The best books on Jewish histories of the Middle East

Lior B. Sternfeld Author Of Between Iran and Zion: Jewish Histories of Twentieth-Century Iran
By Lior B. Sternfeld

The Books I Picked & Why

The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry, 11: Culture, Politics, and the Formation of a Modern Diaspora

By Joel Beinin

The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry, 11: Culture, Politics, and the Formation of a Modern Diaspora

Why this book?

Until two decades ago, the historiographical school of Jewish pasts in the Middle East was broadly aligned with what we call the neo-lachrymose approach. This approach usually examines the Jewish communities in the MENA region as if they lived in isolation from the non-Jewish majority society. Beinin’s book paved the way to profoundly different directions in studying the Jewish communities of Egypt and the region. Beinin analyzed the various Jewish communities that existed in Egypt (primarily prior to 1956), placed them in the context of global, regional, and Egyptian national history. Moreover, he forever dismantled the notion that we can essentialize the life, experience, and narratives of almost 1 million MENA Jews and have one simple account in the output.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Iranophobia: The Logic of an Israeli Obsession

By Haggai Ram

Iranophobia: The Logic of an Israeli Obsession

Why this book?

Haggai Ram was one of my Master’s thesis advisors. In this book, he shows how the idea of the Iranian threat was developed, partly as a process of Israeli self-reflection. Iranophobia is indispensable for the reader who would like to know about the roots of animosity between Iran and Israel, the history of the imagination of Iran and Israel vis-à-vis The West, and critical gaze on Zionism and Jewish Statehood in the Middle East. This book exemplifies the importance of looking beyond filters of mythmaking and the political tendencies of history writing and being on the lookout when reading contemporary history for political persuasions and connections between politics and academia.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq

By Orit Bashkin

New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq

Why this book?

Iraq was home to about 150,000 Jews until 1948-1951. Baghdad was a very much Jewish city. Iraqi Jews were very assimilated, but there was very little known about the political and social history of Iraqi Jews beyond the Zionist story. While many of the Iraqi Jews did indeed view Zionism as a viable solution for them, overlooking Jewish involvement in Iraqi national and communist organizations misses several of the most fascinating transformations of any Jewish community in the world. In this book, Bashkin analyzed the social, cultural, and national participation of Iraqi Jews from within the perspective of Iraqi society. Interestingly, many of the patterns continued even after their migration to Israel.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Ottoman Brothers: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Early Twentieth-Century Palestine

By Michelle U. Campos

Ottoman Brothers: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Early Twentieth-Century Palestine

Why this book?

Students of Middle East studies learn a lot about Ottoman history, specifically about the Ottoman Empire's last decades, before WWI. But historians gave very little attention to the Arab provinces of the empire in comparison to Istanbul and the imperial center. In this book, Campos presented the fascinating case of Ottoman Palestine. Campos shows the most convincing rebuttal for the theories that attributed no Ottoman identity in the peripheries. The fantastic picture of Jerusalem during the last years of the empire can teach us a lot about the relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Palestine, the understanding of national and imperial frameworks at the turn of the century, and the optimistic reader may find ideas to deadlock conflicts in the 21st century.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco

By Aomar Boum

Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco

Why this book?

When we talk about the need to read Jewish history in the Middle East within its original context, and within the understanding that Jews lived among non-Jews, interacted with non-Jews, and had a tremendous influence on their respective societies, from time to time, we need to change the perspective and see how their non-Jewish compatriots viewed them and remember them. In this book, Aomar Boum recorded the ways in which the Muslims of Morocco remember the large Jewish communities that lived in that country for millennia and shrunk to a fraction of their former self after 1956-1967. This book allows us to examine multiple perspectives simultaneously. The national and colonial identities, the essence of Middle Eastern Zionism, and the place of the memory of Jews after they had left in the modern societies.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Random Book Lists