Jewish and Israel Studies

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Eli Ben Amram and his Companions

Jewish Leadership in the Eleventh-Century Mediterranean Basin

Elinoar Bareket is a Senior Lecturer at Achva Academic College, under the academic auspices of Ben-Gurion University, and at Sapir Academic College. Her published works include The Gaonite Era: Jews Under Islamic Rule During the 7th to 12th Centuries (2007). She is a recognized authority on Jewish communities under Islamic rule in the 11th century, with emphasis on communities and the centers of authority in Palestine and Babylonia. Her latest research involves early Jewish literary and poetic writings as a means of understanding political and sociological messages.

Eli Ben Amram’s correspondence, discovered in the Genizah of Cairo, consists of his communications with Jewish figures from Egypt, Palestine, Babylon and Spain. As the Fustat community leader during the second half of the eleventh century his writings reveal not only the political situation pertaining to the Mediterranean Basin at the time, but are unique with regard to how Jewish society fared and functioned. He was a determined writer in that he expressed himself well on many topics and wrote up his plans for his community, as well as his reservations, in dozens of letters, court documents and poems, all of which were revealed in the Genizah.

Although not a senior Jewish leader, he was head of the Fustat community in Egypt – the most important in the Jewish hemisphere during the eleventh century. He had been appointed by higher-ranked leaders, such as the Gaon from the Palestine Yeshiva, and by wealthy Jewish courtiers from Cairo. Ben Amram’s local decision-making was dependent in some ways on the policies adopted by these leaders, but in turn they were aware of his key role and influence as leader of the wealthy Fustat community. His wide-ranging correspondence sheds light not only on Jewish leadership at this time, but on the prevailing circumstances under which Judaism was able to flourish. Eli Ben Amram’s correspondence reveals that despite geo-political differences, there were substantive similarities among the Jewish communities of the Mediterranean Basin during early-medieval period.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-833-6
Hardback Price: £70.00 / $84.95
Release Date: June 2017
Page Extent / Format: 272 pp. / 234 x 156 mm
Illustrated: Yes



Part I
Chapter 1
The Mediterranean Basin during the Eleventh Century
1.1 The Political Map of the Mediterranean Basin during the
Eleventh Century
1.2 The Fatimid Caliphate in the Maghreb and Egypt
1.3 The Byzantine Empire
1.4 The Port Cities in the Catholic West (Italy)
1.5 The Umayyad Dynasty and the Little Emirates in Spain
1.6 The Zirid Berbers in the Maghreb
1.7 The Abbasid Caliphate
1.7.1 The Trade Revolution and Its Consequences
1.7.2 Jews under the Rule of Islam

Chapter 2
The Jewish Community Leadership in Islamic Countries
2.1 Jewish Leadership and the Islamic Patronage
2.2 The Image of rosh ha’gola in Babylon according to
Historical Texts: “Day by day the king gave Jeoiachin
a regular allowance as long as he lived.” (Book of Kings II,
chap. 25: 30)
I. The Composition on Mar Zutra II
II. Akhbar Baghdad (A Chronicle by Nathan ha Cohen the
2.3 Bustenai Story
2.4 Compilations by Muslim Authors
2.5 Conclusions: A Double-sided Mirror
2.6 The rais al-yahud in Egypt
2.6.1 Scholarship Summary
2.6.2 Difficulties and Concerns
2.6.3 From Paltiel to Maimonides
2.6.4 Avraham haCohen haRofe ben Yitzhak ben Furat
2.6.5 The Head of the Jews in Spain

Chapter 3
The Perception of Community: Sacred Community
3.1 The Significance of Kedusha and Kehila Kedosha
3.2 The Synagogue: The Foundation for Kedusha
3.3 The Leadership and the Public: Revealed and Secretive
3.4 The Conduct of Jewish Leadership in Eleventh-Century
Islamic Countries
3.5 The Community Leadership
3.5.1 Authority
3.5.2 Aid Requests
3.6 Conclusions

Chapter 4
Eli ben Amram: A Leader and a Poet
4.1 The Community of Fustat
4.2 The Road to Leadership: Connections and Qualifications
4.3 Struggles on the Road to Leadership
4.4 Relationships with the Karaite Community
4.5 Inter-communitarian Relationships: The Nagidate in Spain
4.6 Establishing Leadership: Authorities and Achievements

Part II
Chapter 5
The Letter and the Poem: Domestic Communication Channels
5.1 Domestic Jewish Correspondences in Islamic Countries
5.2 The Jewish Letter: Types and Genres
5.3 The Letter as Means in Service of the Leadership
5.4 The Linguistic and Poetic Elements
5.5 Poets as “Culture Heroes”
5.5.1 The Use of Poetic Elements
5.5.2 Domestic and Foreign Jewish Influences
5.5.3 Mutual Influences: Spain, Egypt, Babylon and Palestine
5.5.4 Literacy in Poetry: A Symbol of Social Status
5.5.5 The Poets: Culture Heroes
5.6 The Biblical Code
5.6.1 Sentimental Descriptions
5.6.2 Public Aid Request
5.6.3 Personal Aid Request
5.7 The Art of Introduction
5.7.1 Semiotic and Poetic Aspects
5.7.2 Images and Titles of Wisdom and Knowledge
5.7.3 Symbols of Light
5.7.4 Images from the World of Jewelry and Precious Objects
5.7.5 Symbolic Images from the Field of Perfumes, Medications,
and Spices
5.7.6 Images from the Spheres of Animals and Plants

Chapter 6
Circle I: Figures in the Community of Fustat
6.1 The Jerusalemite Congregation: Ephraim ben Shemaria
and Yefet ben David
6.2 The Babylonian Congregation
6.2.1 Sahlan ben Avraham
6.2.2 Nehorai ben Nissim
6.2.3 Yehuda haCohen harav ben Yoseph
Circle II: Prominent Figures and Courtiers in Fustat-Cairo
6.3 Karaite Figures in Fustat and Cairo
6.3.1 The Karaite nesiim (leaders)
6.3.2 Other Karaite Figure
6.4 Figures in Cairo
6.4.1 The Tustar/ Brothers
6.4.2 Rabbanite Figures: Avraham haCohen haRofe ben Yitzhak
haRofe ben Furat
6.4.3 The Rabbanites: Yehuda and Mevorach bnei (sons of)
Circle III: Leaders in Mediterranean Communities
6.5 The Leaders of the Judeo-Spanish Community
6.6 The Jewish Community Leaders in Babylon
6.7 The Palestine Community Leaders
6.7.1 Gaon Shlomo ben Yehuda and His Followers
6.7.2 Nasi and gaon Daniel ben Azaria
6.7.3 Other Figures from the Yeshiva in Palestine: Eli haCohen; ben Yehezkel
Yesha’ayahu; Nathan ben Yeshu’a haYerushalmi (the Jerusalemite)

Chapter 7
Closing Circles: Life, Society, and Culture in the Mediterranean
Jewish Society—Unity or Separation?

Name and Subject Index

Bareket, lecturer at Achva Academic College and Sapir Academic College (both located in Israel), has designed this book’s structure so that it symbolically recreates the social rings of that world. Thus, chapter one’s review of the wider Mediterranean basin and a study of Jewish leadership in that period forms the outer ring. The next ring focuses on Eli ben Amram’s rise to power and his relationships with other leading figures. The middle section, based on a conference paper, is an interesting but general study of the uses of poetry and letters for rhetorical and political purposes in the medieval period, as tools to gain political and monetary favors. Many of the events in Eli ben Amram’s life are then repeated in a close study of his correspondence with individual local figures and leaders. The book concludes with a useful historiographical essay arguing for the uniformity of culture throughout the Jewish Mediterranean world of the period.
Reviwed by Harvey Sukenic, Hebrew College Library, Newton Centre, MA, in the Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter

Among the texts found in the Geniza of Cairo are 11th-century correspondence of Jewish leader Eli ben Amram with Jewish figures in the Mediterranean Basin. Bareket examines his correspondence with Egypt, Palestine, Babylon, and Spain, along with a number of Muslim and Christian sources, to demonstrate similarities between Jewish communities in the Mediterranean Basin during the early medieval period, despite geo-political differences. He also corresponded with people in other Jewish communities around the Mediterranean, she says, but not enough is known about those communities to include here.

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