Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World

Get access Subject: Jewish Studies
Executive Editor: Norman A. Stillman

The Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World Online (EJIW) is the first cohesive and discreet reference work which covers the Jews of Muslim lands particularly in the late medieval, early modern and modern periods. The Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World Online is updated with newly commissioned articles, illustrations, multimedia, and primary source material. 

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Samuel ben Hananiah

(409 words)

Author(s): Aurora Salvatierra Ossorio
Almost nothing is known about Samuel ben Hananiah, who lived in al-Andalus in the eleventh century, possibly in the second half. The only information about him is from Moses ibn Ezra, who states in Kitāb al-Muḥāḍara wa 'l-Mudhākara (p. 72 ) that he was a contemporary of Isaac Ibn Ghiyyāth, the renowned religious scholar and poet from Lucena, which may indicate that Samuel ben Hananiah was connected to this important center of Jewish life and culture, although there is no confirming evidence. Ibn Ezra describes him as virtuous, devout,…

Samuel ben Ḥophni Gaon

(1,470 words)

Author(s): Roni Shweka
Samuel ben Ḥophni (d. 1013) was the gaon of the Sura yeshiva and an original exegete, theologian, and halakhist who continued in the Judeo-Arabic cultural and literary path forged by Saʿadya Gaon. Ben Ḥophni was a scion of a family that occupied a leadership position at the Pumbedita yeshiva in the tenth century. His grandfather Kohen Ṣedeq ben Joseph was gaon of Pumbedita from 917 to 935. His uncle Neḥemiah was gaon from 960 to 968, and his father, Neḥemiah’s younger brother, had been av bet din (chief judge of the court). Around 998, Samuel was selected to succeed Ṣemaḥ Ṣedeq b…

Samuel ben Hosha‘na

(394 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Samuel ben Hoshaʿna was one of the central figures of the Jerusalem yeshiva in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. He first appears in Cairo Geniza records in a letter from 990 dealing with yeshiva affairs but does not yet have a title. He subsequently advanced to the rank of ḥaver (fellow of the academy), was named fourth by 1002 at the latest, and was styled third by 1004, the highest rank he attained. His piyyuṭim(liturgical poems) were preserved in the Geniza. Samuel was also the author of a letter written in 1002 describing the Fatimid battles in Palesti…


(1,932 words)

Author(s): Yosef Tobi
Sanʿa (Ar. Ṣanʿāʾ), the capital of the Republic of Yemen, has been the principal city of Yemen and its religious, political, and economic center throughout history, although for political reasons rulers have frequently preferred other cities as their capital. Sanʿa is located at an elevation of 2,200 meters (7,218 feet) above sea level on a plateau on the western slope of Jabal Nuqūm at the center of the Yemeni Highlands, 170 kilometers (106 miles) from the Red Sea coast and 300 kilometers (186 …


(460 words)

Author(s): Yona Sabar
Sanandaj (Sene, Sinna, Sinno) is the capital of the Iranian province (Pers. ustān) of Kurdistan and lies approximately 129 kilometers (80 miles) north of Kirmanshah. It was founded around 1640. The city was the seat of the Kurdish princes and nobility of Ardalan and a center of Kurdish and Persian poetry and other literary productivity. The Muslim-Kurdish population is Sunni, in contrast to the generally Shī’ī population in the rest of Iran. In addition to the Kurdish majority, Christian Chaldeans, Armenia…


(472 words)

Author(s): M.J. Cano
Santarém (Ar. Shantarīn) is a city in Portugal to the northeast of Lisbon. It had an important Jewish community throughout the Middle Ages, but there are no details about its Jews during the Islamic period. The first reliable information about a Jewish presence dates from 1140, when King Afonso Henriques (Alfonso I)conquered Santarém and found a noteworthy number of Jews and a synagogue considered to be the oldest in Portugal. He was the first Portuguese king to issue legislation on the relationships between Jews and Christians. In 1265,  Dinis (Denis) ascended the Portuguese thron…

Sanua, James

(11 words)

Author(s): Norman A. Stillman
see Ṣanūʿ (Sanua), Yaʿqūb (James) Norman A. Stillman

Ṣanūʿ (Sanua), Yaʿqūb (James)

(802 words)

Author(s): Jacob M. Landau
Yaʿqūb Ṣanūʿ, an Egyptian patriot, journalist, and playwright also known as James Sanua, represents one of the rare instances of a Jew who was actively involved in Egyptian politics. His father, Raphael, was a Sephardi Jew who had come to Egypt from Livorno and under the Capitulations (Ar. imtiyāzāt) enjoyed the status of a protégé. Yaʿqūb, born in Cairo in 1839, received a scholarship to study in Europe and went to Livorno for three years. On his return to Cairo, he earned a living for a few years by teaching foreign languages (of which he k…

Sao Pãulo

(8 words)

Author(s): Norman A. Stillman
see Brazil Norman A. Stillman

Saphir, Jacob

(307 words)

Author(s): Tudor Parfitt
Jacob Saphir (1822–1886) was a Jewish traveler and writer born in Oshmyany (Ashmyany) in what is now Belarus. His family moved to Palestine while he was still a child, settling in Safed, but in 1836, after their deaths, he moved to Jerusalem. In 1848, the Jewish community of Safed commissioned Saphir to travel as a meshullaḥ (emissary) through "the southern lands"  to collect alms, the so-called ḥaluqa, for the poor of Jerusalem. In 1854, he undertook a second journey, this time to raise funds for the construction of the Ḥurva Synagogue in Jerusalem, which…


(308 words)

Author(s): Amy Horowitz
Sapho, a multi-talented artist best known as a singer with a strong East/West repertoire and a supporter of peace and human rights, was born in 1950 to Jewish parents in Marrakesh. At age sixteen, she immigrated with her family to France, and was soon accepted by the Petit Conservatoire de Mireille in Paris. Despite a 1977 contract with RCA, she did not receive much publicity until her second album,   Janis (1980), produced in London, which was followed in quick succession with three more albums by 1983. During this period, she became known for her dramatic stage …

Saporta, Ḥanokh

(332 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Ḥanokh Saporta (Ṣaporta, Sasportas) was a scholar from the Iberian Peninsula who moved to the Ottoman Empire before the expulsion of 1492. Born into one of Catalonia’s foremost Jewish families, Saporta first settled in Edirne (Adrianople) together with other distinguished rabbis from Spain and Portugal who became the leaders of the local Romaniot, Ashkenazi, and Italian congregations. Around 1481, sometime after the arrival of Isaac Ṣarfati from Germany, Saporta moved to the new Ottoman capital of Istanbul. There he headed a yeshiva whose students came from many different …


(1,937 words)

Author(s): Angel Saénz-Badillos
Saragossa is a city on the river Ebro, in Aragon, in the northeastern part of the Iberian Peninsula. It began as a Celtiberian village on which the Carthaginians built a military post called Salduie. In Roman times it was called Caesaraugusta, in honor of the emperor Augustus. The Muslims reduced the name to Saraqusṭa when they took the city in 714. The Christians called it Zaragoza. 1. Muslim Saraqusṭa During the emirate of Cordova, Saragossa resisted an attack by Charlemagne in 777 and became the most important city of the Upper March (Ar. al-thaghr al-aʿlā) of Muslim Spain. During the…

Sarajevo (Bosna Saray)

(9 words)

Author(s): Avigdor Levy
see Bosnia, Bosnia-Herzegovina Avigdor Levy

Sardari, Abdol Hossein

(862 words)

Author(s): Fariborz Mokhtari
Abdol Hossein Sardari was Iran’s diplomatic representative in Paris after its legation relocated to Vichy in 1940.  He  safeguarded the lives and property of Iranian Jews in France by persuading the Nazis that Iranian “followers of Moses” were of Iranian blood and Aryan racial stock. Abdol Hossein Sardari was born into a privileged aristocratic family in Tehran in 1914. His mother, Afsar-Salṭana, was Shah Nāṣir al-Dīn Qājār’s (r. 1848–1896) niece, married to the eccentric Sulaymān Adīb al-Salṭana. The couple had four sons and three daughte…

Ṣarfati Family

(1,615 words)

Author(s): Shalom Bar-Asher
The Ṣarfati (Ṣarfaty, Ṣerfaty, ha-Ṣarfati) family of rabbis, jurists ( dayyanim), and government-appointed civil leaders ( negidim, sing. nagid ) was prominent in Morocco from the sixteenth through the twentieth century. The family traced its genealogy to descendants of the famed  Jacob ben Meʾir Tam(Rabbenu Tam, ca. 1100–ca. 1171) who had migrated to Spain from France (Heb. Ṣarfat; hence the family name). After the Spanish expulsion in 1492, one branch of the family settled in Fez. A complete Ṣarfati family tree may be found in Benṭov’s introduction to Toledot Yiṣḥaq. The first note…

Ṣarfati, Isaac

(643 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Isaac Ṣarfati was a German rabbi who settled in the Ottoman Empire prior to the conquest of Istanbul in 1453. He is thought to have been the author of the famous circular letter urging the Jewish communities of Central Europe to immigrate to the Ottoman realms. Although his surname indicates a family origin in northern France ( Ṣarfat), Ṣarfati came to the Ottoman Empire from Germany. Soon afterwards, he became a prominent member of the rabbinate of the Jewish community in Edirne (Adrianople), then the Ottoman capital. Rosanes and others have argued that Ṣarfati served as chief ra…

Şarhon, Karen Gerşon

(207 words)

Author(s): Rifat Bali
Karen Gerşon Şarhon is a scholar of Judeo-Spanish, a singer in the Los Pasharos Sepharadis group, and the coordinator of the Ottoman-Turkish Sephardic Research Center. She was born in 1958 in Istanbul and graduated from Robert College and later on from the Linguistics and American Literature Department of the Bosphorus University (formerly Robert College) in Istanbul. She has an M.A. in social pyschology, having written her thesis on the Judeo-Spanish language, and has taught English in the Foreign Languages School of Bosphorus University. In 2006 Şarhon  became the coordinato…


(9 words)

Author(s): Norman A. Stillman
see Banking (Modern Period) Norman A. Stillman

Sar Shalom ben Boaz

(509 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Sar Shalom ben Boaz served as gaon of Sura from either 847 or 851 until 857. More than one hundred of his responsa (or those attributed to him) have survived. Like gaonic responsa in general, the majority were addressed to the Jews of Qayrawan. Their survival attests to the strong relationship between Sura and Qayrawan under Sar Shalom’s gaonate. His immediate predecessor at Sura, Kohen Ṣedeq bar Ivomay (or Ikhomay), and his successor, Naṭronay bar Hilay, similarly corresponded extensively with Qayrawan. All three maintained ties with the Jews of the Iberi…

Sar Shalom ben Moses ha-Levi

(843 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Abū Zikrī Sar Shalom (Yaḥyā) ben Moses ha-Levi served as raʾīs al-yahūd (nagid) in Fustat around 1170 to 1171 and again from around 1173 to 1195. Like his predecessors in office Maṣliaḥ (1127–1139), Samuel ben Hananiah (1140–1159), and his brother Nethanel ha-Levi ben Moses (1159–ca. 1169), he bore the title gaon. Before his appointment to the headship of the Jews, Sar Shalom held the post of av bet din (chief judge) in the branch of the Palestinian yeshiva in Damascus. According to the twelfth-century traveler Benjamin of Tudela, the gaon of the yeshiva was Sar Shalom’s brother Azariah.…

Sarug, Israel

(481 words)

Author(s): Pinchas Giller
Israel Sarug (d. 1610) was born into a prominent Egyptian rabbinic family. His activities in the first few decades of his life are uncertain. It may be that he became acquainted with Isaac Luria in Egypt and followed him to Safed, but it is also possible that he arrived in Safed only after Luria’s death to study with his surviving disciples. What is clear is that in 1594 he went to Italy, where he had an influence on Pico della Mirandola and other Neoplatonists. One of his most illustrious students was Naphtali Ṣevi Bacharach, whose voluminous ʿ Emeq ha-Melekh (Valley of the King) set forth …

Sasportas, Jacob

(570 words)

Author(s): Matthias Lehmann
Jacob Sasportas (ca. 1610–1698), born in Oran, Algeria, was one of the most outspoken opponents of the messianic movement around Shabbetay Ṣevi and his prophet, Nathan of Gaza. He is best known for his Ṣiṣat Novel Ṣevi (Heb. The Fading Flower  of Glorious Beauty [Ṣevi] - Isa. 28:1), an invaluable collection of letters and documents about the Sabbatean movement. An abridged version, Kiṣṣur Ṣiṣat Novel Ṣevi, was printed in Amsterdam in 1737 and again in Altona in 1757, but the full work was only published by Isaiah Tishby in 1954. Sasportas was by all accounts a divisive character invo…

Sasson, Aaron Ben Joseph

(352 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Aaron ben Joseph Sasson(1550 or 1556–1626) was a  rabbinical scholar and author in the Ottoman Empire. A native of Salonica, he studied in the yeshivot of that city and became an outstanding student of Mordechai Maṭalon (d. 1580). Counted as one of Salonica’s foremost scholars, Sasson was a respected teacher and rabbi, as well as an adjudicator ( poseq) of questions of religious law. Petitions reached him from cities near and far, and his opinions were cited by many of Salonica’s rabbis, particularly Solomon ben Isaac ha-Levi(le-Vet ha-Levi, 1532–1600), his father-in-law. The …

Sassoon Family

(1,509 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
The Sassoons (Sasons, Sassons) are a prominent Jewish family of Baghdadiorigin whose commercial and financial networks dominated trade in India and the Far East at the height of the British colonial period. Members of the family engaged in philanthropic and scholarly enterprises throughout the Jewish world. The Sassoons were typical of the Jewish notable families that prospered in business and finance in the late Ottoman period cities likeIstanbul (the Zonana, Aciman/Adjiman, Camondo/Kamondo, and Gabbai families), Izmir (Smyrna), Damascus, and Acre (Akko, the Farḥi family), a…

Şaül, Linet

(142 words)

Author(s): Rifat Bali
Linet Şaül is a Turkish Jewish opera singer (soprano). She was born in 1970 in Istanbul. She graduated in 1995 from the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford in the United States and later studied with the Italian baritone Licinio Montefusco. Since 1998 she has been performing at the Izmir State Opera. Some of her roles include Don Giovanni (Zerlina), Faust (Siébel), Fidelio (Marzelline), Barber of Seville (Rosina), and Carmen (Frasquita). She has given concerts in Turkey, Italy, South Africa, and Uruguay. In 1995 she was a finalist in the Internationa…


(9 words)

Author(s): Norman A. Stillman
see Banking (Modern Period) Norman A. Stillman

Sāzmān-i Bānovān-i Yahudī-yi Irānī (Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization)

(322 words)

Author(s): Nahid Pirnazar
Sāzmān-i Bānovān-i Yahudī-yi Irānī, the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization (IJWO), was founded in Los Angeles in 1976 as a successor to Sāzmān-i Bānovān-i Yahud-i Iran (SBYI; The Jewish Ladies’ Organization of Iran), which was founded in Tehran in 1947. The SBYI was established in response to the need to ameliorate health and educational conditions for Jewish women and children. Although it still exists in Iran in name, its apogee was between 1947 and 1978. Its organizational activities included the establishment o…

Scali, David ha-Kohen

(556 words)

Author(s): Yossef Charvit
David ben Moses ha-Kohen Scali (Sqalī) was born during the Ten Days of Repentance in 1861 in Debdou, Morocco, a city whose description as a city of priests ( kohanim) he linked to its origin in the Spanish city of Seville. He died in Oran, Algeria, in 1949. Scali ascribed great importance to his priestly ancestry and diligently detailed his descent from the priestly families of ancient Israel. As did members of other families in the Sephardi diaspora, Scali indicated his priestly status by attaching the word kohen (priest) to his surname (e.g., Kohen-al-Ḥaddād, Kohen-Ṭawīl, Kohen-…

Scemama, Georges

(242 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Georges Scemama was born into a Jewish family in Tunis around 1905. He held Tunisian citizenship and worked as a clerk. In the early 1930s he was active in the Union of Business Employees. He was also a member of the underground leadership of the Communist Party from 1933 to 1936, and in June 1936 became a member of its secretariat. He represented Tunisia at the Congress of the French Communist Party in Arles from December 25 to 27, 1937, and was elected secretary of the Tunisian Communist Party at the Ariana Congress  in Tunis on May 20–2…

Scemmama, Nessim

(674 words)

Author(s): Richard Parks
Nessim Scemmama (Nissim Samama, Shamama) was born in 1805 into a very humble family in the ḥāra (Jewish quarter) of Tunis. Ambitious by nature, Scemmama opened a fabric shop in the ḥāra, the proceeds from which supported him and his extended family, including his three wives (see Polygyny). Scemmama’s life took a dramatic turn when one of his clients, the general Maḥmūd ibn Muḥammad ibn ʿAyyād, impressed by his industriousness, invited him to join his retinue. As the general’s servant, Scemmama had access to the court of the bey, where he impressed everyone he met with his ha…

Scialom, Sedat

(267 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Sedat Sami Scialom (1939—2008), a well-known Turkish businessman, was president of the Grafika Maya Reklam Ajansi, a major advertising agency founded by his father. Scialom graduated from the Lycée Saint Michel in Şişli, Istanbul in 1957 and from the Faculty of Economics of Istanbul University in 1961. He then went to Belgium for his higher education, graduating from the École Supérieure Technique de Publicité in 1963.             While studying in Brussels, Scialom worked at Bodden et Dechy, an advertising agency, as a client representative. Later, he moved t…

Science (Medieval)

(2,932 words)

Author(s): Robert Morrison
The scientific work of Jews in the Islamic world represents an important part of the history of science in Jewish civilization. To begin with, there are reports, though difficult to verify, that a Jewish physician in Syria, Māsarjawayh, translated a Syriac text on medicine into Arabic in 684. Then, the best-known astrologer of the Abbasid Caliphate, Māshāʾallāh (d. ca. 810–815), was Jewish, and was among those responsible for ascertaining the most propitious time for the founding of Baghdad. Of Māshāʾallāh’s writings in Arabic, only excerpts and cita…

Sciuto, Lucien

(935 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Lucien Sciuto (1868–1947) was a journalist, poet, and writer who was active in the last years of the Ottoman Empire and afterwards in Egypt. Born into a religious family in Salonica in 1868, he received his primary education at the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) school there, continuing his studies independently after leaving school at the age of fourteen. He began his literary career in 1884 with Poèmes misanthropiques, and another volume of poetry in French that included the satirical “l’Or.” In 1894, he published Paternité (Paris, 1894), which included a poem dedicated…


(10 words)

Author(s): Norman A. Stillman
see United States of America Norman A. Stillman

Sebag, Paul

(369 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Paul Sebag was a Communist activist, sociologist, and historian of Tunisia. Born into a bourgeois family in Tunis in 1919, he was educated in Paris. On his return to Tunis, he joined the Communist Party in 1936 and was one of its leaders from 1939 to 1943. He was arrested at the beginning of 1941 and sentenced to life at hard labor but was released in late 1942. After the liberation of Tunisia from German occupation in May 1943, he became a member of the editorial board of the underground communist newspaper L’Avenir Social. Sebag was professor of philosophy at the prestigious Lycée Carn…

Seder Eliyahu

(472 words)

Author(s): Moshe Lavee
Seder Eliyahu is a semi-midrashic work that differs from the majority of midrashic compilations in style, structure, language, and thematic emphasis. It consists of a series of teachings in homiletic style that incorporate midrashic materials, stories, and parables attributed in some cases to prominent tannaim, and presents itself as the work of a narrator who speaks at times in the first person. Unlike most midrashic works, Seder Eliyahu is not structured as an anthological or collective compil…

Sefer Josippon

(889 words)

Author(s): Naḥem Ilan
The Book of Josippon, or Sefer Josippon, is an account of Jewish history during the Second Temple period. Since the Middle Ages it has been considered a central source in the study of Jewish antiquity. It was widely distributed in several versions that vary in language and length. Scholars have tried to determine which version was the original Josippon. The lack of satisfying explanations, combined with the book’s importance and complexity, resulted in  David Flusser’s comprehensive research, published in two volumes in 1979 and 1981. Flusser determined that the shor…

Sefer Maṭʿame Binyamin

(493 words)

Author(s): David Yeroushalmi
Sefer Maṭʿame Binyamin (The Book of Benjamin’s Delicacies), a Judeo-Persian homiletic commentary to the Pentateuch, was written by Benjamin ben Elijah of Kashan, a preacher active in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Little is known about the author. From the available Judeo-Persian manuscripts, it appears that he was a poet as well as a preacher in the Jewish community of Kashan, where he completed Maṭʿame Binyamin in 1823. Sefer Maṭʿame Binyamin is structured as a homiletic and didactic commentary on the weekly Torah portions (Heb. parashot). The complete work, comprisi…


(2,036 words)

Author(s): Norman A. Stillman
1.   General Description and History  Sefrou is a large town in north-central Morocco that had over thirty thousand inhabitants at the end of the twentieth century. It is located at an altitude of 850 meters (2,790 feet) in the foothills of the Middle Atlas just above the Sais plain only 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of Fez. The town is situated in a green, picturesque setting surrounded by gardens and fruit orchards (most notably cherry) that give it an oasislike aspect. The area is watered by seve…


(353 words)

Author(s): Norman A. Stillman
In mid-1951, the young and struggling State of Israel adopted a policy of selective immigration (Heb. seleqṣiya) that placed severe restrictions upon poor Moroccan Jews who were unable to pay their for their own immigration, had no family breadwinner accompanying them, or had a family member in need of medical care. Under the new policy, the Jewish Agency accepted for ʿ aliya only families accompanied by a healthy breadwinner between the ages of eighteen and forty-five. The policy also applied to Jews from Tunisia, albeit to a lesser extent. There were two primary rationales for th…

Sémach, Oro

(407 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Antébi
Born on September 29, 1874 in Tatar-Bazrdjik (Pazardzik), Bulgaria, Oro Sémach (née Guéron) was one of the first women to attend school in Bulgaria. She was educated at a school opened by the Alliance Israélite Universelle in 1888, and at the age of twenty became principal of the AIU girls’ school in her hometown. In September 1895, she married one of the leaders of the Alliance, Yomtob Sémach (1869–1940), scion of a wealthy family in Edirne (Adrianople), and they had four children. Adventurous in nature, they followed the caravan routes to Damascus and Baghda…

Sémach, Yomtob

(851 words)

Author(s): Mohammed Kenbib | Daniel Schroeter
Yomtob Sémach(1869–1940) was one of the most influential educators of the Alliance Israelite Universelle(AIU) system in Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire, and Morocco over a period spanning fifty years. He was born in Yambol, Bulgaria, in 1869 into a wealthy merchant family originally from Edirne (Adrianople) and was educated at the local AIU schools and then at the École Normale Israélite Orientale in Paris. He began his teaching career at an  AIU school in Sousse, Tunisia, in 1891, but returned to  Bulgaria two years later following the death of his father, and was appointed f…

Ṣemaḥ Ṣedeq ben Isaac

(226 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Ṣemaḥ Ṣedeq ben Isaacserved as gaon of Sura from sometime after 987 until before 999. He was the first gaon of the Sura academy after the four-decade closure that began in 942. A grandson of Ṣemaḥ ben Palṭoy, gaon of Pumbedita from 872 to 890, Ṣemaḥ Ṣedeq corresponded with Elhanan ben Shemariah, whom he knew as a student of Sherira and Hay Gaon in Pumbedita, and he made efforts to strengthen ties between Sura and Fustat. In letters he wrote to Elhanan preserved in the Cairo Geniza, Semaḥ explained his position on theological topics such as God's unity and attributes.  He…

Sephardi Impact on Islamicate Jewry

(2,362 words)

Author(s): Norman A. Stillman
1.    Demographic Impact The arrival of Sephardim in the Islamic world following the expulsion from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497 marked a veritable watershed in the history of the Jews of the Muslim world. Many of the exiles sought a refuge in the Islamic kingdoms of the Maghreb, in Mamluk Egypt and the Levant, and in the expanding Ottoman Empire, which within a generation would take over all of the Middle East and North Africa from Persia to Morocco. The Iberian refugees infused new vitality—de…

Sephardi Jurisprudence in the Past Half-Millennium

(9,148 words)

Author(s): Zvi Zohar
After the riots of 1391, the situation of Spanish Jewry became increasingly difficult, and during the century leading up to the expulsion, a change in the orientation of Spanish-Jewish culture took place. The very enterprise of Torah qua study and application of Jewish law was becoming less than central to the community’s self-definition.  Against this backdrop, Rabbi Isaac Canpanton (1360–1463) consciously elaborated a novel hermeneutic methodology of talmudic study, based on the insight that there was a close inner affinity between medieval semantics (based on Aristotle’s De In…

Sephardim/Sephardi Jews in the Ottoman Empire

(5,815 words)

Author(s): Minna Rozen
1.Definition The term Sephardim refers to descendants of the Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula who settled in many parts of the world and maintained various characteristics of their identity as well as a sense of affinity to a greater “Sephardi Nation” worldwide. The typical characteristics of the group are the use of the Judeo-Spanish language (the vernacular called Judezmo, the written language called Ladino); adherence to the Sephardi liturgy and rites, and to certain legal rules and pra…

Sephardi (Sephardim)

(1,277 words)

Author(s): Matthias Lehmann
Sephardi (pl. Sephardim) refers either to the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula and their descendants after the expulsion from Spain in 1492 or, in juxtaposition to Ashkenazi (Ashkenazim), to one of the two major traditions of Jewish law and custom, with the Sephardim following Rabbi Joseph Caro’s sixteenth-century code, the Bet Yosef. In either case, the meaning of the term has varied over time and is best understood in changing historical contexts. It derives from the place-name Sepharad, which appears in the biblical book of Obadiah (1:20) and was identified as Spain in the Aramaic Targum …

Serah bat Asher

(1,148 words)

Author(s): Orly R. Rahimiyan
Serah bat Asher was a granddaughter of the biblical patriarch Jacob (Genesis 46:17). A cave and synagogue connected with her in central Iran, 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) west of Isfahan, near a village called Pīr Bakrān in the area of Linjān, has become one of the holiest places of Iranian Jewry and an important pilgrimage destination. Legend explains how Serah ended up so far from the land of her forefathers and why this place is so holy for Jews. According to a local tradition partially based on Midrash ha-Gadol, when the sons of Jacob returned from their second journey to buy food in …


(2,494 words)

Author(s): Omer Turan
Surrounded by Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, and Bosnia, Serbia (Ott. Tur. Ṣırb) is an inland country in the northwestern Balkans. The earliest records of a Jewish presence in Serbia date from the late fourteenth century, when Jews from Hungary settled in Belgrade. They were followed in the fifteenth century by Jews from Bavaria and Italy. With the conquest of Belgrade in 1521, Ottoman rule of Serbia was consolidated. After the conquest of Buda in 1526, more than two thousand Jews from Hungary were settled in Ottoman territories, and some of them came to Belgrade. In …

Serfaty, Abraham

(535 words)

Author(s): Mohammed Hatimi
Abraham Serfaty is a internationally prominent Moroccan political activist who spent many years in prison and became a symbol of the popular resistance against King Hassan II’s authoritarian government. Staunchly anti-Zionist and a supporter of the Palestinians, Serfaty represents a model of the Moroccan Jew in eyes of many of his Muslim fellow citizens—assimilated, respected, and attached to his ancestors’ North African homeland. Many of his coreligionists, however, see him as subversive and marginal to the Jewish community.  Abraham Serfaty was born in 1926 in Casablanc…

Ṣeror, Raphael Jedidiah Solomon ben Joshua

(465 words)

Author(s): Yossef Charvit
Raphael Jedidiah Solomon ben Joshua Ṣeror (1681–1738) was one of the rabbinical elite of the Jewish community of Algeria in the early eighteenth century, the last era of communal stability before the French occupation and the ensuing erosion of the traditional way of life. Although a leading religious scholar, Ṣeror also possessed broad general knowledge: “He knew the quality and the matters of the country. . . and all turn to him for his medical wisdom, for his great acumen in the understanding of nature that he knows and with which he is familiar” (Introduction to Pri Ṣaddiq). Ṣeror was re…

Serres (Siroz)

(1,734 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
The town of Serres(Gk. Serrai; Turk. Siroz) in eastern Macedonia was known as Siris in Antiquity and Dirra in Byzantine times. Jews may have lived in Serres throughout the Byzantine period, but there are only a few references to a Jewish presence there in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.  Benjamin of Tudela, who visited the region around 1167, mentions the towns of Demitrizi with fifty Jews and Drama with 140, either of which might have been Serres. The names of local Romaniot families included Galimidi, Meshulam, Mizrahi, and Ḥazzan.  The Ottomans conquered Serres, which the…


(678 words)

Author(s): Jean Laloum
Jews lived in Sétif(Ar. Saṭīf), in the Constantine region of Algeria, in Roman times, according to inscriptions that confirm the existence of a synagogue in the ancient city of Sitifis. Whether Jews also lived there in the Middle Ages is by no means clear. The town is described by medieval Arab geographers such as al-Bakrī as large and having inexpensive markets, but no Jews are mentioned, nor does the name of the town appear in documents from the Cairo Geniza. The French entered the city in 1838 during the conquest of Algeria. In the early years o…


(1,172 words)

Author(s): M.J. Cano
Seville (Ar. Ishbīliya) is the principal city of Andalusia in southwestern Spain. Jewish tradition holds that Jews first settled there at the time of the destruction of the First Temple (586 b.c.e.), but there is no evidence of a Jewish community until the Visigothic period. In the seventh century, Isidore of Seville, who authored polemics against the Jews, presided over the Third Council of Toledo, which enacted a series of anti-Jewish laws. In 712 Seville was conquered by Mūsā ibn Nuṣayr, and according to the anonymous Arab chronicle Akhbār Majmūʿa (p. 16) , he organized a  Jewish guard …


(1,244 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Sfax (Ar. Safāqus) is an important port city on the Gulf of Gabès on the east-central coast of Tunisia. It is situated in the wide Tunisian central plain and is subject to influences both from the modern north and the more traditional south. Sfax was built in 849 on the ruins of the Roman cities of Taparura and Thaenae. Its economic basis lies in olive trees and olive oil, maritime industries (fish, sea sponges, shipbuilding, fishing nets), textiles, and phosphate and sulfur mining in nearby Gafsa. The origins of the Jewish community of Sfax are unknown. Cairo Geniza documents at…
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