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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Bibas, Judah

(552 words)

Author(s): Shalom Bar-Asher
Judah Bibas belonged to a small group of mid-nineteenth-century rabbis who urged Jews to resettle the Land of Israel. He was descended from a Sephardi rabbinical family that migrated to Fez following the expulsion of 1492. In 1530, the paterfamilias, Ḥayyim, was invited to Tetouan to become its rabbi and teacher (Heb. marbiṣ Torah). At least eight of his descendants succeeded him as religious leaders in Tetouan and Salé, but in the late eighteenth century the family moved to Gibraltar, where Judah seems to have been born in 1780. Judah Bibas was schooled in G…

Bible Exegesis

(15,709 words)

Author(s): Mordechai Cohen | Judit Targarona | Daniel Frank | Frank Weigelt
1. RabbaniteJewish scholarship in Muslim lands was deeply enriched by its absorption of Arabic and Greco-Arabic learning, which included grammar and philology, poetics, hermeneutics, history, science, and philosophy, all of which contributed profoundly to forging substantially new methods of biblical interpretation. While Scripture had long been central in Judaism, earlier interpretation was dominated by creative midrashic ways of rewriting the Bible, which by the Muslim period had been consolida…
Date: 2016-10-21

Bible Translations

(8,215 words)

Author(s): Benjamin Hary | David Bunis | Dalia Yasharpour | Meira Polliack
1. Judeo-Arabic (Ninth to Thirteenth Century)In ancient and medieval times, Jews translated the Hebrew Bible into their spoken tongues, such as Greek, Aramaic, and Arabic (as well as many other languages and vernaculars employed in specific periods and places). Unlike the various degrees of prohibition regarding scriptural translation in Islamic (as well as Christian) medieval lore and theology, there was no halakhic or theological prohibition of scriptural translation per se among the Jews, although ther…

Bikayam, Meʾir

(364 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Meʾir ben Ḥalifa Bikayam, who died on August 3, 1769 in Izmir (Smyrna), was a rabbinical scholar, teacher, and author, noted both for his knowledge of Kabbala and his inclination toward Sabbateanism. Sometime after 1710, while still a young man, he attended classes conducted by Rabbi Jacob ben Benjamin Wolf Wilna (d. ca. 1732) in Izmir. Wilna, a Sabbatean kabbalist, introduced Bikayam to the mystical ideas taught by Shabbetay Ṣevi (1626–1676), the messianic claimant who a few decades earlier had electrified much of the Jewish world. Bikayam became an important f…

Bilbūl, Yaʿqūb (Lev)

(379 words)

Author(s): Nancy E. Berg
Yaʿqūb (Lev) Bilbul (1920–2003) was a short story writer, poet, businessman, and lawyer. He grew up in Baghdad and was educated at the Alliance Israélite Universelle and Shammash schools. He worked for the Chamber of Commerce of Baghdad, becoming its director when Me’ir (Mīr) Baṣrī stepped down in 1945, and served in that position until he emigrated to Israel in 1951. He earned his law degree in Israel in 1956. In addition to his varied literary activities by which he aspired to contribute to the Iraqi literary renaissance, Bilbul also wrote articles about business and economics.Bilbul’s…


(614 words)

Author(s): Mercedes García-Arenal
The bildiyyīn were Muslims of Jewish origin in the Moroccan city of Fez. Some of them claimed descent from ancestors who had converted as early as the thirteenth century, mainly in 1276, when there had been popular outbreaks against Jewish courtiers and officials of the Marinid dynasty in Morocco, but in most cases the conversions took place in the first half of the fifteenth century.The members of this group were called bildī (Ar. from the city) because they did not have a traditional nisba (Ar. lineage or tribal surname), although many of them had the nisba al-Islāmī. They were also der…

Bilen, Alber

(285 words)

Author(s): Rifat Bali
Alber Bilen was born in 1922 in Istanbul and graduated from Istanbul University in 1946 as a chemical engineer. In 1963, he entered into a patent agreement with the German Henkel company that allowed him to produce its chemicals in Turkey. In 1964 this operation was transformed into a joint venture, and the company was renamed Türk Henkel. Bilen served as its chief executive officer until 1984, then retired in 1986 and sold his share to Henkel.In 1989 Bilen became a member of the advisory council of the chief rabbinate (see Hakham Bashi (Chief Rabbi)) and later vice presiden…

Bishr ben Aaron

(497 words)

Author(s): Arnold Franklin
Bishr ben Aaron, scion of a wealthy Jewish family with close ties to the Abbasid court and considerable influence in public life, was a prominent figure in Baghdad during the first half of the tenth century. Bishr’s father, Aaron ben Amram, is identified in Arabic sources as one of two Jews to hold the position of jahbadh (court financier) during the caliphate of al-Muqtadir (r. 908–932) ( see Court Jews). In that capacity he reportedly provided individuals in the Muslim government with substantial loans and other financial services. A flattering reference to A…


(464 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
Biskra is an Algerian oasis town on the northern edge of the Sahara at the foot of the AurèsMountains, on the west bank of the Oued Biskra. In Antiquity, the city was called Vescera by the Romans and counted Jews in its population, most likely Carthaginian in origin. By the fifth century C.E., under Vandal rule, the Jews seemed to have had an organized community. While the origin of the Jewish community during the Islamic period is unknown, it is mentioned in the responsa of the Spanish rabbis and their descendants who ar…

Bismuth, Joseph Roger

(219 words)

Author(s): Sasha Goldstein-Sabbah
Joseph Roger Bismuth was born on November 4, 1926 into a modest family in La Goulette, the heavily populated suburb of Tunis where many Jews lived at the time. Bismuth is a self-made man who started out as a construction worker. Today he is the owner of several corporations in industries ranging from cosmetics to electronics to lollipops. His main holding company is the Groupe Bismuth, which is based in Tunis. He is also a member of many international and local business organizations, such as the Institut Arabe des Chefs d’Entreprises (IACE), of which he is on the executive board, and the Franco…

Bismuth, Roger

(320 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Roger Bismuth was born in the seaside Tunis suburb of La Goulette on May 8, 1921. His family’s background was humble; his father worked as a shop assistant. In 1943, after completing his elementary and secondary schooling, he found work at a textile mill in Tunis owned by Mhamed Chenik, an industrialist and politician who served as prime minister to Moncef Bey and Lamine Bey (1942–1943). While employed there, Bismuth joined the USTT (Syndical Union of Tunisian Workers), which was closely aligned with the PCT (Tunisian Communist Party). In 1944 he became a union offi…


(6 words)

Author(s): Norman A. Stillman
see Monastir (Bitola, Manastir)Norman A. Stillman

Biton, Erez

(563 words)

Author(s): Stanley Nash
Erez Biton, born in 1942 in Oran, Algeria, came to Israel in 1948 and was the first Mizraḥi poet to give poignant expression to the inner conflicts of acculturation. A childhood accident from an unexploded grenade while he was playing in a junkyard left Biton blinded and maimed, and added a dimension of rare acuteness, sensitivity, and immediacy to his poetry and persona. Labeled a "cultural icon," Biton overcame his handicaps and poverty to become a social worker with an M.A. in psychology. He founded and edited the literary journal Apirion, served as president of the Hebrew Writers…

Bizerte (Banzart, Bizerta)

(480 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Located on the site of the ancient town of Hippo Diarrhytus, Bizerte (Ar. Banzart) is the northernmost port town in Tunisia, situated at a strategic point on the Mediterranean coast and dominating the narrow passage between Europe and Africa. The two lakes near the town are connected to the harbor through a channel from Lake Bizerte. In periods prior to the French protectorate, established in 1881, the town served as an outpost for privateers plying the strategic Strait of Sicily. In 1895, the French resto…

Black Panthers

(376 words)

Author(s): Sammy Smooha
The Black Panthers (Heb. ha-Panterim ha-Sheḥorim) were active in Israel in the 1970s and thereafter as a protest movement and a political party, struggling to improve the status of Mizraḥim in the Jewish State, a society dominated by Ashkenazim.The movement coalesced in protest against socioeconomic deprivation and ethnic discrimination. Its founders and leaders were Moroccan Jewish activists from Musrara, an impoverished neighborhood in Jerusalem. They were young and poor, generally unemployed and dropouts from school; most were army rejects, and some…

Blood libels

(8 words)

Author(s): Norman A. Stillman
see Anti-Judaism/Antisemitism/Anti-Zionism; Damascus Affair (1840)Norman A. Stillman

B'nai B'rith

(1,073 words)

Author(s): Daniel S. Mariaschin
Founded in New York City in 1843, B’nai B’rith, the first Jewish grass-roots membership organization, established a presence in the Balkans and lands under Ottoman Rule in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.Egypt’s first lodge, Maimonides Lodge No. 366, was established in 1887. Its first members were Ashkenazi Jews, and minutes and records were kept in Yiddish. The B’nai B’rith magazine, The Menorah (March 1887), noted the founding of the Cairo lodge with a feature article entitled “A Lodge in the Land of the Pharaohs.” Simon Wolf, a longtime leader of B’nai B’rith in the…