Isaac ben Barukh al-Balia, Vizier of al-Muʿtamid ibn ʿAbbād (c.1035 - c.1094) MP

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Birthplace: Seville, Sevilla, Andalusia, Spain
Death: Died in Granada, Granada, Andalusia, Spain
Managed by: Jaim David Harlow
Last Updated:

About Isaac ben Barukh al-Balia, Vizier of al-Muʿtamid ibn ʿAbbād

Some members of the Jewish courtier class, such as the Albalia family, considered themselves to be descendants of Yerushalmi nobility carried off by Titus after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 c.e. Like members of the Arab ruling class, members of the Sephardi courtier elite frequently conducted themselves with a lofty demeanor which offended Muslim traditionalists as a patent violation of the Pact of ʿUmar.

Albalia, Isaac ben Barukh

Isaac ben Baruch Albalia (1035–1094) was an Andalusian talmudist, astronomer/astrologer, and esteemed communal leader. Most of what is known of his biography comes from Abraham ibn Da’ud’s Sefer ha-Qabbala (Heb. The Book of Tradition). Moses ibn Ezra mentions him in his ars poetica, Kitāb al-Muḥāḍara wa-l-Mudhākara (p. 39v), as a writer of poetry and prose. Throughout his life, Albalia was familiar with the main Jewish communities in al-Andalus: Cordova, Lucena, Seville, and Granada. His education and intellectual activity are representative of the Jewish elite of his time, combining expertise in jurisprudence, the sciences, and the literary arts.

After beginning his Jewish studies in Cordova with the French scholar R. Paregoros (Perigors), Albalia went on to the academy in Lucena, where he struck up a close friendship with Me’ir ibn Migash. He was also a contemporary of Isaac ibn Ghiyyāth, the halakhic authority at the bet midrash in Lucena. He had a falling out with Isaac al-Fāsī, although on his deathbed he asked his son Barukh Albalia to arrange a reconciliation.

Albalia’s passion for secular and religious learning attracted the attention of Jewish courtiers like Samuel ha-Nagid ibn Naghrela, who encouraged him to pursue his studies, and his son Jehoseph ha-Nagid, who became his patron. Albalia acquired a large library that included books that had formerly belonged to Samuel ha-Nagid.

In 1066, when a pogrom broke out in Granada following the assassination of his patron, Albalia fled to Seville. There he became a court official of the taifa king al-Muʿtamid ibn ʿAbbād (r. 1069-1090), who was fond of him and sought his advice on astrological questions (see Astrology). Albalia continued as a palace official for twenty years. At the age of thirty-one, just three years after he arrived in Seville, he was appointed nasi and rabbi. His pupils included his son, Barukh Albalia, and Joseph ibn Ṣaddiq.

Like other court Jews, Isaac Albalia used his influence to benefit the community. But the situation changed dramatically in 1089 when the recently arrived Almoravids imposed a purge of Jewish civil servants at the court of Seville. Albalia moved to Granada, where he spent the last five years of his life. He died there, but according to Moses ibn Ezra was buried in Cordova.

Moses ibn Ezra states that Albalia was a poet and rhetorician (Ar. khaṭīb). Abraham ibn Da’ud makes reference to two books by Albalia. The first, a work on the secrets of calendrical intercalation, was dedicated to Jehoseph ha-Nagid (see Calendar), and is also mentioned by Abraham bar Ḥiyya in his Sefer ha-ʿIbbur (Heb. Book on Intercalation). The other book, apparently unfinished, was entitled Quppat ha-Rokhelim (Heb. The Spice-Peddler’s Basket) and treated difficult passages in the Talmud. Both texts seem to have been lost. Two of Albalia’s responsa have been preserved, however. One, in Hebrew, deals with the laws of ṣiṣit (Abraham ben David of Posquières, Temim Deʿa, no. 224); the other, in Arabic, was published in Toratam shel Rishonim, vol. 2 (ed. Horowitz, 1881), pp. 36-38.

Ibn Daʾud, Abraham. Sefer ha-Qabbalah: the Book of Tradition, ed. and trans. Gerson D. Cohen (Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2005).

Ibn Ezra, Moses. Sefer ha-ʻIyyunim ve-ha-Diyunim: ʻal ha-Shira ha-ʻIvrit (Kitāb al-Mu ḥ ā ḍ ara wa-l-Mudhākara), ed. A. S. Halkin (Jerusalem: Hotsaʾat Meḳitse Nirdamim, 1975).

Sáenz-Badillos, Angel, and Judit Targarona Borrás. Diccionario de autores judíos (Sefarad. Siglos X–XV) (Cordova: Ediciones El Almendro, 1988).

Lola Ferre. " Albalia, Isaac ben Barukh." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. Jim Harlow. 04 July 2012 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/albalia-isaac-ben-barukh-COM_0010230>

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Isaac ben Barukh al-Balia, Vizier of al-Muʿtamid ibn ʿAbbād's Timeline

1035
1035
Seville, Sevilla, Andalusia, Spain
1060
1060
Age 25
Granada, Granada, Andalusia, Spain
1094
April 8, 1094
Age 59
Granada, Granada, Andalusia, Spain
????
????
Cordova, Andalusia, Spain