Page 79 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

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GOITEIN / WALTER JOSEPH FISCHEL
71
conducive to the widening of his knowledge in Arabic lan­
guage and literature.
TRAVELER AND EXPLORER
Dr. Judah L. Magnes, the Chancellor of the Hebrew University,
who was aware of Fischel’s plight and appreciated his specific
gifts and interests, asked him whether he was prepared to un­
dertake some travels for the Hebrew University in the countries
of Islam and the Far East. Fischel responded with enthusiasm,
and thus began the first chapter in his scientific career: Fischel
the traveler and explorer of the life of the Jews in the Middle
East and in the Orient. His first, still popular, publications on
the subject appeared in 1931, and since then until his death,
I believe hardly a year passed without one or several articles on
the Jews in Baghdad, Kurdistan, the Persian Gulf, Iran, Afghan­
istan, Central Asia, India, and the Far East.
The more the years progressed, the deeper Fischel delved into
the past of these communities. He did so in particular with
regard to the Jews of Iran and those engaged in mercantile un­
dertakings in India and the surrounding countries under Dutch
and British rule. His Hebrew book
Ha-Yehudim be-Hodu
(The
Jews in India, Jerusalem, 1960) represents only a fraction of
his vast research in this field. He paid also much attention to
the remnants of the local Jews, who, as is well known, represent
different Jewish migrations.
Concomitant with his extended travels and publications on
the Jews in Islamic lands, Fischel worked steadily on his pet
topic, the contributions made by the Jews to the economic
development of Islamic society in its classical period. His book
Jews in the Economic and Political Life of Medieval Islam
(Lon­
don, 1937), reissued by Ktav, New York, 1969, has become a
classic and is frequently quoted by writers on Islamic history.
A third topic, not essentially connected with Jews or Judaism,
in which Fischel showed sustained interest was the biography
and literary creations of Ibn Khaldun, the Tunisian historian
and philosopher of history. Fischel was intrigued by the fan­
tastic story of his encounter with the Mongol conqueror Timur,
as evidenced by his book
Ibn Khaldun and Tamerlane—Their
Dramatic Meeting in Damascus 1401,
1952. Later, he became
more and more interested in a phase of the great writer’s life