The cautious beginnings of Sephardi self-identification: a view from the Cairo Geniza (tenth-thirteenth centuries)

Moshe Yagur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article tackles the issue of Jewish Andalusi identity and the notion of Sephardi exceptionalism, promoted by several Jewish Andalusi scholars from the tenth century onwards. It does so by examining the way Jewish Iberian immigrants identified themselves, or were identified by their contemporaries, in their new locales. The basic corpus for this study is the documentary Cairo Geniza, which enables an examination of every-day experiences of these Iberian immigrants, as opposed to literary compositions which have been the main source for the study of the notion of Sephardi exceptionalism. The period examined is the late tenth through the thirteenth centuries, considered the “classical Geniza period” and equivalent to a period of major shifts in Iberian Jewry. Using digital tools and secondary literature, a database of 161 manuscripts which include identifications of Iberian immigrants was assembled. An analysis of these identifications reveals, on the one hand, a growing use of the new Hebrew identifier “Sepharadi” as a geographical and probably cultural marker. On the other hand, it frames it in a historical reality in which identification as a Sephardi was not an obvious choice with a clear cultural meaning, but rather just one out of a spectrum of possible identifiers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Medieval Iberian Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Andalusi Jews
  • Cairo Geniza
  • Jewish history
  • Judeo-Arabic
  • identity
  • migration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


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