David 'ben Zakkai II" ben Daniel ben Azariah (ben Azariah), Gaon of Palestine Yeshiva of Fustat
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About David 'ben Zakkai II" ben Daniel ben Azariah, Gaon of Palestine Yeshiva of Fustat
David, the only son of the gaon of the Palestinian yeshiva Daniel ben Azariah was born around 1058. Only four when his father died, he was evidently raised by family members in Damascus. When the Seljuks conquered Syria and Palestine in the 1070s, he went to Egypt, where he was adopted by relatives (Josef HaNagid, Nagid of Fostat) in Damira in the Nile Delta, who treated him well and pledged him in marriage to a female relative.
David had other plans, however, as well as supporters who saw in him a hope for redemption because of his Davidic descent. Leaving Damira and his fiancée, he moved to Fustat, where he was received with open arms by Mevorakh ben Sa‘adya, the nagid and court physician. There David married a woman from a wealthy Karaite family, a match served him well financially and politically.
From then on he began to overtly oppose the Palestinian yeshiva, promoting himself and the idea of his legitimate right to rule as a member of the House of David. Around 1082, he established his own high court (Heb. bet din ha-gadol; Aram. be dina rabba) and began appointing communal magistrates and officials, a traditional prerogative of geonim. This was apparently the underlying reason for the clash between him and his chief supporters in Fustat, among them Mevorakh ben Sa‘adya, who opposed the idea of a revolt against the Palestinian yeshiva, but David already had many other supporters, among them the Karaites, whose leader was also a scion of the Davidic house.
David ben Daniel ben Azariah deposed Mevorakh ben Sa‘adya around 1082, and forced him to flee to Alexandria. Mevorakh was reinstated in 1094, in part by virtue of his association with the Fatimid vizier al-Afḍal ibn Badr al-Jamālī, as indicated in three documents from the Cairo Geniza: Megillat Evyatar claims that Mevorakh owed his reinstatement to a certain “lord” (Heb. adon); a letter notes that Mevorakh had been Badr al-Jamālī’s physician and “counselor since his days of youth”; and a document mentions that Mevorakh’s “service to the ruler” (Ar. khidmat al-sulṭān) and “abundant government duties” competed with his responsibilities to the Jewish community during his second term in office.
David now turned against his former supporters. We do not know the details, but according to Megillat Evyatar (Heb. Scroll of Abiathar), he acted maliciously and informed on fellow Jews to the authorities, who ousted Mevorakh ben Sa‘adya from his offices. Geniza documents from this period refer to David as nasi and rayyis (Ar. head). David declared himself exilarch in Egypt in 1091, an unprecedented act, and ruled aggressively over all the Jewish communities of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, while mercilessly pursuing his rivals, the geonim of the Kohen line, residing at the time in Tyre, whence the yeshiva had been transferred in 1071.
In 1094, events took a new turn. The vizier Badr al-Jamālī, who had supported David ben Daniel, fell ill and was succeeded by his son al-Afḍal, a close associate of Mevorakh ben Sa‘adya, who was now reinstated as nagid and court physician. David ben Daniel disappeared from the historical records and his fate remains unknown. Jacob Mann has theorized that two Hebrew poems attributed to a David ha-Nasi who expresses sorrow for causing dissension and exhorts his soul to turn from pride and self-aggrandisement were composed by David ben Daniel after he was deposed.
Cohen, Mark R. Jewish Self-Government in Medieval Egypt, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980).
Gil, Moshe. A History of Palestine, 638–1099 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
Mann, Jacob. The Jews in Egypt and in Palestine under the Fātimid Caliphs, 2 vols. in one (New York: Ktav, 1970), vol. 2, pp. 224-–225.
Elinoar Bareket. " David ben Daniel ben Azariah." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. Jim Harlow. 09 July 2012 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/david-ben-daniel-ben-azariah-SIM_0006360>