7 Books That Explore the History and Culture of Indigenous Jews

Explore the history and culture of the Indigenous Jewish population with these seven books. These books shed light on this aspect of Jewish culture.

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There is very little media coverage on the history of the conflict or the Indigenous Jewish populations. Most people don’t know, or understand, that Indigenous Jews have been found around the world and come from a deeply rich and historic culture. The majority of today’s Jewish population lives outside of the United States and is not Caucasian. Below are seven books that explore the history and culture of Indigenous Jews and dispel many modern-day stereotypes.

1. The Story of the Jews Volume One: Finding the Words: 1000 BC – 1492 AD and The Story of the Jews Volume Two: Belonging: 1492 – 1900 by Simon Schama

The Story of Jews Book Cover
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In volume one of his book, Schama traces the story of the Jewish experience from the beginnings of the ancient tribal Jews all the way through the beginning of the New World in 1492 and on to the modern-day Jewish experience. This book illuminates the past struggles of the Jews and tells a tale encompassed with their adaptability, creative problem-solving when facing oppression, finding happiness in darkness, and the avowal of life when faced with disadvantages.

Schama covers not only the vast time periods of the Jews but the multitude of countries that contained them, spanning from Andalusia to India and Egypt to England. Schama argues that the wide-reaching population of Jews in the past make Jewish history everyone’s history and highlights the varieties of Jewish culture found worldwide that have drawn influence from the countries in which they dwelled.

Volume two of the book covers the story of the Jews from the New World through the Spanish Inquisition and on to modern-day Judaism. Schama continues his coverage of a vast time span tied hand-in-hand with the variety of countries Jews had been found in. He covers from Spain and Portugal to Hollywood to Russia, and everywhere in between. This book contributes to the mostly erased history of Jewish people and serves to enlighten anyone who wants to learn about past and present Jews.

2. A History of Palestine, 634 – 1099 by Moshe Gil

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Gil’s book is a far-reaching history of Palestine, covering from the Muslim conquest to the Crusader conquest. The book is a translation and revised version of the 1983 Hebrew-published book Palestine During the First Muslim Period and demonstrates what medieval Islamic and Jewish realms looked like. Gil explores what the lives of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish societies looked like during the militaristic and political events of the period in Palestine. It serves as a resource for Islamic and Jewish history and spotlights the effects of Muslim rule on Palestinian Jews.

3. The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties by Shaye J.D. Cohen

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Cohen’s book explores the various conceptions of Jewishness in terms of nationality, ethnicity, and religion. It traces the history of the combination of these three components being a part of Jewish culture all the way back to the second century B.C.E. Cohen demonstrates how these issues were understood and applied to the creation of the Jewish identity in ancient times and unravels the composition of this identity by the state, non-Jews, and Jews themselves.

Cohen examines what factors did or did not contribute to the building of the Jewish identity during this time period by looking closely at certain aspects of the religious community. He discusses conversion, intermarriage, matrilineal descent, and where converts ‘belong’ in both Jewish and gentile narratives. Cohen uses a variety of sources ranging from Jewish Greek literature to classical sources, to rabi written materials in both medieval and ancient times with a special focus on rabbinic texts that discuss the process of Jewish conversion.

4. Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria by Sarah Abrevaya Stein

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Stein explores the marginalization of Algeria’s southern Jews by the French and how the results of this came to be. Stein also looks at what the effects of this were and how these effects functioned in the postcolonial era. The book details the story of colonial imposition on the Saharan desert society that had existed for centuries and uses sources from over 20 archives in over five countries. Her story of the Algerian struggle for independence focuses on the ancient community of the Sahara and covers commerce, labor camps, oil, and spices. Stein connects colonial power to the decolonization and colonialism of Jews in French Saharan history to the religious and cultural outcomes that have helped shape the world today.

5. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War by Benny Morris

1948: A History of The First Arab-Israeli War Book cover
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Morris explores the history of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict and goes into detail about military engagements and the politics behind the war. The book investigates the motivations and goals behind the war for each side, further explaining why the war was occurring. Through examining the political and militaristic goals behind the war, Morris is able to delve deeper into the refugee problem it created. The book also examines the roles of the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union in the war. Morris does a deep dive into the details of the battles of this war that led to the reinvention of the State of Israel and the Arab world.

6. The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book by Norman A. Stillman

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Stillman covers the history of the complicated relationships in the Middle East that contribute to the Jewish culture. This book also covers Jewish history in Islam, the Middle East, and Jews of Arab lands. Stillman discusses topics prevalent in the times of Muhammed all the way through the 19th century.

7. The Hidden and Untold History of the Jewish People and Ethiopians by Fikre Tolossa

The Hidden and Untold History of the Jewish People and Ethiopians Book cover
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Tolossa’s book focuses on the forgotten history of the Ethiopian and Jewish nations. It uncovers a long-lasting friendship and the history of Jewish people found in ancient Ethiopia. This book was written for the purpose of completing Jewish history and contributing to a history that was lost, and is now incomplete, for Jewish people.

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