About Abū ʾl-ʿAlā Israel ben Shmuel haKohen haNagid, Gaon of Sura
Son of Shmuel Ben Hofni HaGaon HaNagid, brother-in-law of Hai Gaon
Israel ben Samuel Gaon ha-Kohen
Abū ʾl-ʿAlā Israel ben Samuel Gaon ha-Kohen was the son of Samuel ben Hophni. During his father’s tenure as gaon of the Sura academy, he was the academy’s secretary and scribe (Heb. sofer). Several of Samuel’s letters with Israel’s signature have survived in the Cairo Geniza. When Samuel ben Hophni died in 1013, he left a will asking his successor as gaon, Dosa ben Saʿadya, to take care of “the boy,” meaning to give Israel a share in the contributions received by the academy. This request met with some opposition, as exemplified by a letter from 1015 which mentions an order by Hay Gaon not to send money to the Sura yeshiva in Israel’s name. In 1018, after Dosa’s demise, Israel became gaon. He held the office until his own death in 1033 and was succeeded by his son Azariah ha-Kohen.
Israel ben Samuel wrote one halakhic monograph, the Treatise on the Obligation of Prayer (Jud.-Ar. Kitāb al-Ṣalāt), which he dedicated to his supporter Abraham ibn ʿAṭā', the nagid of the Qayrawan Jewish community. Some scholars have supposed, without clear evidence, that the Chapters on Blessings (Heb. Shaʿare Berakhot) attributed to Samuel ben Hophni was actually part of this work. A few letters from Israel ben Samuel have survived in the Geniza. One of them is an epistle in stylish Hebrew in which he details ten things in which the goodness of God is apparent, and emphasizes the importance of the Oral Law (Heb. Torah she-beʿal pe) for an accurate understanding of the Written Law (Torah she-bikhtav).
Ben-Sasson, Menahem. “Fragmentary Letters from the Genizah,” Tarbi ẓ 56 (1987): 189–198 [Hebrew].
Gil, Moshe. Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2004).
Mann, Jacob. Texts and Studies, vol. 1 (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1931), pp. 153–155, 167–179.
Roni Shweka. " Israel ben Samuel Gaon ha-Kohen." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. Jim Harlow. 03 July 2012 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/israel-ben-samuel-gaon-ha-kohen-SIM_0011740>
Abū ʾl-ʿAlā Israel ben Shmuel haKohen haNagid, Gaon of Sura's Timeline