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An Excommunication on Yom Kippur

T-S 10J7.10
T-S 10J7.10 f. 2v: court deposition about al-Wuhsha's affair with Hassun
Author: 
Melonie Schmierer-Lee
Wed 15 Sep 2021

At sundown today, Yom Kippur – the Jewish Day of Atonement – begins. It’s a day for fasting, repentance, and forgiveness. And over 900 years ago it was a day to teach a wealthy woman a lesson through public humiliation. Part of T-S 10J7.10 is a deposition to the court about Karima daughter of ‘Ammar, known to all as al-Wuhsha ‘the broker’. Documents in the Genizah have recorded the commercial and private affairs of al-Wuhsha, including her love affair with a married man, Hassun from Ashkelon, which resulted in the birth – out of wedlock – of her son, Abu Sa’d. Long after Wuhsha herself had died, Abu Sa’d, now a man, apparently needed to produce documentation about his parentage. To give her unborn child an identified father, while she was pregnant al-Wuhsha – acting on the suggestion of her confidant the scribe Hillel b. Eli – had arranged for witnesses to ‘discover’ her together – in flagrante – with Hassun in her apartment. Years later the witnesses were called upon to give a court deposition as to what they knew about Abu Sa’d’s conception:

…I was with the cantor Hillel ben Eli...when al-Wuhsha, the broker, came in and said to him: “Do you have any advice for me? I had an affair with al-Hassun and became pregnant. Our marriage document has been lodged with the Muslims, but I am afraid that he may refuse to acknowledge the child.” She then lived in the house of Ben al-Sukkari on the uppermost floor. He (the cantor) said: ‘Go and gather some people, and let them surprise you with him so that your assertation might be confirmed’. She did so, gathering two who surprised her with him, and confirmed her assertation. She was then pregnant with this Abu Sa‘d, her son, from her illicit relations with Hassun. And I know that she went on Yom Kippur to the synagogue of the Babylonian community, but when the Nasi (‘the Prince’, leader of the community) – of blessed memory – noticed her, he threw her out of the synagogue. I confirm all this and offer it as my true testimony. There appeared also in court the ritual slaughterer Abu Sa’id Halfon ha-Kohen, son of Joseph ha-Kohen – may he rest in Eden – and deposited the following testimony in our presence: “I was living in the house of Hibat Allah Ben al-Sukkari – may God accept him with favour – on the ground floor for many years, while Wuhsha the broker had her domicile in the uppermost part of the house. In those days she came down once to one of the tenants, namely Abu Nasr the Kohen, the cantor Ben al-Kamukhi, and to Abraham the Jerusalemite known as the son of the poet, and said to them: ‘Please, come up with me to my room for something. The two went up with her and found Hassun sitting in her place…” (trans. S.D. Goitein, “A Jewish Business Woman of the Eleventh Century.” The Jewish Quarterly Review 57 (1967): 225–42.)

Al-Wuhsha seemingly accepted her public shaming on Yom Kippur. When she died several years later, she left 20 dinars to the Fustat synagogues in her will (T-S Ar.4.5). It was a small portion of her estate (which amounted to almost 700 dinars). The bulk of her fortune went to her young son. For Abu Sa’d’s hapless father, Hassun? Not a penny.

Comments

Goitein didn't read the last line and I think I was able to read there, that this Hassun was עלי נביד على نبيد that is- completely drunk ..

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