Reorienting the East: Jewish Travelers to the Medieval Muslim World. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. 344 pages.

In recent decades, travel has evolved into a key theme of an academic discourse that spans disciplines such as history, literature, anthropology, and postcolonial studies. However, much of the discussion has focused on Christian travelers, such as Marco Polo, for their alleged role in the construction of the European image of the ‘Orient.’ The present book is the first to subject the narratives of medieval Jewish travelers to a critically intense investigation. In this sense, Reorienting the East analyzes two dozen Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic travel accounts from the mid-twelfth to the early sixteenth centuries. During that period, most Jews who left descriptions of their journeys hailed from Christian lands and many sailed to the Eastern Mediterranean aboard Christian-owned vessels. Against this backdrop arises the question of whether the Jewish travelers shared certain ‘Western’ perceptions of the Islamic world with their Christian counterparts.

In fact, Jewish descriptions of the Near East tend to subvert (‘reorient’) a decidedly Christian vision of the Levant, as Jacobs demonstrates. For they frequently include polemics against the Church, rather than Islam. This holds particularly true for the authors from the Crusader era, such as the Iberian globetrotter Benjamin of Tudela, who offers glowing portraits of Muslim-Jewish relations. By contrast, some of the later travelers discussed in the book express condescending attitudes toward Muslims, Islam, and Near Eastern Jews. However, do their stereotyping representations of the 'other' constitute early examples of ‘Orientalism,’ as described by Edward Said? Placing the travelers’ shifting perspectives on the Muslim world in their historical, social, and literary contexts, Jacobs suggestively reads them as mirrors of changing Jewish self-perceptions. As he argues, the travel accounts echo the various ways in which pre-modern Jews negotiated their mingled identities that were neither exclusively Western nor entirely Eastern but included elements of both.

Reviews in, inter alia: Association for Jewish Studies Review 39, no. 2 (2015): 449-51 (Mark R. Cohen); Cathedra 164 (2017): 183-88 (Ora Limor); International Journal of Middle East Studies 47, no. 3 (2015): 627-29 (Andrew Berns); Der Islam 95, no. 1 (2018): 225-30 (David Wasserstein); Journal of Interdisciplinary History 46, no. 3 (2015): 473-75 (Alessandro Scafi); Journal of Religious History 41, no. 2 (2017): 277-79 (Uri Shachar); Numen 64, no. 2-3 (2017): 334-38 (Ulrika Mårtensson); Parergon 32, no. 2 (2015): 311-13 (Katherine Jacka);  Revue des études juives 175, no. 3-4 (2016): 474-77 (Jean-Pierre Rothschild); Shofar 33, no. 4 (2015): 191-93 (Yaron Ben-Naeh); Speculum 91, no. 1 (2016): 214-16 (Ross Brann); The Silk Road 13 (2015): 185-86 (Daniel C. Waugh); Times Literary Supplement, July 3, 2015, 8-9 (Reuven Amitai).

See also the Penn Press Log with an Author's Q&A on Reorienting the East.

Islamische Geschichte in jüdischen Chroniken: Hebräische Historiographie des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004. 332 pages [Islamic History in Jewish Chronicles: Hebrew Historiography of the 16th and 17th centuries].

For an English Abstract click here.

Die Institution des jüdischen Patriarchen: Eine quellen- und traditionskritische Studie zur Geschichte der Juden in der Spätantike. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1995. 401 pages [The Institution of the Jewish Patriarch: A Source-critical Study into the History of the Jewish People in Late Antiquity].

For an English Abstract click here.

Articles and Book Chapters:

“‘A Day’s Journey’: Spatial Perceptions and Geographic Imagination in Benjamin of Tudela’s Book of Travels,” Jewish Quarterly Review 109, no. 2: (2019): 203-32.

“Sephardic Migration and Cultural Transfer: The Ottoman and Spanish Expansion through a Cinquecento Jewish Lens.” Journal of Early Modern History 21, no. 6 (2017): 516-42.

“Jewish-Muslim Encounters in the Holy Land.” In Jerusalem, 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven. Ed. Barbara Drake Boehm and Melanie Holcomb, 21-22. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016.

“The Sacred Text as a Mental Map: Biblical and Rabbinic ‘Place’ in Medieval Jewish Travel Writing.” In Envisioning Judaism: Studies in Honor of Peter Schäfer on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday. Ed. Ra‘anan S. Boustan, Klaus Herrmann, Reimund Leicht, Annette Y. Reed and Giuseppe Veltri, 1:395-417. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013.

“From Lofty Caliphs to Uncivilized ‘Orientals’: Images of the Muslim in Medieval Jewish Travel Literature.” Jewish Studies Quarterly 18, no. 1 (2011): 64-90.

 “An Ex-Sabbatean’s Remorse? Sambari’s Polemics against Islam.” Jewish Quarterly Review 97, no. 3 (2007): 347-78.

“Interreligious Polemics in Medieval Spain: Biblical Interpretation between Ibn Ḥazm, Shlomoh Ibn Adret, and Shim‘on Ben Ṣemaḥ Duran.” In Gershom Scholem (1897-1982): In Memoriam. Ed. Joseph Dan, vol. 2, English part, 35-57. Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 2007.

“Exposed to all the Currents of the Mediterranean: A Sixteenth-Century Venetian Rabbi on Muslim History.” Association for Jewish Studies Review 29, no. 1 (2005): 33-60.

“Joseph ha-Kohen, Paolo Giovio, and Sixteenth-Century Historiography.” In Cultural Intermediaries: Jewish Intellectuals in Early Modern Italy. Ed. David B. Ruderman and Giuseppe Veltri, 67-85. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

“Alexandria oder Kairo: Die Metamorphose einer Stadtgründungslegende in der hellenistischen, islamischen und jüdischen Literatur.” In Jewish Studies between the Disciplines—Judaistik zwischen den Disziplinen: Papers in Honor of Peter Schäfer on the Occasion of His 60th Birthday. Ed. Klaus Herrmann, Margarete Schlüter and Giuseppe Veltri, 279-98. Leiden: Brill, 2003 [“Alexandria or Cairo: The Metamorphosis of a Foundation Legend in Hellenistic, Islamic, and Jewish Literatures”].

“Das ambivalente Islambild eines venezianischen Juden des 16. Jahrhunderts: Capsalis Osmanische Chronik.” Judaica 58, no. 1 (2002): 2-17 [“The Ambivalent Attitude of a 16th-century Venetian Jew toward Islam: Capsali’s Ottoman Chronicle”].

“David ha-Re’uveni: ein ‘zionistisches Experiment’ im Kontext der europäischen Expansion des 16. Jahrhunderts?” In An der Schwelle zur Moderne: Juden in der Renaissance. Ed. Giuseppe Veltri and Anette Winkelmann, 191-206. Leiden: Brill, 2002 [“David ha-Re’uveni: A ‘Zionist Experiment’ in the Context of the 16th-century European Expansion?”].

“Pagane Tempel in Palästina: rabbinische Aussagen im Vergleich mit archäologischen Funden.” In The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture II. Ed. Peter Schäfer and Cathrine Hezser, 139-59. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000 [“Pagan Temples in Palestine: Rabbinic Statements Compared to Archeological Findings.”]

“Römische Thermenkultur im Spiegel des Talmud Yerushalmi.” In The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture. Ed. Peter Schäfer, 219-311. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998 [“Roman Bathing Culture as Mirrored in the Talmud Yerushalmi”].

“Theatres and Performances as Reflected in the Talmud Yerushalmi.” In The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture. Ed. Peter Schäfer, 327-47. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998.


Magische Texte aus der Kairoer Geniza. Vol. 1. Ed. Peter Schäfer and Shaul Shaked. In collaboration with Martin Jacobs, Claudia Rohrbacher-Sticker and Giuseppe Veltri. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1994. 329 pages [Magical Texts from the Cairo Geniza; an edition together with German translation and commentary of Hebrew and Aramaic texts].

Work in Progress

Book project: Empires from the Margin: Spanish and Ottoman Imperialism through an Early Modern Jewish Lens (in progress).

Book chapter: “Flying Camels and Other Remarkable Species: Natural Marvels in Medieval Hebrew Travel Accounts” [under review].


The Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture. Ed. Judith R. Baskin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 614-15:

“Travel Writing, Middle Ages and Early Modern Period”.

Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte. Ed. Adalbert Erler, Ekkehard Kaufmann and Dieter Werkmüller. Berlin: E. Schmidt:

“Talmud.” Vol. 5 (1998), 118-22.

Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche. 3rd edition. Ed. Walter Kasper. Freiburg: Herder:

“Patriarchen II. Judentum.” Vol. 7 (1998), 1461-62.

“Sanhedrin.” Vol. 9 (2000), 9-11.

Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Ed. Robert E. Bjork. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010:

“Polemics, Jewish (with Muslims).” Vol. 3, 1327.

Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (RGG), 4th edition. Ed. Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Janowski and Eberhard Jüngel. 9 vols. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998-200); and its updated English translation titled Religion Past and Present (RPP). 14 vols. Leiden: Brill, 2006-2013

“Aaron: II. Early Judaism”; “Aaronic Blessing: II. Early Judaism”; “Akiba ben Joseph”; “David: III. Judaism, 1. Antiquity”; “Ethnarch"; "Judah ha-Nasi”; “Molko, Solomon”; “Nasi”; “Pesiqta”; “Qohelet Rabbah”; “Rabbi: I. Terminology”; “Rabbi: II. Judaism, 1. Antiquity”; “Resh Galuta”; “Sanhedrin”; “Scribes (Soferim)”; “Tannaim”; “Tarfon”; “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel”; “Usha”; “Wayyiqra Rabba”; “Yohanan ben Zakkai”.

Book Reviews:

“Esperanza Alfonso, Islamic Culture through Jewish Eyes.” Association for Jewish Studies Review 33 (2009): 404-7.

“Azariah de’ Rossi. The Light of the Eyes, translated from the Hebrew with an introduction and annotations by Joanna Weinberg.” Jewish Quarterly Review 93, no. 1-2 (2002): 299-302.

“Martin Kramer (ed.). The Jewish Discovery of Islam.” Judaica 56 (2000): 223-5.

“David Goodblatt. The Monarchic Principle.” Frankfurter Judaistische Beiträge 21 (1994): 171-6.

Conference Report:

“Jewish Scholarship and Philosophy in the Renaissance, Wolfenbüttel, 17-19 September 2000.” In: European Association of Jewish Studies Newsletter 10 (2001): 20-4 [also in: Wolfenbütteler Bibliotheks-Informationen 2 (2000)]. online


"The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela." In Jews and Journeys: Travels and the Performance of Jewish Identity. An Exhibition from the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. 2011-2012 Fellows at the University of Pennsylvania; online

“Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Polemics in Spain.” In And We have Revealed to You …; Jewish Biblical Interpretation in a Comparative Context. An Exhibition from the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. 2001-2002 Fellows at the University of Pennsylvania; online





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