Abū ʾl-Ḥasan Labrat Da'ud Ibn Sughmār, haDayyan al-Mahdiyya, Tunisia

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Abū ʾl-Ḥasan Labrat Da'ud Ibn Sughmār, haDayyan al-Mahdiyya, Tunisia

Birthplace: Almería, Almería, Andalusia, Spain
Immediate Family:

Son of Ṣāʿid al-Andalusī "Hiyya al-Daudi", Qaḍī of Cordoba & Toledo and unknown daughter of Mujahid al-Amiri al-Muwaffaq, Emir of Denia
Father of Abū ʿImrān Moshe ben Labrat Ibn Sughmār, haDayyan al-Mahdiyya
Brother of Abū Harūn Moses Ibn Abī ʾl-ʿAysh, Qadi al-calat al-Yahud al-Zaragoza and Hiyya HaNasi

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About Abū ʾl-Ḥasan Labrat Da'ud Ibn Sughmār, haDayyan al-Mahdiyya, Tunisia

Ibn Sughmār Family

The Ibn Sughmārs were a prominent Maghrebi family of merchants and scholars whose activities from the 1040s to the 1090s are attested by several letters preserved in the Cairo Geniza. The members of the family whose existence is known from this source (each attested with the patronym Ibn/Ben Sughmār) are listed below. Note that the family name is rendered here per the plene spelling with vav, rather than “Sighmār,” as rendered by Goitein and an earlier generation of scholars.

(Abū Zikrī) Judah (Yaḥyā) ben Moses, the most frequently mentioned member of the family, was a merchant based in Qayrawan. Several letters are addressed to him from the Sicilian merchants Mūsā ibn Isaac al-Safāquṣi and his son Salāma, with whom he was an important partner (Gil, Be-Malkhut Yishmaʿʾel, nos. 745–746, 748, 751; the last letter, written by Salāma in 1064, is the longest in the Geniza). From references to him in other Geniza letters, it is evident that Judah also maintained trade relations with (inter alios) Abraham (Abū Isḥāq) ibn Farrāḥ Iskandarānī, David ben ʿAmmār Madīnī, Eliah (Abū ʾl-Ḥasan) ben Judah ben Yaḥyā, Faraḥ (Abū ʾl-Surūr) ibn Ismāʿīl al-Qābisī, Ḥayyim (Abū Zikrī) ibn ʿAmmār, Jacob ben Salmān al-Ḥarīrī, Joseph ibn ʿAlī Kōhēn Fāsī, Mūsā ibn Abī ʾl-Ḥayy Khalīla, Mūsā ibn Yaḥyā al-Majjānī, Salāma ibn Nissīm al-Barqī, and the Tāhertīs, Barhūn ben Isaac and Yūsuf ibn Mūsā. Judah also apparently practiced medicine—at the very least as an avocation—for he is given the title al-ṭabīb (the physician). In the earliest letter addressed to him, written ca. 1040 by the Alexandrian dayyan Jeshua ha-Kohen he-ḥaver ben Joseph, it is evident that he was already a man of some standing in the Jewish community, because Jeshua appeals to him for assistance in resolving a bitter dispute over property in which even the “amīr Abū Manṣūr” (probably Anūshtakīn al-Dizbirī) was involved. Also of note in this respect is Ḥayyim ben ʿImmanuʾel ben Qāyōmā’sreference to Judah, in a letter written ca. 1063, as “the elect [i.e., honoree] of the yeshiva” (beḥir ha-yeshiva). From Judah himself we have six Geniza letters (Gil, nos. 618–623).

(Abū ʾl-Ḥasan) Labraṭ ben Moses was Judah’s younger brother. In addition to his involvement in the family’s trading business, he was the chief dayyan (i.e., av bet din) of the city of al-Mahdiyya in Tunisia. In a deed drawn up in 1097, he is eulogistically referred to as resh be rabbanan (i.e. "the head of our scholars" - Gil, no. 625, l. 8). He maintained close ties with the important Fustat-based merchant (scholar and communal leader) Nahray (Nehoray) ben Nissim, as borne out by a letter that Labraṭ wrote to him on August 3, 1057 (so Gil, no. 616, contra Goitein’s surmise of 1061). In this letter Labraṭ provides quite important information concerning, inter alia, Nissim ben Jacob Ibn Shāhīn’s practice of personally supervising the copying of his works, Nehoray’s “eye ailment” (Ar. wajaʿ ʿayn), which eventually resulted in blindness, and the socioeconomic distress resulting from the Norman conquest of Sicily, including the taking captive of “12 families of our people and Gentiles [i.e., Muslims] without number” (min aṣḥābinā y"b ʿiyāl wa-ammā al-goyyim fa-mā lahum ʿadad). Six of Labraṭ’s letters are preserved in the Geniza (Gil, nos. 612–617).

(Abū ʿImrān) Moses ben Labraṭ, the son of Labraṭ ben Moses, likewise served as dayyan in al-Mahdiyya. A Geniza letter from a “Ben Sughmār,” written to Nahray ben Nissim in 1097, has been attributed to him by Gil (no. 624), but Goitein and Friedman (p. 216 [I, 17]) attribute it to Moses’ uncle Judah (Abū Zikrī). Gil’s surmise seems more likely in view of the date range of the 1040s to 1060s for the personal correspondence of Judah and the references to him in the letters of his trading associates mentioned above.

Labraṭ ben Moses ben Labraṭ was a son of (Abū ʿImrān) Moses ben Labraṭ. Like his father and grandfather before him, he was also a dayyan in al-Mahdiyya. In a letter to his siblings written in 1149, the Maghrebi merchant and scholar Abraham ben Yijū expresses deep respect for Labraṭ ben Moses (from which Goitein concludes that Ben Yijū had been his pupil). Appended to the letter is a poem in the dayyan’s honor in which Ben Yijū praises, among other things, the dayyan’s commentary on the Talmud. The same Labraṭ ben Moses ben Labraṭ is listed with his predecessors as one of the “sons of Zūghmār in the city of al-Mahdiyya” referred to by Ibn Daʾūd in his Sefer ha-Qabbala as the only ones, other than “the dayyan Solomon ben Formash (or Furmash) in the city of Qalʿat Banī Ḥammād,” who represent the last vestiges of talmudic learning in Africa (Sefer ha-Qabbala, text, p. 58, ll. 188–190).

(Abū Isḥāq) Abraham (Ibrahīm) ben David (Daʾūd) is attested in the Geniza documents primarily in connection with trade, which was clearly his main occupation. He seems to have traveled quite a bit, and had business relationships, very naturally, with many of the above-mentioned merchants who cooperated with his cousin Judah (Abū Zikrī). He seems, indeed, to have had considerable influence, for his wife is mentioned in one letter, written by Yūsuf ibn Mūsā al-Tāhirtī in the fall of 1063, as having been personally conveyed to Fustat “in the sultan’s own vessel” (fī markab al-sulṭān; Gil, no. 374, verso, l. 17). Abraham also engaged in scholarly pursuits, as borne out by Gil’s discovery in the Adler collection (JTSA) of a fragment (ENA 1490, fol. 7v) from Sherira Gaon’s famous Epistle in Abraham’s handwriting. An affirmation of his scholarship may also be behind the reference to Abraham in a letter by Ḥayyim ha-Kohen ibn ʿAlī ben Ḥayyīm, the parnas of Fustat, as al-masos (the joy [of the yeshiva]). Three letters from Abraham are preserved in the Geniza (Gil, nos. 608–610).

(Abū ʾl-Surūr) David ben Abraham, his son, was also a merchant. In several letters he is mentioned together with his father as someone to whom the addressee should convey the writer’s greetings. He was the addressee (li-waladī ʾl-ʿazīz ʿalayya, to my beloved son) of one his father’s letters (no. 609).

(Abū ʾIbrahīm) Isaac (Isḥāq) ben David (Daʾūd) was primarily occupied with trade, as indicated by the few references to him in merchant letters as well as from the sole (undated) letter of his preserved in the Geniza (Gil, no. 611).

(Abū Yaʿqūb) Joseph ben David (Daʾūd), the brother of Isaac ben David, was likewise a merchant. He is mentioned in a handful of letters, but none by or to him have been preserved.

There are also two letters from members of the Ibn Sughmār family who have not been clearly identified (Gil, nos. 625–626).

Michael G. Wechsler


Gil, Moshe. Be-Malkhut Yishmaʾʿel bi-Tqufat ha-Geʾonim, 4 vols. (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1997; vol. 1 trans. D. Strassler as Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2004).

———. “Bene Sughmār,” in Intertwined Worlds of Islam: Essays in Memory of Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, ed. N. Ilan (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, Ben-Zvi Institute, and Bialik Institute, 2002), pp. 149–170 [Hebrew].

Ibn Daʾūd, Abraham. The Book of Tradition: Sefer ha-Qabbalah, ed. and trans. Gerson D. Cohen (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1967).

Goitein, S. D. Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973).

———. A Mediterranean Society, 6 vols. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967–93).

——— and Mordechai Akiva Friedman. India Traders of the Middle Ages: Documents from the Cairo Genizah (“India Book”) (Leiden: Brill, 2008).

Citation Michael G. Wechsler. " Ibn Sughmār Family." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2013. Reference. Jim Harlow. 24 January 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-...>

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