Maṣliaḥ ben Shlomo haKohen, Gaon al-Damasq, Raʾīs al-Yahūd al-Fustat (c.1075 - d.) MP

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Nicknames: "jalāl al-mulk", "raʾis al-yahūd"
Birthplace: Ramla, Israel
Death: (Date and location unknown)
Managed by: Jaim Harlow
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About Maṣliaḥ ben Shlomo haKohen, Gaon al-Damasq, Raʾīs al-Yahūd al-Fustat

Maṣliaḥ ben Solomon ha-Kohen was a scion of a family of priestly geonim that controlled the yeshiva of Palestine over the course of several turbulent generations. His grandfather Elijah ben Solomon ha-Kohen was the head of the yeshiva from 1062 to 1083, a period during which it moved from Jerusalem to Tyre, possibly in connection with the Seljuk conquest of Palestine in the 1070s. Some three decades later, Maṣliaḥ’s father held the post of gaon as well, the yeshiva at that point having relocated to Damascus. By 1127, Maṣliaḥ, living in Fustat, had assumed the title of gaon along with that of raʾis al-yahūd (Ar. head of the Jews; see Nagid). Maṣliaḥ’s move to Egypt, celebrated in a poem preserved in the Cairo Geniza, signified an acknowledgment by the officials of the Palestinian yeshiva of the importance of the new office of head of the Jews of Egypt, a post that replaced the gaonate as the recognized administrative authority over Fatimid Jewry during the second half of the eleventh century. Maṣliaḥ also bore the high-sounding title jalāl al-mulk (Ar. splendor of the kingdom) typical of Muslim officials. During his period in office, the custom of invoking the authority (reshut)of the reigning gaon in legal documents and during the performance of certain public rituals was transferred to Egypt.

The Office of Nagid

Despite these differences, scholars universally acknowledge that the aforementioned Judah and Mevorakh ben Saʿadya were the first notables to receive the titles of nagid from the Jewish authorities and raʾīs al-yahūd from the Muslim authorities. Mevorakh’s son Moses (d. 1126) succeeded him. When no successor was found for Moses, the position was claimed by Maṣliaḥ ha-Kohen ben Solomon, a member of the ha-Kohen family of Palestinian geonim, who had come to Egypt from Damascus. Maṣliaḥ was followed by several members of the Palestinian yeshiva, including Moses ha-Levi ben Nathaniel, the Sixth (until 1160), and Nathaniel ha-Levi ben Moses (1160–1170), who had served as head of the yeshiva in Egypt; Nathaniel’s brother Sar Shalom ha-Levi was appointed gaon in Egypt directly prior to the fall of the Fāṭimids. So far as is known, none of these functionaries was appointed raʾīs al-yahūd or nagid.

When Saladin conquered Egypt, an individual known as Zuṭṭa grasped the negidate. Zuṭṭa is maligned and described as a power-hungry opportunist in the polemical Megillat Zuṭṭa, which explains that he struggled with Samuel ben Hananiah and later on with Maimonides, and actually ascended to office three times. Scholars continue to dispute whether Maimonides was also awarded the official titles of nagid and raʾīs al-yahūd, but there is universal agreement that Maimonides’s son Abraham was appointed raʾīs al-yahūd and declared nagid following his father’s death in 1204.

Arnold Franklin

Bibliography

Cohen, Mark R. Jewish Self-Government in Medieval Egypt : The Origins of the Office of Head of the Jews, ca. 1065–1126 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980).

Mann, Jacob, The Jews of Egypt and in Palestine under the Fā ṭ imid Caliphs, repr. ed., 2 vols. in one (New York: Ktav, 1970).

Weiss, Gershon, “Legal Documents Written by the Court Clerk Halfon ben Manasse (Dated 1100–1138): A Study in the Diplomatics of the Cairo Geniza” (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1970).

Citation Arnold Franklin. " Maṣliaḥ ben Solomon ha-Kohen." 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/masliah-ben-solomon-ha-kohen-SIM_0014840>

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