Interview: Harvey E. Goldberg

We recently caught up with Emeritus Professor Harvey E. Goldberg, who is the Sarah Allen Shaine Chair in Sociology and Anthropology at the Hebrew University, Mt. Scopus. In this interview, Prof Goldberg talks about his research interests and history, and reflects on his recent article for Intertwined Worlds and why it is important to reflect on everyday interactions between Muslims and Jews.

Intertwined Worlds: How did you hear of Intertwined Worlds?

Harvey E. Goldberg: Through Dr. Josef Meri, the editor, whom I met many years ago.

IW: What attracted you to contribute to Intertwined Worlds?

HEG: The opportunity to interview  Jews who had life experiences in Muslim lands before they emigrated is rapidly diminishing as the years pass. Intertwined Worlds seemed to be a natural “stage” upon which to present results of research that partially stemmed from interviews with people reporting their personal knowledge and experience.

IW: Can you tell us about your own background as an academic and your particular interests?

HEG: My first field research, from 1963-65, was in an Israeli agricultural village settled by Jewish immigrants hailing from the mountainous Gharian region south of the city of Tripoli in Libya.  Most research at the time was focused on how immigrants adjusted to their new society, but as I got to know the people of the community I became more and more interested in learning about their past as a small minority in a Arab Muslim environment.

IW: What is your Intertwined Worlds article about?

HEG: In the 1960s, after the countries of North Africa had recently gained independence, some anthropologists from America and Britain began to conduct fieldwork there in rural regions and in small towns. They discovered the importance of patron-client relationships as a key to understanding the local social structures.  Israeli anthropologists could not conduct fieldwork in Muslim countries, but they were stimulated by the findings from North Africa that helped them understand the social history of immigrants to Israel from that region.  The article review and assesses the impact of the notion of patron-client relations on understanding the intricate forms of interaction linking Muslims and Jews in North Africa.

IW: Why is the subject so important for a non-specialist who may be interested in your topic?

HEG: There is so much stereotyping about the topic  of Muslims or Arabs and their relations with Jews, that it is important to have some idea of everyday interaction between members of these  broad categories when many of them lived side by side up to about 50 years ago.

 IW: What drew you to the field?

HEG: I have always been interested in variety in Jewish life, but growing up in the United States I was mostly conscious of Jewish life over the centuries in European settings.  When, upon a first trip to Israel, I met Jews who came from Muslim territories, it grabbed my curiosity to learn more about this subject.

IW: What’s your current project? What’s next?

HEG: Together with a colleague, Hagar Salamon, I am now conducting interviews among people who came from rural areas of Tripolitania and also from southern Tunisia.  We have discovered that in some of these communities, Muslims would come to the synagogue to hear the ritual reading of a translation into Arabic of the 10-commandments section of the Torah (in the Book of Exodus) on the Jewish festival of Shavuot (Pentecost). The exact details of how this took place seem to vary from community to community, and we seek to document in as much depth as possible this unusual expression of a Jewish-Muslim “congregation.”

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