Jews in Cairo 01: Muslim period 641-1250
Tolerance - "Christian" crusaders - Cairo burnt and reconstructed
from: Cairo; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 5
presented by Michael Palomino (2008)
<CAIRO, capital of *Egypt.
The presence of Jews in Cairo can be traced to a very early date. Fostat (old Cairo) was founded in 641 by the Arab conqueror of Egypt, 'Amr ibn al-'As, near the Byzantine fortress "Babylon". It is almost certain that Jews settled there shortly afterward, or possibly even at the time of its foundation. The town was inhabited by native Egyptian Christians and Yemenite Arabs who had come with the conquering army.
It became the capital of the Muslim rulers of Egypt and rapidly developed into a large city and flourishing economic center, which attracted many immigrants. At first, the Jewish quarter and the oldest synagogues were situated in the ancient Byzantine stronghold. A Christian source indicates that in 882, during the reign of King Ahmad ibn Tulun, the Coptic patriarch was forced to sell a church in Fostat to the Jews and that it then became a synagogue.
During the 10th century many immigrants arrived from Mesopotamia. This resulted in the formation of two Jewish communities, the Mesopotamian (col. 25)
and the Palestinian (al-Shamiyyun), in Fostat. Each community had its own synagogues and received guidance from the leaders of the yeshivot [[Religious Talmudic schools]] in Mesopotamia and Palestine. It is thought that the synagogue of the Palestinian community was the former church acquired in 882. It was later known as the Synagogue of Elijah the Prophet and it was there that the famous *Genizah was discovered. the synagogue of the Mesopotamian community was in the same area, as was the synagogue of the Karaites, who had a large community in Fostat by the tenth century.
After the conquest of Egypt by the Fatimid army, the newer town of Cairo was founded north of Fostat. The The Jews immediately settled there and built their synagogues. It seems that at first the Jews dwelt in two quarters: al-Jawdariyya in th southern part of the town, south of as-Sikka al-Jadida Street; and in Zuwayla north of al-Jadida and between it and Khurunfush Street. The Jews were removed from the al-Jawdariyya quarter by the caliph al-Hakim at the beginning of the eleventh century, and after that they were concentrated in the area north of it, which became known as the Jewish Quarter.
The Karaites settled in the eastern section of the quarter, where they remained until modern times. At the end of the tenth century the community of Cairo became the religious and cultural center of all the communities in Egypt.
*Shemariah b. Elhanan, a pupil of R. *Sherira Gaon, founded a yeshivah, which continued to exist after his death in 1011.
The rabbis of Cairo in the first half of the 11th century were distinguished scholars. In the Palestinian community they bore the title haver, and in the Babylonian one, alluf. The Palestinian rabbi *Ephraim b. Shemariah and the Babylonian rabbi *Sahalan b. Abraham both wrote religious poetry. They were in close contact with the leaders of the yeshivot in Palestine and Babylon.
*Mazli'ah b. Solomon ha-Kohen, a member of the Palestinian family which directed the yeshivah in Palestine, arrived in Cairo during the first half of the 12th century. He founded a yeshivah which (col. 26)
continued to exist until the end of the century (see Mann, Texts, 1 (1931), 225ff.). During the second half of the century, the yeshivah was headed by *Nethanel b. Moses ha-Levi and later by his brother Sar Shalom ha-Levi.
Maps of the Jewish quarter in Cairo (Fostat)
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Cairo, vol.5, col.26, map with the indication of the Jewish quarter, Greek quarter and Turkish quarter during Fatimid period. After E. Ashtor: Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Mizrayim ve-Suryah.
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Cairo, vol.5, col.27, detailed map of the Jewish quarter. After E. Ashtor: Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Mizrayim ve-Suryah.
[Numbers of Jews]
The 12th-century traveler Benjamin of Tudela relates that when he visited Cairo there were 7,000 Jews there, but this figure seems to be an exaggeration as there were probably not more than 1,500 Jews in Cairo (see E. Ashtor's notes in JQR, 50 (1959/60), 57ff.).
[Crusaders: Cairo burnt down as self-defense - reconstruction - many Jews leave]
The second half of the 12th century marked the decline of Fostat. In 1168 the Egyptians set the town on fire to prevent its seizure by the Crusaders; after its destruction it was not restored to its former state. While some Jews remained in Fostat, many of them left for the new Cairo.
It seems that Maimonides lived in Fostat. Apparently his son Abraham and his grandson David still lived in Fostat but the late negidim all lived in New Cairo. It would seem though that Fostat declined only slowly.> (col. 27)
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Cairo, vol.5, col.25-26
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Cairo, vol.5, col.27-28