrate the Sabbath in any way.58 9. Playing chess and [ ... ] is forbidden. 59 10. Likewise games like "watermelon and clay" and [ ... ]. 11. Making noise by hitting something with a bang or clasping hands is disapproved. 12. No instrumental music. 13. No dancing. 14. On Sabbath water should be drawn from the well only when needed for drinking. 60 15. Men should not mix with women, nor come near them [ ... ], nor are they permitted to look at them. 16. In the synagogue women should pray in the gallery upstairs and men in the hall downstairs, as is established by ancient custom, sunna. 61 17. Visitors to the place62 (in times other than those of pilgrimages) should go there only for a serious purpose, not for pleasure or for something that, by deed or word, might endanger them or others or damage the compound. They should provide themselves with keys and not tamper with the locks, nor enter through the gardens or by scaling a wall.63 18. The community has empowered [ ... ] to represent them in anything concerning that synagogue-may God keep it. The statute summarized above had no reason to mention one important aspect of the pilgrimage to Dammūh besides prayers and pastimes: the place and time when so many people flocked together provided a convenient opportunity for public announcements, especially those that had serious consequences for the persons concerned, such as bans and excommunications.

T-S 20.117 1r




T-S 20.117 1v

Image Permissions Statement
  • T-S 20.117: Provided by Cambridge University Library. Zooming image © Cambridge University Library, All rights reserved. This image may be used in accord with fair use and fair dealing provisions, including teaching and research. If you wish to reproduce it within publications or on the public web, please contact