From Egypt to Umbria: Jewish Women and Property in the Medieval Mediterranean
Frank, Karen A. (University of California – Santa Barbara)
California Italian Studies Journal, 1(1) (2010)
This article compares the financial activities of medieval Jewish women in Italy and the Mediterranean. Contrary to Jewish legal tradition, which curtailed women’s financial autonomy, by the later Middle Ages communities across the region increasingly allowed women to manage their own dotal property, inherit property from a variety of sources, and engage in loan banking. An examination of the historical developments of some Jewish communities in Egypt, Spain, and central Italy suggests that this only occurred in times of communal crisis. Because all Jewish communities in the Middle Ages owed their respective governments a fiscal contribution or faced expulsion, money needed to be controlled by competent managers. In times of crisis, this could include women. Thus, in times of Mediterranean convivencia, Jewish communities flourished and followed their own laws, including prohibitions against female financial autonomy. This article argues that in times of disintegrating Mediterranean convivencia, however, Jewish women were able to actively contribute to the welfare of their community via their financial autonomy.