The Zionist as an ‘Oriental Jew’: A.S. Yahuda (d. 1951) and his work on Jewish-Muslim relations

 

At the beginning of the twentieth century, A.S. Yahuda, a scholar of the Bible and of Jewish and Arab literature, urged Zionist leaders to take into account the Eastern Jews and the Arab population in Palestine in pursuit of the aims of the movement. In this talk I introduce Yahuda’s political activities and examine the way in which his views of Zionism are intertwined with his identity and exemplified in his scholarship. Born into a Baghdadi family in Jerusalem, Yahuda was proud of being an ‘Oriental Jew’, having both Hebrew and Arabic as his mother tongues. His great interest in Spain, as an academic topic and a strategic tool for Zionism emphasised the deep connections between Arabs and Jews in al-Andalus. This talk discusses Yahuda’s engagement with the Zionist movement while holding the Chair of Hebrew literature at the Universidad Central de Madrid (1913/15-23) and goes on to analyse his work on Jewish-Muslim relations in an Andalusian Judaeo-Arabic text, as well as Hebrew-Egyptian relations in the language of the Pentateuch. Through an examination of archival materials and personal correspondence, I suggest in this paper that Yahuda’s growing apprehension of Ashkenazi-oriented Zionism derives not only from his Eastern Jewish identity but also his belief in the close Arab-Jewish nexus and conviction that the strength of Jewish culture lies in its creativity, flexibility and heterogeneity which can only be understood in its relations with other cultures.

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