Page 283 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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GORDIS / 1981 NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARDS
277
know I did my best. I am grateful to the awardjury for finding the
study meritorious for the prestigious Leon Jolson Award as the
best book on the Holocaust in 1980-81.
MARK R. COHEN:
Rereading recently a standard book about medieval Jewish
communal institutions, published in the U.S. in 1931, I took
special note of the opening sentences of the Introduction: “After
the destruction of the Second Temple, the history of the Jews
ceases to be a story of an active national civilization in a physical
and political sense. There are no political achievements to re­
cord.”
We have since come a long way in our understanding of the
Jewish past. In recent decades, the study of Jewish life in the
middle ages has revealed many political achievements of the Jews
within their own communities. I f my own book devotes nearly 400
pages to 60 years in the history of one political institution in
medieval Egypt, it is only a sign that research in medieval Jewish
politics has reached that stage of detailed specialization that al­
ways results from the dialectics of scholarly discourse.
My road to the subject of Jewish self-government in medieval
Egypt, following upon a strong undergraduate interest in Jewish
studies at Brandeis University, was rather straight. I first became
fascinated with the world of Islam while a Fulbright Fellow at the
School of Oriental and African Studies in London, during the
year intervening my graduation from college in 1964 and my
matriculation at Columbia University as an M.A. candidate in
Jewish history. I chose the medieval Middle East as the focus of
my research because I perceived that this was a neglected field in
Jewish history.
At Columbia, and later on at the Jewish Theological Seminary,
where I completed my doctoral work, I became interested in
medieval Jewish political history in the Islamic world. Gerson D.
Cohen, now7Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, was
my mentor. Cohen’s major work lies in the Judeo-Islamic orbit,
and he exercised a profound influence on the direction that my
research took.
The other major influence was that of S.D. Goitein, the grand
master of the historical study of the Cairo Geniza documents, who