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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…

Joseph ben Phinehas

(315 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Joseph ben Phinehas (d. ca. 920) was a jahbadh (banker) at the Abbasid court during the reign of al-Muqtadir (r. 908–932), a time of fiscal and political crisis in Baghdad. According to the Abbasid kātib and historian Hilāl al-Ṣābiʾ (d. 1056), the vizier Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Muḥammad Ibn al-Furāt (r. 908–924, with interruptions) deposited funds confiscated from individuals the regime had executed not with the caliphal fisc but with Joseph ben Phineas and another Jewish jahbadh, Aaron ben Amram—not the first incident of embezzlement in Ibn al-Furāt’s career. In 918, wh…

Samuel ben Hosha‘na

(394 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Samuel ben Hoshaʿna was one of the central figures of the Jerusalem yeshiva in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. He first appears in Cairo Geniza records in a letter from 990 dealing with yeshiva affairs but does not yet have a title. He subsequently advanced to the rank of ḥaver (fellow of the academy), was named fourth by 1002 at the latest, and was styled third by 1004, the highest rank he attained. His piyyuṭim(liturgical poems) were preserved in the Geniza. Samuel was also the author of a letter written in 1002 describing the Fatimid battles in Palesti…

Solomon ben Judah

(1,197 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Solomon ben Judah al-Fāsī was gaon of the Palestinian yeshiva from September 1025 to April 1051, the longest-serving gaon in Jerusalem. Despite war, famine, and major challenges to his leadership, he defended the jurisdiction of the Palestinian gaonate and kept Egypt under his firm hold throughout his tenure in office. Born to a Maghribī family, Solomon ben Judah was a prolific correspondent in both Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic. Although his letters dwell on his bad health to the point of obsession, when he died he was close to eighty years old. The period in which Solomon ben Judah acced…

Ibn al-Qazzāz, Manasseh ben Abraham

(623 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Ibn al-Qazzāz rose to prominence under the Iraqi vizier Yaʿqūb ibn Killis (977–991), a Jew who converted before 967 to Ismāʿīlī Shiism and became the architect of the Fatimid military campaign in Egypt. Ibn Killis appointed Ibn al-Qazzāz to oversee his properties in Syria; after Ibn Killis’s death, al-ʿAzīz (975-96) appointed the Christian ʿĪsā ibn Nasṭūrus as vizier and Ibn al-Qazzāz as military administrator (Ar. kātib al-jaysh) in Palestine. Ibn al-Qazzāz’s tenure in Damascus was marked by conflict with local tribes that resisted rule from Cairo and played…
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