Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World

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Executive Editor: Norman A. Stillman

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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Benardete, Maír José

(909 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

(451 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

(946 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

(1,238 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

(657 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

(644 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

(1,495 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

(277 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

(591 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

(365 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

(334 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

(4,611 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)

(300 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…


(1,660 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 Antiquity Cyrenaica (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

(533 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

(416 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

(403 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

(395 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

(827 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…

Bénichou-Aboulker, Berthe

(426 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
Berthe Bénichou-Aboulker, born in Oran in 1886, was the daughter of Adelaïde Azoubib and her second husband, Mardochée Bénichou. She was descended from a family of Jewish notables in Algeria with a long lineage of rabbis and poets. Her parents, Adelaïde and Mardochée, were distant relatives who shared a common ancestor, Simon ben Ṣemaḥ Duran. Adelaïde was a woman of letters at a time when female writers were a rarity in Algeria. She learned Hebrew after the age of sixty and wrote En méditant les Livres saints (Paris, 1922 ). In 1907, Berthe married Dr. Henri (Samuel) Aboulker, the scion …

Bénichou Family

(462 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
The Bénichou family, originally from Oran, Algeria, included many members who held leadership positions in the Jewish community. The family name may be of Berber origin: Aït Ishu, from the Izaïn and Aït Sgugu tribes in the area around Meknes in Morocco. It also appears among Muslims of the Atlas and Aurès Mountains in the forms Ishu and U Ishu, but some claim it is of biblical origin (Heb. son of Joshua). The name appears in documents from the Cairo Geniza, where a Tunisian merchant of the early twelfth century is named Abraham ben (ibn) Yijū, but is also called Ben Yishū and Ben Ishū.…

Bénichou, Raymond-Joseph

(517 words)

Author(s): Colette Zytnicki
Raymond Bénichou was a leading Algerian Jewish intellectual, philosopher, and advocate interfaith dialogue among Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Algeria.  He was  born in Oran in 1890 to Mardochée Bénichou and Adelaïde Azoubib, distantly related members of two distinguished Algerian Jewish families that piously maintained the memory of their famous fourteenth-century rabbinical ancestor  Simon ben Semaḥ Duran. Raymond was the brother of the playwright and poet Berthe Bénichou-Aboulker. Educated in Paris, Raymond Bénichou earned a literature degree, a diploma fr…

Benider, Jacob ben Abraham

(354 words)

Author(s): Brock Cutler
Jacob Benider (ben Idder) was a British consular official from Gibraltarof Maghrebi extraction, who also served as Morocco’s ambassador to Great Britain. Born around 1704 in Gibraltar, he was the son of Abraham Benider, who had also been employed by the British government as an interpreter and consular official. Beginning in 1763, Benider served as  British vice consul in Tetouan, Tangier, and Salé (see Rabat-Salé, and later at Essaouira (Mogador), Safi, and Agadir.He was given a yearly stipend by the British after helping Admiral Richard Spry to ne…

Beni Hayoun

(10 words)

Author(s): Norman A. Stillman
see Dra’a Norman A. Stillman Bibliography : S

Beni Mellal

(377 words)

Author(s): Sarah Frances Levin
Beni Mellal, a town in central Morocco on the road between Fez and Marrakesh, sits in the foothills of the Middle Atlas Mountains in the agriculturally rich Tadla region, irrigated by abundant springs. It has long been an important market center. Its population is a mix of Berber-speakers descended from the mountains and Arabic-speakers from the plains. It is unknown whether there was a Jewish community in 1688, when Mawlāy Ismāʿīl founded the qaṣba (walled town). In the 1880s, Charles de Foucauld noted three hundred Jews out of a total population of about three thousand, …

Beni Sbih

(7 words)

Author(s): Daniel Schroeter
see Dra’a Daniel Schroeter

Benjamin ben Jonah of Tudela

(1,014 words)

Author(s): Abraham David
Benjamin ben Jonah of Tudela was one of the most famous Jewish travelers. There is no biographical information about him except that he hailed from Tudela (Navarra) in northern Spain. His journey to the Middle East probably took place between 1165 and 1173, but may have begun as early as 1159. The itinerary included northern Spain, Provence, Italy, Greece, the Balkans, Turkey, Syria, the Holy Land, Babylonia, and Persia. From there he sailed via the Persian Gulf and around the Arabian Peninsula to Egypt, and thence to Italy via …

Benjamin al-Nahāwandī

(738 words)

Author(s): Yoram Erder
Benjamin al-Nahāwandī, whose name suggests that he was of Persian origin, was active in the first half of the ninth century in the Jewish communities of Babylonia and Persia. What is known about him comes mainly from Karaite sources. He wrote a Book of Commandments ( Sefer Miṣvot), a Book of Laws ( Sefer Dinim), and several biblical commentaries, but few of his works have survived. The Karaites of the tenth and eleventh centuries considered him and his predecessor, ‘Anan ben David, to have been forerunners of the Karaite movement because they both denied the divine authority of the Oral L…

Benmayor, Gila

(187 words)

Author(s): Rifat Bali
Gila Benmayor is a prominent Turkish journalist. Born on April 13, 1952 in Istanbul, she graduated from the French Notre Dame de Sion Lycée and later on from the English Language and Literature Department of  Istanbul University. She also holds a master’s degree in journalism from the Faculty of Public Relations and Journalism at Istanbul University. In 1981 she joined the foreign news division of the mainstream Hürriyet newspaper, eventually rising  to the position of chief of the foreign news department. Over the years she has conducted innumerable interviews…

Ben, Myriam

(988 words)

Author(s): Jessica Hammerman
Myriam Ben (né Marylise Ben Haïm) was an Algerian activist, novelist, poet, and painter. She was born in Algiers on October 10, 1928. Her father, a Communist who had served in the French Army in Russia during the October 1917 revolution, claimed descent from the Judaized Berbers who had lived in Algeria since before the Arab conquest. Her mother’s family was of Andalusian descent and was active in the rich musical heritage of Algerian Jewry. Like the majority of Algerian Jews of her generation, Ben was born a French citizen, spoke French as her maternal language, and w…

Ben Nāʾīm Family

(1,567 words)

Author(s): Shalom Bar-Asher
The Ben Nāʾīm (Ibn Nāʾīm) family of rabbis and rabbinical jurists ( dayyanim) thrived in Algiers and Fez from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. Jacob Ḥayyim ben Isaac Ben Nāʾīm (d. 1803) was a noted rabbi and jurist in the second half of the eighteenth century. In his youth, Jacob studied with Ephraim ben Abraham Monsonego (1710–1780), a rabbi and kabbalist in Fez and Tetouan; he traveled to Palestine around 1760, but was delayed in Mascara, Algeria, and finally returned to Algiers in 1764, where he served as hea…

Ben Nāʾīm, Raphael Ḥayyim Moses

(13 words)

Author(s): Norman A. Stillman
see Ben Nāʾīm Family Norman A. Stillman

Ben Naphtali, Moses (or Jacob) ben David

(424 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
Moses (or Jacob) ben David Ben Naphtali was a masorete—a scholar specializing in the reading and vocalization tradition of the Hebrew Bible (Heb. masora); see Grammar and Masora—who lived in Tiberias sometime during the ninth and tenth centuries. He was probably a contemporary of Aaron ben Moses Ben Asher. Nothing is known about his life, and even his first name is in dispute: Moses or Jacob. His surname is also suspect, resembling a random name intended to represent the factual or invented school under which different scholars of the Mas…

Ben Nūrīʾel, Bābāʾī

(11 words)

Author(s): Norman A. Stillman
see Bābāʾī ben Nūrīʾel Norman A. Stillman

Benoliel, José

(223 words)

Author(s): Luis Cortest
José Benoliel (1888–1937) was born in Tangier, Morocco. He traveled extensively and studied in France and Palestine. Later he moved to Portugal, where he spent most of his life as a professor of Romance philology at the National University in Lisbon. José Benoliel was, without question, one of the foremost authorities on Haketia, the Moroccan dialect of Judeo-Spanish, in the first half of the twentieth century. Under the title “Dialecto judeo-hispano-marroquí o hakitia,” he published a series of groundbreaking studies in the Boletín de la Real Academia Española (vol. 13, 1926, pp.…

Benoliel, Judah

(492 words)

Author(s): Daniel Schroeter
Born in 1772, Judah Benoliel was a wealthy Jewish merchant from a Tetouani family who served as the Moroccan consul general in the British colony of Gibraltar in the 1820s and 1830s under the Alawid (ʿAlawī) sultans Mawlāy Sulaymān and Mawlāy ‘Abd al-Raḥmān. Morocco maintained only a few permanent consulates in foreign countries before the twentieth century, but Gibraltar, a key entrepôt for commerce in the western Mediterranean, was strategically a crucial center for Moroccan financial and political dealings wit…

Ben-Porat, Mordechai

(775 words)

Author(s): Daphne Tsimhoni
Born in Baghdad in 1923, Mordechai Ben-Porat (né Mordechai Qazzāz) immigrated to Palestine in 1945 following his family's migration two years earlier. In 1947 he joined the Hagana (the Jewish underground defense forces). He graduated the first officers-training course of the Israel Defense Forces in 1948 and fought in the War of Independence. In 1949, as persecution of the Jews of Iraq mounted, he was sent there by the Mossad la-ʿAliya to organize clandestine Jewish emigration. Together with Shlomo Hillel and others, Ben-Porat was a central figure in Operation Ezra an…

Ben Qīqī, Reuben and David

(355 words)

Author(s): Shalom Bar-Asher
Reuben and David Ben Qīqī were court Jews in early eighteenth-century Morocco under the Alawid sultan Mawlāy Ismāʿīl (r. 1672–1727). Appointed to the rank of nagid, they were, respectively, the secular leaders of the Jewish communities of Meknes and Rabat. Meknès had been a major Jewish business center since the final quarter of the seventeenth century, when Sultan Mawlāy Ismāʿīl made it his capital. Jewish businessmen—traders, customs officials, and entrepreneurs—had great influence at court. The Meknasi scholar Mordecai ben Joseph Berdugo (1715–1762), known by his Hebr…

Ben-Shimʿon, David

(703 words)

Author(s): Zvi Zohar
David Ben-Shimʿon was a Moroccan communal leader, poet, and halakhist. Born in Rabat in 1826, he was the son of Moses and Delicia Ben-Shimʿon, husband of Rachel (née Ṣabāḥ), and the father of Raphael Aaron, Jekuthiel Ḥayyim, and Masʿūd Ḥayy Ben-Shimʿon. In Rabat, he studied under Saʿadya Maraji, was the teacher of, among others, Masʿud Ṣabāḥ and Jacob Bibas, and was active in communal life. Motivated by religious yearning for the Land of Israel, he departed Rabat in 1854 and settled in Jerusalem, where he died on December 3, 1879. It was with the intent of devoting himself to religio…

Ben-Shimʿon, Masʿūd Ḥayy

(597 words)

Author(s): Zvi Zohar
Masʿūd Ḥayy Ben-Shimʿon was a halakhist and dayyan (rabbinic judge). Born in Jerusalem on August 28, 1869, he was the son of David Ben-Shimʿon, and the brother of Raphael Aaron (see Raphael Aaron Ben-Simeon) and Jekuthiel Ḥayyim Ben-Shimʿon. Orphaned at eleven, Masʿūd was raised under the aegis of his brother Raphael, whose daughter Simḥa he married. In 1893, he was invited to Cairo, where he became secretary of the chief rabbinate and chief justice of the rabbinical court. He was proficient in modern …

Ben-Simeon, Raphael Aaron

(641 words)

Author(s): Zvi Zohar
Raphael Aaron Ben-Simeon, born in Rabat on July 4, 1847, was a halakhist who served as chief rabbi of Cairo from 1891 to 1921. Brother to Masʿud Ḥay and Jekuthiel Ḥayyim, Ben-Simeon came to Jerusalem with his father, David, in 1854. In addition to a traditional education in classical Jewish texts, which he was primarily taught by his father, Ben-Simeon also learned Arabic and European languages and read modern Hebrew works of the Haskala (Jewish Enlightenment). While in Morocco on fundraising missions on behalf of Jerusalem’s Maghrebi community in 1888 and 1890, he founded the Meqiṣe Nird…

Bensimhon, Charles

(220 words)

Author(s): Melanie Lewey
Charles Bensimhon (1917–2006) was a Moroccan educator in the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) network. Born in Marrakesh, Bensimhon attended the Alliance school in El Jadida (Mazagan) and then earned a diplôme supérieur at the Ecole Normale Israélite Orientale (ENIO) in France. Bensimhon held teaching positions in Essaouira (Mogador) and Marrakesh in 1937 and 1938, respectively. In 1957, the AIU appointed him director of the school in Casablanca. Bensimhon was not only an outstanding teacher but a writer and historian who published articles in the Bulletin de l’Enseignemen…

Bensimhon, Hassiba Benchimol

(361 words)

Author(s): Frances Malino
Born in Tangier in 1876, Hassiba Benchimol, like her sisters Claire Benchimol and Alégrina Benchimol Lévy, studied at the local Alliance Israélite Universelle school in Tetouan before departing for Paris to train as an Alliance teacher. After working as an assistant in the Alliance school in Tunis from 1895 to 1897 and then in the Tangier school from 1897 to 1899, Hassiba left for Fez, where she opened the Alliance school for girls in 1899. Although her native tongue was Haketia, the Judeo-Spanish of northern Morocco, and she bemoaned her lack of facility i…

Ben Solomon, Zechariah ha-Rofeh 

(501 words)

Author(s): Yosef Tobi
Zechariah ben Solomon ha-Rofe, also known as Yiḥyā al-Ṭabīb (Ar. ṭabīb and Heb. rofe both mean physician), lived in the fifteenth century, probably in the town of Dhamar (Thamar) in central Yemen. He was a prolific author and, in fact, the most outstanding representative of the late medieval Yemenite Maimonidean school. He wrote all his books in Judeo-Arabic, probably because of its natural association with medieval Jewish philosophical literature. His writings generally took the form of commentaries on subjects biblical, halakhic, or philosophic. In his Midrash ha-Ḥefeṣ (Tale of…

Ben Sūsān, Issachar ben Mordechai

(1,049 words)

Author(s): David Doron
Issachar ben Mordecai Ben Sūsān ha-Maʿaravi (ca. 1514–after 1573) was the rabbi of a community of Maghrebi Jews in Safed during the sixteenth century, an expert on the calculation of the Hebrew calendar, a chronicler of religious customs of the Jewish communities of the East, and a translator of the Bible into Judeo-Arabic. The dates of his birth and death are a matter of academic disagreement. He was born around the year 1514 in Morocco to Mordecai Ben Sūsān, whom he described as a remarkable scholar of Torah. He claimed to be descended from the tribe of Benjamin, citi…

Benveniste Family

(820 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
The Benveniste (Benvenest, Benvenisti) family, which had its origins in the Iberian Peninsula, produced noted rabbis and scholars throughout the Ottoman period. They were active primarily in Istanbul and Izmir (Smyrna) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The first member of the Benveniste family known to have attained prominence was Moses Benveniste, a rabbi who also served as   physician to Grand Vizier Siyavuş Pasha (r. 1582–1584, 1586–1589, 1592–1593). Moses was eventually exiled from Istanbul to Rhodes by order of the sultan. He had two sons…

Benveniste, Ḥayyim Ben Israel

(907 words)

Author(s): Jacob Barnai
Known as the Ḥaviv (the acronym for his name in Hebrew), Ḥayyim Benveniste is considered to have been one of the greatest halakhic sages of the Sephardic Diaspora and of world Jewry in general. He was born in Istanbul in 1603 to a family of rabbis, physicians, and advisers to the Ottoman court descended from Portuguese Jews who had been exiled from the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the fifteenth century; he died in Izmir (Smyrna) in 1673. Benveniste was a student of Joseph Trani (Mitrani), known as Maharit, the chief rabbi of Istanbul. In 1643, after serving for a time as supervisor of issur ve-h…

Ben Wayyish (or Ben Wāʿish), Abraham

(603 words)

Author(s): Shalom Bar-Asher
Abraham Ben Wayyish (or Ben Wāʿish) was a court Jew and leader ( nagid ) of the Jewish community of Marrakesh during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. He traced his genealogy to the Naḥman, Buzaglo, and Azulay families and some of the most respected patriarchs of southern Morocco. Ben Wayyish was active at the end of the reign of one of the most significant rulers of the Saʿdi (Saadian) dynasty, Mawlāy Aḥmad al-Manṣūr al-Dhahabī (r. 1578– 1603), who defeated the Portuguese at the beginning of his reign and united the autonomous provinces of Morocc…

Ben-Yaacob (Yaʿacov), Abraham

(253 words)

Author(s): Shmuel Moreh
Abraham Ben-Yaacob (Yaʿaqov), born in Baghdad in 1914, was an historian and educator. He immigrated to Palestine with his Religious Zionist family in 1925, studied at the Mizraḥi Seminary for Teachers, and was a member of the Religious Education Committee at the Ministry of Education from 1958 to 1975. Acutely aware of the paucity of  historical and cultural studies on Iraqi Jewry from the later Middle Ages to modern times, he began his researches in this area in the 1940s. He went on to advanced studies and in 1986 received his doctorate from the H…

Ben Yaʿesh (also Ibn Yaʿish or Abenæs), Solomon

(1,243 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Solomon Ben Yaʿesh (also Ibn Yaʿish or Abenæs and Alvaro Mendès) was born in Tavira, Portugal in 1520 and died in Istanbul in 1603. A wealthy and influential Jewish statesman and diplomat, he worked to stymie Spain at the height of its power by engineering an alliance between England and the Ottoman Empire. The man who later received the title of duke of Mytilene was born to a marrano ( anusim) family in Portugal as Alvaro Mendès, a name which most Europeans would continue to use with him throughout his life. In his youth, Mendès worked as an apprentice to a goldsmith before going to India in 1545 …

Ben Yehuda Society

(266 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
The Ben Yehuda Society for the promotion of spoken Hebrew, headed by Jacob Fargion and Sion Saul Adadi, was established in Tripoli, Libya, in 1931 by young Zionist men eager to read Hebrew periodicals from Palestine in order to deepen their knowledge of events there and in the Zionist world. Self-taught in modern Hebrew, they set out to make Hebrew the spoken language of the whole community. They started Hebrew courses for adults followed by afternoon classes for children in the Ha-Tiqva school; in both cases, classes were gender-based. The number of children increased from …

Ben Yijū, Abraham

(962 words)

Author(s): Michael G. Wechsler
Unquestionably one of the most colorful figures to be illuminated by documents from the Cairo Geniza—and in Goitein’s estimation ( Letters, p. 186) “the most important single figure” of his important “India Book”—is the Tunisian merchant and littérateur Abraham (ben Peraḥyā) ben Yijū, who flourished in the first half of the twelfth century and has been identified as the recipient or sender of some seventy different written items (mostly documentary). The name Yijū, applied by or for Abraham as a surname (sometimes …
Date: 2015-09-03

Ben Yijū Family

(1,773 words)

Author(s): Michael G. Wechsler
The Ben Yijū family of traders and scholars is known from documents in the Cairo Geniza. Its most colorful member was Abraham Ben Yijū in the twelfth century, whose enterprises took him as far as India. The family originated in Tunisia; over the next few generations members lived in Sicily and Egypt. The family name Ben Yijū is of Berber origin. The founder of the family was probably under the protection of the Aït Īshū (part of the Izaïn and Aït Sgugu tribes), and the name continued in use among Maghrebi Jews into modern times as Bénichou (see Bénichou Family). The documents of the Cairo Geni…

Ben, Zahava

(399 words)

Author(s): Amy Horowitz
Zehava Ben is a female vocalist in the Mizraḥi genre and has appeared in several films. Born Zehava Benisti in 1968 to a poor Moroccan family in Beersheva, Ben began performing at a young age. Her father, Simon Benisti, was a neighborhood singer who performed at weddings and other community events in Morocco and later in Israel. Discovered in 1989, Zehava Ben produced her first album, Ṭippat Mazal (A Drop of Luck), that year, and quickly became one of the leading Mizraḥi singers in Israel. By 1991, she had released her third album, introducing her version of Umm Kulthūm’s “Anta ʿOmrī” to th…

Benzakein (Ben Zaken), Félix

(386 words)

Author(s): Ruth Kimche
A native of Tanta (Ṭantah), Egypt, Félix Benzakein was born on September 30, 1895 to a family from Morocco that had arrived in Egypt around the year 1865. He attended the Alliance Israélite Universelle school in Tanta, and in 1916, after graduating from the Faculty of Law at Cairo University, embarked on a prosperous  legal career, accredited by both the Egyptian law courts and the mixed-courts. Benzakein defended Maurice Fargeon in the defamation suit brought against him by the German embassy in 1934 and earned widespread admiration for his speeches during the …

Ben Zamirro (Zamerro) Family

(646 words)

Author(s): Jose Alberto Tavim
The Ben Zamirros were a Spanish-Portuguese mercantile family. As far back as the fourteenth century, members of the family were financiers and physicians in Seville and Badajoz. At the end of the fifteenth century the Ben Zamirros were living in southern Portugal near the Spanish border. Their wealth enabled them to migrate to North Africa after the Jews were expelled from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1496/97). The family nucleus moved to Safi (Asfī), on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, after it was conquered by the Portuguese in 1508. When the army of the sharīf of Marrake…

Benzaquen, Léon

(319 words)

Author(s): David Cohen
Léon Benzaquen (1901–1977), whose father moved from Tangier to Casablanca in 1897, attended the Alliance Israélite Universelle primary school and the French lycée (secondary school) in Casablanca, then studied medicine in Paris, specializing in pneumology. On his return to Morocco in 1938, he settled in Casablanca and immediately became involved in Samuel-Daniel Lévy’s project to found  a tuberculosis  sanatorium, realized in 1946 with the construction of the Benaḥmed Preventorium. Boycotted by his European colleagues during the Vichy period (1940–1943), Benzaque…

Berab, Jacob

(742 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ayalon
Jacob Berab (Beirav) was born around 1474 in Maqueda, a town located northwest of Toledo in Spain. After the expulsion of 1492, he moved to Morocco, and according to his own statement was appointed the rabbi of the community of Fez soon after his arrival there, at the age of eighteen. Berab’s stay in Fez was of short duration. After a few years, he left for Egypt for business reasons, whence he made visits to Jerusalem, Damascus, and Aleppo. In 1524, and possibly earlier, he settled in Safed, where he established a yeshiva that attracted many students and scholars from all over th…


(621 words)

Author(s): Onur Yildirim
In the Ottoman Empire of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a berat was a document issued by the Ottoman government upon the recommendation or at the request of a foreign consul that conferred certain legal, fiscal, and commercial privileges upon the holder, or beratli, normally a non-Muslim Ottoman subject employed by the consul. The privileges included exemption from taxes and from the jurisdiction of local courts. Beratlis were originally recruited to serve as vice-consuls, interpreters ( dragomans), commercial agents, and in various menial capacities, but …

Berber Jews

(861 words)

Author(s): Daniel Schroeter
From the early Islamic period until the mid-twentieth century,  Jews were scattered among the Muslim Berber-speaking populations of the Maghreb: in rural Morocco, especially in the Atlas Mountains and the south, Kabylia and Mzab in Algeria, Jerba in Tunisia, and the Jebel Nafusa in Libya. While contemporary evidence is lacking, it is likely that some Berbers converted to Judaism in late antiquity, before the expansion of Islam in the Maghreb. The idea that the Jews who lived in these regions were themselves part of the indigenous Berber population …

Berdugo Family

(556 words)

Author(s): Moshe Bar-Asher
The rabbis of the Berdugo family flourished in Meknes from the end of the fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Like the Toledanos, another family of Spanish exiles who arrived in Morocco at the end of the fifteenth century, the Berdugos were one of the most distinguished Jewish families in Meknès. Almost all of our information about these two great families dates from the eighteenth century and thereafter. Many households in Meknès bore the name Berdugo, but the family’s prestige and glory derived most especially from the great scholars who emerged during the course of i…

Berdugo, Raphael ben Mordechai

(804 words)

Author(s): Moshe Bar-Asher
Raphael ben Mordechai Berdugo (1747–1821) was the most important scholar in the entire history of the Meknes Jewish community and one of the foremost religious figures in all of Morocco since the Spanish expulsion (1492). A member of the noted Berdugo family, Raphael attained a reputation as a great scholar and adjudicator (Heb. poseq) of Jewish law even as a youth. For a time, he served as head of the rabbinical court (Heb. bet din) in Meknès. Berdugo’s literary output included commentaries on the Bible, halakha, and aggada. He wrote three commentaries on the Bible: (1) Me Menuḥot (Still W…

Berdugo, Serge

(354 words)

Author(s): Mohammed Hatimi
Serge Berdugo was born in 1938 into a distinguished Moroccan Sephardi family of rabbis, merchants, and communal leaders in Meknes. He studied at the Institut de Sciences Politiques, and earned a law degree. A Jewish community leader and politician, he has been vice-president of external relations for the Conseil des communautés israélites du Maroc since 1977, and became its secretary-general in 1987. As such, he also heads the World Assembly of Moroccan Jewry. Under his presidency, the Conseil des communautés created the Foundation for Moroccan Jewish Heritage, which restores…

Bereshit-nāma ('The Book of Genesis')

(407 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
As far as is known, Judeo-Persian belles-lettres began with the works of Mowlānā Shāhīn-i Shīrāzī (Our Master, the Royal Falcon of Shiraz), who flourished in the fourteenth century in Iran. Only the pen name of the poet is known and the fact that he lived during the reign of the Ῑl-khānid ruler Abū Saʿīd (1316-1335), to whom he dedicated a panegyric. Shāhīn's surviving oeuvre consists of two major epic cycles, the first of which, known only as [ Bereshit-] n āma (The Book of Genesis), a name bestowed upon it by scholars, consists of versifications of selected narrative part…

Bertinoro, Obadiah da

(944 words)

Author(s): Abraham David
Obadiah ben Abraham Yare da Bertinoro (ca. 1450–before 1516) was an Italian rabbi and commentator on the Mishna. The name Yare is an acrostic of the Hebrew y ehi reṣuyeḥav (Let him be the favored of his brethren, Deut. 33:24). Little is known of his family, which derived from the town of Bertinoro in northern Italy. At some time he apparently lived in Città di Castello, where he was a banker. His best-known teacher was Joseph Colon, the greatest halakhic figure in Italy in the second half of the fifteenth century. Much more is known about Obadiah after he left Città di Castello, as three letters …

Bessis, Albert

(422 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Albert Bessis was born in Tunis on January 16, 1885. Educated at the Lycée Carnot in Tunis and at a law school in Paris, he was admitted to the Tunis bar in 1907 and was its president  from June 1952 to June 1954. He was also vice-president of the Fédération des Oeuvres Mutualistes (Federation of Mutual Benefit Companies) and president of the Organization for the Protection of Jewish Young Women from 1913 to 1920, a member of the Office of War Orphans from 1919, and a board member of the Alliance Française. He taught maritime law at the Center of Legal Studies in Tunis and was a delegate to the Tunis…

Bessis, Eugène

(263 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Eugène Bessis (1871–1951) was a Tunisian civil servant and served three terms as president of the Conseil de la Communauté Israélite. In this capacity he was a principal signatory of a published appeal to Tunisian Jews to support the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to further the Zionist enterprise in Palestine. In June 1932 he spoke at a large public meeting in Tunis protesting the government’s cancellation of a lecture by Nathan Halpern of the JNF. Bessis became a unionist in 1930 and wrote for the union newspaper Revendiquons, which was sympathetic to the Communists. He joined the Communist P…

Bet Din (Turkish Republic)

(411 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
After the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the Jewish community of Turkey ceased to have a separate legal council and the responsibilities of its bet din were strictly limited to religious matters. The chief rabbinate and the bet din, which formerly had dealt with legal issues in addition to religious issues, no longer acted as the community’s civil court.    The Turkish bet din has changed in many ways since its inception in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Initially it consisted of a panel of three rabbinic judges who judged unlawful ac…

Bet El Kabbalists

(967 words)

Author(s): Pinchas Giller
The  Bet El yeshiva was founded in 1737 by Rabbi Gedaliah Ḥayyun in the Old City of Jerusalem as a part of the general flowering of Kabbala in eighteenth-century Jerusalem. The yeshiva was galvanized by its second leader, the Yemenite kabbalist Shalom Sharʿabi (1720-1780, also known as RaSHaSH). Sharʿabi bequeathed a system of contemplative kabbalistic prayer that has been the school's defining system ever since and is responsible for its preeminence among practitioners of the most arcane systems of Lurianic Kabbala. The early Bet El group left a number of documents. The most signifi…

Beth Israel Synagogue (Şişli, Istanbul)

(262 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
The Beth Israel Synagogue, located on Efe Street, Şişli, is one of several synagogues in Istanbul. The building was erected in the 1920s and was originally used partly as a synagogue and partly as an auto repair garage. The part that was used as a synagogue and two nearby houses were bought in 1947 in order to enlarge the synagogue. With the supervision of contractor Aram Deragobyan and architect Jak Pardo, construction began in 1952 and the synagogue was named the Beth Israel Synagogue.             Unlike most other synagogues in Istanbul, Beth Israel has no historical or arti…

Bet Israel Synagogue, Karataş , Izmir

(281 words)

Author(s): Leslie Abuaf
The Bet Israel Synagogue is located in the Karataş quarter of the Turkish city of Izmir (formerly Smyrna). The city’s largest synagogue, it was built to accommodate the growing population in the area, which in the late nineteenth century was known as the Jewish quarter. Ottoman law required government permission to restore or build new synagogues. The request for the construction of Bet Israel was submitted in 1904 to Sultan Abdülhamid II; the following year permission was granted and construction began. The synagogue was opened for worshi…
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