Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World

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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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Benamozegh, Elijah b. Abraham

(639 words)

Author(s): Laura Bonifacio Roumani
Elijah Benamozegh was born in Livorno (Leghorn), Italy, on April 24, 1823 into a family of wealthy merchants and rabbis. His parents, Abraham and Clara, were originally from Fez, Morocco. His father, who was seventy-one years old when Elijah was born, died when the child was three. Under the guidance of his maternal uncle, Judah Coriat (see Coriat Family ), Elijah undertook traditional Jewish biblical and rabbinic studies; at a very early age he also began the study of Kabbala, especially the Zohar.Forced to enter the world of business to earn a living, Benamozegh worked in …

Benardete, Maír José

(893 words)

Author(s): Aviva Ben-Ur
Maír José Benardete (Mair José Benardete; M. J. Benadete; Meyer Benardete; Mercedes Benardete; 1895–1989), the eldest of nine children, was born in the Ottoman Empire in the city of Çanakkale to a Ladino-speaking family. At the age of eight, he contracted a serious illness that left him unable to walk for months. He spent his year-long convalescence among the Sephardic women of his community, absorbing the Judeo-Spanish folklore and language that would later serve as a focus of his scholarship. After recovering, he enrolled in the Alliance Israélite Universelle school, whe…

Benaroya, Albert

(444 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Albert (né Armand) Avram Benaroya, a Turkish journalist, linguist, and educator,  was born in Edirne in 1887 and died in Istanbul on June 20, 1955. He received his primary education at the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) school in Edirne, from which he graduated at a precocious age, and then attended the École Normale Israélite Orientale (ENIO) in Paris (1906). From October 1910 he taught at the École Ṣror ha-Ḥayyim de Hasköy in Istanbul before being appointed teacher of French at a Turkish…

Benaroya, Avraam

(936 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Avraam Benaroya, a socialist leader and journalist, was born in Bidini, Bulgaria, in 1886 and died in Ḥolon, Israel, in 1979 (?). Raised in Lundt, Bulgaria, Benaroya studied law in Belgrade, but left his studies to teach in Plovdiv, where he published The Jewish Question and Social Democracy (in Bulgarian). Immediately after the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, he moved to Salonica, where he worked as a typographer and soon organized the Sephardi Circle of Socialist Studies, which initially counted thirty members. Dumont notes that Benaroya’s group fell within the “Broad” facti…

Ben Asher, Aaron (Abū Saʿīd Hārūn) ben Moses

(1,221 words)

Author(s): Aharon Maman
Aaron Ben Asher (Abū Saʿīd Hārūn) lived and worked in Tiberias in the first half of the tenth century. He was the sixth and last member of the Ben Asher dynasty of masoretes (see Ben Asher, Moses). He is considered to have been the close and the most authoritative of the masoretes. His name is especially linked with two large literary projects:(1) Sefer Diqduqe ha-Teʿamim, dealing with clear masora matters, such as special characters, qeri and ketiv, and lists of defective and full scripts in the Bible. Along these occur neighboring grammatical matters, such as the divi…

Ben Asher, Moses

(648 words)

Author(s): Aharon Maman
Moses ben Asher lived and worked in Tiberias in the second half of the ninth century C.E. He was a member of the fifth generation of the Ben Asher family, which had earned a reputation for raising famous masoretes. The first member of the dynasty was Asher the Elder, who lived in the eighth century, as recorded in an ancient masoretic work: “Asher, the greatest elder of blessed memory, followed by his son Nehemiah, may his soul rest in peace, followed by [his son] Moses ben Nehemiah, followed by his son Asher, followed by his son Moses, i.e…

Ben ʿAṭṭār, Ḥayyim

(632 words)

Author(s): Jessica Marglin
Ḥayyim ben Moses ben ʿAṭṭār (Ibn ʿAṭṭār) was born in 1696 in Salé, Morocco, and died in 1743 in Jerusalem. His paternal grandfather, the elder Ḥayyim ben ʿAṭṭār, a scholar in his own right, was responsible for much of the younger Ḥayyim’s education. At age thirteen Ḥayyim accompanied his father and grandfather to Meknes, where his grandfather took over the family’s trading business. There Ḥayyim married his cousin Fa’ṣoniya (the granddaughter of Shem Ṭov ben ʿAṭṭār, the elder Ḥayyim's brother). Her father, Moses ben ʿAṭ…

Ben ʿAṭṭār (or Ibn ʿAṭṭār) Family

(1,479 words)

Author(s): Shalom Bar-Asher
The Ben ʿAṭṭār (or Ibn ʿAṭṭār) family of court Jews attained great prominence in Fez and Salé during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A number of family members were appointed by the ruler as secular leaders of the Jewish community (Heb. negidim, Ar. shuyūkh), and others were noted rabbinical scholars and jurists ( dayyanim). The family exercised great influence at the court of the nascent Alawid (Alaouite) dynasty starting in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, when the sultans Mawlāy al-Rashīd (r. 1664–1672) and Mawlāy Ismāʿīl (r.1672–1727) turned northw…

Benbanaste, Nesim

(270 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Nesim Benbanaste (1939—1992) was a prominent Turkish Jewish writer and intellectual. After completing his high school education at Beyoğlu Musevi Lisesi (Beyoğlu Jewish Lycée) in Istanbul, Benbanaste attended the Faculty of Law of Istanbul University. He later worked at several private schools as a teacher and director. He was affiliated with one of Turkey’s oldest publishing association, the Türk Basın Birliği (Turkish Press Union).            From 1963 until his death, Benbanaste wrote numerous articles, essays, poems, and translations. An admirer of Atat…

Ben Berechiah Family

(582 words)

Author(s): Michael G. Wechsler
The activity of the Ben Berechiah family is represented during the period of the Cairo Geniza primarily by the sons of Berechiah, Joseph—whose kunya was Abū Yaʿqūb—and Nissim. The brothers were merchants based in Qayrawān , and apparently constituted one of the more prominent Maghrebi merchant “firms” in the first third of the eleventh century. They were related by marriage to the prominent Tāhirtī merchant family (one of the brothers was married to a daughter of Barhūn ben Mūsā al-Tāhirtī), and through …
Date: 2015-09-03

Benchimol, Haïm

(355 words)

Author(s): Jamaa Baida
Haïm Benchimol (1834–1915) was born into a family of Moroccan Jewish dragomen and businessmen who worked actively with the French legation in Tangier. Thanks to a clause in the 1880 Madrid Convention, the legation granted him and his family hereditary French protection for “services rendered.”As a broker-interpreter for the French legation and a well-known Freemason, Benchimol was elected head of the Jewish junta (governing committee) of Tangier) in 1890, and also become president of the regional committee of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. At the end …

Bendahan, Blanche

(325 words)

Author(s): Julie Strongson-Aldape
Blanche Bendahan (née Bénoliel) was born in Oran, Algeria on November 23, 1903 to a Jewish family of Moroccan-Spanish origin. Shortly after her birth, her family moved to France, where she was educated in the French system. Bendahan published her first collection of poetry, La voile sur l’eau, in 1926 and then her first novel, Mazaltob (also spelled Mazeltob), in 1930. Mazaltob, which won an award from the Académie Française, portrays a North African woman in Tetouan, Morocco, and the oppression to which she is subjected by the patriarchal society in which she lives…

Ben Ezra Synagogue

(4,545 words)

Author(s): David Cassuto
The Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat (today Old Cairo) was the site of the great treasure trove of documents known as the Cairo Geniza. It came to be called Ben Ezra because of a legend that Ezra the Scribe had given skeptical Egyptian Jews a Torah scroll with magical powers to convince them of his authority. In the Middle Ages, the synagogue was known as Kanīsat al-Yerushalmim and Kanīsat al-Shāmiyyīn (Synagogue of the Jerusalemites or Synagogue of the Palestinians). As the doyen of Geniza studies, S. D. Goitein, has observed, the building referred to by the Arab historian al-Maqrīzī (d. 1442) …

Ben Gardane (Ben Guardane)

(293 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Ben Gardane (Ar. Ben Qardān) is a small coastal town in the southeast of Tunisia, situated on the main road from Tripoli to Tunis near the Libyan frontier. The modern development of the town commenced just after the establishment of the French protectorate in 1881, when the French built two military posts there to protect the Libyan border.            The modernization of the town attracted Jews, who came there for economic reasons, mainly from the island of Jerba in Tunisia and from Zuara in Libya. The Jewish population grew from about 234 in 1906 to…


(1,633 words)

Author(s): Maurice Roumani
Benghazi (Ar. Bin-Ghāzī), the largest city in the Libyan province of Cyrenaica, is located on the northeastern side of the Gulf of Sirte and served as a bridge between the Maghreb and the Mashreq. Cyrenaica, and Benghazi in particular, belongs culturally more to the Islamic East than to the Islamic West, and thus is differentiated from Tripolitania and Tripoli.1. Jewish Settlements in AntiquityCyrenaica (Cyrene) was founded by the Greeks in the seventh century B.C.E. The area later became known as the Pentapolis after its five cities, which included Bereni…

Ben Giat (Ghiat, Benghiat), Aleksander

(520 words)

Author(s): Olga Borovaya | Julia Phillips Cohen
Aleksander Ben Giat (Ghiat) (ca. 1863–1923), was a Sephardi journalist, author, translator, and publisher. He was born in Izmir (Smyrna), where he attended an Alliance Israélite Universelle school. In 1884 he co-founded a short-lived Ladino periodical called La Verdad (The Truth). Over the next few years, he wrote for La Buena Esperansa and El Telegrafo until, in 1897, he founded his own Ladino newspaper, El Meseret (The Joy).In its opening issue, Ben Giat announced that the new paper would be a school for young and old, and emphasized El Meseret's literary character.The paper …
Date: 2015-09-03

Bengio, Mordechai

(407 words)

Author(s): Mitchell Serels
Mordechai Bengio, the son of Joseph Bengio, was born in 1825 and was elected chief rabbi of Tangier at the age of twenty-eight in 1853, succeeding his grandfather, Moses, who died of the plague. Serving as chief rabbi until his own death in 1917, he reformed the community governing council, the Junta (Heb. maʿamad ) and introduced a measure of democracy on nonreligious issues. He also supported the opening of communal schools. He was considered a great rabbinic authority.Bengio organized the first communal election of Junta members, held on May 9, 1853, but the elected Junta…

Bengualid (Ben Walīd), Isaac

(394 words)

Author(s): Marc Angel
Rabbi Isaac Bengualid (1777–1870), born in Tetouan, was a scion of a distinguished rabbinic family that had come to Morocco from Castile after the expulsion from Spain in 1492. He had one son by his first wife, who died soon after giving birth, and four sons and six daughters by his second wife.Bengualid was known for his vast rabbinic erudition as well as his saintliness. In 1835, he was appointed head of the rabbinical court in Tetouan.  A two-volume collection of his responsa, Vayomer Yiṣḥaq (Livorno, 1876), was published through the efforts of his sons.In one of his responsa, recogni…

Ben Ḥalfon, Abraham

(390 words)

Author(s): Yosef Tobi
Abraham ben Ḥalfon, one of the first Hebrew poets in Yemen, lived in Aden in the early decades of the twelfth century. His surviving sixty-seven poems treat religious holidays, life-cycle events, and fast-days, as well as secular themes like praise and friendship. His verse, strongly influenced by the medieval Andalusian school of Hebrew poetry, is marked by biblical language and Arabic meter. For this reason, and also because few of his poems were printed and studied until 1991, scholars were long unable to identify his place of origin, b…

Ben Ḥassin, David

(814 words)

Author(s): Ephraim Hazan
David ben Aaron ben Ḥassin (Ibn Ḥassin, Ḥassin), one of the best-known and most beloved poets of Moroccan Jewry, was born in Meknes in either 1722 or 1727 into a scholarly and devoutly religious family. As a child he was given a Torah education and was an excellent student. At the age of seventeen, he wrote an essay entitled Migdal David (Tower of David) that proffered new insights on the Torah and ideas about Torah study and memorization. He married the daughter of his teacher, Mordecai Berdugo.Ben Ḥassin lived in a tragic era in the history of the Jews of Morocco. During his yo…
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