Historians of material culture can only be fascinated by the complex materialities developed within rabbinic Judaism. Together with my colleague Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman, a specialist in Jewish law, we unravelled and probed a cryptic set of questions about sīnī or ‘china’ vessels sent by the Jewish community in Aden to Fustat in the 1130s. Our article sees porcelain as a disruptive substance and technology that challenged existing material taxonomies within rabbinic Judaism. In the process we uncovered what we believe to constitute the earliest datable and locatable query about the status of porcelain within Jewish law, a topic still of considerable debate, as well as important new evidence for the complex reception of Chinese porcelain in the Middle East.
The resulting co-authored article appeared under the title “Chinese porcelain and the material taxonomies of medieval Rabbinic law: encounters with disruptive substances in twelfth century Yemen” in issue 2.2 (2016) of The Medieval Globe, a new medieval studies journal, and also features in the standalone edited volume I edited Legal Encounters on the Medieval Globe (Kalamazoo MI: ARC Medieval Press, 2017). Thanks to a chance meeting with James K. Chin of Hong Kong University we hope to see this article translated into Chinese for the Journal of Maritime History Studies.