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Encyclopedia Judaica:
Damietta, Egypt


Egypt: Table of Contents | Virtual Jewish World | Egypt-Israel Relations


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DAMIETTA (Ar. Dumyāt; in the Bible: Jer. 47:4 – isle of Caphtor; and Isa. 30:4 – Hanes), city in Egypt, about eight miles from the Mediterranean Sea. In medieval times, Damietta was an important commercial town, through which goods were transferred from Europe to the Orient. Hence it had a relatively important Jewish community which is mentioned frequently in Genizah documents. During the tenth century emigrants from Iraq settled there.

The 11th and 12th centuries were a period of prosperity for the community. It had a regular bet din and supported the academy of Ereẓ Israel and other causes. At the beginning of the 11th century the Palestinian gaon Josiah addressed a letter to the av bet din Amran, the dayyanim Eleazar and Amram, and the other elders of the community requesting the continued support of the Damietta community for the Palestinian academy. Nathan ben Abraham, who wished to be the Palestinian gaon, wrote a letter from Damietta before traveling to Ereẓ Israel. Many Genizah documents deal with Jewish merchants who did business with Damietta in the middle of the 11th century. A mid-12th-century document recording the sums collected in various communities for a drive sponsored by the *nagid Samuel b. Hananiah indicates that the Damietta community was of medium size. David, the son of the Palestinian gaon *Daniel ben Azariah , took control of the Damietta community in the second half of the 11th century. *Benjamin of Tudela reported in the 12th century that the city's population included 200 Jews. In the 12th century, when Damietta was a flourishing commercial town of international importance, Jews from Christian countries frequently visited the city.

The *Mamluks destroyed the city in the middle of the 13th century, and the mouth of the Nile was blocked to prevent attacks by European fleets. Despite the city's decline a small community of Jews continued to live there. Al-Sadīd al-Dumyāṭī (i.e., "of Damietta") was physician to the sultan al-Malik al-Nāṣir Muḥammad in the first half of the 14th century. Jews were living in the city in the 15th century and a flourishing community existed there in the first half of the 16th century. David *Reuveni was a guest in the home of a Damietta Jew in 1523, and *David b. Solomon ibn Abi Zimra mentions that Jews of Damietta were engaged in international trade in the 16th century. An Ottoman order from 1577 mentions a Jew named Shemuel who was head of the money house in the city and also served as a multazim (leaseholder) and the tax collector in the ports of *Alexandria and Damietta. In the 16th century only one melamed served in the community. Rabbi Ḥayyim *Capusi (d. 1631) lived for a time in Damietta. In 1670 the vice consul of Venice in Damietta was a Jew. The community continued to flourish in the 17th century. Rabbi *Ḥayyim Rofe (d. 1618) mentions a Jew who bought grain in Egypt and sent it with his servant via Damietta to Acre. Rabbi Ḥayyim Abraham de Boton from Jerusalem was in Damietta in 1676. A Jewish court of law sat in Damietta in 1676 and dealt with an agunah. The court of law was dependent on the bet din of *Cairo . This bet din in Cairo boycotted a person who served as ḥazzan, melamed, and shoḥet in Damietta. The Jews resided in a special quarter. In 1668 the members of the Hevra Kaddisha in Damietta, *Rosetta , and Cairo searched for Jewish bodies in order to bury them. Until 1769 there were Jews who served as customs officers in Damietta. In 1833, 300–400 Jews lived in the city. Jacob *Saphir reported that during the 19th century very few Jews remained in Damietta; most of them went to Alexandria, which had become a great city again. In the census of 1897 there were only nine Jews in the city; in 1907, one; and in 1936, three.


Sources:J. Saphir, Even Sappir, 1 (1866), 3, 8; Mann, Egypt, 2 (1922), index; Assaf, in: Tarbiz, 9 (1937/38), 208–9; Strauss, in: Zion, 7 (1941/42), 145ff.; Ashtor, Toledot, 1 (1944), 248–9; 2 (1951), 423; 3 (1970), index; idem, in: JJS, 19 (1968), 2ff.; Baneth, in: Sefer ha-Yovel… A. Marx (1950), 86–88; Goitein, in: Sinai, 33 (1953), 227; idem, in: Tarbiz, 24 (1954/55), 21ff., 134ff.; 25 (1955/56), 393ff; N. Golb, in: Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 24 (1965), 251–70; 33 (1974), 126; J.M. Landau, Jews in Nineteenth-Century Egypt (1969), index; S.D. Goitein, Ha-Yishuv be-Ereẓ Yisra'el mi-Reshit ha-Islam u-vi-Tekufat ha-Ẓalbanim (1980), 202, 256; idem, A Mediterranean Society, 6 vols., index; B.Z. Dinur, Yisra'el ba-Golah, 1, 279; 2, 194; 3, 76; 4, 52; J.M. Landau (ed.), Toledot ha-Yehudim be- Miẓrayimba-Tekufah ha-Ottomanit, 1517–1914 (1988), index; M. Littman, in: Mi-Mizrah u-mi-Maʿarav, 2 (1980), 53–66; M. Benayahu, in: Yad le-Heiman, Kovetz Mehkarim le-Zekher A.M. Habermann (1984), 264–65; M. Ben-Sasson, Yehudei Siẓilia, 825–1068 (1991), 381–87; E. Bareket, Shafrir Miẓrayim (1995), 18, 95.

[Eliyahu Ashtor / Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky (2nd ed.)]

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