Abū Saʿīd Yūsuf ibn Musa al-Tāhertī

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Abū Saʿīd Yūsuf ibn Musa al-Tāhertī (ibn Barhūn al-Tāhertī)

Death: circa 1062
Biyala, Kafr El-Shaikh, Egypt
Immediate Family:

Son of Abū al-Khayr Mūsā ibn Barhūn al-Tāhertī
Brother of Barhūn ibn Musa al-Tāhertī

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About Abū Saʿīd Yūsuf ibn Musa al-Tāhertī

Tāhertī Family

The Tāhertīs were a Maghrebī merchant family active in the period from 1010 to 1075. Together with the houses of Ibn ʿAwkal, al-Tustarī, and Nahray ben Nissim, the Tāhertīs were, in terms of volume of trade, one of the largest and most powerful mercantile operations of their era. While most business endeavors rarely involved cargoes exceeding the value of a few hundred dinars, the Tāhertīs and their counterparts routinely invested in merchandise worth several thousand dinars or more. They were connected to the other great merchant houses via trade, apprenticeship, and marriage; their commercial network also included Muslims. They wielded great power within the Jewish community. In a letter found in the Cairo Geniza from Mūsā ibn al-Majjānī to the merchant Joseph ibn ʿAwkal in Fustat, Mūsā writes that the Tāhertīs constitute “a united group who speak with a single voice” (TS 12.218).

The origins of the Tāhertīs cannot be traced any farther back than their base in Qayrawan, but their surname (nisba) indicates that they originally hailed from Tahert (now Tiaret) in the Central Maghreb (modern Algeria). The family maintained bases in both Qayrawan and Fustat, and did business principally in the markets there, in Sicily, and in al-Andalus. Despite their involvement in the affairs of the yeshivot in Baghdad, no records have survived linking the Tāhertīs directly to trade in the east. The main focus of their trade was the triangle connecting Egypt, Sicily, and Ifrīqiya—and at times al-Andalus.

Like the other traders about whom information has survived in the Geniza, the Tāhertīs were involved with the organized Jewish communities in Baghdad, Jerusalem, Fustat, and Qayrawan. At least two hundred items of incoming and outgoing Tāhertī correspondence have survived in the Geniza.

The Tāhertīs were active as traders over the span of three generations. The first generation included the patriarch of the family, Barhūn (Ibrāhīm, Abraham) ibn Ismāʿīl al-Tāhirtī, who was based in Qayrawan but set up a base in Fustat in the early eleventh century. Barhūn had at least four sons and two daughters.

All four of Barhūn’s sons helped run the firm’s operations during the second generation (1008–ca. 1040). In order of birth, they were Abū Ibrāhīm Ismāʿīl(Samuel), Abū Faḍl Ṣāliḥ (Maṣliaḥ, d. after 1060), Abū Surūr Isḥāq, and Abū al-Khayr Mūsā (d. 1056). Although based in Qayrawan, the brothers traveled regularly to Egypt, staying there for long periods, both in Fustat and in the flax-growing regions of the Fayyum, especially Buṣīr. Two of the brothers apprenticed in Fustat with the Tustarīs of the second generation.

The second generation was also active in the yeshivot of Baghdad and Jerusalem (dual allegiances were not unusual during this period). In the 1020s, Ismāʿīl ben Barhūn al-Tāhertī organized an appeal for the Jerusalem yeshiva in Qayrawan at the request of Solomon ben Judah. Mūsā ben Barhūn al-Tāhertī was also a loyal supporter of the Jerusalem yeshiva and was granted the title ḥaver around 1020; in his later years he settled in Jerusalem, where he died. The Tāhertīs formed part of a tightly knit network of traders who transported money and queries to and responsa from the yeshivot in Baghdad. The Berekhiah brothers and the Tāhertīs collected the Qayrawan Jewish community’s donations to the Baghdad yeshivot and passed them on to Joseph ibn ʿAwkal or Ismāʿīl ben Barhūn al-Tāhertī in Fustat, who forwarded them on to Baghdad, in some cases via the Tustarīs; the responsa received in return were carried back to Qayrawan using the same methods. Al-Tāhertī is known to have had gaonic responsa copied in Fustat at least once before conveying them to Qayrawan.

The Tāhertī brothers also maintained links with the Zirids of Qayrawan, the dynasty of amīrs who governed Ifrīqiya (on behalf of the Fatimids until ca. 1040, thereafter independently until 1148). One brother, probably Mūsā, was granted a ceremonial robe and mantle by a Zirid princess (al-sayyida al-jalīla). The brothers’ high rank in the Jewish community and their connections at court made them prime targets for ambitious upstarts such as Nathan ben Abraham. After usurping the Jerusalem gaonate from Solomon ben Judah in 1038, Nathan granted the title ḥemdat ha-yeshiva to Ismāʿīl ben Barhūn al-Tāhertī, a self-serving move aimed at capitalizing not only on Ismāʿīl’s standing among the Jews of Qayrawan but also on his status in the eyes of the Zirids.

Of the daughters of the second generation, one married a certain Nissim ibn Isḥāq and bore Nahray ben Nissim, who first apprenticed with his maternal uncle Barhūn al-Tāhertī and then went on to found a great mercantile firm of his own, maintaining partnerships with his Tāhertī cousins of the second generation. The other daughter married a brother from the Berekhiah family of Qayrawan.

The third generation (ca. 1050–1075) consisted of nine grandsons who maintained the family bases in Qayrawan and Fustat and at least one granddaughter. Confusingly for the historian but typically for the society, each of the four eldest was named after his grandfather: Barhūn ben Ismāʿīl (based partly in Fustat, d. ca. 1060); Elḥanan ben Ismāʿīl (based in Fustat, d. ca. 1062); Barhūn ben Ṣāliḥ (based in Fustat and the Maghreb); Judah ben Ṣāliḥ (the least involved in the family business); a granddaughter, Surūra ibn Ṣāliḥ; Abū Isḥāq Barhūn b. Isḥāq (based in al-Mahdiyya, Qayrawan, and Fustat); Abū ʾl-Faraj Nissim ibn Isḥāq (also based in the Maghreb with frequent journeys to Fustat and Sicily); Abū Sahl ʿAṭāʾ ibn Isḥāq; Barhūn ben Mūsā (based in Alexandria, but also attested in Sicily and Palestine, d. 1062); and Abū Saʿīd Yūsuf ibn Mūsā (based in al-Mahdiyya, but also attested in Alexandria and Būṣīr, d. after 1062). Some cousins of the third generation are attested in Sousse, and at least one each in Mazara in Sicily and Barqa in Tripolitania, all likely for extended stays related to business. The Jewish community of Qayrawan considered Barhūn ben Mūsā the most prominent Tāhertī of this generation and an exceptionally pious man.

The second- and third-generation Tāhertīs traded in indigo, silver (ingots and coins), copper, pearls, ivory, brazilwood, lacquer, spices (pepper and mastic), chemicals (including sal ammoniac) for medical, alchemical, and metallurgical use, and textiles of all kinds, from simple Egyptian flax to wildly luxurious silks and brocades that only the wealthiest could afford to buy.

Marina Rustow


Ben-Sasson, Menahem. The Emergence of the Local Jewish Community in the Muslim World: Qayrawan, 800–1057 (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1996) [Hebrew].

Gil, Moshe. A History of Palestine, 634–1099, trans. Ethel Broido (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

———. In the Kingdom of Ishmael, 4 vols. (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University; Jerusalem: Ministry of Defense and Bialik Institute, 1997).

———. “The Jewish Merchants in the Light of Eleventh-Century Geniza Documents,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 46 (2003): 273–319.

Goitein, S. D. “Medieval Tunisia: The Hub of the Mediterranean,” in Studies in Islamic History and Institutions, new ed. (Leiden: Brill, 2010), pp. 308–328.

———. A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, 6 vols. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967–93).

Stillman, Norman A. “East-West Relations in the Islamic Mediterranean in the Early Eleventh Century: A Study of the Geniza Correspondence of the House of Ibn ‘Awkal” (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1970).

Citation Marina Rustow. " Tāhertī Family." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2013. Reference. Jim Harlow. 23 January 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-...>

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