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A  Memorial list of Elijah b. Zechariah’s family: T-S 10J18.2

Amir Ashur

Elijah b. Zechariah was a prominent and important figure in the first three decades of the 13th century. He served as a judge in Abraham Maimuni’s court, and his sons were also active in the community.1 His first appearance in the genizah as an active figure can be found in 1204, in Alexandria,2 and he was still active at 1241, when his last signed document is found.3 

But what was his origin? In his book Education, Goitein mentions that Elijah was from an Eretz-Yisraeli family, but without any evidence to support it (Goitein 1962: 84). The same statement can be found in his A Mediterranean Society: ‘He originated from Palestine, but had been living for such a long time in Alexandria that he was regularly called “the Alexandrian”.’ (Goitein 1967–93: i 64). Goitein repeats this claim in vol.  III, n.15: ‘The family of the writer of this letter, Solomon b. Elijah, originated in Palestine’ (Goitein 1967–93: iii 426 n. 15). 

So, from what source did Goitein draw his conclusion about the Palestinian origin of the family? In a letter sent to Elijah, his son, Solomon, complains that he ‘still had to register at the poll-tax office for Palestinians’.4  More direct evidence can be found in a letter sent to Elijah by another son of his, Abū Zikrī, an army doctor: he implies that his father had good prospects of becoming the Jewish chief justice of Alexandria, although a certain prominent man (either the Muslim governor or a Jewish notable) ‘does not like Palestinians’.5 

Mordechai Akiva Friedman has found another hint to Elijah’s Palestinian origin, in a further letter sent to him. In this letter the sender writes poetically ‘His day of exile should be like a fleeting shadow’ suggesting he had immigrated to Egypt from the Land of Israel.6

In this short FOTM I would like to bring more direct evidence of his Palestinian origins – a memorial list of his family, written and signed by Berakhot, none other than his son Solomon,7 whose by-name (kunya) was Abū ʾl-Barakāt, which was sometime shortened to the Arabic Barakāt and the Hebrew Berākhōt, as found here.8

The recto of this fragment was published and discussed by Goitein and others,9 but no one has discussed the verso, probably because it looks like a random pen trial in a very messy hand. The young Solomon used to doodle such pen trials, in which he praised himself: for example, T-S 10J30.10, where he used the empty space above and below the address in a letter sent to his father to write a ‘somewhat pompous writing exercise’,10  in the same messy hand as that used here. As Prof. M.A Friedman suggested (in a personal communication), the letter on the verso of which this list was written was probably addressed to his father Elijah as well.

 

detail of ms T-S 10J30.10 verso

Detail of the verso of T-S 10J30.10 showing Solomon's imaginative writing practice

 

 

From this list we can sketch Elijah’s family tree as follows:

Nahum



Shelah



Zechariah



Elijah

 

Since at the end of this list Berakhot refers to himself grandiloquently with such titles as Nagid and leader of the generation – ‘the Diadem and the Crown, the coronet of our head, and the light of our eyes, and the leader of our generation, Berakhot the noble prince, the Nagid of the People of YHWH’ (see below, lines 23–25) – one might question the veracity of the other details in this ‘somewhat pompous writing exercise’. Nevertheless, there is reason to believe that the names of his ancestors and their titles are authentic. This Shelah is attested in T-S 13J6.6 as ‘the Fifth in the company of the pious’ – just as he mentioned here.11

 

detail of MS T-S 13J6.6

Detail of T-S 13J6.6 recto showing Shelah to be the 'Fifth in the company of the pious'

 

As Goitein noted in his card index (reel 4, card 100641), the name of his son is missing, but now we know that his name was Zechariah, Elijah’s father. We have a letter from Shelah, when he was the ‘Sixth’, which was written around 1085, in a beautiful Hebrew, probably from Tyre.12 So we now know the place of origin of the family. Unfortunately, I could not find any trace in the Genizah of Elijah’s great-grandfather Nahum, but I hope his name will pop up sometime in the future. 

 

title of image here

T-S 10J18.2 (verso)

 

 

1          בשם                           רחום וחנון[13]

2          דכ טב וניחות נפשאתא למשפחת החכמים

3          [ה]רבנים האדירים חכמי ישראל ודיניהם

4          ר׳ת׳ לזכר המשפחות המיוחסות חכמי ישראל ודיניהם

5          עלרב כ̇ג̇ק̇ י̇ק̇ר̇ צ̇פ̇י̇ר̇ת̇ ת̇פ̇א̇ מארנו[14] ו̇ר̇ב̇ נחום

6          השר הנגיד האציל העושה כמה חסדים וכמה טובות

7          עם העניים ועם בנֵ{י} תורה ר̇י̇ת̇ וחמודו זכר

8          צדיק לברכה זכר רב לברכה זכר כבוד לברכה

9          זכר קדוש לברכה זכר כ̇ג̇ק̇ יקרת צפירת תפארת

10        מארנו אדוננו ונזרינו וכתרנו[15] ועטרת ראשנו ומאור

11        עינינו ומנהיג דורינו שֵלָה החמישי בחבורת

12        הצדק זכרו לברכה וחמודו זכר צדיק לברכה

13        זכר חסיד לברכה זכר רב לברכה זכר כ̇ג̇ק̇

14        י̇ק̇ר̇ צ̇פ̇י̇ ת̇פ̇א̇ מארנו ורבנו זכריהו החמישי

15        בחבורת הצדק זכרו לברכה וחמודו

16        זכר צדיק לברכה זכר רב לברכה

17        וכבוד ג̇ק̇ יקרת צפירת תפארת מארנו

18        ורבנו אליהו האלוהים יברכהו ישמרהו ואמרו אמן

19        יקתיים[16] (!)  והשלום (?) והאריכות (!) הימים ומילוי כל משאלה

20        והצלחת כל מעשה וכלל כל הברכות האמורות

21        בעשרים וארבעה ספרים יהיו כולָם נזר ועטרה

22        וצניף וכותרת יחדשו על רא̇ש כ̇ג̇ק̇ יק̇ צ̇פ̇י̇ תפארת

23        מארנו ורבנו נזרנו וכ[ת?]רנו ועטרת ראשנו ומאור

24        עינֵ[י]נו ומנהיג דורינו ברכות השר האציל

25        נגיד עם ייָי האלוהים יעטֵהו[17]

26        [י]ברכהו ישמרהו נִכלל כל ישראל בכלל

27        כל הברכות ואמרו אמן    וכתב ברכות

 

 

Translation

1 In the name of the Merciful and Compassionate

2 For the good memory and rest of the souls of the family of scholars

3 the illustrious Rabbis, the scholars of Israel and their judges

4 For the good memory of the distinguished families of the scholars of Israel and their judges

5 of our Rabbi, his honor, the great and holy, the distinguished, esteemed crown of glory, our master Nahum

6 the Prince, the Nagid, the Noble, the great benefactor of

7 the poor and the scholars18 may the spirit of the Lord give him rest! And his son,

8 may the memory of the pious be for a blessing! May the memory of his honor be for a blessing!

9 May the memory of the holy be for a blessing! May the memory of his honor, great and holy, the distinguished, esteemed crown of glory

10 our Nagid, our master, the Diadem and the Crown, the coronet of our head, the light 

11 of our eyes and the leader of our generation Shelah, the Fifth in 

12 the company of the pious, may his memory be blessed, and his son, may the memory of the pious be for a blessing!

13 May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing! May the memory of the Rav be for a blessing! May the memory of his honor, the great and holy

14 the distinguished, esteemed crown of glory, our master and Rabbi Zechariahu the Fifth 

15 in the company of the pious, may his memory be blessed, and his son, 

16 may the memory of the pious be for a blessing! May the memory of the Rav be for a blessing!

17 And his honor, the great and holy, the distinguished, esteemed crown of glory, our master and

18 Rabbi Elijah, may God bless and protect him, Amen

19 May wellbeing and long life be established, and fulfilment of every wish

20 and success in every action and all the blessings found

21 in Twenty-Four books19 may all of them serve as diadem and crown

22 and a turban  and a capital, that will be renewed on the head of his honor, the great and holy, the distinguished

23 our master and Rabbi, the Diadem and the Crown, the coronet of our head, and the light

24 of our eyes, and the leader of our generation, Berakhot20 the noble prince

25 The Nagid of the People of YHWH, may the lord cover him 21

26 bless him, protect him. Let us surround all Israel with all

27 the blessings. And say Amen. So wrote Berakhot.

 

I wish to thank Prof. M.A .Friedman for his helpful comments

 


Footnotes

1  Elijah and his family are the subject of a PhD dissertation by Motzkin from 1965.

2  T-S 16.126.

3  T-S 12.620. Motzkin (1965), 13.

4  T-S 12.174, see Goitein (1967–93: I 406 n. 29): al-jāliya ’l-shāmiyya, the poll-tax office for Syro-Palestinians.

5  Goitein (1967–93: I 64), T-S NS J 29, now edited in Frenkel (2006), 603–607; for discussion see Friedman (2017a), 219–220 and n. 151.

6  T-S Misc. 25.9, verso ll. 9–10: ויום גלותו כּצל יברח, ed. Friedman (2017), 370.

7  As suggested by Prof. M.A. Friedman.

8  Friedman (2014), 333.

9  See the bibliography on https://fgp.genizah.org.

10  Friedman (2014), 333–334.

11  That is, the Fifth in the Palestinian Yeshiva. On this title see Gil (1992), 505–507.

12  T-S 12.106, published by Gil (1983), no. 550.

13  Some remains of letters are seen above this word.

14  The spelling מארנו for מרנו can be found in other genizah documents.

15  The reading of the last two words in uncertain.

16  A misspelling for יתקיים.

17  An error for יעטרהו.

18  For this title see Goitein & Friedman 2008: 765.

19  = The Bible.

20  From line 19, Solomon is praising himself, with self-important words and titles that clearly do not rightfully belong to him.

21  Should be: ‘crown him’.

 

Bibliography

Frenkel, M. (2006). The Compassionate and Benevolent: The Leading Elite in the Jewish Community of Alexandria in the Middle Ages (Hebrew).

Friedman, M. A. (2014). ‘Fatwas for Abraham Maimonides’ (Hebrew), Maarav 21.1–2: 329–357.

— (2017). ‘A Letter to Abraham the Pious in Praise of the Prayer Ritual in Fustat’ (Hebrew), Kobez al Yad 25: 361–381.

— (2017a). ‘The Nagid, the Nasi and the French Rabbis: A Threat to Abraham Maimonides’Leadership’ (Hebrew), Zion 82 (2017): 193–266.

Gil, M. (1983). Palestine During the First Muslim Period (Hebrew; 3 vols).

Gil, M. (1992). A History of Palestine, 634–1099.

Goitein, S. D. (1962). Jewish Education in Muslim Countries (Hebrew).

Goitein, S. D. (1967–93). A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza (6 vols. Vol. 6, indices: S. D. Goitein and Paula Sanders).

Goitein, S. D. & Friedman, M. A. (2008). India Traders of the Middle Ages: Documents from the Cairo Geniza (‘India Book’).

Motzkin, A. L. (1965). The Arabic Correspondence of Judge Elijah and His Family (Ph.D Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania).

 

 


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