Attributed to the medieval copyist and artist al-Wasiti, “Dressed Women” [detail], completed in 1237 AD, illustration on paper, probably made in Baghdad, Iraq. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, manuscript Arabe, 5847, fol 59.

Join us this spring for the Leon Levy Foundation Lectures in Jewish Material Culture. Miriam Frenkel will deliver three lectures in a series entitled “The Matter of Things: Material Culture in the Medieval Islamicate World.” Lecture 1, “Texts and Textiles: The Cultural Meaning of Clothing and Ornaments in the Geniza Society,” will take place on Wednesday, February 5, at 6 pm.

Lecture 1, Wednesday, February 5
Lecture 2, Wednesday, February 12
Lecture 3, Wednesday, February 19

Additional support provided by The David Berg Foundation.


Textiles, clothing, and other body ornaments are significant cultural markers. In medieval Islamic and Jewish societies, the attired body symbolized human culture itself. It was the covered body which differentiated between human beings and animals. This lecture discusses the cultural, social, and economic significance of clothing and jewellery in these societies as manifested in wills and trousseau lists from the Geniza and also in contemporary Hebrew poetry which itself was conceived as “dressed up” language. Special attention will be given to the function of jewellery in this patriarchal society.


Miriam Frenkel is Associate Professor in the Department of Jewish History and the School of History at the Hebrew University. She is also the Menahem Ben Sasson Chair in Judaism and Islam through the Ages and vice president of the Society for Judeo-Arabic Studies [SJAS.]

Her main fields of research are: Geniza studies, cultural and social history of Medieval Judaism in the lands of Islam, and medieval cultural encounters between Judaism and Islam.

Her book “The Compassionate and Benevolent”: The Leading Elite in the Jewish Community of Alexandria in the Middle Ages (2006) was awarded the Shazzar Prize in 2007.

Frenkel has also published several articles on various aspects of medieval Jewish life under Islam including literacy, poverty, charity, pilgrimage, slavery, and material culture.