Jews and Legal Belonging in the Modern Mediterranean: The Life and Afterlife of Nissim Shamama (1805-1873)

Jan 14, 2021 12:00 PM PT

When a wealthy Jew from Tunisia died in Italy in 1873, a fierce lawsuit over the estate consumed Jews, Muslims, and Christians on both sides of the Mediterranean. Before Nissim Shamama’s riches could be disbursed among his aspiring heirs, the Italian courts had to decide which law to apply to his estate—a matter that depended on his nationality. A decade-long battle ensued to determine to which state Nissim legally belonged: was he an Italian citizen? A subject of the Bey of Tunis? Or was his Jewishness also his nationality? Shamama v. Shamama, as the lawsuit was called, encourages us to think differently about the history of citizenship and state membership. Jews and Legal Belonging across the Mediterranean offers an account of belonging that challenges the perceived divide between the Middle East and Europe, between Jews and non-Jews, and between the pre-modern and the modern.

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