chapter  9
15 Pages

Political Conflict and the Use of Power in the World of the Geniza

WithShlomo Dov Goitein

The nonrabbinical leaders were the religiously learned merchants, bankers, physicians, and so forth; thus, power was partly derived from conformity with the spiritual ideals of the community. Real power rests with the guns, the government with the military and police behind it. The Gaonim and local judges needed governmental confirmation, and in cases of internal conflict the last word lay with the government, and, consequently, with Jews who had close access to it. The Geniza documents regularly refer to “conflict” and “peace” by using the Hebrew words mahloket and shalom, although the texts containing them are mostly in Arabic. The most common reason for conflict in the Geniza world, as everywhere, was conflict between personalities—various people who sought office, or who wanted to dislodge someone else from office, whether an incumbent man or an entrenched family. The Geniza has preserved many decisions of his, which indicates that his communal activities must have been detrimental to his scholarly work.