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Elḥanan ben Shemariah

(516 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Elhanan ben Shemariah ben Elhanan, a member of a leading Fustat family, began to play a major role in the community during the lifetime of his father, Shemariah ben Elḥanan, who prepared him for a position of leadership. Both father and son apparently spent some time at the Pumbedita Yeshiva in Babylonia, where they were designated by the gaon to be the leaders of the Babylonian congregation (Heb. qahal) in Fustat and responsible for contacts with the yeshiva. When Shemarya died in 1011, Elhanan was in Damascus in the course of a wide-ranging tour of the Jewish …

David ben Daniel ben Azariah

(506 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
David, the only son of the gaon of the Palestinian yeshiva Daniel ben Azariah was born around 1058. Only four when his father died, he was evidently raised by family members in Damascus. When the Seljuks conquered Syria and Palestine in the 1170s, he went to Egypt, where he was adopted by relatives in Damira in the Nile Delta, who treated him well and pledged him in marriage to a female relative. David had other plans, however, as well as supporters who saw in him  a hope for redemption because of his Davidic descent. Leaving Damira and his fiancée, he moved to Fustat, where he was received with…

Abiathar ben Elijah ha-Kohen

(555 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Abiathar ben Elijah ha-Kohen, who was born around 1041, probably in Jerusalem, was the last important gaon of the Palestinian yeshiva. He was the eldest of the four sons of Elijah ha-Kohen Gaon, and in keeping with standard practice, his father put him on an advancement track in the yeshiva. By 1067 he was already signing documents as “fourth in line,” thus making him a member of the ḥavurat ha-qodesh (sacred collegium; i.e., the yeshiva); by 1071 he was co-signing responsa with his father and, apparently as his right hand, went on missions to Egypt on his behalf. In addition to Geniza docum…

Samuel (Abū Manṣūr) ben Hananiah

(403 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
A famous physician in Cairo, Samuel (Abū Manṣūr) ben Hananiah came from a family of physicians that included his father and brother and was appointed court physician to the Fatimid caliph al-Ḥāfiẓ (r. 1131–1149). According to Muslim chroniclers, his master, facing the prospect of a civil war between his two sons, summoned Samuel immediately upon his ascent to the throne along with another physician, a Christian. He asked Samuel to prepare a deadly drug for one of the sons. Samuel refused, claiming he did not know how to prepa…

Nathan ben Abraham

(540 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Abū Sahl Nathan ben Abraham ben Saul, a scion of a gaonic family on his mother’s side, was born in Palestine in the last quarter of the tenth century. He went to Qayrawan around 1011 in connection with an inheritance left by his father, but remained there to study under Ḥushiel ben Ḥananel. In Qayrawan, and later in Fustat, he engaged in commerce and made many important friends. His wife was the daughter of Mevorakh ben Eli, one of Fustat’s wealthier citizens. Around age forty, he returned to Palestine, where he was warmly received by the gaon, Solomon ben Judah. Nathan demanded to be appointed av b…

Megillat Aḥimaʿaṣ

(603 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Megillat Aḥimaʿaṣ  (The Scroll of Ahimaaz) was written by Ahimaaz ben Paltiel, a Jew who lived in the southern Italian city of Capua in the eleventh century. By his own account, it was written over a period of four months in the year 1054. The work recounts the history of his family down to his own time, starting with the Roman destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of Palestinian Jews to Italy in the first century C.E. Ahimaaz almost certainly had other goals as an author beyond the historical. He obviously enjoyed writing and found it a source of amusement. His chronicle is written in…

Abraham ben Hillel

(289 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Abraham ben Hillel (d. 1223), known as he-Ḥasid (Heb. the pious), was a scholar, physician, and poet from a distinguished family in Fustat. His grandfather was the Av Beit Din (chief judge) of the Jewish court in Egypt. He is known to us mainly as the author of the satirical polemic   Megillat Zuṭṭa, a composition in verse and rhymed prose (written in 1196) that describes the activities of the anonymous Zuṭṭa (Aram. little man),  most likely Sar Shalom ben Moses ha-Levi, an intriguer and pretender to the office of nagid and a bitter opponent of Moses Maimonides in the power struggle that t…

Megillat Zuṭṭa

(437 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
In the period after the death of  the nagid (Ar. rāʾis al-yahūd) Samuel ben Hananiah, an individual called Zuṭṭa (Aram. Little Man), whose real name was Yaḥya, although he also referred to himself as Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace), exploited the chaotic situation attendant on the conquest of Fatimid Egypt by Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn the Ayyubid (Saladin) to claim the leadership of Egyptian Jewry. The only source for this complicated series of events is a work entitled Megillat Zuṭṭa (Heb. The Scroll of Zuṭṭa). Since its author, Abraham ben Hillel, was one of Zuṭṭa’s opponents, there i…

Alluf

(473 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
The  title alluf, which in the Bible designates tribal chieftains (e.g., Gen. 36:15 ff.), was given new significance in the gaonic period along with other biblical titles, such as nagid . It was granted by the Babylonian yeshivot to those who sat in the first row of the yeshiva, those destined to be candidates for the gaonate, and later also to their supporters who headed congregations (Heb. qehalim) in other Babylonian communities and served as intermediaries for a Babylonian yeshiva (see Yeshivot in Babylonia/Iraq). In a tenth-century account often called “ The Report of Nathan the …

Maimonides, Joshua ben Abraham

(261 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Joshua ben Abraham Maimonides (Maymūnī) was the third son of Abraham ben David Maimonides. He inherited the office of nagid in Egypt either directly from his father or from his older brother Moses. According to the sixteenth-century Jewish chronicler Joseph Sambari, he was born in 1310 and died in 1355. Very little is known about his personal life other than the fact that he was a renowned and respected scholar. A letter to him from Hebron in the Cairo Geniza offers condolences on the death of his older brother Obadiah and laments the unfortunate state of the Hebron commu…

Ibn Furāt Abraham ben Isaac Ha-Kohen

(329 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
A Jewish notable who had special connections with the Fatimid authorities, Abraham ben Isaac ha-Kohen ibn Furāt was the scion of a family of physicians in eleventh-century Fustat. Like his father, he bore the title ha-rofe’(Heb. the physician). He lived for an extended period in Ramle, Palestine, where he served as physician to the governor. His initial connections with the Jewish community were with the gaon Solomon ben Judah in the third and fourth decades of the eleventh century; after Solomon’s death, he established extremely close ties with his successor, Daniel ben Azariah. On his…

Elijah ben Solomon ha-Kohen

(388 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Elijah ben Solomon ha-Kohen was gaon of the Palestinian yeshiva from 1062 till his death in 1083. His father, Solomon, had served as gaon for barely one year, in 1025, and Elijah’s elder brother, Joseph, was av beit din of the yeshiva during the gaonate of Daniel ben Azariah. After Joseph’s death in 1053, Elijah took over as av bet din, and he succeeded to the gaonate on the death of Daniel ben Azariah in 1062. The period during which Elijah held office was a time of severe crisis in Palestine. Between 1071 and 1073 the Seljuks wrested the country from the Fatimids, remaining in control un…

Abū ʾl-Munajjā Solomon ibn Shaʿya

(358 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Abū ʾl-Munajjā Solomon ibn Shaʿya was the official in charge of agriculture under al-Afḍal, the viceroy of Fatimid Egypt. Over a period of six years beginning in 1113, he planned and built a canal in the eastern sector of the Nile Delta that significantly improved the irrigation system. Although al-Afḍal had named the canal after himself, the grateful peasant farmers of the Delta dubbed it the Abū ʾl-Munajjā canal. According to the fourteenth-century chronicler Ibn Duqmāq, it was either for this reason or because of the huge cost of the project that al-Afḍal had al-Mu…

Nagid

(2,393 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
The Hebrew title nagid, derived from a biblical term meaning ruler (I Kings 1:35), was the designation in the Middle Ages of the head of a Jewish community, first in North Africa and later in al-Andalus, Egypt, and Yemen. In post-medieval and early modern North Africa, it became the standard title for a person recognized by the government as the secular head of a Jewish community, a position known in Arabic as muqaddam (Algeria), qāʾid (Tunisia), and shayk al-yahūd (Morocco and elsewhere). 1.  The First Nagids in the Maghreb In the Maghreb, the term nagid first came into use in Ifrī…

David ben Hezekiah

(402 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
David ben Hezekiah, who died sometime before 1090, was the son of the Babylonian exilarch Hezekiah II (r. ca. 1000–ca. 1060). Very little is known about David’s life. He was active in communal affairs in Palestine from the 1030s until about 1055 and is often referred to in Geniza documents (see Cairo Geniza) as nasi, “nasi of the Diasporas of all Israel” (Heb. nesi galuyot kol Yisra’el), and “nagid of the people of the Lord” (Heb. negid ʿam Adonay). He obtained the support of the Palestinian gaon Solomon ben Judah, but apparently undermined the yeshiva’s av bet din, Zadok ha-Levi ben Lev…

Abraham ben Nathan son of Nathan ben Abraham

(463 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Abraham ben Nathan, born around 1037, was the only the son of Nathan ben Abraham, the rival of Gaon Solomon ben Judah in the famous conflict that took place between 1038 and 1042. The dispute ended when Nathan ben Abraham was appointed Av Beit Din of the yeshiva, with hopes of obtaining the position of gaon. He apparently died before achieving this goal. Abraham ben Nathan inherited his father’s ongoing feeling of frustration and bitterness toward the Palestinian yeshiva and its leaders. His maternal grandfather, Mevorakh ben Eli, was one of the leaders of the Babylonian communi…

Nethanel ben Moses ha-Levi

(380 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Nethanel ben Moses ha-Levi was a physician at the Fatimid court, a renowned scholar, and a communal leader in twelfth-century Egypt. The Cairo Geniza has preserved a fascinating letter that Nethanel wrote to his friends as a youth. In it he complains that his father, Moses, then the “Sixth in the Society of Scholars” (i.e., the yeshiva) and a physician in the government hospital, had paid him 25 dinars, a large amount by any standard, to stay home and study rather than go out with his friends. The investment paid off: Nethanel became a famous physician and received an appointment to the …

Daniel ben Azariah

(434 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Daniel ben Azariah, a scion of the exilarchic house in Babylonia, was gaon of the Palestinian yeshiva from 1052 to 1062. After his branch of the family was deposed from the exilarchate, Daniel set out to find a place where he could build a following. Uncertain at first whether to settle in the Maghrib or in Egypt, he eventually created a cadre of supporters in Fustat, mainly among prominent members of the Jerusalemite congregation. Several Geniza documents indicate that Daniel was charismatic but arrogant, driven by ambition to obtain the gaonate of Jerusalem. His cand…

ibn Killis, Abū ʾl-Faraj Yaʿqūb

(737 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
One of the most outstanding statesmen, administrators, and intellectuals of the beginning of the eleventh century, Yaʿqūb ibn Killis was born in Baghdad in 930 into a Jewish family that was apparently of priestly origin. Around ten years later, along with many other Iraqi Jews, the family moved to Palestine. They settled in Ramle, where Ibn Killis eventually became involved in commerce and was appointed to the important postof wakīl al-tujjār (Ar. agent of the merchants). He was soon entangled in unsavory affairs, the substance of which is unclear. According to the Muslim chronicler Ibn …

Ezra ben Abraham ben Mazhir

(452 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Ezra ha-Kohen ben Abraham ben Mazhir was head of the rump Palestinian Yeshiva in Damascus from 1164 to 1191. He was apparently a son-in-law, but not a direct descendant, of the House of Ha-Kohen that had headed the venerable yeshiva, with interruptions, since 1025. By his time the yeshiva was in a serious decline, having been forced to move from Jerusalem to Tyre in 1071 and to Damascus around 1097. In view of the Seljuq and Crusader conquests, the yeshiva under Maṣliaḥ ha-Kohen ben Solomon was finally compelled to relocate to Egypt, which was still under Fatimid rule. Some …
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