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Kuttāb

(3,038 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
The Arabic term kuttāb is the common designation for a traditional elementary school for boys. As such it was often also used by Jews in Islamic lands, although in some regions other terms were used: ṣlā (Mor. Jud.-Ar. synagogue) in Morocco, or knishta (Neo-Aram. by women) in Kurdistan, kanīs (also Yem. Jud.-Ar. knīs, or kenīs, synagogue or assembly), al-kanīs al-ẓighayreh (Yem. Jud.-Ar. little synagogue) in Yemen, maʿalma (Ar. place of learning), midrash (Afghanistan), molahi (Afghanistan), and ustādh (Ar. master) in Iraq. The term ḥeder (Heb.) came into use in Morocco in the…

Attal, Robert (Hatal, Avraham)

(578 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
Robert Attal (1927–2011) was the librarian of the Ben-Zvi Institute, a bibliographer, and a scholar of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews. His collection of over 1,400 items, mostly in Judeo-Arabic, was acquired by the National Library of Israel. His publications include bibliographies on the Jewries of North Africa and Greece, and on Judeo-Arabic literature in Tunisia, as well as poetry, memoirs, and numerous articles on topics related to North African Jewry. Robert Attal (Avraham Hatal, 1927–2011) was the librarian of the Jerusalem-based Ben-Zvi Institute for the Study o…

Khalfon, Abraham

(351 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
Rabbi Abraham Khalfon (1735–1819) was an author, poet, historian, and communal leader in Tripoli, Libya, who served twice as the head of the community (1778–1781 and 1792–1795). He had close relations with Rabbi Ḥayyim David Azulay (Rav Ḥida; 1724–1806), whom he visited in Livorno (Leghorn) in 1804–1805. In 1806, Khalfon moved to Safed, where he died. Khalfon’s many poems and eulogies include information about him and his contemporaries. Most of his writings are still in manuscript. The Hebrew poem Mi Kamokha (Who Is Like unto Thee?) describes the suffering in Tripoli durin…

Shami, Yitzḥaq

(741 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
Born in Hebron, Yitzḥaq Shami (1888–1949) was the son of Eliyahu Sarwi, a textile merchant from Damascus who was known as ash-Shami (“the Damascene”).  As a adult he adopted his father’s sobriquet as his literary and legal surname. Shami grew up bilingual, speaking Arabic with his father and Ladino (see Judeo-Spanish) with his mother, a native of Hebron who belonged to the Sephardic Castel family. He became familiar with the daily life of the Arab villagers and Bedouins of the Hebron region because of his father’s b…
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