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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.

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 a…

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 …

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 …

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…

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 …

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 ph…

Ephraim ben Shemariah

(804 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Ephraim ben Shemariah (Abū Kathīr Ephraim ben Shemariah [Maḥfūẓ] ha-Melammed ha-ʿAzzati (al-Muʿallim al-Gazī), ca. 975–1055, was the undisputed leader of the Jerusalemite congregation in Fustat and of the entire Jewish community of Fustat for nearly fifty years, from approximately 1007 until his death in the year 1055, when he was around eighty years old. As his name indicates, his family originated in Palestine. Ephraim made his living in the perfume and medicine trade (his epithet, al-ʿAṭṭār in Arabic and ha-Bosman in Hebrew, means “the perfumer”); he was also a property…

Elijah ben Zechariah

(550 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Elijah ben Zechariah was a very popular jurist of Palestinian ancestry in the Egyptian town of Fustat. In 1228, following the death of Samuel ben Jacob, the need for a communal judge arose in Alexandria. The town notables looked locally for a suitable replacement. When the favored candidate, Abū ʿAlī ben Ḥanīkh, turned out to be unsuitable, it was proposed, as a compromise, to appoint Elijah ben Zechariah to serve with Abū ʿAlī. Elijah would hold the title of

Elijah ben Solomon ha-Kohen

(388 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Elijah ben Solomon ha-Kohen was gaon of the Palestinian yeshiva from 1062 till his death in 1083. His father, Solomon, had served as gaon for barely one year, in 1025, and Elijah’s elder brother, Joseph, was av beit din of the yeshiva during the gaonate of Daniel ben Azariah. After Joseph’s death in 1053, Elijah took over as av bet din, and he succeeded to the gaonate on the death of Daniel ben Azariah in 1062. The period during which Elijah held office was a time of severe crisis in Palestine. Between 1071 and 1073 the Seljuks wrested the country from the Fatimids, remaining in control un…

Abū ʾl-Munajjā Solomon ibn Shaʿya

(358 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Abū ʾl-Munajjā Solomon ibn Shaʿya was the official in charge of agriculture under al-Afḍal, the viceroy of Fatimid Egypt. Over a period of six years beginning in 1113, he planned and built a canal in the eastern sector of the Nile Delta that significantly improved the irrigation system. Although al-Afḍal had named the canal after himself, the grateful peasant farmers of the Delta dubbed it the Abū ʾl-Munajjā canal. According to the fourteenth-century chronicler …

Nagid

(2,393 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
The Hebrew title nagid, derived from a biblical term meaning ruler (I Kings 1:35), was the designation in the Middle Ages of the head of a Jewish community, first in North Africa and later in al-Andalus, Egypt, and Yemen. In post-medieval and early modern North Africa, it became the standard title for a person recognized by the government as the secular head of a Jewish community, a position known in Arabic as

David ben Hezekiah

(402 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
David ben Hezekiah, who died sometime before 1090, was the son of the Babylonian exilarch Hezekiah II (r. ca. 1000–ca. 1060). Very little is known about David’s life. He was active in communal affairs in Palestine from the 1030s until about 1055 and is often referred to in Geniza documents (see Cairo Geniza) as nasi, “nasi of the Diasporas of all Israel” (Heb. nesi galuyot kol Yisra’el), and “nagid of the people of the Lord” (Heb. negid ʿam Adonay). He obtained the support of the Palestinian gaon Solomon ben Judah, but apparently undermined the yeshiva’s av bet din, Zadok ha-Levi ben Lev…

Abraham ben Nathan son of Nathan ben Abraham

(463 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Abraham ben Nathan, born around 1037, was the only the son of Nathan ben Abraham, the rival of Gaon Solomon ben Judah in the famous conflict that took place between 1038 and 1042. The dispute ended when Nathan ben Abraham was appointed Av Beit Din of the yeshiva, with hopes of obtaining the position of gaon. He apparently died before achieving this goal. Abraham ben Nathan inherited his father’s ongoing feeling of frustration and bitterness toward the Palestinian yeshiva and its leaders. His maternal grandfather, Mevorakh ben Eli, was one of the leaders of the Babylonian communi…

Nethanel ben Moses ha-Levi

(380 words)

Author(s): Elinoar Bareket
Nethanel ben Moses ha-Levi was a physician at the Fatimid court, a renowned scholar, and a communal leader in twelfth-century Egypt. The Cairo Geniza has preserved a fascinating letter that Nethanel wrote to his friends as a youth. In it he complains that his father, Moses, then the “Sixth in the Society of Scholars” (i.e., the yeshiva) and a physician in the government hospital, had paid him 25 dinars, a large amount by any standard, to stay home and study rather than go out with his friends. The investment paid off: Nethanel became a …
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