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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 …

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…

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…

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…

David ben Joshua Maimonides

(404 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
David ben Joshua Maimonides (Ar. al-Maymūnī ) was born in Egypt in the first half of the fourteenth century and died there in  ca. 1414. He was the last member of his illustrious family to serve as nagid, or head of the Jewish community (Ar. raʿīs al-yahūd), an office held by the descendants of Moses Maimonides since the late twelfth century. The Maimonidean negidim were not great spiritual innovators, but viewed themselves as interpreters of their great forebear’s oeuvre and defenders of his halakhic and philosophical opinions. David inherited the office of nagid upon the death o…

Ibn ʿAwkal Family

(1,242 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
The Ibn ʿAwkals were an important merchant family in Fustat. Apparently of Persian origin, they arrived in the Maghreb following the Fatimid conquest at the beginning of the tenth century. The mashāriqa (easterners), as they were called by Maghrebis, were not liked by the local residents, and many of them moved to Egypt with the Fatimids after 969. Jacob, the head of the family, most likely also went to Egypt at that time, but left some family members in the Maghreb to develop his commercial interests. The correspondence of the Ibn ʿAwkal family extends over four generations. The…

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…

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 …

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 …

David ben Daniel ben Azariah

(506 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
David, the only son of the gaon of the Palestinian yeshiva Daniel ben Azariah was born around 1058. Only four when his father died, he was evidently raised by family members in Damascus. When the Seljuks conquered Syria and Palestine in the 1170s, he went to Egypt, where he was adopted by relatives in Damira in the Nile Delta, who treated him well and pledged him in marriage to a female relative. David had other plans, however, as well as supporters who saw in him  a hope for redemption because of his Davidic descent. Leaving Damira and his fiancée, he moved to Fustat, where he was received with…

Abiathar ben Elijah ha-Kohen

(555 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Abiathar ben Elijah ha-Kohen, who was born around 1041, probably in Jerusalem, was the last important gaon of the Palestinian yeshiva. He was the eldest of the four sons of Elijah ha-Kohen Gaon, and in keeping with standard practice, his father put him on an advancement track in the yeshiva. By 1067 he was already signing documents as “fourth in line,” thus making him a member of the ḥavurat ha-qodesh (sacred collegium; i.e., the yeshiva); by 1071 he was co-signing responsa with his father and, apparently as his right hand, went on missions to Egypt on his behalf. In addition to Geniza docum…

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…

Samuel (Abū Manṣūr) ben Hananiah

(403 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
A famous physician in Cairo, Samuel (Abū Manṣūr) ben Hananiah came from a family of physicians that included his father and brother and was appointed court physician to the Fatimid caliph al-Ḥāfiẓ (r. 1131–1149). According to Muslim chroniclers, his master, facing the prospect of a civil war between his two sons, summoned Samuel immediately upon his ascent to the throne along with another physician, a Christian. He asked Samuel to prepare a deadly drug for one of the sons. Samuel refused, claiming he did not know how to prepa…

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…

Megillat Aḥimaʿaṣ

(603 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Megillat Aḥimaʿaṣ  (The Scroll of Ahimaaz) was written by Ahimaaz ben Paltiel, a Jew who lived in the southern Italian city of Capua in the eleventh century. By his own account, it was written over a period of four months in the year 1054. The work recounts the history of his family down to his own time, starting with the Roman destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of Palestinian Jews to Italy in the first century C.E. Ahimaaz almost certainly had other goals as an author beyond the historical. He obviously enjoyed writing and found it a source of amusement. His chronicle is written in…

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…

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 …

Maimonides, Joshua ben Abraham

(261 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Joshua ben Abraham Maimonides (Maymūnī) was the third son of Abraham ben David Maimonides. He inherited the office of nagid in Egypt either directly from his father or from his older brother Moses. According to the sixteenth-century Jewish chronicler Joseph Sambari, he was born in 1310 and died in 1355. Very little is known about his personal life other than the fact that he was a renowned and respected scholar. A letter to him from Hebron in the Cairo Geniza offers condolences on the death of his older brother Obadiah and laments the unfortunate state of the Hebron commu…

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…
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