Religious innovation under Fatimid rule: Jewish and Muslim rites in eleventh-century Jerusalem

Daniella Talmon-Heller, Miriam Frenkel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This paper describes religious innovations introduced by Muslims in the (arguably) holy month of Rajab, and by Jews on the High Holidays of the month of Tishrei, in eleventh-century Jerusalem. Using a comparative perspective, and grounding analysis in the particular historical context of Fatimid rule, it demonstrates how the convergence of sacred space and sacred time was conducive to “religious creativity.” The Muslim rites (conducted on al-aram al-Sharīf / the Temple Mount) and the Jewish rites (on the Mount of Olives) shared a particular concern with the remission of sins and supplication on behalf of others, and a cosmological world view that envisioned Jerusalem as axis mundi. The Jewish rite was initiated “from above” by the political-spiritual leadership of the community, was dependent on Fatimid backing, and was inextricably tied to specific sites. The Muslim rite sprang “from below” and spread far, to be practiced in later periods all over the Middle East.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-226
Number of pages24
JournalMedieval Encounters
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Empire.49 Hence the yeshiva was financially supported by the Fatimid regime. The Gaon, the head of the Jerusalem Yeshiva, was appointed as the “head of the Jews” in the empire and derived his authority directly from the imam-Caliph.50 This innovation imposed a new Jewish political order, and it demanded the recognition of the Jewish population. In its pursuit of legitimacy and loyalty, the new Jewish leadership promoted a series of religious innovations in the city of Jerusalem. The heads of the yeshiva, now recognized and backed by the Fatimids, re-sketched a sacred map, taking into consideration the city’s holy topography under Muslim rule. The rituals performed during the holy month of Tishrei were actually an amalgamation of religious rites with rites of power and authority. In this sense they resembled the public ceremonies conducted in Cairo by the Fatimid Caliphs, as depicted and analyzed by Paula Sanders, who claims that, “these ceremonies responded as much to the changing urban landscape of Cairo and Fustat as they did to dramatic political and religious changes.”51

Publisher Copyright:
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2019


  • Al-aram al-Sharīf
  • Fatimids
  • Jerusalem
  • Jews
  • Muslims
  • Religious rites
  • Rituals
  • Sacred space
  • Sacred time

RAMBI Publications

  • Rambi Publications
  • High Holidays
  • Judaism -- Relations -- Islam
  • Islam -- Israel -- Jerusalem -- History
  • Temple Mount (Jerusalem, Israel) -- History
  • Jerusalem (Israel) -- History -- 1099-1244, Latin Kingdom, Crusaders
  • Jerusalem (Israel) -- History -- 638-1099, Early Islamic period


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