Abū ’l-Surūr Peraḥyā Ben Yijū, Radhani

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Abū ’l-Surūr Peraḥyā Ben Yijū, Radhani

Birthplace: Mangalore, Dakshina Kannada, Karnataka, India
Immediate Family:

Son of Abraham Nathan ben Peraḥyā Ya'ishu al-Ishu, Radhani and Berākhā "Ashū" former slave girl
Father of Nissim ben Peraḥyā ben Yijū
Brother of Sitt al-Dārl Ben Yijū and Nissim ben Abraham Ben Yijū, Radhani

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About Abū ’l-Surūr Peraḥyā Ben Yijū, Radhani

Ben Yijū, Abraham

Unquestionably one of the most colorful figures to be illuminated by documents from the Cairo Geniza—and in Goitein’s estimation (Letters, p. 186) “the most important single figure” of his important “India Book”—is the Tunisian merchant and littérateur Abraham (ben Peraḥyā) ben Yijū, who flourished in the first half of the twelfth century and has been identified as the recipient or sender of some seventy different written items (mostly documentary). The name Yijū, applied by or for Abraham as a surname (sometimes without “ben”), is of Berber origin (still attested today among the Bene Israel of India and also among Maghrebi Jews in the form Bénichou; see Goitein and Friedman, p. 54) and appears to have been an alternative name for his grandfather Nathan.

The earliest dated document connected with Ben Yijū is a deed of manumission that he wrote on October 17, 1132 from Mangalore (Ar. Manjarūr) on the Malabar coast of India. That he died, at the latest, by the fall of 1156 is evident from the eulogism “May his memory be for a blessing!” following his name in a taqwīm (dowry estimate) written at that time.

Of Ben Yijū’s life during the years intervening these dates—which is thoroughly treated by Friedman (Goitein and Friedman, pp. 52–89)—the following summary may be given: He traveled to Mangalore on business involving, inter alios, Maḍmūn ibn Ḥasan (Japheth) Ibn Bundar and the significant sum of 623⅔ Malikī dinars. While there he purchased an Indian slave girl named Ashū, facilitated her conversion to Judaism—upon which she was renamed Berākhā (apparently after Ben Yijū’s sister)—and then manumitted and married her. In the years that followed he begot three children by Berākhā (two sons, Peraḥyā [Ab%C5%AB ’l-Surūr] and a firstborn whose name is unknown, and a daughter, Sitt al-Dār). He earned his living both as a merchant in the import-export trade and as the owner of a bronze foundry where he employed local Jews (probably Yemeni immigrants). After about seventeen years in India, during which he was involved in several bitter lawsuits, Ben Yijū moved back west with his family, settling in the fall of 1149 in Yemen, where he remained for three years, first in Aden and then in the capital, Dhū Jibla (perhaps to escape the criticism by certain Jewish authorities of his marriage to Berākhā). From Yemen Ben Yijū relocated one last time, to Fustat, from where his earliest extant letter was written in September 1153 to his brother Joseph in Mazara, Sicily (see Palermo and Sicily). In this telling letter, Ben Yijū indicates a significant personal decline—both financially (totaling 1,040 Malikī dinars and 300 mithqāls) and emotionally (due to the recent death of his firstborn son in Aden)—and states his intention to marry off his only daughter to Joseph’s son Peraḥyā (also Abū ʾl-Surūr), to effect which he was forced to “annul” (Ar. nakathtu) her betrothal to Shaykh Khalaf b. Bundār, the grandson, apparently, of Abū ʿAlī Ḥasan (Japheth) ibn Bundār.

In addition to his business ventures, Ben Yijū was also something of a littérateur. He was, in fact, trained as a scribe (like his father), as evinced both by his self-designation as lavlār in a poetic encomium of Maḍmūn ibn Ḥasan ibn Bundār (T-S 8J31.1) as well as from the beautiful calligraphic hand of his autograph items. In addition to producing some secular and liturgical poems of his own (of average quality), he also copied liturgical poetry by Judah ha-Levi and Isaac Ibn Ghiyyāth, and thus may have played an important role in the transmission and dissemination of their works. He may also have studied Torah and halakha while still in Tunisia, under Labraṭ ben Moses ben Labraṭ of al-Mahdiyya, whom he praises in one of his poems, and in fact there are extant in Ben Yijū’s hand several responsa (some or all of which, admittedly, he may simply have copied) concerning the rules of inheritance, gift deeds, surety, acquisition, and the marital status of female slaves. Two extant prescriptions in Ben Yijū’s hand indicate that he also had a certain amount of medical knowledge.

Michael G. Wechsler


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

———. The Yemenites: History, Communal Organization, Spiritual Life, ed. Menahem Ben-Sasson (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 1983) [Hebrew].

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

Margariti, Roxani Eleni. Aden & the Indian Ocean Trade: 150 Years in the Life of a Medieval Arabian Port (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

Citation Michael G. Wechsler. " Ben Yijū, Abraham." 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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