Ḥushi'el ben Elhanan

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ḤUSHI'EL BEN ELHANAN (end of 10th and beginning of 11th centuries), talmudist and founder of talmudic studies in N. Africa. Ḥushi'el was a contemporary of Sherira Gaon and the father of *Hananel b. Ḥushi'el. He headed the academy of *Kairouan, and under him it developed into a center of Torah study in North Africa which continued for generations. Information about his life is scanty and obscure. It is known that he was not a native of Kairouan, but opinions are divided as to his country of origin – Babylonia, Italy, and Spain have been suggested – and as to his reasons for settling there. The view most widely held is that he went from Sicily or southern Italy (Bari), arrived in Kairouan between 960 and 990, and died about 1027. Ḥushi'el was one of "The Four *Captives," the narrative of which is given in the Seder ha-Kabbalah of Abraham *Ibn Daud. In the *Genizah, however, a letter was discovered dating from the end of the 10th century; in it a scholar named Ḥushi'el writes to *Shemariah b. Elhanan, also mentioned as one of "The Four Captives," that on his way to meet him he was held up in Kairouan where he was awaiting the arrival of his son Elhanan. This letter apparently completely undermines the historical veracity of the report of Ibn Daud, and also raises the question as to whether the name of his son was Elhanan or Hananel. It may be that there were two brothers, or that the Ḥushi'el of the Genizah letter is not identical with Ḥushi'el b. Elhanan.

In his yeshivah Ḥushi'el developed new methods of study, bringing from Italy the study of the Jerusalem Talmud and stressing the importance of this Talmud and of the halakhic Midrashim as a source for establishing the halakhah – even when it conflicts with the Babylonian Talmud. This trend is conspicuous in the teaching of his son Hananel, who is the first to cite the Jerusalem Talmud frequently. Such a departure could be regarded as "a proclamation of independence, and a severance of the dependence upon the academies of Babylon." Of the actual teachings of Ḥushi'el only little is known from various citations scattered in different sources, chiefly in the works of *Nissim Gaon. Ḥushi'el was admired by the geonim of Babylon, who called him "a man great in wisdom, a mount of Torah," and "our lord, the holy teacher, R. Ḥushi'el, first among the rabbis." On his death he was eulogized by *Samuel ha-Nagid, who sent Ḥushi'el's son Hananel a letter of consolation and an elegy written in Aramaic and also gave instructions that memorial services be held in his honor.


A. Berliner, in: Migdal Chananel (1876), 5–7 (Ger.); S. Schechter, in: jqr, 11 (1899), 643–50; Weiss, Dor, 4 (19044), 235f.; Halevy, Dorot, 3 (1923), 283–304; S. Poznański, in: Festschrift… A. Harkavy (1908), 186f., 192–4 (Heb. pt.); S. Eppenstein, Beitraege zur Geschichte und Literatur im geonaeischen Zeitalter (1913), 174–95; J. Mann, in: jqr, 9 (1918/19), 160–79; V. Aptowitzer, in: Zum vierzigjaehrigen Bestehen der Israelitisch-Theologischen Lehranstalt in Wien (Jahresbericht 3739) (1933), 3f., 7–13; idem, in: Sinai, 12 (1943), 107–9; Cohen, in: paajr, 29 (1960/61), 70–72, 113, 130; M. Mar galioth, Hilkhot ha-Nagid (1962), 61f.; Hirschberg, Afrikah, index; Abramson, Merkazim, index.

[Yehoshua Horowitz]