'Nathan HaBabli' ben Abu Ishaq Avraham, Exilarch 'Mar Uqba HaRofeh', Qadi al-Qayrawānī (c.940 - c.1049) MP

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'Nathan HaBabli' ben Abu Ishaq Avraham, Exilarch 'Mar Uqba HaRofeh', Qadi al-Qayrawānī's Geni Profile

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Nicknames: "Natan Saul", "Nathan Sahl", "Natan Sahl", "Gaon of Yeshivat Eretz Ha-Tsvi"
Birthplace: Baghdad, Baghdād, Iraq
Death: Died in Ramla, Israel
Occupation: Exilarch = Rosh Golah of Judah
Managed by: Jaim David Harlow
Last Updated:

About 'Nathan HaBabli' ben Abu Ishaq Avraham, Exilarch 'Mar Uqba HaRofeh', Qadi al-Qayrawānī

Nathan Ha-Bavli has been an enigmatic figure - but I think I have narrowed down to EXACTLY who is Nathan Ha-Bavli. Here is a short description of previous attempts to identify Nathan Ha-Bavli:

Since Nathan b. Jehiel of Rome, the author of the "'Aruk," is quoted in Zacuto's "Yuḥasin" (ed. Filipowski, p. 174, London, 1856) as "Nathan ha-Babli of Narbonne," Grätz ("Gesch." 3d ed., v. 288, 469-471) mistook the latter for Nathan ben Isaac ha-Kohen ha-Babli and ascribed to him an "'Aruk" similar to that written by Nathan b. Jehiel.

Grätz even went so faras to identify Nathan ben Isaac with the fourth of the four prisoners captured by Ibn Rumaḥis (see Ḥushiel ben Elhanan), assuming that he settled afterward at Narbonne. In fact, Grätz was very close, as Nathan was the Exilarch who sat in the seat of Gaon of Corboba until 'Rab Moshe ben Hanoch' arrived...it was Nathan (in his role as 'Mar Uqba haRofe') who turned over the Academy to a premier Rosh Golah who was expert in the Babylonian traditions of jurisprudence, exegesis, Talmudic study and Halacha. My research leads me to believe that Nathan was a schemer who helped orchestrate the "4 hostages" scenario in order to salvage the best sages of Babylon as those Academies waned - while he himself was one of those auctioned.

Nathan ha-Bavlī - the 4th Prisoner of ibn Rumaḥis

Nathan ben Isaac ha-Kohen ha-Bavli is the otherwise unknown author of a brief but very important historical text concerning the Babylonian academies and the exilarchate. The work, entitled Akhbār Baghdād (A Chronicle of Baghdad), was apparently written in Judeo-Arabic in North Africa in the mid-tenth century, but the sobriquet ha-Bavli indicates that Nathan came from Babylonia (Iraq). His account has been preserved in an undated Hebrew translation published by A. Neubauer. Fragments of the Judeo-Arabic original found in the Cairo Geniza were subsequently published by I. Friedlander and M. Ben-Sasson.

Akhbār Baghdād is organized in two sections. The first gives a detailed history of two major controversies involving factions of the Iraqi leadership: a fiscal dispute between the gaon of Pumbedita and the exilarch ‘Uqba [himself], which resulted in the latter’s exile from Baghdad (an event unknown from other sources but tentatively dated to the early tenth century), and the well-known rift between Sa‘adya Gaon and ‘Uqba’s apparent successor, the exilarch David ben Zakkay. The second section is a generic account of the functions and prerogatives of the exilarchate and the academies, including an elaborate description of the exilarch’s investiture (which stresses the royal trappings of the office), and a rare description of the daily routine of the gaonic academies during the kalla months (when all the students were in attendance).

The opening lines of Akhbār Baghdād state that it recounts “that which [Nathan] partly saw and partly heard,” and at least portions of his account do appear to reflect firsthand experience. Since he has a tendency to generalize on the basis of isolated occurrences, however, his depiction of the Iraqi leadership, while invaluable, must be treated with caution. The suggestion that the known text of Akhbār Baghdād may have been excerpted from a lost longer composition was rejected by Ben-Sasson, who concludes from manuscript and literary evidence that the extant Hebrew version is a freely rendered but essentially faithful translation of the original work in its entirety.

Eve Krakowski

Bibliography

Ben-Sasson, Menahem. “The Structure, Goals, and Content of the Story of Nathan ha-Babli,” in Culture and Society in Medieval Jewry: Studies Dedicated to the Memory of Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson, ed. M. Ben-Sasson, R. Bonfil, and J. Hacker (Jerusalem: Merkaz Shazar, 1989), pp. 137–196 [Hebrew].

Brody, Robert. The Geonim of Babylonia and the Shaping of Medieval Jewish Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 26–30.

Friedlander, I. “The Arabic Original of the Report of R. Nathan Hababli,” Jewish Quarterly Review, o.s. 17 (1905): 747–761.

Gil, Moshe. Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2004), pp. 209–217 et passim.

Neubauer, Adolf. Mediaeval Jewish Chronicles and Chronological Notes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1887–95), vol. 2, pp. 78–88.

Citation Eve Krakowski. " Nathan ha-Bavlī." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2013. Reference. Jim Harlow. 16 January 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/nathan-ha-bavli-SIM_0016580>

------------------------- Details about Nathan Ha-Bavli -----------------------------------------

Physician to Fatimid Caliph in Kairouan; Nathan left Palestine for North Africa in Service of the Fatimids who deposed his father, David and controlled North Africa. In 972 the Fatimids moved their base to Egypt. Around 1011 Nathan traveled from Cordoba to Kairouan to settle the estate of his father, who had died there. While in Africa he studied in Kairouan with Chushiel ben Elchanan; Nathan left Kairouan, revered as a mathematics genius, and went to Fostat where he became more closely aligned with the Karaites.

Nathan's alignment with the Karaites stems from him being exiled to the Maghrib after losing an argument of the distribution of monies to Sura and Pumbeditha academies. Due to his friendly relations with Karaites, he was stripped of his ability to confer titles and rights to members of the community – in fact his name is removed from the list of Exilarchs for having instigated the support of heretics (Karaites) and events which led to the bloodshed in Tyre. His name was stripped and his name is no longer mentioned among the list of Nagidim of Egypt; however, he was the very “first Nagid of Egypt as Physician to the Fatimid Caliph”.

After the death of his maternal uncle, Rav ben Yohai, av bet din of the academy of Erez Israel, Nathan claimed the position - although according to accepted custom it belonged to Tobiah, who ranked third in the academy - at the same time attempting to oust Rabbi Solomon ben Yehuda as Gaon of the academy. In the struggle, Nathan was sponsored by Diaspora scholars, while Solomon ben Yehuda was supported by the local community and also favored by the Fatimid governor of Ramleh.

Nathan lived in Ramleh, attempting to assume the functions of gaon there, while Solomon still held his position in Jerusalem and issued a ban against Nathan. In 1042 both parties agreed that Nathan should succeed Solomon as gaon of the academy after the latter's death. However, when this occurred (before 1051) the office of gaon passed to Daniel ben Azariah. Nothing is known of Nathan's teachings. In one of his letters of 1042 he mentions his son Abraham, whose son Nathan was later av bet din of the academy.

He was Gaon of Yeshivat Eretz Ha-Tsvi where we remained Av Beit Din until his death around 1048 CE. Insofar as scholarship is concerned, Nathan is credited with an Arabic commnetary on the Mishneh of Yehudah HaNasi the text of which is preserved in Yemenite version of the Mishneh [having been copied by Yahya and Yosef ben David Qafih (Qapach). This writer suspects that Nathan's name is omitted from the list, and his son's names are portrayed in Arabic so as to distance the sons from the misdeeds of Nathan. Nathan has at least one son,

Nathan ben Abraham was a/k/a Abū Sahl Nathan ben Abraham ben Saul, a member of a gaonic family on his mother’s side, was born in Palestine in the last quarter of the tenth century. He went to Qayrawan around 1011 in connection with an inheritance left by his father, but remained there to study under Ḥushiel ben Ḥananel. In Qayrawan, and later in Fustat, he engaged in commerce and made many important friends. His wife was the daughter of Mevorakh ben Eli, one of Fustat’s wealthier citizens. Around age forty, he returned to Palestine, where he was warmly received by the gaon, Solomon ben Judah. Nathan demanded to be appointed av bet din (president of the court), the number-two position in the yeshiva, a post held by his recently deceased uncle. The rightful heir to the post was Tuvia, the “third” in the yeshiva, but he relinquished his claim in Nathan’s favor in order to preserve harmony, despite the gaon’s displeasure with this breach of tradition.

This incident marked the eruption of a rivalry involving the descendants of the three families that had valid claims to the Palestinian gaonate, with Joseph and Elijah ha-Kohen, the sons of Solomon ha-Kohen—Solomon ben Judah’s predecessor in the gaonate—also joining the fray. There was already some bitterness toward Solomon ben Judah, and questions had been raised about his integrity, especially with respect to appointments he had made. As a result, Nathan ben Abraham’s supporters declared him gaon in place of Solomon ben Judah.

Serious dissension broke out in Tishre 1038 during the Hoshana Rabba ceremony on the Mount of Olives and at the assembly in the great synagogue of Ramle, where each faction sat on a different side and declared its leader gaon. By the summer of 1039, the Jewish communities along the Mediterranean littoral were in a state of turmoil. Jerusalem, Ramle, Fustat, Qayrawan, and undoubtedly many other communities were torn into factions. In Fustat, verbal disputes led to physical assaults, and the Fatimid police closed the Jerusalemite synagogue for two years. The two sides vied for the support of the Fatimid government, and finally, after the conflict had dragged on for more than four years, government intervention brought it to an end.

On Hoshana Rabba 1042, the two sides arrived at an agreement stipulating that Solomon ben Judah would continue as gaon and Nathan ben Abraham would be the av bet din, but under the strict supervision of the sons of the late gaon Solomon ha-Kohen, the “fourth” and “fifth” in the yeshiva. Tuvia ben Daniel continued as “third.” The agreement was signed by all the members of the yeshiva, as well as the Karaite nesi’im, who had sided with Nathan ben Abraham. Although Nathan became av bet din, he died three years later and never became gaon, whereas Solomon ben Judah continued to occupy the post for many years to come.

1) Abu Isḥāq Ibrahim ibn al-Nag'hdīlah ibn Aṭā al-yahūdī '(Abraham Nagid born Kairouan abt 975)

1 “A history of Palestine, 634-1099, Volume 1” by Moshe Gil, CUP Archive, 1992 ISBN0521404371, 9780521404372

2. “Jews in Islamic countries in the Middle Ages” by Moshe Gil & David Strassler Translated byDavid Strassler, BRILL, ISBN900413882X, 9789004138827

3. Fragments from the Cairo Genizah in the Freer Collection (1927), 197-201

4. S. Assaf and L.A. Mayer, Sefer ha-Yishuv, 2 (1944), index; Shapira, in: Yerushalayim, 4 (1953), 118-22

5. “Egyptian Fragments. תולגמ, Scrolls Analogous to That of Purim, with an Appendix on the First םידיגנ” Author(s): A. Neubauer Source: The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Jul., 1896), pp. 541-561 Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Historical note: The origin of the title of 'Nagid' in Egypt is obscure. Sambari and David ibn Abi Zimra (Frumkin, "Eben Shemuel," p. 18) connect it directly with a daughter of the Abbassid calif Al-Ṭa'i (974-991), who married the Egyptian calif 'Aḍud al-Daulah (977-982). But 'Aḍud was a Buwahid emir of Bagdad under Al-Muktafi; and, according to Ibn al-Athir ("Chronicles," viii. 521), it was 'Aḍud's daughter who married Al-Ṭa'i. Nor does Sambari give the name of the nagid sent from Bagdad. On the other hand, the Ahimaaz Chronicle gives to the Paltiel, who was brought by Al-Mu'izz to Egypt in 952, the title of "nagid" (al-Mu'izz lived from 932 until 975) (125, 26; 129, 9; 130, 4); and it is possible that the title originated with him, though the accounts about the general Jauhar may popularly have been transferred to him. If this be so, he was followed by his son, R. Samuel (Ahimaaz Chronicle, 130, 8), whose benefactions, especially to the Jews in the Holy Land, are noticed.

This must be the Samuel mentioned as head of the Jews many hundred years previous by Samuel ben David, and claimed as a Karaite. The claim is also made by Firkovitch, and his date is set at 1063. He is said to have obtained permission for the Jews to go about at night in the public streets, provided they had lanterns, and to purchase a burial-ground instead of burying their dead in their own courtyards (G. pp. 7, 61). The deed of conveyance of the Rabbinite synagogue at Fostat (1038), already referred to, mentions Abu Imran Musa ibn Ya'ḳub ibn Isḥaḳ al-Isra'ili as the nagid of that time. The next nagid mentioned is the physician Judah ben Josiah, a Davidite of Damascus, also in the eleventh century (S. 116, 20; 133, 10); a poem in honor of his acceptance of the office has been preserved (J. Q. R. viii. 566, ix. 360).

Nagid's authority at times, when Syria was a part of the Egyptian-Mohammedan empire, extended over Palestine; according to the Ahimaaz Chronicle (130, 5), even to the Mediterranean littoral on the west. In one document ("Kaufmann Gedenkbuch," p. 236) the word is used as synonymous with "padishah." The date is 1209; but the term may refer to the non-Jewish overlord. In Arabic works he is called "ra'is al-Yahud" (R. E. J. xxx. 9); though his connection with the "shaikh al-Yahud," mentioned in many documents, is not clear. Meshullam of Volterra says expressly that his jurisdiction extended over Karaites and Samaritans also; and this is confirmed by the official title of the nagid in the instrument of conveyance of the Fostat synagogue.

At times he had an official vice-nagid. To assist him he had a bet din of three persons (S. 133, 21)—though Meshullam mentions four judges and two scribes, and the number was at times increased even to seven—and there was a special prison over which he presided (M. V. p. 186). He had full power in civil and criminal affairs, and could impose fines and imprisonment at will (David ibn Abi Zimra, Responsa, ii., No. 622; M. V. ib.; O. p. 17). He appointed rabbis; and the congregation paid his salary, in addition to which he received certain fees. His special duties were to collect the taxes and to watch over the restrictions placed upon the further construction of synagogues (Shihab al-Din's "Ta'rif," cited in R. E. J. xxx. 10). Even theological questions regarding a pseudo-Messiah, for example—were referred to him (J. Q. R. v. 506, x. 140).

On Sabbath he was escorted in great pomp from his home to the synagogue, and brought back with similar ceremony in the afternoon (S. 116, 8). On Simḥat Torah he had to read the Pentateuch lesson and to translate it into Aramaic and Arabic. Upon his appointment by the calif his installation was effected with much pomp: runners went before him; and the royal proclamation was solemnly read (see E. N. Adler in J. Q. R. ix. 717).

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'Nathan HaBabli' ben Abu Ishaq Avraham, Exilarch 'Mar Uqba HaRofeh', Qadi al-Qayrawānī's Timeline

940
940
Baghdad, Baghdād, Iraq
965
965
Age 25
Tunisia
968
968
Age 28
Baghdad, Baghdād, Iraq
969
969
Age 29
Al-Qayrawan, Kairouan North, Kairouan, Tunisia
1049
1049
Age 109
Ramla, Israel
????