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Saʿadya ben Judah

(158 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Saʿadya ben Judah, the scion of a family of physicians and heads of the Jewish community of Egypt, was a son of the nagid Judah ben Saʿadya. Since Judah died when Saʿadya was a child, the leadership of Egyptian Jewry passed to his uncle, Mevorakh ben Saʿadya, and thus Judah never became nagid or raʾīs al-yahūd (head of the Jews).  He was still active in the Jewish community when his uncle received the title nagid in 1094. The title rayyis granted to Saʿadya ben Judah in a poetic dirge did not indicate an official position in the community but rather a high rank at the Fati…

Mubashshir ben Nissi ha-Levi

(381 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Mubashshir (Mevasser) ha-Levi ben Nissi al-Baghdādī ibn ʿUnāba was a critic of Saʿadya Gaon who lived in Baghdad in the mid-tenth century. His work demonstrates the existence of “internal” rabbinic opponents to tradition, and in particular to Saʿadya’s arguments on behalf of tradition. In his Judeo-Arabic treatise Kitāb Istidrāk al-Sahw al-Mawjūd fī Kutub Raʾs al-Mathība al-Fayyūmī (The Book of the Correction of the Negligence Found in the Books of the Head of the Yeshiva, al-Fayyūmī [Saʿadya]), Mubashshir argues that everything connected with relig…

Moses (Mesharshaya) Kahana ben Jacob Gaon

(157 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Moses (Mesharshaya) Kahana  ben Jacob Gaon was the head of the Sura academy in Iraq from 829 to ca. 839, during the conflict over the exilarchate between David ben Judah and Daniel ben Saul ben Anan, the grandson of ʿAnan ben David. Moses Kahana supported the losing candidate, Daniel ben Saul. According to Hay (Hayya) Gaon (d. 1038), Moses was the subject of false rumors claiming “that he habitually used amulets and incantations and the like,” perhaps a bitter remnant of the struggle over the exilarchate. As gaon, Moses maintained ties with the Jewish center in Qayrawān in particular; t…

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.…

Samuel ben David

(269 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Samuel ben David was exilarch in Baghdad during the Mongol conquest of 1258. His name appears in the letter of Jacob ben Elijah of Valencia (or of Venice?) to the apostate Pablo Christiani describing the situation of the Jews in Baghdad at the time. In order to raise funds to defend the city against the Mongol forces, the Abbasid caliph al-Mustaʿṣim (r. 1247–1258) imposed an enormous tax on the Jews, allegedly at the behest of Muslims who, according to Jacob, claimed that the head of the yeshiva and the exilarch were extremely wealthy: “the head of the yeshi…

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…

Ḥaver (Fellow of the Palestinian Yeshiva)

(584 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
The title ḥaver was granted to fellows (members) of the Palestinian yeshiva who in turn served as heads of their local Jewish communities. The full title was ḥaver ba-sanhedrin ha-gedola or ḥaver be-sanhedrin gedola (member of the Great Sanhedrin, i.e., the yeshiva; the Palestinian yeshiva referred to itself as the ḥavura). The title ḥaver (equivalent to the Babylonian alluf ) and the associated duties reflect the network of relationships the central yeshivot cultivated in the outlying Jewish communities. Ḥaverim who served as heads of the Palestinian Jewish communit…

Samuel ben Daniel ben Azariah

(168 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Samuel ben Daniel ben Azariah was the eldest of the four sons of the Palestinian gaon Daniel ben Azariah (1051–1062). He was born around 1050, and when his father died, he moved with his mother and siblings to Damascus. By 1074, Samuel was the head of the Jewish community in Damascus and of a rabbinic court there. He bore the yeshiva title “third” and also the title of nasi. Samuel was the probable author of a florid public epistle announcing his father’s death, the middle part of which has survived in the Cairo Geniza. Marina Rustow Bibliography Gil, Moshe.  A History of Palestine, 634–1099, tra…

Saʿīd ibn al-Ḥasan (al-Rūzbihān)

(137 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Abū ʿAbd Allāh Saʿīd ibn al-Ḥasan al-Rūzbihān (d. 861) was, according to Moshe Gil, a Jewish scholar who converted to Islam around the same time as his teacher, Yūsuf ibn Mūsā ibn Rashīd al-Qaṭṭān (d. 867) of Rayy and Baghdad. Both appear in al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī’s Taʾrīkh Baghdād (History of Baghdad). While they are not described there as having apostatized from Judaism, Gil argues that the name Rūzbihān, the Persian equivalent of the Hebrew name Yom Ṭov, was common among Jews. This was a period during which a number of Jewish converts to Islam achieved distinction as scholars. Marina …

Rosh ha-Seder

(249 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Rosh ha-seder(head of the row), a venerable title in the Babylonian yeshivot, connoted the bearer’s position as first in one of the seven rows in the Iraqi academies (whether in the academy of the exilarch specifically is unknown). Already in amoraic times, Abba Arikha and Rav were referred to as resh sidra, the Aramaic equivalent of rosh ha-seder (B.T. Ḥullin 137b; Seder ʿOlam Zuṭa, in Neubauer, p. 77). In the Cairo Geniza documents from the late tenth and eleventh centuries, rosh ha-seder seems to have been an honorific granted to leaders outside Iraq, probably by the exil…

Tustarī Family

(1,698 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
The Tustarī family was a prominent house of long-distance traders, bankers, courtiers, and scholars in Fatimid Egypt between the 990s and 1050s. Manuscripts from the Cairo Geniza and the Firkovich collections have permitted the reconstruction of the family’s history over four generations. More than sixty letters, contracts, and other documents in various Geniza collections attest to its close involvement with the leadership of the Jerusalem yeshiva and the Syrian synagogue of Fustat, even though, unlike the other great merchant houses of Ibn ʿAwk…

Isaac ben Samuel ha-Sefaradi

(532 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Isaac ben Samuel ha-Sefaradi ibn al-Kanzī was a biblical exegete, halakhist, judge, and payṭan (liturgical poet) who was born either in al-Andalus or in Egypt to an Andalusī father. He is known from the Cairo Geniza to have been a judge of the Palestinian-rite court in Fustat from around 1090 to 1127. A member of the entourage of the nagid Mevorakh ben Saʿadya, he bore the titles “head of the house of study, aide of the exilarchate” (Aram./Heb. resh be rabbana ʿezer ha-nesiʾut) and “the great rabbi.” In his responsa, Isaac ben Samuel provided answers to queries from as far away as …

Gaon and Gaonate

(5,467 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
The geonim (Heb. geʾonim; sing. gaʾon) were the heads of the yeshivot (academies of higher learning) in Iraq, Palestine, Syria, and Egypt between the sixth and thirteenth centuries. The office of gaon combined religious, legal, and political functions. Its incumbents had followers all over the Islamic world and in Christian Europe, and their works laid the foundation for all subsequent developments in Jewish law.  The title gaon is an abbreviation of rosh yeshivat geʾon Yaʿaqov (Heb. the head of the yeshiva of the splendor of Jacob, or alternatively, head of the yeshi…

Moses ben Mevorakh

(490 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Moses ben Mevorakh, the scion of a distinguished family of physician-courtiers in Egypt, was the eldest son and successor of the  nagid Mevorakh ben Saʿadya and of a mother who also came from a courtier family. Born around 1080, Moses succeeded his father as raʾīs al-yahūd (Ar. head of the Jews) around 1112. Before then, he held the title ʿaṭeret ha-sarim (Heb. crown of the officials), possibly indicating that he was the nagid-designate; certainly his father trained him for the office and arranged for his succession well before his death in early Decembe…

Sahlān ben Abraham

(532 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Abū ʿAmr Sahlān ben Abraham was a payṭan (liturgical poet) and head of the Iraqi congregation in Fustat from 1034 until 1049 or 1050. He succeeded to this post after the death of his father, Abraham ben Sahlān (1016–ca. 1032), and like his father he carried the rabbinic titles alluf from the geonim of Baghdad (probably from Hay Gaon of Pumbedita) and ḥaver from the Jerusalem yeshiva, reflecting the dual allegiance maintained by ambitious leaders adept at negotiating complex networks of patronage. Sahlān bore other lofty titles presumably granted him by the Iraqi exilarch Hezekiah. His f…

Mevorakh ben Sa‘adya

(959 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
One of the five sons of Saʿadya ben Mevorakh, Abū 'l-Faḍl Mevorakh ben Saʿadya was born around 1040 and began his rise to prominence over the course of the late 1050s under the gaonate of Daniel ben Azariah (r. 1051–1062), even before his older brother Judah ben Saʿadya became nagid (head of the Jews in the Fatimid empire). By the time Judah attained that office, between 1062 and 1064, Mevorakh was already styled rayyis (leader or chief), a title acknowledging him either as physician or a government official or both. He seems to have enjoyed even more respect than his brother as a scholar, halakh…

Ibn al-Dastūr, Samuel ben ʿAlī

(722 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Samuel ben ʿAlī ibn al-Dastūr was gaon in Baghdad from before October–November 1164 until sometime between 1194 and 1197. He is the only Iraqi gaon of the postclassical gaonic period (ca. 640–1040) whose works have survived in any significant number. According to Petahiah of Regensburg, who visited Baghdad during his gaonate, Ibn al-Dastūr appointed judges in Iraq, Iran, and even Syria, including Damascus, though presumably not in those parts of Syria under Crusader, Fatimid, or Ayyubid rule; under the latter two regimes, it was the head of the Jews (Ar. raʾīs al-yahūd) who appointed …

Tāhertī Family

(1,200 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
The Tāhertīs were a Maghrebī merchant family active in the period from 1010 to 1075. Together with the houses of Ibn ʿAwkal,  al-Tustarī, and Nahray ben Nissim, the Tāhertīs were, in terms of volume of trade, one of the largest and most powerful mercantile operations of their era. While most business endeavors rarely involved cargoes exceeding the value of a few hundred dinars, the Tāhertīs and their counterparts routinely invested in merchandise worth several thousand dinars or more. They were connected to the other g…

Yeshivot in Babylonia/Iraq

(3,365 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
The yeshivot of Sura and Pumbedita in Iraq, still referred to in Hebrew by Jews as Bavel (Babylonia), were high courts, institutions of learning, and centers of governance over the Jewish communities of Iraq, Iran, and beyond. As institutions of learning charged with the responsibility of transmitting the Babylonian Talmud and interpreting and promulgating its laws, both yeshivot claimed direct intellectual descent from the sages of the Sasanid era quoted in the Babylonian Talmud. From the Islamic conquests of Iraq in the 630s until the late ninth century, the yeshivo…

Nethanel (Hibat Allāh) ben Jeshua al-Maqdisī

(194 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Nethanel-Hibat Allāh ben Jeshua al-Maqdisī was a Jerusalemite who fled to Fustat after the Seljuk conquest of 1073. From a Cairo Geniza document it appears that he was a master weaver. While in Fustat, he was a junior partner in a textile venture with a certain Ṣedaqa he-Ḥaver ben Muvḥar according to a deed dated 1086. In the schism of 1038 to 1042, Nethanel supported Nathan ben Abraham in his challenge to the gaonate of Solomon ben Judah. Nathan’s court met in Nethanel’s home, drawing up a deed there in 1040 that Nathan signed as rosh yeshivat geʾon yaʿaqov (head of the yeshiva of the Pride…
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