Mahalla Al-Kubra

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MAHALLA AL-KUBRA , town in Lower Egypt, halfway between *Alexandria and *Damietta. There was a flourishing Jewish community in Mahalla al-Kubra under the *Fatimids. Yosef ha-Yerushalmi, who stayed in Mahalla al-Kubra for a short time, sent a letter to this community at the end of the 11th century. The community in Mahalla al-Kubra is noted in the Ebiatar Gaon scroll from the second half of the 11th century. *Benjamin of Tudela, the 12th-century traveler, relates that he found 500 Jews living there (E.N. Adler (ed.), Jewish Travellers (1930), 74). According to a list of contributions to ransom Jewish prisoners, the sum donated by the Mahalla community in the middle of the 12th century was the largest of the Delta communities (Mann, Egypt, 2 (1922), 290). Many documents written in Mahalla during the 12th and early 13th centuries have been found in the Cairo *Genizah. The Jews of Mahalla were engaged in handicrafts and commerce, such as the silk trade. According to a marriage takkanah, in 1187, R. Perahyah b. Joseph was dayyan in Mahalla. The community developed after the great fire in Fustat in 1168. Rabbi Ḥayim ben Hananel ben Abraham al-Amshafti settled there after the fire. He was a famous physician and served also in the Fatimid court. Joseph *Sambari, the 17th-century Egyptian chronicler, mentions the Sefer Torah in the synagogue of Mahalla, which was read only on the New Moon and on which people took the oath (Neubauer, Chronicles, 1 (1887), 119). A document from the year 1726 reports that the local Jews were ruled by the Jewish leaders of the Cairo community. A document from 1772 notes the gabbai of the synagogue was the leader of the community. The shoḥet Isaac ben Solomon Cohen Yadi'a Karmon was also a melammed, sofer, and cantor. In 1729 the leader of the community was the Spanish Rabbi Abraham Zadik. In this century the Spanish congregation was wealthier than the Must'arab congregation. Abraham Zadik was a merchant. He obtained a ruling from the Muslim court of law allowing for the restoration of the synagogue in Mahalla. In the 19th century the community sent part of its income to the community of Cairo. In 1896 the community paid money to the representative of the Vizier Ahmad, according to local tradition to pay for the use of their synagogue. According to popular tradition, the tomb of R. Ḥayyim ibn al-Amshatī is situated under the synagogue and pilgrimages (Arabic ziyāra) were held there every year on the first day of Iyyar. According to Jacob *Saphir (Even Sappir, 1 (1866), 21b), in the middle of the 19th century there were 20 Jewish families in the town. As was the case with other Egyptian Jewish communities, Mahalla's Jewish population increased considerably at the end of the 19th century, and by 1897 there were 200 Jews there. When the Zionist movement spread in the beginning of the 20th century, the Jews of Mahalla established a Zionist association. In 1901 the rabbis of Cairo declared their new kiddushin regulation in Mahalla al-Kubra. The Jewish population fell to 91 by 1927, and further declined to ten families by 1937. In 1932 Israel Ben-Ze'ev visited the place and found there an old cemetery from the time of Maimonides. For many generations this cemetery was the cemetery of the Delta Jews. In the Jewish ghetto he found a few old buildings and a synagogue. In the beginning of the 20th century the ghetto was closed at night.


J. Blau (ed.), Teshuvot ha-Rambam, 1 (1957), 177–8, no. 105; 2 (1960), 624–5 no. 348; Mann, Egypt, index; Worman, in: jqr, 18 (1905/06), 10; Assaf, in: Sefer Klausner (1937), 232–4; idem, in: Tarbiz, (1937/38), 34; idem, in: Melilah, 3–4 (1950), 224–9; Ashtor, in: JJS, 18 (1967) pp. 38ff.; Ashtor, Toledot, 1 (1944), 251; 2 (1951), index; 3 (1970), index; Goitein, in: Tarbiz, 20 (1948/49), 201–2; 32 (1962/63) 192–4. add. bibliography: I. Ben-Ze'ev, in: Sefunot, 9 (1965), 266–70; J.M. Landau, Jews in Nineteenth-Century Egypt (1969), 42–45, 179; N. Golb, in: Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 33 (1974), 132; S.D. Goitein, Ha-Yishuv be-Ereẓ Yisrael be-Reshit ha-Islam … (1980), 51, 84, 316–18, 340, 342; A. David, in: J.M. Landau (ed.), Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Miẓrayim ba-Tekufah ha-Otmanit (1988), 19–21; L. Bornstein-Makovetsky, in: J M. Landau (ed.), ibid., 143.

[Eliyahu Ashtor /

Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky (2nd ed.)]