Yehudah "Judah" ben Sa'adya, Nagid, Raʾīs al-Yahūd al-Fustat

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Yehudah "Judah" ben Sa'adya (ben Mevorakh), Nagid, Raʾīs al-Yahūd al-Fustat

Death: circa 1080 (51-68)
Immediate Family:

Son of Sa'adya ben Mevorakh (Mubārak), Nagid, Nagid, Raʾīs al-Yahūd al-Fustat and Sitt al-Sittat "Gevira", al-Bayt Elijah hoKohen al-Yerushalayim
Father of Sa'adya ben Yehudah
Brother of Abū 'l-Faḍl Mevorakh (Mubārak) ben Saʿadya, Alluf, Nagid, Raʾīs al-Yahūd al-Fustat

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About Yehudah "Judah" ben Sa'adya, Nagid, Raʾīs al-Yahūd al-Fustat

Judah ben Saʿadya was the eldest of the five sons of Saʿadya ben Mevorakh. A physician at the Fatimid court like his father, Judah appears in Cairo Geniza records for the first time in 1043. He initially had two titles,rosh kalla (head of the assembly), given him by one of the leaders in Iraq after the closing of the Sura and Pumbedita academies, and he-ḥaver ha-meʿulle (exalted member) of the Jerusalem yeshiva. Sometime between late 1062 and mid-1064, however, he became the first Egyptian to bear the title nagid , probably given him by the gaon of Jerusalem, Elijah ha-Kohen ben Solomon (1062–1083). The gaon apparently extended this honor to Judah to keep him and the Jews of Egypt loyal to the Jerusalem gaonate; in doing so he confirmed Judah’s exercise of local power.

At first Judah’s power was of the traditional sort exercised by a courtier who interceded on behalf of the Jewish community. But gaonic recognition set him on the path to a more official kind of power and ultimately led to the establishment of the office of head of the Jews (raʾīs al-yahūd) in Egypt, a post whose prerogatives his brother Mevorakh ben Saʿadya and his nephew Moses ben Mevorakh greatly expanded. During Judah’s tenure, the office remained quasi-formal and based on his personal prestige. He presided over a majlis (audience chamber) where he heard petitions, held court, and conducted other communal business, but the sources never refer to him as raʾīs al-yahūd. Nor do they suggest that he had received a Fatimid writ of appointment, as some of his successors would, although this may only reflect administrative conditions at the Fatimid court during the anarchical 1060s and 1070s.

Judah ben Saʿadya died between 1077 and 1079 (Cohen records the date as ca. 1078), and appears in the Geniza for the last time in a poem by Solomon ha-Kohen ben Joseph Av about the defeat of the Seljuks at Cairo in 1077. The poem mentions him as a high-ranking courtier (zeqan ha-hod, elder of splendor) in the entourage of the Fatimid vizier Badr al-Jamālī. Judah’s brother, Mevorakh, continued the relationship with the vizier, serving as his personal physician, and was ultimately reinstated in office with the help of Badr al-Jamālī’s son al-Afḍal.

Marina Rustow


Cohen, Mark R. Jewish Self-Government in Medieval Egypt: The Origins of the Office of Head of the Jews, ca. 1065–1126 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980).

Citation Marina Rustow. " Judah ben Saʿadya." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2013. Reference. Jim Harlow. 15 January 2013 <>

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