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Cambridge University Library

Q&A Wednesday: Amir Ashur and Son of Rambam

T-S Ar.18(2).73 + T-S AS 153.226 + T-S NS J326
Composite image reuniting T-S Ar.18(2).73, T-S AS 153.226 and T-S NS J326.
Melonie Schmierer-Lee and Amir Ashur
Wed 26 May 2021

Amir, which manuscripts are you working on today?

I'm actually working on dozens of manuscripts relating to Abraham Maimuni, as part of a project led by Mordechai Akiva Friedman. Right now, I’m looking at T-S 10K8.9, T-S 12.205, T-S 13J9.11, T-S 13J26.21 verso, T-S NS 100.74, T-S Ar.18(2).73, T-S AS 153.226, and T-S NS J326 which are all versions of the same query sent to Abraham.

Is it unusual to find different versions of the same legal query?

It is not that common, and I don't recall finding such a large number of one legal query. All of these were written by the same scribe, Berakhot b. Samuel.

Do we know how many documents in the Genizah there might be that relate to Abraham Maimonides?

In our list there are exactly 448 such documents relating to Abraham and his close circle.

When do these particular fragments date to? How old was Abraham at the time of this case?

This legal query is probably dated to his early career. He became the head of the Jews after his father's death in 1205 when he was only 18. Let’s look in particular at T-S Ar.18(2).73 and T-S AS 153.226. In the first stage of our research, we only had T-S Ar.18(2).73 which contains just the query itself. But on one of my many visits to Cambridge I found the rest of the fragment - T-S AS 153.226 which contains the opening verses, and T-S NS J326. However, it was addressed to Anatoli, not Abraham Maimuni! So, we can see that during his early career the same query was also sent to another notable, maybe because Abraham was still young and less reliable as a sage.

That’s Anatoli the judge? Did he look at the case before it went before Abraham?

Yes, Anatoli the judge. We don't know if he looked at it before, after, or at the same time.

Can you tell us briefly what the case was about?

It’s about a person who owed a debt to another person. The other person sued him in Muslim court in order to put pressure on him and to frighten him into paying his debts. The debtor was poor and unable to pay.

How did Abraham rule on the case?

We have his ruling, also written by the same scribe. He ruled that as long as Shimon, the debtor, has nothing to pay, the other person is not allowed to sue him at all. And if he should sue him in Muslim court he will be punished and will have to refund him and compensate him for the damage. It is a very nice ruling, with socialist appeal!

So Abraham chose to side with the poor debtor. If there are so many copies/versions of this legal query, put to more than one authority, does that mean it was a particularly important case? Important individuals involved or about an important issue?

Perhaps the scribe was not sure whether he had explained the case as it should be, so he wrote multiple versions, and eventually choose the best one. We have other drafts of other queries, so it was common. You want to send to the authority the best copy you can. It’s not a particularly important case. It's as if we are sending our cover letter for a new job - we will do some drafts and will choose the best one to put forward.

Is Shimon the actual name of the debtor, or a legal alias?

It's a legal alias, common to all responsa. The parties involved are always Reuben and Shimon. If a third person is involved, we will find Levi too.

Last question: Suing another Jew in a gentile court is forbidden – but it clearly happened from time to time. Why? Why would someone think they had a better chance going to the Muslim courts?

Yes. It was not rare for Jews to resort to Muslim courts, particularly if they believed that Muslim court would be more favourable to them, such as in this case. I believe Reuben assumed that Jewish court would forbid him to sue, so he bypassed the Jewish legal system and went to the Muslim court.

Thanks for your time Amir!

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