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Hillel ben Eli

(473 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Hillel ben Eli was a scribe and cantor in Fustat, Egypt, between 1066 and 1108. Numerous rabbinical court documents and other items in his handwriting have survived, constituting the second-largest body of documents in the Cairo Geniza written in one individual’s handwriting. The only person to surpass him in this respect was his son-in-law, Ḥalfon ha-Levi ben Manasseh, who was also a rabbinical court scribe. Interestingly, the Geniza documents reveal that even an experienced scribe like Hillel ben Eli would sometimes spell the same word differently, even in the same document. In addi…

Ephraim ben Shemariah

(804 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Ephraim ben Shemariah (Abū Kathīr Ephraim ben Shemariah [Maḥfūẓ] ha-Melammed ha-ʿAzzati (al-Muʿallim al-Gazī), ca. 975–1055, was the undisputed leader of the Jerusalemite congregation in Fustat and of the entire Jewish community of Fustat for nearly fifty years, from approximately 1007 until his death in the year 1055, when he was around eighty years old. As his name indicates, his family originated in Palestine. Ephraim made his living in the perfume and medicine trade (his epithet, al-ʿAṭṭār in Arabic and ha-Bosman in Hebrew, means “the perfumer”); he was also a property…

Ḥalfon ha-Levi ben Manasseh

(631 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Ḥalfon ha-Levi ben Manasseh (Abū Saʿid Ḥalfon ha-Levi ben Manasseh Ibn al-Qaṭāʾif) was the most important and prominent rabbinical court clerk (Heb. sofer bet din) in Fustat during the first half of the twelfth century. The Cairo Geniza contains numerous documents and letters in his handwriting and bearing his signature, dating from the years 1100 to 1138. These include at least 255 acts of the rabbinical court recorded in his hand and preserved in full or in fragmentary form, but it is likely that the total number of …

Elijah ben Zechariah

(550 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Elijah ben Zechariah was a very popular jurist of Palestinian ancestry in the Egyptian town of Fustat. In 1228, following the death of Samuel ben Jacob, the need for a communal judge arose in Alexandria. The town notables looked locally for a suitable replacement. When the favored candidate, Abū ʿAlī ben Ḥanīkh, turned out to be unsuitable, it was proposed, as a compromise, to appoint Elijah ben Zechariah to serve with Abū ʿAlī. Elijah would hold the title of dayyan, act as the town’s judge in practice, and receive the position’s salary, while Abū ʿAlī would be titular com…

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 …

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 …

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…

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…

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…

David ben Daniel

(265 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
David ben Daniel was Babylonian exilarch after the Mongol conquest. Little is known about him other than that he was a fifth-generation descendant of Zakkai ben Azariah, brother of Daniel ben Azariah, the gaon of Palestine in the sixth decade of the eleventh century. In April 1288, David ben Daniel wrote a letter from Mosul threatening to excommunicate Solomon (Petit) ben Samuel of Acre, who had raised objections to Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed. Ben Daniel began by explaining the purpose and functions of Maimonides’ writings; he then accused Solomon Petit, by n…

Ḥākim bi-Amr Allāh, al-

(443 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
The Fatimid caliph al-Ḥākim bi-Amr Allāh succeeded his father, al-ʿAzīz, in 996 as a boy of eleven. Extremely pious, he was, even as a child, given to strange behavior. He began to strictly enforce the dress code ( ghiyā r) for dhimmīs (see Dhimma) in 1004. The following year, he banned the production of wine, and in 1009 he ordered Christians to wear a large cross and Jews a bell around their necks when in the public baths. He began to persecute Christians more directly in 1009/1010, destroying the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. but was less severe with the Jews…

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…

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…

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…

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 …

Josiah ben Aaron Gaon

(337 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Josiah ben Aaron was gaon of the Palestinian yeshiva during the first two and a half decades of the eleventh century. His father had held the title ḥaver (Heb. associate or fellow), meaning that he was a member of the yeshiva, and the family claimed descent from the tenth-century gaon of Palestine, Me’ir Gaon. More than thirty letters from Josiah and his circle are preserved in the Cairo Geniza. These documents indicate that he was involved in several disputes within the yeshiva and in other Jewish communities, such as Tiberias. The correspondence gives the imp…

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 …

Megillat Evyatar (Scroll of Abiathar)

(717 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Megillat Evyatar (Scroll of Abiathar) was written by Abiathar Gaon ben Elijah ha-Kohen in 1094. It mirrors the turmoil and internal conflict in the Jewish communities of the eastern portion of the Mediterranean basin at the end of the eleventh century. In particular, it contains direct reverberations of the disasters that befell the Jewish community in Palestine, and especially in Jerusalem, in the wake of a series of political and military vicissitudes that included the Seljuk invasion and the events leading up to the First Crusade. Abiathar was apparently born in the fourth dec…
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