Hārūn 'Aaron' ibn ʿImrān 'Me'ir', Radhani, Jahābidha al-ḥadra [Abassid Banker] (c.901 - c.928) MP

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Nicknames: "Hārūn ibn ʿImrān"
Birthdate:
Death: Died
Managed by: Jaim Harlow
Last Updated:

About Hārūn 'Aaron' ibn ʿImrān 'Me'ir', Radhani, Jahābidha al-ḥadra [Abassid Banker]

Aaron ben Amram—or, as his name is given in Arabic sources, Hārūn ibn ʿImrān—lived in the second half of the ninth century and the first quarter of the tenth. He apparently began his career as a trader, as in one Arabic source he and his partner, Joseph ben Phinehas, are referred to as al-tujjār (the merchants). Eventually he became a jahbadh (banker). In this capacity, with responsibility for administering, remitting, and supplying funds, Aaron, together with the jahbadh Joseph ben Phinehas (Yūsuf ibn Fīnḥās), played a key role in the financial administration of the ʿAbbasid empire.

The banking activities of Aaron and Joseph may already be implied in the decree of Caliph al-Muqtadir in 908/909 restricting Jews to the governmental posts of ṭabīb (physician) and jahbadh (banker)—most likely, as Fischel surmised, to “legalize” the status quo. Under al-Muqtadir, in any event, Aaron and Joseph were officially appointed “bankers of the court” (jahābidha al-ḥadra) by 912/13, as indicated by the joint testimony of the tenth-century Muslim littérateurs al-Tanūkhī and Hilāl al-Ṣābiʾ. Aaron and Joseph were not just two among a larger number of court bankers, but in fact the two central figures around whom the financial administration of the caliphate revolved, as clearly evinced by the description of their activities in Arabic sources. Indeed, according to al-Tanūkhī (p. 85), despite the volatile political environment, they retained their official positions until death (when their functions were taken over by their heirs), for if even one of them had been dismissed, “the business of the Caliph would come to a standstill” (Fischel, p. 28).

Aaron died sometime between June 924 and 928, the terminus a quo of which is indicated by the explicit reference to Aaron by the Islamic historian Hilāl al-Ṣābiʾ in connection with the jailing at that time of one of his clients, the ʿAbbasid vizier ʿAlī ibn al-Furāt, whereas the terminus ad quem is implied by the eulogism “may the memory of the ingathered be for a blessing” (Heb. zekher ha-neʾesafim li-vrakha) following his name (and that of Mar Neṭīra) in the patronym “the sons of Aaron” in a letter written that year by Saʿadya Gaon to the Jewish community of Fustat (for the most recently edited text, see Gil, vol. 2, pp. 27–30, esp. p. 30, ll. 3–4).

The prominence of Aaron in the eyes of the Jewish community and the implications of his court influence on their behalf are also evident from the high encomium applied to him by Meʾir Gaon in a letter to Babylonian Jewry—the only Jewish source to mention Aaron directly—“the crown of Israel, our precious and pleasant jewel . . . Aaron ben Amram . . . savior of the generation, who has not inclined his ear to turn away from the Lord’s precepts” (ʿaṭeret yisraʾel ʿedyenu ha-yaqar ve-ha-naʿim . . . Aharon be-rabbi ʿAmram . . . moshiaʿ ha-dor asher loʾ hiṭṭa ozno la-sur meḥuqqe y"y).

Upon his death, Aaron’s functions were taken over by his sons Bishr, Abraham, and ʿAlī, who continued to work together with the heirs of Joseph ben Phinehas—these being the “sons of Aaron” and the “sons of Neṭīra”—i.e., Neṭīra ben Sahl, Joseph’s son-in-law—mentioned in the letter of Saʿadya cited above.

Michael G. Wechsler

Bibliography

al-Tanūkhī, al-Muḥassin ibn ʿAlī. Kitāb Jāmiʿ al-Tawārīkh: al-Musammā bi-Kitāb Nishwār al-Muḥāḍara wa-Akhbār al-Mudhākara, pt. II, ed. D. S. Margoliouth (Damascus: Maṭbaʻat al-Mufīd, 1930).

Fischel, Walter J. Jews in the Economic and Political Life of Mediaeval Islam, 2nd ed. (New York: Ktav, 1969).

Gil, Moshe. Be-Malkhut Yishmaʾʿel bi-Tqufat ha-Geʾonim, 4 vols. (Tel Aviv, 1997), vol. 1 trans. D. Strassler, as Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages (Brill: Leiden, 2004).

Guillaume, A. “Further Documents on the Ben Meir Controversy,” Jewish Quarterly Review, n.s. 5, no. 4 (1915): 543–557.

Sassoon, David. A History of the Jews in Baghdad (Letchworth: D. S. Sassoon, 1949).

Citation Michael G. Wechsler. " Aaron ben Amram." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. Jim Harlow. 11 July 2012 <http://www.paulyonline.brill.nl/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/aaron-ben-amram-SIM_0000010> -------------------- Aaron ben Me’ir (452 words)

Aaron ben Amram—or, as his name is given in Arabic sources, Hārūn ibn ʿImrān—lived in the second half of the ninth century and the first quarter of the tenth. He apparently began his career as a trader, as in one Arabic source he and his partner, Joseph ben Phinehas, are referred to as al-tujjār (the merchants). Eventually he became a jahbadh (banker). In this capacity, with responsibility for administering, remitting, and supplying funds, Aaron, together with the jahbadh Joseph ben Phinehas (Yūsuf ibn Fīnḥās), played a key role in the financial administration of the ʿAbbasid empire. Aaron ben Amram was a jahbadh (banker) at the Abbasid court during the reign of al-Muqtadir (r. 908–932), a time of fiscal and political crisis in Baghdad.

According to the Abbasid kātib and historian Hilāl al-Ṣābiʾ (d. 1056), the vizier Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Muḥammad Ibn al-Furāt deposited funds confiscated from individuals the regime had executed not with the caliphal fisc but with Joseph ben Phineas and another Jewish jahbadh, Aaron ben Amram—not the first incident of embezzlement in Ibn al-Furāt’s career.

In 918, when Ibn al-Furāt was deposed and imprisoned in the palace, the new vizier, ʿAlī b. ʿĪsā, fined the two jahbadhs heavily, but retained their services.

In 921, a conflict erupted between the Babylonian yeshivot and the Palestinian yeshiva over the day on which the Passover holiday should be celebrated in 922. According to the Palestinians, the first day of Passover would be a Sunday, whereas the Babylonians held that it would be a Tuesday. The ensuing dispute was but one element in the ongoing struggle in the gaonic pe riod between the Babylonian yeshivot and the Palestinian yeshiva for hegemony over the world’s Jewish communities. Both the calendar dispute and the overall conflict ended in a Babylonian victory.

Aaron ben Me’ir led the advocates of the Palestinian position, although it is possible that his father, Me’ir ben Aaron, was still head of the yeshiva at the time. A document fragment from the Cairo Geniza that is ascribed to Sahlān ben Abraham, the leader of the Babylonian community in Fustat, states that Me’ir and his son Aaron served as geonim for fourteen years; according to the calculations of Moshe Gil, this would have been from 912 to 926. The fragment does not say how the span was divided between father and son.

Before the outbreak of the calendar conflict, Aaron had supported Mevasser Kahana ben Qimoy against Kohen Ṣedeq for leadership of the Pumbedita yeshiva. He expected Mevasser’s support, in return, in the calendar conflict, but this hope was shattered when Sa‘adya Gaon (still known as Sa‘adya ben Joseph because he was not yet gaon) managed to unite the leaders of Babylonia against the Palestinians on the calendar issue. Sa‘adya wrote his Sefer ha-Mo‘adim (Book of Seasons) to refute the position taken by Aaron.

A faction in Babylonia supported the Palestinians, and apparently a group in the Palestinian yeshiva supported Babylonia. The letter ascribed to Sahlān ben Abraham mentions a Palestinian gaon named Joseph ha-Kohen ben Yoḥay. He may have been the leader of Aaron ben Me’ir’s Palestinian opponent. In the Sefer ha-Mo‘adim, Sa‘adya alludes to a conflict between the gaon of Palestine and members of the priestly family. It is possible that the conflict about the calendar within the Palestinian yeshiva was the factor that led to the yeshiva’s move from Tiberias to Jerusalem.Aaron ben Amram

The banking activities of Aaron and Joseph may already be implied in the decree of Caliph al-Muqtadir in 908/909 restricting Jews to the governmental posts of ṭabīb (physician) and jahbadh (banker)—most likely, as Fischel surmised, to “legalize” the status quo. Under al-Muqtadir, in any event, Aaron and Joseph were officially appointed “bankers of the court” (jahābidha al-ḥadra) by 912/13, as indicated by the joint testimony of the tenth-century Muslim littérateurs al-Tanūkhī and Hilāl al-Ṣābiʾ. Aaron and Joseph were not just two among a larger number of court bankers, but in fact the two central figures around whom the financial administration of the caliphate revolved, as clearly evinced by the description of their activities in Arabic sources. Indeed, according to al-Tanūkhī (p. 85), despite the volatile political environment, they retained their official positions until death (when their functions were taken over by their heirs), for if even one of them had been dismissed, “the business of the Caliph would come to a standstill” (Fischel, p. 28).

Aaron died sometime between June 924 and 928, the terminus a quo of which is indicated by the explicit reference to Aaron by the Islamic historian Hilāl al-Ṣābiʾ in connection with the jailing at that time of one of his clients, the ʿAbbasid vizier ʿAlī ibn al-Furāt, whereas the terminus ad quem is implied by the eulogism “may the memory of the ingathered be for a blessing” (Heb. zekher ha-neʾesafim li-vrakha) following his name (and that of Mar Neṭīra ) in the patronym “the sons of Aaron” in a letter written that year by Saʿadya Gaon to the Jewish community of Fustat (for the most recently edited text, see Gil, vol. 2, pp. 27–30, esp. p. 30, ll. 3–4).

The prominence of Aaron in the eyes of the Jewish community and the implications of his court influence on their behalf are also evident from the high encomium applied to him by Meʾir Gaon in a letter to Babylonian Jewry—the only Jewish source to mention Aaron directly—“the crown of Israel, our precious and pleasant jewel . . . Aaron ben Amram . . . savior of the generation, who has not inclined his ear to turn away from the Lord’s precepts” (ʿaṭeret yisraʾel ʿedyenu ha-yaqar ve-ha-naʿim . . . Aharon be-rabbi ʿAmram . . . moshiaʿ ha-dor asher loʾ hiṭṭa ozno la-sur meḥuqqe y"y).

Upon his death, Aaron’s functions were taken over by his sons Bishr, Abraham, and ʿAlī, who continued to work together with the heirs of Joseph ben Phinehas—these being the “sons of Aaron” and the “sons of Neṭīra”—i.e., Neṭīra ben Sahl, Joseph’s son-in-law—mentioned in the letter of Saʿadya cited above.

Michael G. Wechsler

Bibliography

al-Tanūkhī, al-Muḥassin ibn ʿAlī. Kitāb Jāmiʿ al-Tawārīkh: al-Musammā bi-Kitāb Nishwār al-Muḥāḍara wa-Akhbār al-Mudhākara, pt. II, ed. D. S. Margoliouth (Damascus: Maṭbaʻat al-Mufīd, 1930).

Fischel, Walter J. Jews in the Economic and Political Life of Mediaeval Islam, 2nd ed. (New York: Ktav, 1969).

Gil, Moshe. Be-Malkhut Yishmaʾʿel bi-Tqufat ha-Geʾonim, 4 vols. (Tel Aviv, 1997), vol. 1 trans. D. Strassler, as Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages (Brill: Leiden, 2004).

Guillaume, A. “Further Documents on the Ben Meir Controversy,” Jewish Quarterly Review, n.s. 5, no. 4 (1915): 543–557.

Sassoon, David. A History of the Jews in Baghdad (Letchworth: D. S. Sassoon, 1949).

Bornstein, Haim Yeḥi’el. The Dispute Between Rav Saʿadyah Gaon and Ben Meir on the Fixing of the Years 922–924 (Warsaw, 1904) [Hebrew].

Fleischer, Ezra. “Literary Documents Concerning the History of the Gaonate in Palestine,” Zion 49 (1984): 375–385 [Hebrew].

Gil, Moshe. A History of Palestine, 634–1099 (Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 562–569, 653-657.

Lasker, Arnold A., and Daniel J. Lasker. “642 Parts—More Concerning the Saadya–Ben Meir Controversy,” Tarbiz 60 (1990): 119–128 [Hebrew].

Stern, Sacha. Calendar and Community: A History of the Jewish Calendar Second Century BCE-Tenth Century CE (Oxford, 2001), pp. 264–275.

Citation Yoram Erder. " Aaron ben Me’ir." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2013. Reference. Jim Harlow. 24 January 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/aaron-ben-meir-SIM_0000020>

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