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Banks and banking, historical

(2,152 words)

Author(s): Ackerman-Lieberman, Phillip I.
Banks—institutions whose primary concern was dealing in money—were not found in the mediaeval Islamicate world, according to the economic historian Abraham L. Udovitch. Yet financial instruments, such as deposits, credit, loans, and bills of exchange were actively utilised by people who operated as individuals or members of trading networks rather than as representatives of banking institutions. According to Islamic law (fiqh), both paying and accepting interest on money placed with another individual as a loan or a deposit are understood as conflicting …
Date: 2021-07-19

Nethanel ben Mevorakh

(184 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Nicknamed Abu al-Barakāt, Nethanel ben Mevorakh was the middle son of Mevorakh ben Saʿadya, who served as ra'īs (or colloquially rayyis) al-yahūd (Ar. head of the Jewish community, i.e. nagid) of Fustat from ca. 1078 to 1082 and from 1094 to 1111. Nethanel seems to have been born around 1095. Unlike his father and his brother Moses, Nethanel did not ascend to the headship. On the other hand, he was an active participant in the culture of the political and economic elite of his community, and may well have served the Fatimid court, as perhaps is indicated by allusions to him in Geniza documents t…


(3 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
see SolalPhillip Ackerman-Lieberman

Nissi ben Berekhiah al-Nahrāwanī

(268 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Nissi (also Nīsī) ben Berekhiah al-Nahrāwanī was a scholar and liturgical poet in the late ninth and early tenth centuries. His name suggests a family origin either in the Persian town of Nahravan or in the town of al-Nahrawān in eastern Iraq. Nissi was one of the Jewish notables of Baghdad. His successful mediation of a dispute in 922 between the exilarch David ben Zakkay and the Pumbeditan gaon Mevasser ben Qimoy led Nathan the Babylonian (see Nathan ha-Bavlī) to describe him as a “miracle-worker,” clearly a pun on his given name. In 928, Ben Zakkay offered the gaonate to Nissi, who had been res…


(569 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Sijilmasa (Ar. Sijilmāsa) was a town in the Mahgreb near the present-day Moroccan town of Rissani in the Tafilalet oasis, approximately 300 kilometers (190 miles) southeast of Fez, along the chain of North African Jewish settlements in the border region between the settled country and the Sahara. The chain of settlements lay along a caravan route which probably dated to antiquity, and medieval sources such as the geographer al-Bakrī report that Sijilmasa was founded by Berbers in the mid-eighth …


(3 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
see MallāḥPhillip Ackerman-Lieberman

Nahshon bar Zadok Gaon

(316 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Nahshon bar Zadok was gaon of the academy of Sura for eight years in the second half of the ninth century. The precise chronology is in question, but his incumbency began between 865 and 871. His patronymic is also uncertain; it is given as Isaac in some versions of the Epistle of Sherira Gaon.Nahshon wrote many responsa, including one explaining the proper usages of magic. He also wrote commentaries on several tractates of the Talmud, as well as a monograph explaining difficult words therein, and has been misidentified as the author of Sefer Re'u Ma, a ninth-century work on ritual slaughter.A…


(5,449 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
1. Medieval Period The Jews of Islam were subject to a number of imposts, collected both by representatives of the local Jewish community and by Muslim officials. During the period of its institutional ascendancy, the leadership of the Jewish community of Babylonia also imposed taxes upon the Jewish communities in the Diaspora, the funds collected and remitted to Iraq by local representatives. As the conquests of the early Islamic period saw the perpetuation and development of preexisting tax structures, both the imposts demanded …


(243 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Sunbat (Ar. Sunbāṭ; Sambūṭ or Sambūṭiya in Cairo Geniza documents) was a town in Lower Egypt which had a Jewish population from at least the tenth to the seventeenth century. Although small, the community maintained a rabbinical court and a synagogue, the foundational elements of a middle-sized Jewish settlement. The town also sustained a scholarly elite: scholars from Palestine and Syria lived in Sunbat, and an eleventh-century head of the Babylonian community in Fustat, Sahlān ben Abraham, traced his lineage back seven generations to the town. According to Joseph Sambari, a Torah…

Naṭronay bar Nehemiah

(158 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Naṭronay bar Nehemiah, also known as Mar Yanuqa, married into the family of the exilarch, and served as gaon of the yeshiva of Pumbedita from 719 until his death sometime before 739. His harsh treatment of the yeshiva’s students led many of them to move to the Sura academy. A few of his responsa survive, including some concerning heretical sects. While lenient in allowing the repentant followers of the false messiah Severus (Sāwīrā), also called Serenus, to return to the Rabbanite fold, Naṭronay was less welcoming of other penitents who had rejected biblical and talmudic ordinances.Philli…

Neṭīra Family

(405 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
The Neṭīra family was an influential family of banker notables (Ar. jahā bidha; sing. jahbadh) in Baghdad roughly contemporaneous with Saʿadya Gaon, from the end of the ninth century. Neṭīra and his sons, Sahl and Isḥāq, successfully appealed to the Abbasid caliph on a number of occasions on behalf of various gaonic figures and against the exilarch. Nathan the Babylonian (see Nathan ha-Bavlī) reports that Neṭīra personally appealed to al-Muʿtaḍid on behalf of Kohen Ṣedeq Gaon of Pumbedita in the latter’s conflict with the exilarch ʿUqba, who had diverted income ordi…

Commenda (‛Isqa)

(418 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
The commenda (Aram. ʿ isqa) was a profit-sharing arrangement designed to circumvent the prohibition of lending funds to a co-religionist at interest. It facilitated financial partnerships by allowing an investor to place funds with an active partner, often for the purpose of long-distance trade. Such agreements enabled Jewish merchants to participate actively in both the Mediterranean trade and the India trade, because a single investor could have an interest in multiple cargoes being shipped at the same time, and a…

Nehemiah bar Kohen Ṣedeq Gaon

(289 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Nehemiah bar Kohen Ṣedeq Gaon served as gaon of the academy of Pumbedita from 960 to 968. He was apparently of priestly descent. Nehemiah led an emerging faction against Aaron Sarjado after the latter, a member of the merchant class rather than the scion of a gaonic family, was appointed gaon of the academy of Pumbedita in 943. The immediate cause of Nehemiah’s secession was Aaron’s decision to appoint Sherira ben Hananiah and not Nehemiah to the post of av bet din ("president of the court" -- the second-highest rank in the yeshiva hierarchy) following the death of the incumbent av bet din, Amra…


(3 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
see SolalPhillip Ackerman-Lieberman

Partnership, commercial/industrial

(596 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Commercial and industrial partnerships (Ar. shirka; Med. Heb. shutafut) were the primary form of economic cooperation in the lands of medieval Islam. Classical Islamic and Jewish legal sources and documents from the Cairo Geniza reveal the breadth of the partnership arrangements employed throughout the Middle Ages. Partnerships had many economic functions. In addition to being a vehicle for craft production in which both partners would contribute investment capital as well as physical effort, partnership bypassed the traditional prohibition on granting…

Nahray ben Nissim

(404 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Nahray ben Nissim (ca. 1025-1098), nicknamed Abū Yaḥyā, was a North African merchant and communal leader. More than 350 letters, notes, and accounts from the Cairo Geniza are either addressed to him or emanate directly from his hand, comprising the largest corpus of documentary sources from the Geniza concerning a single individual.Born around 1025 and descended from a leader ( nagid) of the Qayrawan community, Nahray migrated to Egypt around 1040, where he entered the patronage of his relative Barhūn b. Isḥaq Tahertī. At the center of a network of traders plying the Mediterranean …

Naṭronay bar Hilay Gaon

(371 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Naṭronay bar Hilay was gaon of the Sura academy in the ninth century. The dating and duration of his reign are disputed by the early sources; he seems to have ascended to the gaonate between 853 and 859 and remained in office from five to ten years. A prolific writer ofresponsa, many of which have been preserved, Naṭronay maintained connections between the Sura academy and all parts of the Diaspora. One of his responsa, sent to the community of Lucena in Spain, includes a list of the hundred rabbinically ordained blessings to be recited daily; this responsum was the nucleus for the prayerbook of…

Sherira Gaon

(495 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Sherira Gaon (ca.906–1006) was a jurist descended from an exilarchic family who served as gaon of the Pumbedita yeshiva from 968 to 1004. Directly prior to his appointment, the Pumbedita academy had been substantially weakened by a schism that led to the short-lived founding of a breakaway faction by Nehemiah bar Kohen Ṣedeq. In addition, throughout this period, the Babylonian academies (see Yeshivot in Babylonia/Iraq) were losing much of their influence in the Jewish communities to the west thanks to the rise of houses of study (Heb. batte midrash) there.With the flow of financial …


(910 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Fustat (Ar. al-Fusṭāṭ), the first city to be founded in Egypt by the Muslims after their conquest of Egypt, was established in 643 adjacent to the Greco-Coptic settlement of Babylon, on the east bank of the Nile (east of its present banks). It was originally one of the so-called amṣār (sing. miṣr), or camp towns, where the Arab occupation troops were garrisoned safely inland from the Byzantine (Mediterranean) Sea. The Arab warriors were assigned to quadrangles reserved for their specific tribes or military units. As the city grew, these areas eventually became urban quarters.After the …

Naṭronay bar Ḥavivay

(238 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Naṭronay bar Ḥavivay, whose patronymic is also recorded as Zavinay in some texts of the Epistle (Heb. Iggeret) of Sherira Gaon, was Exilarch in Babyloniafrom 771 to 773. He was named to this post by Malka, the gaon of Pumbedita, during a dispute with the incumbent exilarch, Zakkay ben Aḥunay, possibly related to Zakkay’s genealogy. The Pumbeditan and Suran academies, however, supported Zakkay, and upon Malka’s death in 773, Naṭronay was exiled to “the West,” probably Spain. There Naṭronay is reported to have dictated the Talmud from memory, leading t…
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