Rapoport, Yossef 1968-

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Rapoport, Yossef 1968-


Born 1968. Education: Attended Tel Aviv University; Princeton University, Ph.D.


Office—Department of History, Queen Mary, University of London, London E1 4NS, England.


Educator and author of nonfiction. Pembroke College, instructor; Queen Mary, University of London, London, England, professor, 2007—.


British-Kuwait Friendship Society Prize in Middle Eastern Studies, British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, 2006, for Marriage, Money and Divorce in Medieval Islamic Society.


Marriage, Money and Divorce in Medieval Islamic Society, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 2005.

Edited The Book of Curiosities: A Critical Edition, with Emilie Savage-Smith.


Yossef Rapoport is a professor at the University of London. He primarily focuses on the social history of medieval Islamic societies, especially as pertains to their laws, gender issues, and cartography. Rapoport's first book, Marriage, Money and Divorce in Medieval Islamic Society, "confounds conventional expectations about the relations of men and women in Islamic countries," according to Ira Lapidus of the Historian. The conventional wisdom is that the family unit in traditional Islamic societies was very stable and that, when divorce did occur, it was a matter of men exercising their increased rights under Islamic law: only men had the right to repudiate a marriage, and the courts would seldom grant a divorce at a woman's request. Thus, women were generally the victims of divorce. Relying on a broad array of primary and contemporary sources and records, Rapoport convincingly argues that not only was divorce common in many Islamic societies (he specifically focuses on the Ottoman cities of Cairo, Damascus, and Jerusalem during the Mamluk period, stretching from 1250 to 1517 CE), but that women initiated divorce just as often as men. Rapoport portrays marriage during this period a complex business association between husband and wife, often resulting in litigation, and thus, divorce. More often than not, these marriages were dissolved via negotiation through a mediator, with both the husband and wife consenting to the divorce. Rapoport's research shows that almost thirty percent of marriages contracted in these Ottoman cities during this period ended in divorce, and that many women—who generally exercised a great deal of financial independence at this time—ultimately married three or more times. A large percentage of women opted to stay single for their entire lives.

Marriage, Money and Divorce in Medieval Islamic Society won the 2006 British-Kuwait Friendship Society Prize in Middle Eastern Studies. Concluding that Rapoport's work "promises to be a seminal study," reviewer Irfana Hashmi wrote on the Arab Studies Journal Web site that "Rapoport's presentation of these issues is well articulated and provocative. His text is an excellent starting point for a qualitative discussion of Muslim divorce in the Mamluk period, and will appeal to scholars from various fields, including those who study the Middle East, gender, and history." Hashmi saw the book as primarily contributing to existing scholarship in the field, and an excellent teaching text: "The style of the text is clear and concise, ideal for both undergraduate and graduate students. It includes a basic introduction to the source material available to Mamluk historians, which proves particularly useful to students unfamiliar with Mamluk history. Moreover, Rapoport's use of biographical dictionaries … promises to be a model for other scholars. His reconstruction of the negotiations of medieval Muslim women in marrying or initiating divorce is of great interest to social historians." Nerina Rustomji, writing for the Journal of Law and Religion, similarly applauded Rapoport's "astute work that challenges prevailing notions of marriage in late Islamic society and argues for a more complex vision of how men and women negotiated marriage contracts and their dissolutions." Rustomji felt, however, that the book would have a greater impact on reframing the understanding of pre-Modern Islamic marriage, since Rapoport's study "uncovers the financial transactions that underlay family life in medieval Islamic society. It investigates the different positions as well as strategies for men and women in making and breaking their marriages. And it demonstrates how marriage and the threat of its dissolution were used as a political tool for the state to enforce its own authority. In these ways, Rapoport's carefully focused, yet imaginative, study allows us to understand the greater implications of divorce in medieval Islamic society."



Historian, spring, 2007, Ira M. Lapidus, review of Marriage, Money and Divorce in Medieval Islamic Society, p. 95.

International Journal of Middle East Studies, February 1, 2007, Adam Sabra, review of Marriage, Money and Divorce in Medieval Islamic Society, p. 148.

Journal of Law and Religion, summer, 2006, Nerina Rustomji, review of Marriage, Money and Divorce in Medieval Islamic Society, p. 299.


Arab Studies Journal,http://arabstudiesjournal.org/ (July 20, 2008), Irfana Hashmi, review of Marriage, Money and Divorce in Medieval Islamic Society.

Department of History at Queen Mary, University of London Web site,http://www.history.qmul.ac.uk/ (July 20, 2008), profile of author.