Elḥanan ben Shemarya, ḥaver b'Sanhedrin haGedola (c.988 - c.1060) MP

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Birthplace: Bari, Bari, Puglia, Italy
Death: Died in Nasir, Bani Sweif Governorate, Egypt
Managed by: Jaim Harlow
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About Elḥanan ben Shemarya, ḥaver b'Sanhedrin haGedola

Elhanan ben Shemariah ben Elhanan, a member of a leading Fustat family, began to play a major role in the community during the lifetime of his father, Shemariah ben Elḥanan, who prepared him for a position of leadership. Both father and son apparently spent some time at the Pumbedita Yeshiva in Babylonia, where they were designated by the gaon to be the leaders of the Babylonian congregation (Heb. qahal) in Fustat and responsible for contacts with the yeshiva. When Shemarya died in 1011, Elhanan was in Damascus in the course of a wide-ranging tour of the Jewish communities of Syria and Palestine that may have been intended to advance his political interests. He quickly returned to Fustat to take up his father’s post. The community was in the throes of a crisis caused by the edicts issued by the Fatimid caliph al-Ḥākim against Jews and Christians, as well as his Muslim subjects. Elhanan rehabilitated the community and established himself as a powerful and reliable authority with obvious aspirations to achieve a status beyond that accorded him as leader of the Fustat community. His ambitions led to a falling-out with both the Palestinian and Babylonian yeshivot, which until then had unreservedly supported him.

Like his father, Elhanan was an atypical figure in his era. It may be assumed that he set out to acquire powers that were, in effect, only within the purview of the gaon, such as appointing communal leaders and handing down rulings. There are hints that he also founded some sort of learning and midrash center. Such behavior was unacceptable from the standpoint of the Palestinian yeshiva. Elhanan was an outstanding scholar, whose lofty achievements garnered him many titles and honors, with various communities turning to him for responses to their queries and showering him with praise, but he aroused the anger of important figures who saw him as power hungry and trying to usurp their authority.

In his own community, Elhanan extended his authority beyond the leadership of the Babylonian qahal, becoming the recognized head of the entire Fustat community, and, in effect, of all the communities in Egypt. His main activities focused on the bet din (Jewish court), which he headed. In addition, he often traveled to communities around Egypt to extend his influence, with admiration of him increasing by virtue of the guest sermons he delivered in synagogues on the Sabbath. Elhanan wrote several halakhic works, among them sermons for the Sabbath and commentaries on several Talmudic tractates. He died in 1026. If he began his communal activities in 994, he would have served his community for about thirty-two years alongside his father, and for fifteen years on his own. His replacement as head of the Fustat community was Ephraim ben Shemariah of the Palestinian qahal.

Elinoar Bareket


Bareket, Elinoar. Fustat on the Nile: The Jewish Elite in Medieval Egypt (Leiden: Brill, 1999), pp. 205–222.

Goitein, S. D. “Peʿulato ha-Ṣibburit shel Rabbenu Elḥanan b. Shemariah,” in Joshua Finkel Festschrift, ed. S. B. Hoenig and L. D. Stitskin (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1974), Hebrew sec., pp. 117–137.

A. Harkavy, Zikkaron la-Rishonim, iv. 2, 342, 350, 351, 367, Berlin, 1878; Neubauer, in J. Q. R. vi. 222-224.

Citation Elinoar Bareket. " Elḥanan ben Shemariah." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. Jim Harlow. 24 October 2012 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/elhanan-ben-shemariah-SIM_0007240>

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Elḥanan ben Shemarya al-Fostat's Timeline

Bari, Bari, Puglia, Italy
Age 27
Age 72
Nasir, Bani Sweif Governorate, Egypt