Sacred Places Tell Tales is the previously untold history of Egyptian Jewry and the ways in which Cairo’s synagogues historically functioned as active institutions in the social lives of these Jews. Historian Yoram Meital interprets Cairo’s synagogues as exquisite storytellers. The synagogues still stand in Cairo, and they shed new light on the social, cultural, and political processes that Egyptian society and the Jews underwent from 1875 to the present. Studying old and new synagogues in the Egyptian capital, their locations, the items they stored, and the range of religious and nonreligious activities they hosted reveals the social heterogeneity and the diverse ways in which modern Jewish sociocultural identity was constructed within Cairo’s Sephardi, Ashkenazi, and Karaite communities. Meital contends that studying the congregations and the social services provided in synagogues reveals the local Jewish community’s customs, cultural preferences, socioeconomic gaps, and class divisions. Sacred Places Tell Tales narrates not only the past but also the unprecedented transformations that have occurred in recent years in Egypt. While only a handful of Jews live in Egypt, the preservation of Jewish heritage, first and foremost synagogues and cemeteries, enjoy a growing interest in public discourse and popular culture. This new desire to preserve Jewish heritage is inseparable from the ongoing public debate about Egyptian society, its characteristics, and its identity, past and present. By contextualizing Jewish heritage preservation in a longer Egyptian and Jewish history, Meital opens a window into one of the most significant political discussions dividing Egyptian society today.
Yoram Meital is Professor of Middle East Studies and Head of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
"Expansive and inclusive in its perception of various Egyptian Jewish communities, Sacred Places Tell Tales offers a multifaceted exploration of Jewish cultural heritage sites in Egypt, away from the limiting analysis of national historiographies."
~Orit Bashkin, University of Chicago