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Wuhsha Al-Dallala

WUHSHA AL-DALLALA

WUHSHA AL-DALLALA , 11th century *Cairo business-woman or banker. Born in *Alexandria as Karima, the daughter of a banker named Ammar, she became known as Wuhsha (the desirable one or the one pined for) al-dallala (the broker). After moving to Fustat, she married Aryeh of Sicily and gave birth to a daughter whose name does not appear in her will, but rather in later documents; the couple subsequently divorced. Her name is mentioned in many *Genizah documents, either because of her extensive business transactions, including loans, or because her descendants were identified by their connection to her.

*Goitein first discovered Wuhsha's existence from a document dated 1098 in which she expressed annoyance at receiving a court summons based on a business associate's minor claim. Unlike most of the more secluded women in the Jewish community, no introduction was deemed necessary when she appeared in court. One of the most impressive documents extant is her will, written in Arabic at the turn of the century. In it, she provided for ornate funeral arrangements and left considerable sums of money to her surviving brother and to one of her two sisters; the largest bequest was to her son, as well as funds to provide him with a private tutor. Generous donations were left for all four Cairo synagogues, for the needy, and for the cemetery.

Wuhsha never re-married but rather took a lover from Ashkelon with whom she shared an apartment. When she became pregnant, Wuhsha feared social ostracism of her son (which would prevent a desirable marriage) and arranged a surprise visit to her chambers by male witnesses so as to record a deposition confirming that Hassun was the father of her child. Apparently Wuhsha chose not to marry her companion in order to deny him access to her wealth. In her will Wuhsha canceled a considerable debt Hassun owed her but made clear that he was not to receive a penny from her estate.

Wuhsha's deviation from social norms did not pass unnoticed; on one Yom Kippur the president of the Iraqi synagogue expelled her from the congregation. Her later bequest to this very synagogue could be interpreted as acceptance of her fate or, alternatively, as a way for her to have the last word, knowing that her money would not be refused. Wuhsha was an independent and determined woman whose life decisions were not always popular. She clearly left a distinct impression on her peers and on their descendants.

bibliography:

S.D. Goitein, "A Jewish Business Woman of the Eleventh Century," in: Jewish Quarterly Review (Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Volume), (1967), 225–42; idem, A Mediterranean Society, 3 (1978; rep. 1988), 346–52.

[Renée Levine Melammed (2nd ed.)]

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