Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World

Get access Subject: Jewish Studies
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. 

Subscriptions: see brill.com


(353 words)

Author(s): Norman A. Stillman
In mid-1951, the young and struggling State of Israel adopted a policy of selective immigration (Heb. seleqṣiya) that placed severe restrictions upon poor Moroccan Jews who were unable to pay their for their own immigration, had no family breadwinner accompanying them, or had a family member in need of medical care. Under the new policy, the Jewish Agency accepted for ʿ aliya only families accompanied by a healthy breadwinner between the ages of eighteen and forty-five. The policy also applied to Jews from Tunisia, albeit to a lesser extent. There were two primary rationales for th…

Sémach, Oro

(407 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Antébi
Born on September 29, 1874 in Tatar-Bazrdjik (Pazardzik), Bulgaria, Oro Sémach (née Guéron) was one of the first women to attend school in Bulgaria. She was educated at a school opened by the Alliance Israélite Universelle in 1888, and at the age of twenty became principal of the AIU girls’ school in her hometown. In September 1895, she married one of the leaders of the Alliance, Yomtob Sémach (1869–1940), scion of a wealthy family in Edirne (Adrianople), and they had four children. Adventurous in nature, they followed the caravan routes to Damascus and Baghda…

Sémach, Yomtob

(851 words)

Author(s): Mohammed Kenbib | Daniel Schroeter
Yomtob Sémach(1869–1940) was one of the most influential educators of the Alliance Israelite Universelle(AIU) system in Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire, and Morocco over a period spanning fifty years. He was born in Yambol, Bulgaria, in 1869 into a wealthy merchant family originally from Edirne (Adrianople) and was educated at the local AIU schools and then at the École Normale Israélite Orientale in Paris. He began his teaching career at an  AIU school in Sousse, Tunisia, in 1891, but returned to  Bulgaria two years later following the death of his father, and was appointed f…

Ṣemaḥ Ṣedeq ben Isaac

(226 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Ṣemaḥ Ṣedeq ben Isaacserved as gaon of Sura from sometime after 987 until before 999. He was the first gaon of the Sura academy after the four-decade closure that began in 942. A grandson of Ṣemaḥ ben Palṭoy, gaon of Pumbedita from 872 to 890, Ṣemaḥ Ṣedeq corresponded with Elhanan ben Shemariah, whom he knew as a student of Sherira and Hay Gaon in Pumbedita, and he made efforts to strengthen ties between Sura and Fustat. In letters he wrote to Elhanan preserved in the Cairo Geniza, Semaḥ explained his position on theological topics such as God's unity and attributes.  He…

Sephardi Impact on Islamicate Jewry

(2,362 words)

Author(s): Norman A. Stillman
1.    Demographic Impact The arrival of Sephardim in the Islamic world following the expulsion from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497 marked a veritable watershed in the history of the Jews of the Muslim world. Many of the exiles sought a refuge in the Islamic kingdoms of the Maghreb, in Mamluk Egypt and the Levant, and in the expanding Ottoman Empire, which within a generation would take over all of the Middle East and North Africa from Persia to Morocco. The Iberian refugees infused new vitality—de…

Sephardi Jurisprudence in the Past Half-Millennium

(9,148 words)

Author(s): Zvi Zohar
After the riots of 1391, the situation of Spanish Jewry became increasingly difficult, and during the century leading up to the expulsion, a change in the orientation of Spanish-Jewish culture took place. The very enterprise of Torah qua study and application of Jewish law was becoming less than central to the community’s self-definition.  Against this backdrop, Rabbi Isaac Canpanton (1360–1463) consciously elaborated a novel hermeneutic methodology of talmudic study, based on the insight that there was a close inner affinity between medieval semantics (based on Aristotle’s De In…

Sephardim/Sephardi Jews in the Ottoman Empire

(5,815 words)

Author(s): Minna Rozen
1.Definition The term Sephardim refers to descendants of the Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula who settled in many parts of the world and maintained various characteristics of their identity as well as a sense of affinity to a greater “Sephardi Nation” worldwide. The typical characteristics of the group are the use of the Judeo-Spanish language (the vernacular called Judezmo, the written language called Ladino); adherence to the Sephardi liturgy and rites, and to certain legal rules and pra…

Sephardi (Sephardim)

(1,277 words)

Author(s): Matthias Lehmann
Sephardi (pl. Sephardim) refers either to the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula and their descendants after the expulsion from Spain in 1492 or, in juxtaposition to Ashkenazi (Ashkenazim), to one of the two major traditions of Jewish law and custom, with the Sephardim following Rabbi Joseph Caro’s sixteenth-century code, the Bet Yosef. In either case, the meaning of the term has varied over time and is best understood in changing historical contexts. It derives from the place-name Sepharad, which appears in the biblical book of Obadiah (1:20) and was identified as Spain in the Aramaic Targum …

Serah bat Asher

(1,148 words)

Author(s): Orly R. Rahimiyan
Serah bat Asher was a granddaughter of the biblical patriarch Jacob (Genesis 46:17). A cave and synagogue connected with her in central Iran, 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) west of Isfahan, near a village called Pīr Bakrān in the area of Linjān, has become one of the holiest places of Iranian Jewry and an important pilgrimage destination. Legend explains how Serah ended up so far from the land of her forefathers and why this place is so holy for Jews. According to a local tradition partially based on Midrash ha-Gadol, when the sons of Jacob returned from their second journey to buy food in …


(2,494 words)

Author(s): Omer Turan
Surrounded by Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, and Bosnia, Serbia (Ott. Tur. Ṣırb) is an inland country in the northwestern Balkans. The earliest records of a Jewish presence in Serbia date from the late fourteenth century, when Jews from Hungary settled in Belgrade. They were followed in the fifteenth century by Jews from Bavaria and Italy. With the conquest of Belgrade in 1521, Ottoman rule of Serbia was consolidated. After the conquest of Buda in 1526, more than two thousand Jews from Hungary were settled in Ottoman territories, and some of them came to Belgrade. In …

Serfaty, Abraham

(535 words)

Author(s): Mohammed Hatimi
Abraham Serfaty is a internationally prominent Moroccan political activist who spent many years in prison and became a symbol of the popular resistance against King Hassan II’s authoritarian government. Staunchly anti-Zionist and a supporter of the Palestinians, Serfaty represents a model of the Moroccan Jew in eyes of many of his Muslim fellow citizens—assimilated, respected, and attached to his ancestors’ North African homeland. Many of his coreligionists, however, see him as subversive and marginal to the Jewish community.  Abraham Serfaty was born in 1926 in Casablanc…

Ṣeror, Raphael Jedidiah Solomon ben Joshua

(465 words)

Author(s): Yossef Charvit
Raphael Jedidiah Solomon ben Joshua Ṣeror (1681–1738) was one of the rabbinical elite of the Jewish community of Algeria in the early eighteenth century, the last era of communal stability before the French occupation and the ensuing erosion of the traditional way of life. Although a leading religious scholar, Ṣeror also possessed broad general knowledge: “He knew the quality and the matters of the country. . . and all turn to him for his medical wisdom, for his great acumen in the understanding of nature that he knows and with which he is familiar” (Introduction to Pri Ṣaddiq). Ṣeror was re…

Serres (Siroz)

(1,734 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
The town of Serres(Gk. Serrai; Turk. Siroz) in eastern Macedonia was known as Siris in Antiquity and Dirra in Byzantine times. Jews may have lived in Serres throughout the Byzantine period, but there are only a few references to a Jewish presence there in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.  Benjamin of Tudela, who visited the region around 1167, mentions the towns of Demitrizi with fifty Jews and Drama with 140, either of which might have been Serres. The names of local Romaniot families included Galimidi, Meshulam, Mizrahi, and Ḥazzan.  The Ottomans conquered Serres, which the…


(678 words)

Author(s): Jean Laloum
Jews lived in Sétif(Ar. Saṭīf), in the Constantine region of Algeria, in Roman times, according to inscriptions that confirm the existence of a synagogue in the ancient city of Sitifis. Whether Jews also lived there in the Middle Ages is by no means clear. The town is described by medieval Arab geographers such as al-Bakrī as large and having inexpensive markets, but no Jews are mentioned, nor does the name of the town appear in documents from the Cairo Geniza. The French entered the city in 1838 during the conquest of Algeria. In the early years o…


(1,172 words)

Author(s): M.J. Cano
Seville (Ar. Ishbīliya) is the principal city of Andalusia in southwestern Spain. Jewish tradition holds that Jews first settled there at the time of the destruction of the First Temple (586 b.c.e.), but there is no evidence of a Jewish community until the Visigothic period. In the seventh century, Isidore of Seville, who authored polemics against the Jews, presided over the Third Council of Toledo, which enacted a series of anti-Jewish laws. In 712 Seville was conquered by Mūsā ibn Nuṣayr, and according to the anonymous Arab chronicle Akhbār Majmūʿa (p. 16) , he organized a  Jewish guard …


(1,244 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Sfax (Ar. Safāqus) is an important port city on the Gulf of Gabès on the east-central coast of Tunisia. It is situated in the wide Tunisian central plain and is subject to influences both from the modern north and the more traditional south. Sfax was built in 849 on the ruins of the Roman cities of Taparura and Thaenae. Its economic basis lies in olive trees and olive oil, maritime industries (fish, sea sponges, shipbuilding, fishing nets), textiles, and phosphate and sulfur mining in nearby Gafsa. The origins of the Jewish community of Sfax are unknown. Cairo Geniza documents at…
▲   Back to top   ▲