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Samuel ben Hosha‘na

(394 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Samuel ben Hoshaʿna was one of the central figures of the Jerusalem yeshiva in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. He first appears in Cairo Geniza records in a letter from 990 dealing with yeshiva affairs but does not yet have a title. He subsequently advanced to the rank of ḥaver (fellow of the academy), was named fourth by 1002 at the latest, and was styled third by 1004, the highest rank he attained. His piyyuṭim(liturgical poems) were preserved in the Geniza. Samuel was also the author of a letter written in 1002 describing the Fatimid battles in Palesti…

Solomon ben Judah

(1,197 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Solomon ben Judah al-Fāsī was gaon of the Palestinian yeshiva from September 1025 to April 1051, the longest-serving gaon in Jerusalem. Despite war, famine, and major challenges to his leadership, he defended the jurisdiction of the Palestinian gaonate and kept Egypt under his firm hold throughout his tenure in office. Born to a Maghribī family, Solomon ben Judah was a prolific correspondent in both Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic. Although his letters dwell on his bad health to the point of obsession, when he died he was close to eighty years old. The period in which Solomon ben Judah acced…

Ibn al-Qazzāz, Manasseh ben Abraham

(623 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Ibn al-Qazzāz rose to prominence under the Iraqi vizier Yaʿqūb ibn Killis (977–991), a Jew who converted before 967 to Ismāʿīlī Shiism and became the architect of the Fatimid military campaign in Egypt. Ibn Killis appointed Ibn al-Qazzāz to oversee his properties in Syria; after Ibn Killis’s death, al-ʿAzīz (975-96) appointed the Christian ʿĪsā ibn Nasṭūrus as vizier and Ibn al-Qazzāz as military administrator (Ar. kātib al-jaysh) in Palestine. Ibn al-Qazzāz’s tenure in Damascus was marked by conflict with local tribes that resisted rule from Cairo and played…

Judah ben Saʿadya

(406 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Judah ben Saʿadya was the eldest of the five sons of Saʿadya ben Mevorakh. A physician at the Fatimid court like his father, Judah appears in Cairo Geniza records for the first time in 1043. He initially had two titles, rosh kalla (head of the assembly), given him by one of the leaders in Iraq after the closing of the Sura and Pumbedita academies, and he-ḥaver ha-meʿulle (exalted member) of the Jerusalem yeshiva. Sometime between late 1062 and mid-1064, however, he became the first Egyptian to bear the title nagid , probably given him by the gaon of Jerusalem, Elijah ha-Kohen ben Solomon (10…

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…

Shemariah ben Elhanan

(828 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Abū ʾl-Khayr Shemariah ben Elhanan was the leader of the Jews of Fustat from the 990s until his death in December 1011. He first became known to scholarship as one of the four captives in Abraham ibn Daʾud’s Book of Tradition (Heb. Sefer ha-Qabbala), three of whom established new centers of Torah study in Egypt, al-Andalus, and Ifrīqiya. According to Ibn Daʾud’s account, Shemariah was ransomed in Alexandria and later settled in Fustat, but in fact he was born there into a family of leaders of the local Babylonian Jewish community. Ibn Daʾud paints Shemariah as a link binding the Iraqi yeshivot…

Saʿadya ben Judah

(158 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Saʿadya ben Judah, the scion of a family of physicians and heads of the Jewish community of Egypt, was a son of the nagid Judah ben Saʿadya. Since Judah died when Saʿadya was a child, the leadership of Egyptian Jewry passed to his uncle, Mevorakh ben Saʿadya, and thus Judah never became nagid or raʾīs al-yahūd (head of the Jews).  He was still active in the Jewish community when his uncle received the title nagid in 1094. The title rayyis granted to Saʿadya ben Judah in a poetic dirge did not indicate an official position in the community but rather a high rank at the Fati…

Mubashshir ben Nissi ha-Levi

(381 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Mubashshir (Mevasser) ha-Levi ben Nissi al-Baghdādī ibn ʿUnāba was a critic of Saʿadya Gaon who lived in Baghdad in the mid-tenth century. His work demonstrates the existence of “internal” rabbinic opponents to tradition, and in particular to Saʿadya’s arguments on behalf of tradition. In his Judeo-Arabic treatise Kitāb Istidrāk al-Sahw al-Mawjūd fī Kutub Raʾs al-Mathība al-Fayyūmī (The Book of the Correction of the Negligence Found in the Books of the Head of the Yeshiva, al-Fayyūmī [Saʿadya]), Mubashshir argues that everything connected with relig…

Moses (Mesharshaya) Kahana ben Jacob Gaon

(157 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Moses (Mesharshaya) Kahana  ben Jacob Gaon was the head of the Sura academy in Iraq from 829 to ca. 839, during the conflict over the exilarchate between David ben Judah and Daniel ben Saul ben Anan, the grandson of ʿAnan ben David. Moses Kahana supported the losing candidate, Daniel ben Saul. According to Hay (Hayya) Gaon (d. 1038), Moses was the subject of false rumors claiming “that he habitually used amulets and incantations and the like,” perhaps a bitter remnant of the struggle over the exilarchate. As gaon, Moses maintained ties with the Jewish center in Qayrawān in particular; t…

Sar Shalom ben Moses ha-Levi

(843 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Abū Zikrī Sar Shalom (Yaḥyā) ben Moses ha-Levi served as raʾīs al-yahūd (nagid) in Fustat around 1170 to 1171 and again from around 1173 to 1195. Like his predecessors in office Maṣliaḥ (1127–1139), Samuel ben Hananiah (1140–1159), and his brother Nethanel ha-Levi ben Moses (1159–ca. 1169), he bore the title gaon. Before his appointment to the headship of the Jews, Sar Shalom held the post of av bet din (chief judge) in the branch of the Palestinian yeshiva in Damascus. According to the twelfth-century traveler Benjamin of Tudela, the gaon of the yeshiva was Sar Shalom’s brother Azariah.…

Samuel ben David

(269 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Samuel ben David was exilarch in Baghdad during the Mongol conquest of 1258. His name appears in the letter of Jacob ben Elijah of Valencia (or of Venice?) to the apostate Pablo Christiani describing the situation of the Jews in Baghdad at the time. In order to raise funds to defend the city against the Mongol forces, the Abbasid caliph al-Mustaʿṣim (r. 1247–1258) imposed an enormous tax on the Jews, allegedly at the behest of Muslims who, according to Jacob, claimed that the head of the yeshiva and the exilarch were extremely wealthy: “the head of the yeshi…

Sar Shalom ben Boaz

(509 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Sar Shalom ben Boaz served as gaon of Sura from either 847 or 851 until 857. More than one hundred of his responsa (or those attributed to him) have survived. Like gaonic responsa in general, the majority were addressed to the Jews of Qayrawan. Their survival attests to the strong relationship between Sura and Qayrawan under Sar Shalom’s gaonate. His immediate predecessor at Sura, Kohen Ṣedeq bar Ivomay (or Ikhomay), and his successor, Naṭronay bar Hilay, similarly corresponded extensively with Qayrawan. All three maintained ties with the Jews of the Iberi…

Ḥaver (Fellow of the Palestinian Yeshiva)

(584 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
The title ḥaver was granted to fellows (members) of the Palestinian yeshiva who in turn served as heads of their local Jewish communities. The full title was ḥaver ba-sanhedrin ha-gedola or ḥaver be-sanhedrin gedola (member of the Great Sanhedrin, i.e., the yeshiva; the Palestinian yeshiva referred to itself as the ḥavura). The title ḥaver (equivalent to the Babylonian alluf ) and the associated duties reflect the network of relationships the central yeshivot cultivated in the outlying Jewish communities. Ḥaverim who served as heads of the Palestinian Jewish communit…

Samuel ben Daniel ben Azariah

(168 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Samuel ben Daniel ben Azariah was the eldest of the four sons of the Palestinian gaon Daniel ben Azariah (1051–1062). He was born around 1050, and when his father died, he moved with his mother and siblings to Damascus. By 1074, Samuel was the head of the Jewish community in Damascus and of a rabbinic court there. He bore the yeshiva title “third” and also the title of nasi. Samuel was the probable author of a florid public epistle announcing his father’s death, the middle part of which has survived in the Cairo Geniza. Marina Rustow Bibliography Gil, Moshe.  A History of Palestine, 634–1099, tra…

Saʿīd ibn al-Ḥasan (al-Rūzbihān)

(137 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Abū ʿAbd Allāh Saʿīd ibn al-Ḥasan al-Rūzbihān (d. 861) was, according to Moshe Gil, a Jewish scholar who converted to Islam around the same time as his teacher, Yūsuf ibn Mūsā ibn Rashīd al-Qaṭṭān (d. 867) of Rayy and Baghdad. Both appear in al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī’s Taʾrīkh Baghdād (History of Baghdad). While they are not described there as having apostatized from Judaism, Gil argues that the name Rūzbihān, the Persian equivalent of the Hebrew name Yom Ṭov, was common among Jews. This was a period during which a number of Jewish converts to Islam achieved distinction as scholars. Marina …

Rosh ha-Seder

(249 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Rosh ha-seder(head of the row), a venerable title in the Babylonian yeshivot, connoted the bearer’s position as first in one of the seven rows in the Iraqi academies (whether in the academy of the exilarch specifically is unknown). Already in amoraic times, Abba Arikha and Rav were referred to as resh sidra, the Aramaic equivalent of rosh ha-seder (B.T. Ḥullin 137b; Seder ʿOlam Zuṭa, in Neubauer, p. 77). In the Cairo Geniza documents from the late tenth and eleventh centuries, rosh ha-seder seems to have been an honorific granted to leaders outside Iraq, probably by the exil…

Tustarī Family

(1,698 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
The Tustarī family was a prominent house of long-distance traders, bankers, courtiers, and scholars in Fatimid Egypt between the 990s and 1050s. Manuscripts from the Cairo Geniza and the Firkovich collections have permitted the reconstruction of the family’s history over four generations. More than sixty letters, contracts, and other documents in various Geniza collections attest to its close involvement with the leadership of the Jerusalem yeshiva and the Syrian synagogue of Fustat, even though, unlike the other great merchant houses of Ibn ʿAwk…

Isaac ben Samuel ha-Sefaradi

(532 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Isaac ben Samuel ha-Sefaradi ibn al-Kanzī was a biblical exegete, halakhist, judge, and payṭan (liturgical poet) who was born either in al-Andalus or in Egypt to an Andalusī father. He is known from the Cairo Geniza to have been a judge of the Palestinian-rite court in Fustat from around 1090 to 1127. A member of the entourage of the nagid Mevorakh ben Saʿadya, he bore the titles “head of the house of study, aide of the exilarchate” (Aram./Heb. resh be rabbana ʿezer ha-nesiʾut) and “the great rabbi.” In his responsa, Isaac ben Samuel provided answers to queries from as far away as …

Gaon and Gaonate

(5,467 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
The geonim (Heb. geʾonim; sing. gaʾon) were the heads of the yeshivot (academies of higher learning) in Iraq, Palestine, Syria, and Egypt between the sixth and thirteenth centuries. The office of gaon combined religious, legal, and political functions. Its incumbents had followers all over the Islamic world and in Christian Europe, and their works laid the foundation for all subsequent developments in Jewish law.  The title gaon is an abbreviation of rosh yeshivat geʾon Yaʿaqov (Heb. the head of the yeshiva of the splendor of Jacob, or alternatively, head of the yeshi…

Moses ben Mevorakh

(490 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Moses ben Mevorakh, the scion of a distinguished family of physician-courtiers in Egypt, was the eldest son and successor of the  nagid Mevorakh ben Saʿadya and of a mother who also came from a courtier family. Born around 1080, Moses succeeded his father as raʾīs al-yahūd (Ar. head of the Jews) around 1112. Before then, he held the title ʿaṭeret ha-sarim (Heb. crown of the officials), possibly indicating that he was the nagid-designate; certainly his father trained him for the office and arranged for his succession well before his death in early Decembe…
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