Iraqi Jews Worldwide
The Nesi'im – Leaders of the Jewish Community in Baghdad
(Before reading, you may want to refer to Author's Notes at the bottom of the page)
(None of this text has been edited by IJW)
In the year 3327 (433 BCE) King Nebukhadnezzar of Bavel exiled King Yehoyakhin, the 2nd last King of Yehuda, son of King Yehoyaqim – the 3rd last King of Yehudah, from the seed of Duwid HaMelekh. King Yehoyakhin was casted into gaol. Nubkhadnezzar appointed Sidqiyahu, uncle of King Yehoyakhin and younger brother of King Yehoyaqim, as King over Yehudah. And he was the last King of Yehudah. In Sidqiyahu's 4th year, Nebuchadnezzar butchered all of Sidqiyahu's sons before his eyes – and then blinded him, exiled him to Bavel and caste him to gaol as well. Both Yehoyakhin and Sidqiyahu remained in gaol until the death of Nebuchadnezzar.
King Yehoyakhin remained in gaol for 37 years, until Nebuchadnezzar’s son: Ewil Moradakh took the thrown. Unlike the politics of his brutal father, he freed Yehoyakhin (and the blind Sidqiyahu) from gaol, and honoured Yehoyakhin out of respect of royalty. And so Yehoyakhin lived the rest of his life in relative honour, in Bavel. I think Sidqiyahu may have passed away shortly after being released from gaol, though I did not research this. From the day King Yehoyakhin was freed from gaol, the office of "Resh Galuta" – Head of the Jewish community of the Golah – the Exile, was initiated in Bavel. Hence, the Resh Galuta was descended from Duwid HaMelekh.
Alternative translations are: "Rosh HaGolah", "the Head of the Exile", or "Exilarch", and will be used interchangeably. Often the "Rosh HaGolah" was referred to as "The Nasi" i.e. "Head/Prince of the Community". In Modern Hebrew the word "Nasi" has been used to define the "President".
For the next 1900 years the "Rosh HaGolah" would fulfil his role to interface on behalf of the Jewish Community to the ruling monarchy. And over the following 2500 years there would be many ruling kingdoms, starting with the Babylonians, then Persians, and following through to the Buwahim, Salajukim and Abassim that ruled in Baghdad. Then the brutal Mongols. Followed by the Jal'arim, Timorland, The Turks and the Persians. Then the Ottomans. Finally the British, before Iraq received "independence" in the modern world.
The office of "Resh Galuta" effectively started from Sha'altiel son of King Yehoyakhin.
Zerubavel the son of She’altiel was next to inherit the office. However even though She'altiel is recorded in the Tanakh as being the father of Zerubavel, nonetheless our Hakhamim explain that actually he was the son of Pedayah, brother of She'altiel, but raised by She'altiel, since Pedayah expired. Either way, Zerubavel was a grandson to King Yehoyakhin. Zerubavel led a movement back to Israel together with the Cohen Yehoshua ben Yehosadaq, Ezra and other notables, to build the 2nd Beth HaMiqdash. In the mean time the office of "Resh Galuta" was passed down from father to son and in some cases to other members of the House of Duwid.
Thus, anyone that can trace themselves to descend from one of the "Resh Galuta" is a direct descendant of King Yehoyakhin, and hence a direct descendant of Shelomoh HeMelekh ben Duwid Hamelekh, alehem ha'Shalom.
Hillel HaZaqen, on his strictly paternal lineage, was a direct descendant of Duwid HaMelekh, but not from Shelomoh HaMelekh, rather from Shefatyah ben Duwid HaMelekh.
Apart the Rosh HaGolah having to manage the community affairs and interface on their behalf before the ruling monarch, he would also appoint dayanim (judges) in order to adjudicate the civil claims and needs of the community. Generally the Rosh HaGolah and his court were most reliable and just. Although there were some that were not fitting for the position. Some Rashei HaGolah were also Tana'im, Amora'im, Sevora'im and Ge'onim, depending in which period they served.
One of the notable Rashei Hagolah was Bustanai ben Hanini, that lived in Bavel some 1400 years ago. One of the known fierce arguments between a Rosh HaGolah and a Rosh Yeshiva, was that of the Rosh Golah: Duwid ben Zaccai, and the Rosh Yeshivah of Sura: Rav Sa'adyah Gaon. Due to Duwid ben Zaccai's power, Rav Sa'adyah Gaon lost out on this disagreement with consequences which led to his downfall as Rosh Yeshivah of Sura. This happened around 4700 (940 BCE).
Amongst the last known Rashei HaGolah known to us are:
1) Fakher El-Dolah Aharon ben Yosef ben Daniel from the House of Duwid, Rosh Hagolah. 5066/7 (1306/7), In Baghdad or Tabriz . The Mongols were ruling in Baghdad.
2) The Nasi: Sar Shalom Pinhas, around 5070 ( 1310) who came from Misrayim to Baghdad, and appointed Nasi. Then the Mongols were ruling in Baghdad.
3) Azaryahu HaNasi, around 5100 (1340), Baghdad - and his partial lineage is quoted as:
"Azaryahu the Nasi son of
our Master Yehallel HaNasi son of
our Master Azaryahu Nasi HaGolah son of
our Master, our Nasi, our King Duwid – the Great Nasi, head of the Exile of All Israel."
4) The Nasi Duwid ben Hodayah, 5136 (1376).
In the year 5153 (1393) the tyrant Timor-Lang captured Baghdad from the Sultan Ahmad. Timor-Lang was a descendant of Genghis Khan ... He destroyed much of Baghdad, slaughtered many of its inhabitants and looted all their assets. ... Many of the inhabitants, and amongst them many Jews, ran away to Kurdistan, Syria and other places and remained there many years. ... Thus probably there were no Jews in Baghdad for a period of about 100 years." [5153 (1393) to 5252 (1492)].
In this 100 year period, the office of "Resh Galuta", also came to end.
Perhaps later, G-d willing, I'll elaborate on some of the Rashei Hagolah.
The Nesi'im in Baghdad:
In the 55th century (from creation of the the world/man i.e. the 17th century BCE), the task of the Resh Galuta was to be replaced by the "Nasi". The Nasi held similar duties to the Resh Galuta. This term "Nasi" is not an alternative for "Resh Galuta" that ended some 250 years earlier, as the Nes'im were not necessarily from the House of Duwid. Although there is speculation that whoever was a Nasi in this period was from the House of Duwid, this is not confirmed. Specifically it is the Gubbay family that holds this tradition. Nonetheless, this is what Dr. Avraham Ben-Yaaqov writes:
" ... The custom in Baghdad was that the Fahah – the Moslem mayor and ruler of the city, would choose a rich and honourable Jew and appoint him to be the Nasi. This appointed Nasi had all the power and privileges that the Rashei HaGola had in the prior periods. This custom was still found in the 17th century. In the beginning the Nasi (i.e. Resh Galuta) would be from the House of Duwid, where this office was passed down from father to son. The Nasi would ride on a horse in the streets of the city and the people would hail: "People, give honour to the son of Duwid", and they would hail him "King of Israel". In the beginning of the 18th century this custom was abandoned, and the Fahah would appoint Nesi'im that were not necessarily from the House of Duwid, rather from the rich and honourable of the people.
... The last Resh Hagolah known to us that lived in Baghdad in the 14th century [i.e. . Duwid ben Hodayah] was given the title "Nasi Hagolah" and not "Rosh Hagolah". Even:
**If**, according to the traveller, Duwid of the House of Hillel 5587 (1827), that also in the 17th century we find in Baghdad Nesi'im from the House of Duwid,
**then** one can assume that also in the 15th and 16th centuries the position of appointed Nasi from the House of Duwid wasn't entirely terminated during this 200 year period – otherwise it would be difficult to find people with this preserved lineage over such an extended period who are from the House of Duwid. If this assumption is indeed correct – then we have a continuous office of the Resh Galuta in Bavel, in particular Baghdad, up till the 17th century.
The Nesi'im were middlemen between the Jewish Community and the various monarchies. The Nasi of Baghdad was also called "The Nasi of the State", thought of as the head of all the communities i.e. Baghdad and the surrounding or subservient cities in Bavel/Iraq, and he had great influence over the various monarchies. The Nasi had power to give fines as well as lashings, called the "bust", even if it was against the law (of the current monarchy). The Nasi of Baghdad also influenced Jewish congregations outside of Bavel (Iraq), namely the communities of Parass (Iran), Teman (Yemen) and other places. He would usually pray in the Beth Keneseth HaGadol we'ha'Atiq (The Great and Old Synagogue) of Baghdad, and for this reason, this synagogue was also coined "The Great Synagogue of the Nasi".
In addition to Baghdad, Nesi'im were also appointed in Basra, Hilah, Ana (this is where the Yeshivah Academy of Neharde'a of old was) , Selimanyah, Has'kha and other places in Bavel/Iraq.
The office of "Nasi" in Bavel came to an end in 5609 (1849), in which this position was replaced by the "Hakham Bashi". Note there were Hakhmei Bashi in other localities of the Ottoman Empire prior to 5609. ..."
Sometimes the "Nasi" of this period was also called "Saraf Bashi" and "Sheikh", although "Sheikh" was more a title for "Tycoon", and Saraf-bashi may have been a separate duty, although usually the Nasi held this position as well. With the exception of the Gubbay family, it is doubtful if these are from the House of Duwid; and the Gubbay family is also speculation. These are the Nesi'im that officiated in Baghdad that are known to us, from the 18th century onwards:
1) Moshe ben Rav Mordechai (Shindukh) ben Avraham ben Sasson ben Avraham ben Sasson. Possibly inherited this position (as opposed to being appointed by the Fahah), from his brother Yahiya bar Mordechai Shindukh. He served his people with faith and devotion and encouraged the learning of Torah. He was also known outside of Bavel. Just after the plague of 5503 (1743) he wrote to Hakham Shemuel Leniado, Rosh Yeshivah of Halab (Aleppo) to send a Rav over to Baghdad, as most of Baghdad's Hakhamim perished in this plague. And thus he sent over Hakham Sadqah Hussen, who was appointed the Rav of Baghdad by the Nasi Moshe. That year, some people slandered on the Nasi Moshe Mordechai Shindukh before the Fahah Ahmad-Pasha and he decreed upon the Nassi Moshe the death penalty. Baghdad's Jewry bribed Ahmad Pashah a sum of 200 "kissim" and pleaded for clemency. The Fahah demanded the Nasi to pay an additional fee of 700 "suk" in order to renounce his death penalty, and return to his position of Nasi. Later that year, at the command of the Fahah Ahmad-Pashah, the Nasi Moshe was asked to visit Hilah in order to buy food for Baghdad. He stayed there about a month. The Nasi passed away in 5504 (1744). Apart from descending from a lineage of Hakhamim, the Nassi Moshe was also the forefather of many Hakhamim including his grandson the great Hakham Sasson Mordechai Moshe Shindukh author of many sefarim including "Kol Sasson".
2) Yehazqel ben Rav Mordechai Shindukh. 5704 (1744). Brother of the Nasi Moshe and Yahiya. He succeeded office after his brother expired, and only officiated a few months.
3) Yosef Gahtan. 5704 (1744). A righteous and straight Nasi. Officiated only a short period.
4) Duwid ben Mordechai Cohen. 5704/5 (1744/5). Officiated only a few months. His son Mordechai married Serah daughter of Michael ben Duwid ben Yehoshua Gubbay on 5th Tamuz 5541 (1781). Michael was brother of the Nasi Yiss'haq Gubbay. See below.
5) Yisshaq ben Duwid Yehoshua Gubbay. 5505-5533 (1745-1772). Was appointed as Nasi and was also coined "Sheikh Yiss'haq Fahah" as he was a fierce ruler like the Fahah but for the benefit of the Jewish population. He was in power together with Hakham Sadqah Hussen, and severely punished anyone that did not heed to the statutes of the Jewish community. He was also very handsome: his height was that of a date palm and his eyes that of a deer. He, together with other notables of the city – including 3 of Hakham Sadqah Hussen's sons, perished in the plague of 5533 (1772). His son: Mordechai was a righteous, kind and generous man, as evident from a song written in 5539 (1779) in his honour by the Baghdadi poet, Rav Nissim son of Rav Salah Mussliah. A broader family tree of the Gubbay family, I hope to write later, G-d willing.
6) Abdullah . 5533-5541 (1772-1781). He was Saraf-Bashi in Baghdad during the rule of the Fahah: Suliman-Pashah in 5540 (1780).
7) Sasson son of Salah Duwid Yaaqov Salah Duwid Gubbay. 5541-5577 (1781-1817). He lived, fought and served as Nasi during the period of a few Fahoth: some of these being Mustafa-Pasha, Abdullah-Pasha, Suliman-Pasha, ..., Saeed-Pasha, the last and worst of all the Fahoth being the notorious Fahah Daoud-Pasha. Sheikh Sasson was born in 5510 (1750) and from a noble lineage. Also distant relative of Sheikh Yiss'haq ben Duwid Yehoshua Gubbay. Probably the earliest known "Duwid" of Sheikh Sasson's lineage was also the grandfather of Yehoshua ("Shua") Gubbay, grandfather of Sheikh Yiss'haq. Sheikh Sasson was brave, rich and generous, giving much charity. He married Amam daughter of Avraham Gubbay, brother of the past Nasi Yiss'haq Gubbay. They had 7 children: Reuben, Duwid, Binyamin, Salah, Shimon, Yosef and Farhah. After escaping with one if his sons Duwid, he passed away in Bushire, Parass (Iran) in 5581 (1821). Duwid continued on to Bombay. Sheikh Sasson is also known by his nickname "Abu Ruben" , as was the Baghdadi custom to entitle a man according to his firstborn son and sometimes daughter: "Abu"/"father of". Nonetheless, it his sons and descendants that dropped the "Gubbay" family name, and they adopted his name of "Sasson" (Sassoon) as the family name, that would sooner and later be known by all the eyes and ears of the People of Israel, Sephardim and Ashkenazi alike, as well as gentiles, unto this day. G-d willing I will write more about Sheikh Sasson and his trials and tribulations and his family, later.
8) Ezra ben Yosef Nissim Menahem Gubbay. 5577-5584 (1817-1824). Also distant relative of Sheikh Yisshaq Gubbay and Sheikh Sasson Gubbay from a different branch. Probably Duwid Gubbay, the father of Menahem, was another great grandson of the original Duwid Gubbay that appears in Sheikh Sasson's lineage. Though distant relatives – Ezra was a rival of Sheikh Sasson and, together with his rich and generous older brother Yehazqel, and with the use of espionage, ousted Sheikh Sasson from the office of Nasi. G-d willing, will go into this story later. It is not one of the stories of Iraqi Jewry that we can be proud of! Just to keep you in suspense I won't state what Yehazqel and Ezra Gubbay's final fate!
9) Yiss'haq Garah. Appointed as Nasi and Saraf-Bashi in 5590 (1830) [Don't know who was appointed between 5584 and 5590]. His father was in Kushta (Istanbul). In the beginning he had influence over Daoud Pasha, but in the end he was killed by the government. He was beaten by his rival "Muhammad the Informer" until his soul left his body.
10) Shaul Yosef Laniado. Around 5591 (1831). Accepted the chair of Nasi after the death of Yiss'haq Garah, and served a short time. The missionary Yosef Wolf who arrived in Baghdad on Nissan 5584 (9th/4/1824) met with him as well as Hakham Moshe Hayim (grandfather of Ben-Ish-hi) and praised him. He forfeited the position of Nasi after fear of being slandered and passed away in 5606 (1846).
11) Abraham Turkey was Nasi and Saraf-Bashi in 5592 (1832). He ruled in the days of the Wali Ali-Pasha, who was a righteous ruler. [I think Dr. Avraham Ben-Yaaqov was referring to the Wali Ali that was the "righteous ruler" here].
12) Mordechai Shasha. Served as Nasi after Abraham Turkey , and was Saraf-Bashi to Ali-Pasha.
13) Rav Yosef ben Rav Moshe ben Duwid ben Binyamin, who was nicknamed "Abu Farhah". He also suffered from the notorious decrees of the wicked Daoud-Pasha and was imprisoned for some time by his hand. He was the last Nasi of Baghdad before this post was adopted by the "Hakham Bashi" in 5609 (1849). Rav Yosef was a "wise, rich and generous man", and he was attributed as "the awesome, righteous, famous Prince (Nasi) of Israel, who he followed G-d's righteous ways and his Justice with Israel." Many shelihim (sedaqah collectors for poor people, etc ...) from Eress Israel would refuge in his house. Amongst these was Rav Sheneur Zalman ben Rav Menahem Mendel from Yerushalayim and Hevron, who resided in his house twice in 5604 (1844) and once in 5611 (1851). Rav Yosef's son, Shaul, was also known for his righteousness, just like his father.
A few weeks ago, 3 members of the Gubbay family: a personal friend of mine – a descendant of Nissim Duwid Menahem (Duwid) Gubbay, Eli Gubbay - one of the descendants of Yehazqel ben Yosef Nissim Menahem (Duwid) Gubbay and one of the descendant s of Sheikh Yiss'haq Gubbay, and another person and myself, had a short get together to discuss the Gubbay family. According to Eli Gubbay, the name "Gubbay" was adopted by the earliest known Gubbay namely Duwid (ben Yiss'haq) Gubbay, as he was a Nasi and since part of his job was tax collecting for the "mass ha'gulgoleth", i.e. "the head/personal tax", he was coined "Gubbay". Usually the "gubbay" is someone that manages the financial affairs of a synagogue. In this case the Nasi Duwid was managing the financial affairs of his community.
According to my calculation, and based on the birth year of Sheikh Sassson in 5510 (1750), the original Duwid Gubbay may have been born around 5385 (1625). Assuming he was a Nasi by virtue of his adopted family name of "Gubbay" – according to how Eli Gubbay related to us, and let us say he accepted this position by the age of 35 – this would be the year 5420 (1660) – the middle of the 17th century. **If** Dr. Avraham Ben-Yaaqov's assumption is correct , as stated above i.e. that there was a continuous run of Nesi'im from the House of Duwid in the 15th and 16th centuries, running into the 17th century – **then**, indeed, it may well be that there claim of lineage to King Duwid has great credibility. I state this without bringing the complicated subject of DNA testing into the picture.
If indeed the Gubbay family are scions of Duwid, it may be that the more prestigious name of "Nasi" wasn't adopted by their head, as a family name, in order to avoid the public eye of the Ottoman Empire - in the same or similar way that Rav Mordechai Dayan of Halab (Aleppo), a definitely known scion of the House of Duwid, also dropped the family name of "Nasi" about 100 years prior, and settled for the relatively less prestigious title and family name "Dayan" since they were also Dayanim (Judges). At the time, between 5420 and 5450 (1660 and 1700) the incident of the false Mashiah, Shabtai Sevi, occurred where the Ottomans, generally liberal to the Jewish people, didn't want any "Mashiah"s running around that may cause a rebellion to their empire. Thus they offered Shabtai the choice of death or conversion to Islam. He chose conversion to Islam. Thus in that period and in light of the Shabtai Sevi incident, if one was a scion of Duwid HaMelekh, one would have preferred to remain as inconspicuous as possible before the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. And hence similar to the "Dayan" family of Halab, "Gubbay" was chosen for a family name in lieu of the more hierarchical "Nasi". All this is just my opinion – though this is just my guess. Admittedly, another reason why the Dayan Mordechai HaNasi dropped the name "Nasi" and adopted "Dayan" was only to give honour to his granduncle who was older than his grandfather, and thus his descendants inherited the office of Nasi, in Halab, as the first preference. Though it remains unexplained as to why it took the Dayan Mordechai to make this decision and not his father.
In addition to the Nesi'im of Baghdad, there were Nesi'im of other cities. One well known Nasi was Hakham Matuq of Ana. According to family tradition, they descend from the tribe of Binyamin. He had to contend with wicked rulers of the city until one day, in the last quarter of the 17th century he was forced to take his family and escape to Baghdad. His immediate descendants adopted his name as the family name: the "Matuq Family". One of his descendants was called Yehudah, and Yehudah's descendants dropped the name "Matuq" and adopted "Yehudah" as the family name. Off hand, another branch of the family adopted "Battat" as the family name – although I can't seem to find the references for this from where I think I originally saw this, so I may be mistaken. G-d willing I'll write the full story of Rav Matuk and his escape from Ana later on.
Much of the content I have directly translated, quoted or referenced from the book "The Jews of Bavel (ie. Iraqi Jewry) from the Period of the Geonim until Today" by the late Dr. Avraham Ben-Yaaqov (Hebrew.) Those intellectuals who are interested, who can read Hebrew, and have access to this rare book, can simply refer to it directly.
References from Other Books:
"Idan Hatalmud" by Rav Gershom Harpaness, and
"Seder HaDoroth" by Rav Shelomoh Benizri.
This article was partially edited by Mark Shemel, Iraqi Jews Worldwide.