Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World

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Executive Editor: Norman A. Stillman

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The Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World Online (EJIW) is the first cohesive and discreet reference work which covers the Jews of Muslim lands particularly in the late medieval, early modern and modern periods. The Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World Online is updated with newly commissioned articles, illustrations, multimedia, and primary source material. 

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Ben-Shimʿon, David

(692 words)

Author(s): Zvi Zohar
David Ben-Shimʿon was a Moroccan communal leader, poet, and halakhist. Born in Rabat in 1826, he was the son of Moses and Delicia Ben-Shimʿon, husband of Rachel (née Ṣabāḥ), and the father of Raphael Aaron, Jekuthiel Ḥayyim, and Masʿūd Ḥayy Ben-Shimʿon. In Rabat, he studied under Saʿadya Maraji, was the teacher of, among others, Masʿud Ṣabāḥ and Jacob Bibas, and was active in communal life. Motivated by religious yearning for the Land of Israel, he departed Rabat in 1854 and settled in Jerusalem, where he died on December 3, 1879.It was with the intent of devoting himself to religio…

Ben-Shimʿon, Masʿūd Ḥayy

(591 words)

Author(s): Zvi Zohar
Masʿūd Ḥayy Ben-Shimʿon was a halakhist and dayyan (rabbinic judge). Born in Jerusalem on August 28, 1869, he was the son of David Ben-Shimʿon, and the brother of Raphael Aaron (see Raphael Aaron Ben-Simeon) and Jekuthiel Ḥayyim Ben-Shimʿon. Orphaned at eleven, Masʿūd was raised under the aegis of his brother Raphael, whose daughter Simḥa he married. In 1893, he was invited to Cairo, where he became secretary of the chief rabbinate and chief justice of the rabbinical court. He was proficient in modern …

Ben-Simeon, Raphael Aaron

(630 words)

Author(s): Zvi Zohar
Raphael Aaron Ben-Simeon, born in Rabat on July 4, 1847, was a halakhist who served as chief rabbi of Cairo from 1891 to 1921. Brother to Masʿud Ḥay and Jekuthiel Ḥayyim, Ben-Simeon came to Jerusalem with his father, David, in 1854. In addition to a traditional education in classical Jewish texts, which he was primarily taught by his father, Ben-Simeon also learned Arabic and European languages and read modern Hebrew works of the Haskala (Jewish Enlightenment). While in Morocco on fundraising missions on behalf of Jerusalem’s Maghrebi community in 1888 and 1890, he founded the Meqiṣe Nird…

Bensimhon, Charles

(215 words)

Author(s): Melanie Lewey
Charles Bensimhon (1917–2006) was a Moroccan educator in the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) network. Born in Marrakesh, Bensimhon attended the Alliance school in El Jadida (Mazagan) and then earned a diplôme supérieur at the Ecole Normale Israélite Orientale (ENIO) in France. Bensimhon held teaching positions in Essaouira (Mogador) and Marrakesh in 1937 and 1938, respectively. In 1957, the AIU appointed him director of the school in Casablanca.Bensimhon was not only an outstanding teacher but a writer and historian who published articles in the Bulletin de l’Enseignemen…

Bensimhon, Hassiba Benchimol

(355 words)

Author(s): Frances Malino
Born in Tangier in 1876, Hassiba Benchimol, like her sisters Claire Benchimol and Alégrina Benchimol Lévy, studied at the local Alliance Israélite Universelle school in Tetouan before departing for Paris to train as an Alliance teacher. After working as an assistant in the Alliance school in Tunis from 1895 to 1897 and then in the Tangier school from 1897 to 1899, Hassiba left for Fez, where she opened the Alliance school for girls in 1899. Although her native tongue was Haketia, the Judeo-Spanish of northern Morocco, and she bemoaned her lack of facility i…

Ben Solomon, Zechariah ha-Rofeh 

(493 words)

Author(s): Yosef Tobi
Zechariah ben Solomon ha-Rofe, also known as Yiḥyā al-Ṭabīb (Ar. ṭabīb and Heb. rofe both mean physician), lived in the fifteenth century, probably in the town of Dhamar (Thamar) in central Yemen. He was a prolific author and, in fact, the most outstanding representative of the late medieval Yemenite Maimonidean school. He wrote all his books in Judeo-Arabic, probably because of its natural association with medieval Jewish philosophical literature. His writings generally took the form of commentaries on subjects biblical, halakhic, or philosophic.In his Midrash ha-Ḥefeṣ (Tale of…

Ben Sūsān, Issachar ben Mordechai

(1,039 words)

Author(s): David Doron
Issachar ben Mordecai Ben Sūsān ha-Maʿaravi (ca. 1514–after 1573) was the rabbi of a community of Maghrebi Jews in Safed during the sixteenth century, an expert on the calculation of the Hebrew calendar, a chronicler of religious customs of the Jewish communities of the East, and a translator of the Bible into Judeo-Arabic. The dates of his birth and death are a matter of academic disagreement. He was born around the year 1514 in Morocco to Mordecai Ben Sūsān, whom he described as a remarkable scholar of Torah. He claimed to be descended from the tribe of Benjamin, citi…

Benveniste Family

(808 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
The Benveniste (Benvenest, Benvenisti) family, which had its origins in the Iberian Peninsula, produced noted rabbis and scholars throughout the Ottoman period. They were active primarily in Istanbul and Izmir (Smyrna) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.The first member of the Benveniste family known to have attained prominence was Moses Benveniste, a rabbi who also served as  physician to Grand Vizier Siyavuş Pasha (r. 1582–1584, 1586–1589, 1592–1593). Moses was eventually exiled from Istanbul to Rhodes by order of the sultan. He had two sons…

Benveniste, Ḥayyim Ben Israel

(897 words)

Author(s): Jacob Barnai
Known as the Ḥaviv (the acronym for his name in Hebrew), Ḥayyim Benveniste is considered to have been one of the greatest halakhic sages of the Sephardic Diaspora and of world Jewry in general. He was born in Istanbul in 1603 to a family of rabbis, physicians, and advisers to the Ottoman court descended from Portuguese Jews who had been exiled from the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the fifteenth century; he died in Izmir (Smyrna) in 1673.Benveniste was a student of Joseph Trani (Mitrani), known as Maharit, the chief rabbi of Istanbul. In 1643, after serving for a time as supervisor of issur ve-h…

Ben Wayyish (or Ben Wāʿish), Abraham

(593 words)

Author(s): Shalom Bar-Asher
Abraham Ben Wayyish (or Ben Wāʿish) was a court Jew and leader ( nagid ) of the Jewish community of Marrakesh during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. He traced his genealogy to the Naḥman, Buzaglo, and Azulay families and some of the most respected patriarchs of southern Morocco. Ben Wayyish was active at the end of the reign of one of the most significant rulers of the Saʿdi (Saadian) dynasty, Mawlāy Aḥmad al-Manṣūr al-Dhahabī (r. 1578– 1603), who defeated the Portuguese at the beginning of his reign and united the autonomous provinces of Morocc…

Ben-Yaacob (Yaʿacov), Abraham

(249 words)

Author(s): Shmuel Moreh
Abraham Ben-Yaacob (Yaʿaqov), born in Baghdad in 1914, was an historian and educator. He immigrated to Palestine with his Religious Zionist family in 1925, studied at the Mizraḥi Seminary for Teachers, and was a member of the Religious Education Committee at the Ministry of Education from 1958 to 1975. Acutely aware of the paucity of historical and cultural studies on Iraqi Jewry from the later Middle Ages to modern times, he began his researches in this area in the 1940s. He went on to advanced studies and in 1986 received his doctorate from the H…

Ben Yaʿesh (also Ibn Yaʿish or Abenæs), Solomon

(1,228 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Solomon Ben Yaʿesh (also Ibn Yaʿish or Abenæs and Alvaro Mendès) was born in Tavira, Portugal in 1520 and died in Istanbul in 1603. A wealthy and influential Jewish statesman and diplomat, he worked to stymie Spain at the height of its power by engineering an alliance between England and the Ottoman Empire. The man who later received the title of duke of Mytilene was born to a marrano ( anusim) family in Portugal as Alvaro Mendès, a name which most Europeans would continue to use with him throughout his life. In his youth, Mendès worked as an apprentice to a goldsmith before going to India in 1545 …

Ben Yehuda Society

(259 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
The Ben Yehuda Society for the promotion of spoken Hebrew, headed by Jacob Fargion and Sion Saul Adadi, was established in Tripoli, Libya, in 1931 by young Zionist men eager to read Hebrew periodicals from Palestine in order to deepen their knowledge of events there and in the Zionist world. Self-taught in modern Hebrew, they set out to make Hebrew the spoken language of the whole community. They started Hebrew courses for adults followed by afternoon classes for children in the Ha-Tiqva school; in both cases, classes were gender-based. The number of children increased from …

Ben Yijū, Abraham

(949 words)

Author(s): Michael G. Wechsler
Unquestionably one of the most colorful figures to be illuminated by documents from the Cairo Geniza—and in Goitein’s estimation ( Letters, p. 186) “the most important single figure” of his important “India Book”—is the Tunisian merchant and littérateur Abraham (ben Peraḥyā) ben Yijū, who flourished in the first half of the twelfth century and has been identified as the recipient or sender of some seventy different written items (mostly documentary). The name Yijū, applied by or for Abraham as a surname (sometimes …
Date: 2015-09-03

Ben Yijū Family

(1,752 words)

Author(s): Michael G. Wechsler
The Ben Yijū family of traders and scholars is known from documents in the Cairo Geniza. Its most colorful member was Abraham Ben Yijū in the twelfth century, whose enterprises took him as far as India. The family originated in Tunisia; over the next few generations members lived in Sicily and Egypt.The family name Ben Yijū is of Berber origin. The founder of the family was probably under the protection of the Aït Īshū (part of the Izaïn and Aït Sgugu tribes), and the name continued in use among Maghrebi Jews into modern times as Bénichou (see Bénichou Family).The documents of the Cairo Geni…

Ben, Zahava

(390 words)

Author(s): Amy Horowitz
Zehava Ben is a female vocalist in the Mizraḥi genre and has appeared in several films. Born Zehava Benisti in 1968 to a poor Moroccan family in Beersheva, Ben began performing at a young age. Her father, Simon Benisti, was a neighborhood singer who performed at weddings and other community events in Morocco and later in Israel. Discovered in 1989, Zehava Ben produced her first album, Ṭippat Mazal (A Drop of Luck), that year, and quickly became one of the leading Mizraḥi singers in Israel. By 1991, she had released her third album, introducing her version of Umm Kulthūm’s “Anta ʿOmrī” to th…

Benzakein (Ben Zaken), Félix

(378 words)

Author(s): Ruth Kimche
A native of Tanta (Ṭantah), Egypt, Félix Benzakein was born on September 30, 1895 to a family from Morocco that had arrived in Egypt around the year 1865. He attended the Alliance Israélite Universelle school in Tanta, and in 1916, after graduating from the Faculty of Law at Cairo University, embarked on a prosperous legal career, accredited by both the Egyptian law courts and the mixed-courts. Benzakein defended Maurice Fargeon in the defamation suit brought against him by the German embassy in 1934 and earned widespread admiration for his speeches during the …

Ben Zamirro (Zamerro) Family

(633 words)

Author(s): Jose Alberto Tavim
The Ben Zamirros were a Spanish-Portuguese mercantile family. As far back as the fourteenth century, members of the family were financiers and physicians in Seville and Badajoz. At the end of the fifteenth century the Ben Zamirros were living in southern Portugal near the Spanish border. Their wealth enabled them to migrate to North Africa after the Jews were expelled from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1496/97).The family nucleus moved to Safi (Asfī), on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, after it was conquered by the Portuguese in 1508. When the army of the sharīf of Marrake…

Benzaquen, Léon

(310 words)

Author(s): David Cohen
Léon Benzaquen (1901–1977), whose father moved from Tangier to Casablanca in 1897, attended the Alliance Israélite Universelle primary school and the French lycée (secondary school) in Casablanca, then studied medicine in Paris, specializing in pneumology. On his return to Morocco in 1938, he settled in Casablanca and immediately became involved in Samuel-Daniel Lévy’s project to found  a tuberculosis  sanatorium, realized in 1946 with the construction of the Benaḥmed Preventorium.Boycotted by his European colleagues during the Vichy period (1940–1943), Benzaque…

Berab, Jacob

(734 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ayalon
Jacob Berab (Beirav) was born around 1474 in Maqueda, a town located northwest of Toledo in Spain. After the expulsion of 1492, he moved to Morocco, and according to his own statement was appointed the rabbi of the community of Fez soon after his arrival there, at the age of eighteen. Berab’s stay in Fez was of short duration. After a few years, he left for Egypt for business reasons, whence he made visits to Jerusalem, Damascus, and Aleppo. In 1524, and possibly earlier, he settled in Safed, where he established a yeshiva that attracted many students and scholars from all over th…
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