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Bilbeis, Egypt

BILBEIS, capital of the "Eastern Province" of Egypt (Sharqīya) during the Middle Ages. It had a well-organized Jewish community, mentioned in a letter written about 1100 by the dayyan Abraham b. Shabbetai to all Jews of the area, and also in a letter written by his son and successor Shabbetai later in the 12th century. When Ashkelon was conquered by the Crusaders in 1153, many Jews fled to Bilbeis; 15 years later Bilbeis was itself captured by the Crusaders and the Jewish community undoubtedly suffered. At the end of the 12th century Bilbeis was still considered one of the chief Jewish communities of Egypt. In a community law dated 1187, R. Judah ha-Kohen is mentioned as dayyan of Bilbeis (Maimonides, Responsa, ed. by J. Blau, 2 (1960), no. 346). Documents of the early 13th century found in the Cairo *Genizah contain his signature as head of the rabbinical court. In a letter R. *Abraham b. Moses b. Maimon asked the Bilbeis community for financial assistance for the Jews in Jerusalem. Other documents mention Jews from Jerusalem who were visiting Bilbeis. Throughout the *Fatimid and *Ayyubid caliphates the Jewish community in Bilbeis had its own customs, such as indicating the value of a bride's dowry in the ketubbah. According to a late Jewish source, the persecution of Jews in Egypt in 1301 resulted in the conversion of all the Jews in the city to Islam, and of the synagogue into a mosque. However, in the late 15th century, Meshullam da Volterra mentions 50 Jewish families in the city in 1481, while Obadiah di Bertinoro estimated them at 30 a few years later.


Mann, Egypt, 2 (1922), 25, 327, 329; R. Gottheil and W.H. Worrell, Fragments from the Cairo Genizah… (1927), 13ff., 139; S.D. Goitein, in: Eretz Israel, 4 (1956), 153ff.; Sambari, in: Neubauer, Chronicles, 1 (1887), 136; A. Yaari, Iggerot Ereẓ Yisrael (1943), 60, 124; Ashtor, Toledot, 2 (1951), 423; 3 (1970); idem, in: JJS, 18 (1967), 23–27.

[Eliyahu Ashtor]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.