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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

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…

Commerce and Economy in the Medieval Period

(2,238 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
At the time of the Islamic conquests, most Jews lived in Babylonia and pursued occupations related to agriculture. There were, however, a number of important Jewish urban settlements—for example, Damascus and Alexandria—in which Jews would have been involved in crafts production; as well as Jewish communities in trading centers—such as Medina (see Hijaz) and Tyre, which supported Jewish endeavors in both local and long-distance trade. Yet investment in land, farming, and sharecropping were the primary sources of income for Jews in the early …


(344 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
The Radhanites (Ar. al-Rādhāniyya) were Jewish merchants believed to have originated in the ninth century in the region of Rādhān, a district in southern Iraq. Their trade routes, which stretched from China to the Iberian Peninsula, as well as the commodities in which they traded, were recorded by the ninth-century Persian geographer Ibn Khurradādhbih (or Khurdādhbih) in his Kit āb al-Masālik wa al-Mamālik (ed. de Goeje, Leiden, 1889, pp. 153-155). According to this text, the Radhanites knew six languages and traded in slaves, silk, furs, and swords, as w…

Names and Naming Practices - Introduction - Middle Ages

(2,029 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Jewish names and naming patterns can be used as tools for describing Jewish demographic, economic, social, and cultural history. The formation of Jewish names in the medieval Islamic world followed many Islamic naming patterns. Individuals had both personal names and family names. The personal name (Ar. ism) was often supplemented or replaced in common parlance with a by-name (Ar. kunya). The ism was also often followed by a patronymic, which generally was constructed of ben/bar/ibn (“son of”) for a male or bat/bint (“daughter of”) for a female, followed by the father’s name. At times a n…

Resh Kalla

(334 words)

Author(s): Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Resh kalla (head of a row) was an Aramaic title bestowed upon leading members of the academies in Babylonia (see Yeshivot in Babylonia/Iraq) and prominent figures in the Diaspora communities. It was often substituted with its Arabic equivalent, raʼs al-kull, the Hebraicized form rosh kalla, or with the Hebrew term alluf (chief). The title derives from the circumstance that scholars in the Babylonian academies were organized in rows, with each row assigned a “head” who sat in the first row. The post was based largely on inheritance but also upon scholarly a…

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…
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