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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…

Ḥazzan, Solomon

(543 words)

Author(s): Naḥem Ilan
Solomon Ḥazzan was born in 1799, either in Safed or Algeria, and died in Malta in 1855/56. Little is known about his life. For some time he was the principal of the Talmud Torah in Bulaq, on the outskirts of Cairo. After the death of Rabbi Jedidiah Israel in 1831, he became chief rabbi of Alexandria, serving from 1832 until 1855 or 1856, when he fell ill. He set out for Malta to recuperate, but died en route and was buried in Malta. Around 1850, Ḥazzan acted to restore the Eliahou Hannabi synagogue in Alexandria. His books were published in 1893, shortly after the death of his wife, Sarah, by their son Da…


(1,088 words)

Author(s): Naḥem Ilan
Jews arrived in Sudan from Egypt in the second half of the nineteenth century, seeking freedom of religion and trade opportunities. In 1885, the mahdi entered Omdurman and declared it his capital. During his reign, all non-Muslims in Omdurman, including its eight Jewish families, were forced to accept Islam or die. In 1898, Sir Herbert Kitchener overpowered the mahdist state and established a joint British-Egyptian administration in Sudan. Most of the  Jewish families then reclaimed their Judaism. Their leader was Ben-Ṣiyyon Koshty (Hebron, 1842–Omdurman, 1918). In January …

Malka, Solomon

(516 words)

Author(s): Naḥem Ilan
  Solomon Malka was born in Asfelou, in the Tafilalet region of Morocco, on August 14, 1878, and studied in his youth at a yeshiva in his hometown. In 1896, he married Hannah Assouline (1882–1952) from Tinghir, and two years later the couple immigrated to Palestine. Malka studied in Tiberias and Safed, was ordained as a rabbi, and served as a dayyan (rabbinical judge) in Tiberias. At the suggestion of Elijah Bekhor Ḥazzan, the chief rabbi of Alexandria, he set out in 1906 for Omdurman in what was then the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. In 1908, he brought his wife and two…

Israeli, Israel

(793 words)

Author(s): Naḥem Ilan
Israel Israeli was a leading member of the Jewish community of Toledo at the turn of the fourteenth century. Well educated, and thoroughly versed in both traditional Jewish study and general knowledge, he was respected as an authority even by Asher ben Jehiel (the Rosh). Israeli left two major works: a commentary on Pirqe Avot (Mishna Tractate Avot), written in Judeo-Arabic and still unpublished; and a halakhic work originally written in Judeo-Arabic, but extant only in the Hebrew translation by Shem Ṭov ibn Ardutiel (14th century), entitled Miṣvot Zemaniyyot (Time-Based Commandmen…

Ibn Shāhīn, Nissim ben Jacob

(1,124 words)

Author(s): Naḥem Ilan
  Nissim ben Jacob ben Nissim ibn Shāhīn was one of the foremost Jewish scholars of the eleventh century and the leader of the North African Jewish community. He was born in 990 in Qayrawan, where he spent most of his life. His family name (Shāhīn) indicates Persian origins. His father, Jacob, was head of the local academy (Heb. bet midrash) and in 987 wrote to  Sherira Gaon in Babylonia in the name of “the holy congregation of Qayrawan,” asking him how the Mishna was written. The famous response is known as the Epistle (Heb. Iggeret) of Sherira Gaon. In it Sherira refers to Jacob as mari (my teache…

Garish, Aaron

(571 words)

Author(s): Naḥem Ilan
Rabbi  Aaron Garish lived in Aleppo at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Since he is mentioned once by the cognomen al-Ṣafadī, it would appear that one of his ancestors was born or lived in Safed, Palestine. Other considerations, however, support the hypothesis that his family emigrated from the Christian West (perhaps Spain). Garish wrote several liturgical poems (Heb. piyyuṭim ), but his reputation is based mainly on his commentary on the Pentateuch, Meṣaḥ Aharon ("Aaron's Forehead"- see Ex. 28:38), written in Judeo-Arabic and containing many expressions in th…