Barazani, Asenath

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BARAZANI, ASENATH , daughter of the eminent Rabbi Samuel b. Nethanel ha-Levi of Kurdistan (1560?–1625/1635?). Her father, a scholar and mystic with a large following, aimed to rectify a dearth of educated leaders by building a yeshivah in Mosul, where he hoped to train young men who would become community leaders and scholars. Since he had no sons, he trained his daughter to be a learned scholar of the highest order. Asenath was married to one of her father's finest students, Rabbi Jacob Mizraḥi, who promised her father that she would do no domestic labor and could spend her time as a Torah scholar. R. Mizraḥi, who succeeded Asenath's father as head of the yeshivah, became so involved in his studies that his wife essentially taught the yeshivah students and provided them with rabbinic training. Following her husband's death, the leadership of the yeshivah naturally passed to his widow in a painless transition. Since neither her father nor her husband had been successful fundraisers, the yeshivah was always in financial straits, and Asenath wrote a number of letters requesting funds in which she described the dire situation that had befallen herself and her children. Her home and belongings had been confiscated, as had their clothing and books. She was still teaching Torah, but the debts were adding up and, as a woman, she felt it was inappropriate to travel in search of financial support. In letters addressed to her, one sees the respect and admiration of fellow rabbis from far and near. Her few extant writings demonstrate a complete mastery of Torah, Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah, and Hebrew, for her letters are lyrical as well as erudite. A recently discovered manuscript provides additional insight into her life, revealing inter alia an attempt to deceive her regarding transmission of contributions intended for her support. Nevertheless, she successfully ran a yeshivah which continued to produce serious scholars, including her son, whom she sent to Baghdad upon request, where he continued the dynasty of rabbinic scholars.


M. Benayahu, "R. Samuel Barzani: Leader of Kurdistan Jewry," in: Sefunot 9 (1965), 23–125 (Heb.); J. Mann, Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature, Vol. i (1972); A. Ben-Ya'akov, "Kurdistan Jewish Communities" (Heb., 1981); E. Brauer, The Jews of Kurdistan (R. Patai, ed.) (1993); U. Melammed Uri and R. Levine. "Rabbi Asenath: A Female Yeshiva Director in Kurdistan," in: Peʿamim, 82 (2000), 163–78 (Heb.); Y.Y. Rivlin, "Poetry of the Aramaic-Speaking Jews" (Heb., 1959).

[Renée Levine Melammed (2nd ed.)]