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ZIRIDS (Ar. Banu Ziri ), *Berber dynasty which ruled Ifriqiya (Northeastern Africa, mainly *Tunisia of today) from the late tenth century until approximately 1167. A branch of this family extended Berber rule into *Spain in the 11th century and established its capital at Granada. Under Zirid domination in Northeastern Africa there emerged a vital center of Jewish intellectual life. This became feasible owing to the dynasty's tolerant disposition toward the Jews who generally populated the city of *Kairouan and the commercial ports of Mahdiya and Gabès (today part of southern Tunisia). Kairouan was the residence of the central Jewish leadership and its president, the *nagid. Perhaps the most illustrious nagid in the Zirid era was Ibrahim b. 'Ata, who was court physician to the governors Badis and Mu'izz. He had the title of negid ha-Golah bestowed upon him in recognition of his outstanding services both to his local community and to the *Pumbedita Academy.

After the Zirids extended their authority to Spain, the Jews of Granada were able to promote cultural and political activity with no particular curbs on communal freedom exercised by the Zirids. This was especially true once the latter appointed *Samuel ha-Nagid and his son, Joseph, as governmental ministers (viziers). One of the reasons the Jews were properly treated may be attributed to their contribution to the dynasty's financial stability. Following the murder of Joseph ha-Nagid in 1066, Jewish influence declined. The *Almoravids replaced the Zirids as a dominant ruling Berber dynasty in North Africa. Though the Almoravids proved tolerant vis-à-vis their Jewish subjects, this attitude hardly measured up to the golden age enjoyed by the Jews until the mid-12th century.


S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, vol. 2: The Community (1967–71); H.Z. Hirschberg, A History of the Jews in North Africa, vol. 1 (1974); N.A. Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book (1979).

[Michael M. Laskier (2nd ed.)]

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