“When a young man finds a girl to his liking, she may no longer be seen with him face to face. From the moment she is spoken for, she keeps her distance from-him; she covers her face from him with the viel of shame. (from 99)
The long-forgotten Book of Mordechai is a fascinating record of Libyan Jewish life written by a talmudic scholar, teacher, itinerant peddler, and amateur anthropologist named Mordechai Hakohen. Composed in the early years of the twentieth century, it covers domestic life, religion, trade, as well as the relations of Jews to Arabs, Berbers and the Italians who invaded in 1911. The manuscript was partially published in Italian, then ignored for many years until Dr. Harvey Goldberg’s recent discovery of it.
For anthropologists, The Book of Mordechai is the only reliable, ethnographically oriented portrayal of North African Jewish life of this period. Also, as dr. Goldberg points out, Hakohen’s work helps to resolve some broad problems of ethno-history, such as the distinction between “Arab£ and “Berber” and the position of jews in North African society. To accompany his 1978 edition in Hebrew, Dr. Goldberg has now translated the most important sections into English, adding extensive commentaries and notes.