About Ḥananel ben Ḥushiel, Ra'is Yeshiva al-Qayrawan
Ḥananel ben Ḥushiel was resh be rabbanan and dayyan in Qayrawān in the first half of the eleventh century. Other than the statement of Abraham Ibn Da’ud in his Sefer ha-Qabbala (sec. 7, beg.) that Ḥananel was born in Qayrawān sometime after his father was redeemed from captivity, having been captured at sea by the Umayyad commander Ibn Rumāḥiṣ, there is no definitive information about the place and date of his birth. On the other hand, insofar as Ḥananel and Ḥushiel’s son Elhanan are taken to be the same person (on which see below), it is clear that Ḥananel was already at least thirty years old by 1011, which is the compositional terminus ad quem of an autograph letter by Ḥushiel in which he refers to his son Elhanan by the title “r[abbi]” (Schechter, p. 650, line 62; see also Gil, sec. 122). It may also be deduced, based on the collective evidence of several documentary fragments from the Cairo Geniza (see Ben-Sasson, p. 226, n. 205; Gil, sec. 123n) and Ḥananel’s own comment on ʿAvoda Zara 9a (in which he makes reference to “this year of ours—that is, the year 4813 [= 1053 C.E.]”) that he died shortly before the destruction of Qayrawān in 1057 by the Banū Hilāl bedouin. Thus, at the most reasonable minimum, Ḥananel would have lived to the age of seventy-two (i.e., 981–1053).
As to the aforementioned identification of Ḥananel with Ḥushiel’s son Elhanan, the question continues to be debated by scholars. In the present writer’s view, the most reasonable conclusion in light of the extant evidence is that the two were indeed the same person (as advanced by, inter alios, Schechter, Aptowitzer, and more recently Ben-Sasson). An itemized summary of the main reasons supporting this view is as follows: (1) the names are semantically identical; (2) it is nowhere said that Ḥushiel had two sons; and (3) the names Ḥananel and Elhanan are never mentioned together in the same source—especially in instances where one would reasonably expect both to be mentioned, as in Ḥushiel’s aforementioned letter and in Samuel ha-Nagid Ibn Naghrella’s letter of condolence to Ḥananel on his father’s death. The reason for the two different, albeit semantically identical, names is quite simply explained by Ben-Sasson (p. 228) as arising from the need to distinguish Elhanan (his given name) from others of the same name among the communal and religious leadership of Qayrawān and the Maghreb at that time (see esp. ibid., p. 227 n. 210)—hence he was known publicly as Ḥananel, but he and his father retained his given name (Elhanan) in private correspondence.
Ḥananel was, quite naturally, the pupil of his father Ḥushiel, who was known and praised for his learning from al-Andalus to Babylonia. Ḥananel also drew much of his learning from the halakhic writings of the Babylonian geonim, especially Hay (Gaon of Pumbedita 1004–1038), with whom he corresponded and perhaps even studied for a time (for which status questionis, see Naḥalon, pp. 412–413). When Ḥushiel died, sometime between 1020 and 1032, Ḥananel succeeded him as resh be rabbanan (i.e., head of the scholastic community). Like his father, albeit to a far greater degree, Ḥananel served as a pedagogical and literary nexus through which Maghreban Jewry (and subsequently, more broadly, Euro-Asian Jewry) was introduced to the halakhic-exegetical traditions of Palestine and Babylonia (especially as refined in the teachings of the geonim) and absorbed them as a critically consolidated and holistic halakhic tradition. Ḥananel was the first scholar to write a truly discursive (as opposed to more strictly lexical-glossarial) commentary on the Babylonian Talmud (although it is unclear whether he completed it), and also the first to make substantial use of the Palestinian Talmud in his halakhic writings. As a result of his pedagogical and literary activity, as well as his active and influential role in the communal-spiritual life of Qayrawanese/Maghreban Jewry generally as dayyan, Ḥananel attained lasting renown throughout the Jewish world as one of the leading halakhic authorities of the later gaonic and post-gaonic periods. Indeed, an oft-repeated statement by Ibn Daʾūd credits Ḥananel, together with Nissim b. Jacob (Ibn Shāhīn) and Samuel ha-Nagid, with establishing “the first generation of the rabbinate” (ve-doram shel shelosha elle, Rav Ḥananʾel ve-Rav Nissim ve-Rav Shemuʾel ha-Levi ha-nagid, huʾ ha-dor ha-riʾshon ba-rabbanut).
Like his father, Ḥananel had many pupils, and according to Naḥmanides he had a yeshiva (Milḥamot Adonay, Bavaʾ Qammaʾ §150; see also Haberman, Kol Shire R. Shemuʾel ha-Nagid, vol. 3, pp. 224–225). The most prominent of his pupils was Isaac ben Jacob al-Fāsī. Another scholar who may have learned directly from Ḥananel was Nathan b. Jehiel of Rome, who quotes him some 150 times in his ʿArukh.
There are only a few additional biographical details on Ḥananel. Ibn Daʾūd relates that he had nine daughters (but no son). He also states that “he was a very wealthy man” (ʿashir gadol haya) and apparently had some involvement in mercantile affairs, “since in Qayrawān were many merchants who would deposit their stock with him” (she-hayu be-qayrawan soḥerim harbe maṭṭilim melaʾy le-khiso; on this phrase, see further Goitein, p. 563, n. 24). Evidence of Ḥananel’s wealth is also attested in a Cambridge fragment (Or. 1080 J 7, recto) containing a deed of sale dated to Shevat 1351 (= 1040 C.E.), in which the transaction is described as having taken place “in the house of the head rav, Ḥananel . . . ben Ḥushiel . . . , which is the compound adjacent to the guard-post at the gate of Abū ʾl-Rabīʿ” (see Gil, sec. 123n).
Michael G. Wechsler
Ben-Sasson, Menahem. The Emergence of the Local Jewish Community in the Muslim World: Qayrawan, 800–1057, 2nd ed. (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1997) [Hebrew].
Gil, Moshe. Be-Malkhut Yishmaʿʾel bi-Tqufat ha-Geʾonim, 4 vols. (Tel Aviv, 1997), vol. 1 trans. by D. Strassler as Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2004).
Goitein, S. D. A Mediterranean Society, vol. 2: The Community (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971).
Naḥalon, Aharon. “ʿIyyunim be-Rabbenu Ḥananʾel: Yaḥaso shel Rabbenu Ḥananʾel le-Divrehem shel Geʾone Bavel ve-Yaḥaso shel ha-Rif li-Dvarav shel Rabbenu Ḥananʾel,” Shenaton ha-Mishpaṭ ha-ʿIvri 11–12 (1984–86): 407–433.
Maq, Ḥananel. “Rabbenu Ḥananʾel ben Ḥushiʾel,” in Torah li-Shma: Meḥqarim be-Maddaʿe ha-Yahadut li-Khvod Professor Shamma Yehuda Friedman, ed. David Golinkin (Jerusalem: Schechter Institute, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Bar-Ilan University, 2007).
Hirschberg, H. Z. (J. W.). A History of the Jews in North Africa, vol. 1: From Antiquity to the Sixteenth Century (Leiden: Brill, 1974).
Schechter, Solomon. “Geniza Specimens: A Letter of Chushiel,” Jewish Quarterly Review, o.s. 11 (1899): 643–650.
Michael G. Wechsler. " Ḥananel ben Ḥushiel." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. Jim Harlow. 16 July 2012 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/hananel-ben-hushiel-COM_0009210>