Arthur Menton’s “The Book of Destiny, Toledot Charlap”
The Royal House of Israel
The significance of our breakthrough began to sink in. Charlap was the ancestral honorary title of our family. Ser and Kiejsmacher were arbitrary names assigned near the beginning of the nineteenth century. More authentically, the assumed surname should have been Charlap. In addition, all the other families we have discussed could be traced to Charlap roots or were intermarried with Charlaps.
My research was now expanded to include all the descendants of Abraham Charlap. Before long I had doubled the size of the family tree. In my interviews with Charlap relatives one recurrent theme surfaced; the Charlaps were descended from King David. Relatives who belonged on totally different branches of the family tree and who had never had connections with one another presented documents claiming Davidic ancestry. I recognized that a whole new area of research was to be opened.
Typical of the family documents was a handwritten parchment from the early twentieth century – a family pedigree handed from a father to his sons.
William Charlop wrote the reverse side of this paper during the week of his marriage which took place seventeen days in Tavis [Tevet] in the year 1867. The reverse is a statement in Hebrew and a copy of the original statement now in possession of a cousin to the above, known as Friam [Ephraim] Hersch Charlop, whose present residence is at Sarnack, of Siedletz government [Siedlce Guberniya], Poland, Russia. This Hebrew statement gives the names of each successive father beginning with William Charlop’s grandfather, known as Leyzor Hersch Charlop, and going back to King David, there being 128 fathers from King David to William’s grandfather, William being the 130th father, the last named.
William Charlop’s document then traces the patrilineal line back to David. He had mentioned cousin Ephraim Hersch who was in possession of the original document. We will meet Ephraim Zvi Hersch later in this work. He was a renowned Zionist who died in the month of Tevet 1949. Shortly thereafter, a newspaper account extolled his life and added:
Rabbi Ephraim Charlap was one of the representatives of the limited number of families who have the right to claim that they are descendants of the Exilarchs (Roshei Hagolah), the princely Jewish families of Babylonia: that means they are the offspring of King David. In the Jewish world are counted – or more correctly, were counted, a couple of generations ago a variety of families, Sephardic as well as Ashkenazic, who traced their origin, directly or indirectly, to King David, but most of these could not produce solid proof of their claims. Everyone knows how wide spread and deep rooted among religious Jews is the belief that final and complete redemption of our people must come through a Messiah who will be descended from King David – as the Prophets have foretold many times. However, modern Judaism has a skeptical attitude to the possibility that there should exist to this day genuine grandchildren of the great King of Israel. I, personally, devoted some of my research to solve this problem and . . . I reached the following results regarding this question: Among the numerous families who held on to the tradition that they originate from the House of David, I know of three, whose claims rest upon a, more or less, solid historical foundation. They are:
1. The Dayan family in Aleppo of which I met two brothers (Sephardim) in New York. I possess the genealogical scroll of their family, the contents of which appeared in print hundreds of years ago. During my visit to their city in Syria, I convinced myself that the patriarch of the family, a scholarly Jew, still benefitted from the honors and privileges in the old community that once were bestowed on the Roshei Hagolah, the Exilarchs, whose grandchildren settled during the Middle Ages in Aleppo. But Moslem fanaticism prohibited their continuing in the role of Roshei Hagolah, that is, to appear publicly as Jewish princes and revered noblemen. 2. The second family – Sephardic – is the Aldaudi (“the David family” in Arabic), who are descended from the children of the last, murdered, Rosh Hagolah(Exilarch) Chiskiah of Baghdad, whose children, in the generation of Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, fled to safety in Spain. Rabbi Abraham ben David, the chronicler of the twelfth century, mentions the fact in his work Sefer Hakabbalah. As it seems, several other families later branched out from them, such as the Don Yahyas, the Abarbanels, who also never ceased to trace their origin to King David. Those related to the Aldaudi we find, after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, in Morocco. At the beginning of the nineteenth century they settled in Safed. The latest known Aldaudi bore, until this century, the title of Haham Bashi (Chief Rabbi) of Acco (Acre). His grandson, an enlightened maskil, lives with his children in Haifa. He translated Abraham Mapu’s romance Ahavath Zion (Love of Zion) from Hebrew into Arabic.
3. As to the Don Yahya family – from which, as I will prove, branched out the Charlap family – we possess through its importance in history, its religious and literary activities in various countries (such as Italy and Turkey) many reports until the latest generations – chiefly through the works written by its members. A branch of the tree settled many generations ago in White Russia and we find until this very day Don Yahyas who figure as rabbis, authors, scholars, from Eretz Yisrael to Oxford. Now we can endeavor to investigate how one branch of the Don Yahyas appear in our tradition under the name of Charlap, the family whose representative was Rabbi Ephraim. The members of the family itself argue that CHRL”P is an abbreviated name that stands for Chiya Rosh Golei Polin (Chiya, Head of the Exiles in Poland). Now let us see how well founded are the claims of the members of the Charlap family that they originate from King David. In Eretz Yisrael there are two branches of the Charlap family. Both have a tradition that they are the offspring of the once great Chiya, a descendant of King David, and they endeavor to prove it by means of a long genealogical scroll that they still possess. This document was published in our generations in various books, such as in the collective volume Knesset Hagedolah (Warsaw: 1889) and in the treatiseMigdanot Eliezer (Eliezer’s Gifts) (Warsaw: 1894). Later, it also appeared in the Sefer Hayovel, the Jubilee Volume of Rishon Lezion. I must, however, draw attention of the reader to the fact that the family Charlap that now lives in Jerusalem and numbers among its members well known rabbis and authors (also Rabbi Chaim Zevulun of Rishon Lezion belongs to this branch), traces its lineage four generations ago to a certain woman Chaya who figures in her genealogical scroll as the sister of one Rabbi Ze’ev: from him onwards and backwards to King David, the text of the genealogical scroll is the same among the two branches. It appears that only the second branch with the above mentioned Rabbi Ephraim Zevi derives from a chain of progenitors that are all on the male side and is therefore primarily to be reckoned with.
Dr. Slouschz then presents the patrilineal line from Rabbi Ephraim Zvi Hersch Charlap back to King David. My own research has confirmed most of the claims made in this article, however, a few points must be clarified. Dr. Slouschz distinguishes between two Charlap families in Eretz Yisrael. He then discusses the questionable ancestry of one of these families through a certain Chaya. I must add that there are more than two branches of the Charlap family in Israel; there are many. Furthermore, all of these branches are related and stem from the same Davidic roots. In succeeding chapters we will discuss these families in detail and show how they are related. For now we will simply clear up the identity of the mysterious Chaya.
R’ Ephraim’s great-grandfather was Rabbi Zev Charlap of Tykocin, son of Abraham Charlap. The Chaya mentioned by Slouschz was the sister of this Rabbi Zev and she was, therefore, a daughter of Abraham Charlap. We do not know the name of her husband, but her son Yitzhak married his first cousin, also Chaya, the daughter of Yehuda Leib Charlap whom we met in the last chapter. He then assumed his mother’s distinguished maiden name which was also the name of his wife. It is possible that it was also the name of his father. Nevertheless, Yitzhak’s children have a rightful claim to the name Charlap. This is the branch of Rabbi Chaim Zevulun of Rishon Lezion and many other prominent rabbis.
Dr. Slouschz also raises the issue of the origin of the name Charlap. His statement that it is a Hebrew acronym from “Chiya, Head of the Exile in Poland” is a mistake which is often repeated by historians and writers who are not thorough enough in their research. Chiya never lived in Poland; he is one of our early ancestors from the Iberian peninsula, born circa 1085 C.E. As a leader of the Jewish community, rabbi, scholar, writer, and composer, he helped solidify the Jewish position in Portugal and was accorded the title Chiya Rishon L’Galil Portugal (Chiya, First in the Land of Portugal). Some claim that his title was really a variation Chiya Rosh L’Golei Portugal (Chiya Head of the Exiles in Portugal). Either way Chiya was a resident of Portugal and Spain and was the first to use the title CHRL”P or Charlap. Chiya died in Castile in 1154.
The most impressive of these Sephardic families is that of Ibn Yahya, whose history is virtually a capsule version of the history of the Jews in Spain and Portugal. Treasurers for various kings of Portugal and Spain, authors of biblical commentaries, poets, mathematicians, astrologers, and physicians, almost every generation produced individuals of outstanding capabilities. The pedigree is unbroken from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries, when members of the family were to be found in Amsterdam, Italy, and Constantinople. It is from this family that Rabbi Eliezer Zvi Hersch Charlap of Poland claimed to descend. In the pedigree as he gives it back to the Ibn Yahya family, there are chronological difficulties which throw some doubt on the claim. However, he goes on to give an essentially accurate pedigree of the Ibn Yahya family and then to show how they were descended from the hereditary heads of the Sanhedrin in Tiberias, thence through the Exilarchs back to King David. This pedigree is either an essentially valid tradition or it is the most clever genealogical forgery I have ever seen (and I have seen many); but, in my opinion, its validity can only be granted if the Charlap claim of descent from Ibn Yahya is also granted, for this is the only plausible way in which the Charlap family could have obtained a valid pedigree.
We intend to show how the Charlaps descend from the Ibn Yahyas and also to clear up the chronological inconsistencies in the Ephraim Zvi Charlap family document. The Charlap name seems to attract attention from many observers who feel free to comment. Consider the following:
An often heard explanation of this name is that it is a Hebrew acronym standing for Chacham Rosh Legalut Polanya or Chacham Rosh Legalut Polski and that it goes back to the fifteenth century. That explanation which smells of the lamp was questioned by Sol Steinmetz . . . and I too question it. Although two nouns in juxtaposition are possible in Hebrew, that construction sounds odd here. We would expect them to be linked by the word “v”, but let’s not insist on a minor flaw in the explanation of the name. A second argument against the explanation is that Polanya is not found in older Hebrew. That is an Israeli Hebrew word, not older than the nineteenth century (and perhaps even a twentieth century coinage). In any case it is too new to be found in a Hebrew acronym which supposedly goes back to the fifteenth century. And Polski is not Hebrew at all but Polish. But these are minor flaws too, easily corrected if we substitute Polin, the Ashkenazic Hebrew name of Poland, for Polanya and Polski. . . Hebrew chacham means wise man in all varieties of the language. In non-Ashkenazic Hebrew it also means rabbi. Since this family name is solely Ashkenazic, we could not interpret chacham in the supposed acronym as meaning rabbi. It would have to mean wise man. Yet, it would be immodest for a person to call himself wise. Could it have been only his descendants who called him wise? If so, the acronym should begin with the letter bet standing for ben, bar (son of), orbene (sons of). Hebrew-Aramaic has two words for Exilarch . . . Although Rosh Legalut is theoretically possible in Hebrew, it sounds odd. We expect Rosh Golat or Rosh Hagola shel or Resh Galuta d. Indeed, it sounds as if Rosh Legalut had been manufactured solely for the purposes of this explanation, that is lamed was needed to account for the l of the family name. The third strong argument against the explanation is that the title Exilarch, as far as I know, was applied only to the head of the Jewish community in Babylonia. Finally, even supposing that Jews in Poland ever used the title Exilarch, who is this fifteenth century wise man, the Exilarch of Poland? I can find no mention of such a person in the sources at hand. Another explanation which has been offered for his name is that it is a Hebrew acronym standing for Chiya Rosh Liglil Polin (Chiya head of the country of Poland. The Hebrew is better but not the explanation. Was there such a person? Did he have a title? . . . Let’s hear from bearers of this name.
The author of this piece sets up a straw-man and then attempts to destroy it. The Hebrew he assumes as the source of the Charlap name is false and he gives no reference for it. Furthermore, he states that it originated in fifteenth century Poland and is purely Ashkenazic. Both statements are in error. He asked for correspondence from bearers of the name so I sent him the following:
. . .The pronunciation of the name means little; what is important is its derivation and the human chain that led to the present bearer of the name. The name is a Hebrew acronym standing forChacham Rosh L’golei Polin. Research has shown that it was adopted by Eliezer son of David Ibn Yahya when he entered Poland shortly after 1600 C.E. Your linguistic reasons for disbelieving the acronym are interesting but are simply not so. You see, Eliezer was not the first Charlap. He took that title in honor of an ancestor who lived 500 years earlier and was also known as Charlap. That was Chiya you mentioned. But Chiya never lived in Poland. He was Chiya al-Daudi who was born circa 1080 or 1090. He was a poet and rabbi whose hymns are still in use today. He was an advisor to the King of Portugal and was given the title Chiya Rishon L’Galil Portugal. The acronym is of course CHRLP, or Charlap. Chiya was one of the progenitors of the famous Ibn Yahya (Ibn Jachia, Don Yahya, . . .) family. I have his complete pedigree to this day going back to King David. Yes, David. Many studies have shown that the Charlap family is of Davidic descendance. I have several independently derived family trees from around the world, of people who have had no contact with each other. They all correlate closely with my own research into the Charlap family. All trace back to King David through Solomon. The title Exilarch does relate to the Jewish communities of Babylonia and Persia. The Charlaps trace back to them through the Ibn Yahyas. In 1040, Chiya’s ancestor Chiskiah, Rosh Golah and Rosh Yeshiva in Pumbedita was hung by the emperor. He was the last of the Exilarchs. His children fled to Spain where they studied under Joseph HaNaggid in Granada. Returning to Eliezer Charlap, nine generations later his descendant Avraham was living in northeastern Poland. Avraham had seven children we know of. In the early 1800s when Jews were forced to assume surnames, these children assumed the old honorary title as their family name. The modern Charlap family was born. One of Avraham’s sons, Zebulon, assumed the name Ser, which means cheese in Polish. Therefore the Ser/Kiejsmacher/Pakciarz family et al are directly descended from Charlaps. There are many variants in spelling of these names as there are with Charlap and Ibn Yahya. Charlap variations I have seen include Charlop, Charlip, Charlup, Harlap, Harlip, Tscharlop, and on and on.
I had expected a letter from Mr. Gold, but as of this writing I am still awaiting his reply. His article has been presented to show that there are many attempts by so-called authorities to revise history. They seek all sorts of arcane methods to achieve their ends. A more sophisticated approach was that of David Einsiedler, an acknowledged scholar with an avid interest in research on rabbinic genealogy, who nevertheless reaches faulty conclusions. Consider this example:
The story goes that a Chiya came from Iraq to Poland about 1020 after the martyrdom of his father. The above list [Yahya tree] shows a gap of about 500 years until the reported appearance of the first Charlap, Eliezer ben David (born 1550). The last Charlap on this list is R. Eliezer Zvi Charlap (born about 1780-90). As we can see, the Charlaps are not descendants of the Yahias, but of an early Babylonian-Iraqi branch.
Einsiedler repeats the false notion that Chiya was a resident of Poland. From that premise he reaches the erroneous conclusion that Eliezer Charlap could not have been descended from the Ibn Yahyas. The confusion arises from a merging of the historical Chiya of Portugal with an imaginary ancestry of Eliezer Charlap for which there is no basis. That is why the “list shows a gap of about 500 years.” Those 500 years were, in reality, spent in Iberia and the Mediterranean basin and are well-documented by authentic historical records. Einsiedler also tells us that:
In Judische Familien-Forschung (Jewish Family Research) (Berlin, 1924-1938), the early journal of Jewish genealogy in Germany, there are several articles that discuss descent of this family from King David. The most interesting part is a list of generations entitled “The Yahia Document.” It starts with King David, goes to Berachya (450 B.C.E.), and then there is a gap from 450 to 320 B.C.E. It resumes from Chisdia (300 B.C.E.) and continues to David ben Zakai, the Exilarch in Iraq who died in 940 C.E. Then there is a big gap with a few uncertain generations, and the list continues from Chiya al-Daudi (1090-1154) in Spain. The “Ibn Yahia” is changed to “Don Yahia – this part of Spain is now under Christian rule. The “Dons” continue to Don David (born in 1580) in Turkey, the last of the Yahia line on this list.
Here Einsiedler reports with more accuracy although he ignores the Portugal sojourn of Chiya al-Daudi. Some of the gaps in the chronology that he mentions have been cleared up and will be presented. The articles pertaining to our family that appeared in Judische Familien-Forschung have been analyzed. Allen Menton, who has a Ph.D. degree in Comparative Literature, has taken an interest in the King David issue and translated several articles from the German.
The Charlap and Don-Jachia families regard themselves as a branch of the renowned Spanish-Portuguese Ibn Jachia family, which, beginning in the sixth century and continuing from the twelfth to the eighteenth century, produced important rabbis, poets, doctors, politicians, and business leaders – first in Portugal and Spain, later in Turkey and Italy. The family lists in their genealogy the kings of Judah back to King David [see Dr. L. von Katzenelson and Baron Ginsberg, gen. eds., Die Judische Enzyklopadie, vol. 8 (St. Petersburg)]. The Charlap Family of today has members who are found in Poland, America, and Palestine, including the famous rabbi, gaon, and Kabbalist R’ Ephraim Eliezer Zvi Hersch Charlap, Rabbi of Mezeritch who died in 1849. He left behind a genealogical sketch, written on parchment in his own hand, which is kept by his descendants in Jerusalem. From this was printed the table in his book Hod Tehilah (Warsaw:1899). Below I have translated his notes word-for-word into German.
The author then proceeds to present R’ Ephraim Charlap’s genealogy, adding his own remarks corroborating the genealogy. The genealogy as presented correlates well with all independently derived trees I have obtained from other sources. That is, it correlates with them until we get back to Don Jachia Ibn Yaish. First, we find it difficult to accept the titles “Don” and “Ibn” in one name. “Don” was used to make the name more acceptable in Christian Spain. It is unlikely that one who called himself Don Jachia would include the Ibn Yaish after it. “Don” was an interpolation put in by Ben Zion Don Yechia and did not appear on the original parchment of R’ Ephraim Zvi Charlap.
Certain individuals of the [Yahya] family bore the additional cognomen “Negro,” with reference to the Moors, from whom several of their estates had been obtained. . . .Yahya Ibn Yaish flourished in Lisbon in the eleventh century; died about 1150. He was held in high esteem among the Jews and King Alfonso I honored him for his courage. After the conquest of Santarem the king presented him with two country houses that had belonged to the Moors, wherefore he assumed the name “Negro.”
Actually Yahya’s father, Yaish, had been given the same appellation after his success in business and in dealings with the royal court, which resulted in his acquiring vast Moorish estates. “He was an important scholar and very dear to the Portuguese court. He died in Lisbon around 1196 or 1200”Yaish was the son of Chiya al-Daudi, about whom R’ Ephraim Zvi Charlap had made a terrible mistake. Here is the source of the mysterious Chiya of Poland. The “Ephraim Zvi Parchment” states that “Chiya went to Poland; from there comes our family name Charlap, formed from the initials of the words Chiya Rosh L’Galil Polin – Chiya First in the Land of Poland.” But Chiya was a prominent figure in Portugal and never left the Iberian peninsula for Poland. David Einsiedler and others all base their mistaken conclusions on R’ Ephraim Zvi’s error. Most critics failed to note another serious error. Einsiedler did, but he never followed up on his correct observation that Chiya’s father could not have been Chiskiah (Hezekiah), the last of the Exilarchs. Chiya died in 1154 in Castile; Chiskiah was hung by the Emperor in Baghdad circa 1040. Two generations are missing from this genealogy. Who are they?
Chiskiah’s children “fled to safety in Spain. . . gave rise to the Yahyas, Abarbanels . . .” That they should seek refuge in Spain seemed appropriate. At that time, Spain was the most enlightened country in Europe and had become a center of Jewish learning. Jews had also assumed positions of political power. Moreover, there was a tradition of Babylonian Jews finding sanctuary in Spain. Some eighty years earlier, R’ Moshe ben Hanoch, a Torah scholar from the south of Italy had been ransomed by pirates to the Jews of Cordoba. He established an academy which rivaled Pumbedita in its influence and scholars from Babylonia and elsewhere were encouraged to pursue their studies in Cordoba. R’ Moshe’s son Hanoch succeeded his father and expanded the academy. Shmuel HaNaggid was their disciple.
Shmuel HaNaggid (called Samuel Ibn Nagdela in Arabic) was born in Cordoba in 993. He was a prominent poet, critic and literary figure and also exhibited extraordinary political skills. These became evident as the Caliphate of Andalusia faced political disintegration resulting from the feuding between aristocratic Arab rulers and their Berber subordinates. The Berbers, though Moslem, resented the domination of Arab superiors in the army and in 1012 successfully rebelled. The civil war resulted in the breakup of Andalusia into twenty-three independent city-states. In 1027 the Berber King Habbus of Granada appointed Shmuel to the position of vizier and he was thence called HaNaggid – the Commander or the Prince. In 1038 Shmuel led Berber troops against the Arab army of Seville. He saw his victory as vital to Jewish life in Spain and proclaimed a “second Purim.” In his success, Shmuel retained his allegiance to the G_d of Israel and presided over the academy in person. His writings include responsa, Halachic commentaries and decisions, and a book Introduction to the Talmud which is still useful to religious students. He was in constant communication with theGaonim and Roshei Yeshivot of Babylonia, one of whom was Chiskiah. Seventeen years after his first victory over Seville, he destroyed their army in another battle.
In a poem celebrating his victory over Seville in 1055, which he sent to the Exilarch Hezekiah [Chiskiah] – whom he addresses as “the prince of the noble community which is the crown on the head of the entire people, the scion of King David, who is destined to restore the monarchy in Israel . . . To you royalty and to me prophecy are vouschafed; you and I are the divine sign on this earth.”
Chiskiah was hung circa 1040 and his sons left the East for the haven of Spain, a country where Jewish princes governed, Jews led armies in victorious military exploits, and Jewish academies were replacing those at Pumbedita and Sura. They came under the protection of Shmuel HaNaggid and his son Yosef, who succeeded him.
In 1066 Arabs and Berbers, both resentful of Jewish prosperity, rioted in Granada. Four-thousand Jews, including Joseph HaNaggid, were slain. The survivors were forced to leave Granada. One of Chiskiah’s sons went to Saragossa where he married. The other son also went north to Christian controlled territory. This information was related by the son of Boris (Beryl) Chodorowski, a linguist and writer, who had recorded the family history as related by his father Yehoshua Charlap. Neither of Chiskiah’s sons’ names are known and we have no proof of their progeny. However, the next name in the line that is confirmed is Chiya al-Daudi, born between 1080 and 1090. Ben Zion Don Yechia discussed the probability that the lineage was as that defined by Yehoshua Charlap. My analysis independently led to the identical conclusion.
We may certainly take this genealogical list [the Ephraim Zvi Parchment] as an accurate historical document. In the first place, the author, Rabbi Charlap, is an important authority, and besides, his dates agree with the lists of other important authorities. I will just clarify a few incomprehensible sentences in the list: a) The [fragmented] sentence “Eliezer, who established the first descendant of our lineage and named himself Charlap” is incomprehensible; b) The sentence [beginning] “Chiya, the father of Chiskiah, the Rosh Galuta” is completely incomprehensible. Chiskiah the Exilarch was chosen as Rosh Yeshiva in Pumbedita, Babylonia after the death of Rabbi Hai Gaon. He occupied the position only two years and was then executed by the Emperor of Babylonia in 1040. (See Rabbi Abraham Ibn Daud, Sefer Hakabbalah). The first Ibn Jachia [Yaish Ibn Yahya] died around the year 1200; this fact does not agree with the assertion that his father was Chiya, the father of ChiskiahRosh Galuta. c) Even less comprehensible is the following sentence regarding Chiya: “Chiya went to Poland; from there comes our family name Charlap, which are the initials of the words Chiya Rosh L’Galil Polin.” This is completely illogical. In view of transportation methods in those days, this Chiya, who, as Rosh Galuta had a son in Babylon and whose second son was at that time a high government official in Lisbon, could, under no circumstances, have emigrated to Poland. These incongruities are cleared up through the following passage from Abraham Zacuto:
After his death, Rabbi Hai Gaon was succeeded as Rosh Yeshiva by Rabbi Chiskiah Rosh Galuta, the grandson of Rosh Galuta David ben Zakai. He occupied the post for two years before slanderers blackened his name with the Emperor. He was arrested, cast into irons, and pined away until his death in 1040. His two sons fled to Spain to Rabbi Yosef HaNaggid who was very friendly with Rabbi Chiskiah. They stayed with him until the murder of Rabbi Yosef HaNaggid in Granada in 1066. One of Chiskiah’s sons fled to Saragossa, married and established a family. His grandson settled in the area called Edom At that time, this part of Spain was under Christian rule; Granada and other cities were under Moslem rule. This grandson of Rabbi Chiskiah, who had settled in the Christian part of Spain, was the father of Rabbi Chiya al-Daudi, the scholar and poet. Chiya’s songs are found in themachzorim of the Sephardim. He died in Castile and was buried in the north of Spain in 1154. After him the line of the House of David remained in Spain no longer.
This text can also be found in Graetz, volume 4, page 12. From this, we know that the poet Rabbi Chiya al-Daudi was the only descendant of the Babylonia Rosh Galuta, and possibly the only descendant from the line of King David to break off from Babylon and go to Spain and Portugal. It is possible that he derived the family name al-Daudi from the Arabic meaning “from David.” . . . Thus, we can accept the list of Rabbi Charlap with certain corrections: the words “Chiya, the father of Chiskiah Rosh Galuta” must read “Chiya, ben Chiskiah Rosh Galuta.” The word ben must be understood as great-grandson. The words “And he himself (Chiya) went to Poland” must read “And he went to Portugal.” The initials in Charlap mean Chiya Rosh L’Galil Portugal. . . The sentence which stands at the beginning of the list, “Eliezer, who established the first descendant of our lineage and named himself Charlap,” must be understood in the following fashion: At that time a law was issued that all Jews must take family names, therefore Eliezer assumed the family name Charlap, believing as he did, that the founder of the Ibn Jachia family, to which he himself belonged, was the poet Rabbi Chiya al-Daudi, whom he thus honored by taking the name. In his notes we find the following; “Rabbi Chiya was the first to emigrate to Portugal and from him stems the important family Ibn Jachia. In those days, his immediate descendants held important posts in Portugal and Spain.”
My research concurs with the conclusions of Ben Zion Don Yechia, R’ A. Zacuto, and Graetz. One minor inconsistency must be clarified. Eliezer, who entered Poland around 1600, did not assume the surname Charlap because of any law. Such statutes did not take effect in Poland until the early nineteenth century. Rather, as an eminent rabbi he was asked to assume a title. He chose Charlap in honor of his ancestor Chiya al-Daudi. Now the Hebrew acronym stood for Chocham Rosh L’Golei Polin.
One other point of clarification: Zacuto, as quoted by Don Yechia, states that Chiskiah was a grandson of David ben Zakai. The chronology indicates that to be true but most of the patrilineal lines I have studied omit Chiskiah’s father. The Ephraim Zvi parchment, as has been pointed out, is sadly in error. The Yehoshua Charlap tree is more accurate but does not give the name of Chiskiah’s father. Otto von Neumann speculated that David ben Zakai had a son Chiya who was the father of Chiskiah; Chiskiah’s son was Chiya Rosh L’Galil Polin, and that this Chiya’s son was the father of Chiya al-Daudi.
Between David ben Zakai and Chiya there is a time-gap of 150 to 170 years. This represents a missing link between the Babylonian period and the Spanish ascendance. If we can’t find this missing link, we cannot prove the Davidic descendance. I was able to reconstruct this. We have to start with Chiya Legolei. He is most important as he is the link between the Babylonians and Spanish-Portuguese. His name means Chiya, the First Wanderer to Poland. After the martyrdom of his father in 1040 he fled from Babylon. He was born about 1020. About this Chiya there exists some mistaken identities. They came about through the confusion about three Chiyas and one Chiskiah who were mixed up with one another.
Von Neumann goes on to list his fictitious missing links. Though he fills in the missing generations, there is no proof for these otherwise unheard of figures. Pure speculation is what this construction remains.
It is more likely that Chiskiah’s father was a cousin of the Gaon Hai, his immediate predecessor asRosh Yeshiva, who lived from 939 to 1038. R’ Hai was the son of Sherira ben Hanina Gaon (906-1006). “Sherira belonged to the family of Exilarchs who claimed descent from King David. His teachers were his father R’ Hanina and his grandfather R’ Judah who preceded him as gaonim at Pumbedita. . .descended from Bustenai, from whom he claimed descent.” It should be noted that Guriah Bustenai was also an ancestor of David ben Zakai. Sherira and David were most likely brothers. This assumption is substantiated by additional evidence. Consider that in 928 Exilarch David ben Zakai had appointed Saadiah ben Yosef (Saadiah Gaon) to be Rosh Yeshiva in Sura. Two years later, “a personal dispute leads David ben Zakai to remove Saadiah from the Sura academy. Saadiah names David’s brother as rival Exilarch.” That brother was Sherira. That Sherira was a member of the same Davidic line that gave rise to the Ibn Yahya family is bolstered by another family tree written by Moshe Yair Weinstock of Jerusalem in 1929. This document seems to indicate that Sherira was at the least a second cousin to his contemporaries of the future Ibn Yahya line.
One other intriguing point: Abraham Ibn Daud had testified that he had seen the seal-ring of Gaon Hai and that on it was the Lion of Judah, the seal of the House of David. Most likely the ring was brought to Spain by Chiskiah’s sons in their flight from Pumbedita. An encyclopedic entry from Germany adds a bit more. It discusses Chiya al-Daudi, descendant of the Exilarch Chiskiah and hence a scion of the House of David. The article mentions this “liturgical poet” as being the last Davidite to be recognized as such in Spain and adds that his gravesite is in Leon. It points out that Chiya was the progenitor of the Ibn Yahya family which can mean “son of Chiya” but also means “son of life.” Hence, Ibn Yahya is the Sephardic equivalent of the Ashkenazic Ben Chaim.
All in all, we have uncovered some fifteen Charlap-Ibn Yahya family trees. They are: 1) The Ephraim Zvi Parchment, transferred to Rabbi Zebulon Chaim Charlap of Jerusalem and thence to his son Rabbi Yaacov Moshe Charlap. The earliest published version of this tree appeared in R’ Ephraim Zvi’sHod Tehilah; 2) Haskamat Gaonainu Zmanainu (Documents of the Wise Men of Our Time) provided by Rabbi Moses M. Yoshor of Staten Island, New York to R’ Eliyahu Yehezkiel Charloff and thence to his son Solomon; 3) Moshe Aryeh Charlop parchment transmitted to his sons, Herbert, Winton, and Joseph; 4) Nahum Slouschz, Morgen Zschurnal version of the much-quoted R’ Ephraim Zvi’s tree; 5) Yehoshua Charlap tree transmitted to his son Boris (Beryl) Chodorowshi and thence to his son Jack Chodoroff; 6) Abraham Chaim ben Yosef Zev Charlap tree; 7) Rabbi Avraham Moshe Hamburger,Sefer Kiddushei, identical with version of Rabbi Zebulon Chaim Charlap; 8) Ben Zion Don Yechia tree; 9) Eighteenth century manuscript of an original tapestry of the Ibn Yahya family tree in collection of Jewish Theological Seminary, New York; 10) Tree starting with Yisrael Betzalel Lapin and tracing back through the Charlap-Ibn Yahya line, transmitted from Chester Lapin; 11) Three versions of the genealogy of the Don Yahya family as prepared by Chaim Freedman of Petah Tikvah, Israel; 12) Otto von Neumann, Charlap-Don Jachia tree published in Judische Familien-Forschung; 13) Tree of Rabbi Abraham Elijah Abramowitz, Jerusalem and Chicago.
We have analyzed all of these trees, correlated them with one another, attempted to eliminate inconsistencies and have arrived at a Davidic dynasty that will stand up to scholarly scrutiny. However, we must beg some latitude in dates going back as far as 3,000 years ago. The chronology is as authentic as rigorous research methodology allows.
Around the year 1005 B.C.E. King Saul and his son Jonathan were slain in battle with the Philistines. David upon learning of their death on Mount Gilboa lamented with one of the most beautifully moving passages in the Bible:
The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places
Oh how the mighty are fallen!
Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon;
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph. . .
Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives
And in their death they were not divided:
They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. . .
A year later David gained control of the territory of Judah and made Hebron his capital. In 998 the northern tribes rejoined Judah and recognized David as King. In 990 David conquered Jerusalem, installed the Holy Ark there and made it his new capital. David had some twenty children by several different mothers. Our line is through Solomon, born by Bathsheva. Upon David’s death circa 970-967 B.C.E. Solomon secured the throne after some conflict with his brothers. He extended the boundaries of the kingdom, amassed enormous wealth, and built the Temple in Jerusalem. His reign lasted until 930-928. After his death the kingdom split between Israel and Judah. The northern tribes were led by King Jeroboam; Judah, united with Benjamin, supported Solomon’s son Rehoboam as king. Rehoboam’s mother was Naamah the Ammonite. The line continues through Rehoboam’s wife Maacah, mother of Abijah (Abijam) who ruled for about three years until 913. Abijah’s son Asa took the throne in that year and ruled wisely until circa 872-867. Asa’s wife Azubah bat Shilhi bore the next king, Jehoshaphat, who reigned in relative peace until 847. Jehoshaphat maintained a strong, prosperous kingdom and reformed the judicial system. For over six decades, Asa and Jehoshaphat led a government which stressed devotion to G_d and honor of the ancestral kings David and Solomon. Jehoshaphat ended the internecine warfare with the Northern Kingdom of Israel. “With laudable foresight both he and the King of Israel were eager to re-establish friendly relations to permit the two peoples, related by language and tradition, to build up a firm alliance.” Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram assumed the throne at age thirty-two and reigned eight years until 839-838. He married Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and his wife Jezebel, rulers of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Jehoram strayed from the ways of his father and grandfather; his reign was marked by ruthlessness and sin. He lost control of Edom and the southern port of Ezion-Geber, present day Eilat, and finally “his bowels fell out by reason of his sickness: so he died of sore diseases.” Athaliah had born Ahaziah who was to become the next king. Ahaziah continued the evil policies of his father and mother, which led to his death after a very short reign. The Prophet Elijah had long been preaching against the waywardness of Israel. His disciple Elisha appointed Jehu to lead an uprising against the rulers of the Northern Kingdom. Overturning the regime of King Jehoram of Israel [not to be confused with King Jehoram of Judah], Jehu attacked Ahaziah of Judah, who was a cousin to Israel’s royalty, and demolished him. When Athaliah learned what had happened to her son Ahaziah, she slew everyone who stood in her way – even her descendants and relatives, including her own grandchildren – to destroy the royal house of Judah, and after the massacres she seized the throne of Judah. She was the only female to reign and the only one who was not of the House of David. Athaliah was killed after a disastrous reign of six years. She had not succeeded in killing all the royal seed. Ahaziah’s son by his wife Zibiah of Beersheva was still alive. Upon the death of Athaliah the seven year-old Joash was appointed king. Joash’s reign of forty years was marked by a wild swing of policy. His early years as king were influenced by the High Priest Jehoiada and saw the repair of the Temple in Jerusalem. After Jehoiada’s death Joash became idolatrous and engaged in prolonged battles with the Syrians which weakened the kingdom. His servants, loyal to the spirit of Jehoiada, eventually rose up and killed him in the year 792. His son Amaziah, born by Jehoaddan of Jerusalem, began to reign at age twenty-five. He held the throne for twenty-nine years until 763. His tenure was marked by renewed warfare with Israel, then ruled by another King Joash, son of Jehu. Amaziah was defeated by Israel but lived another fifteen years before being murdered in a rebellion.His wife was Jecoliah of Jerusalem who was the mother of the next king, Uzziah (Azariah). Uzziah restored Edom to Judean control and re-captured Solomon’s Red Sea port of Ezion-Geber. He married Jerushah daughter of Zadok. Their son Jotham succeeded to the throne as regent after Uzziah became afflicted with leprosy. Jotham was successful in war with the Ammonites and “built cities in the mountains of Judah and in the forests he built castles and towers.” His son Ahaz assumed the throne in 743. Ahaz curried favor with the rising Assyrian threat and as a result endangered relations with Israel. His reign was not auspicious. His son by Abiah daughter of Zechariah, Hezekiah, was next in line. Hezekiah was a bright star of the royal Davidic line. For several years he managed to avoid confrontations with Assyria as the then dominant power subdued nation after nation. During this time Hezekiah instructed his people in their monotheistic religious heritage, he built cities and aqueducts, and expanded commerce. After the fall of Israel and the defeat of neighboring Philistine city-states, Hezekiah could no longer isolate Judah. In 710 he made a vain attempt to incorporate the remaining Israelites of the North into his kingdom. In 705 Sargon, the most feared of Assyrian rulers, fell in battle and the empire began to disintegrate. But within a short time Sennacherib was leading the Assyrians to a series of new victories. After subduing the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon, allies of Hezekiah, he captured Edom, Moab, and the coastal Philistine cities. Judah was surrounded. Sennacherib then laid waste to the major Judean stronghold of Lachish but Hezekiah held out in Jerusalem and refused to surrender. The series of aqueducts which he had wisely built supplied his garrisons in the Judean capital. After a prolonged siege the Assyrian army suddenly broke camp and fled from Jerusalem in haste. Sennacherib was killed by his own men. The Jews took it as a miracle from Heaven; secular historians as a result of a plague. Whatever the cause, Judah had a respite. The saving of Jerusalem has captured the imagination of romantics throughout the centuries. Perhaps, next to the account in the Bible, Lord Byron’s The Destruction of Sennacherib is the most acclaimed version of the event. Historians often dismiss the siege of Jerusalem. In a few sentences, they lump it together with Israel’s defiance of Assyria as though it were one of history’s small and unimportant skirmishes. Yet, if we look at this war objectively, comparing it to other battles of antiquity, we are forced to the conclusion that the battles in this war were not only momentous but incredible on the face of it. The Russo-Finnish encounter in 1939 was but a minor skirmish in the World War II drama. Yet Finland’s stand against the Russian colossus for six months has been hailed as a monument to bravery. Assyria was mightier, larger and more formidable in relation to Israel than Russia to Finland. Yet it took the Assyrians ten years and three kings to vanquish Israel.
That finally occurred in 722 B. C. E. It was in 701 that Sennacherib’s designs on Jerusalem were thwarted. Thus, for over three decades our ancestors managed to do battle with the mightiest power of the time; decades in which many other more powerful nations capitulated to Assyrian dominance.
In the year 698 Hezekiah was succeeded by his son Manasseh whose mother was Hephzibah. If Hezekiah was the epitome of a fine king, Manasseh was the opposite. He accepted the dominance of Assyrian culture and his rule unfortunately spanned fifty-five years. “He has an odious name among Hebrew historians, who bitterly resented his immersion in Assyrian heathenism. They trace every misfortune which followed his death to his apostasy.” Manasseh’s wife, Meshullemeth daughter of Haruz from Jotbah, bore Amon who was to be next king. Amon followed his father’s policies and was assassinated by his servants in his own house after a short two year reign. His wife was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah from Bozkath. Their son Josiah assumed the throne at age eight, circa 640. His reign is in marked contrast with those of his immediate predecessors. Under the influence of the Prophets, Jeremiah, Nahum, and Zephaniah, Josiah began a great religious reformation. He restored Jewish practices, renewed the Covenant, repaired the Temple, and destroyed idolatry. He was a young and popular king who reigned for thirty-one years. During that time Assyrian power waned and the power vacuum was filled by a resurgent Egypt. Egypt invaded the former Assyrian vassal states and quickly subdued Phoenicia and Philistia. They then marched against Judah. Josiah bravely met the invading forces at the ancient fortress of Megiddo. After a spirited battle Josiah was struck by an arrow and retreated to Jerusalem where he died. Jeremiah lamented and all Jerusalem mourned for the beloved Josiah who was extolled for his zeal in purifying the religion and for his wise administration of justice.
Egypt’s domination of the fragmented Assyrian Empire was short-lived. A new power was rising in the East – the Chaldean regime of Babylonia. Meanwhile the throne of Judah had gone to Jehoahaz, Josiah’s son by Zebudah daughter of Pedaiah. Jehoahaz reigned for a scant three months until deposed by the Pharaoh. Egypt set up Eliakim, Jehoahaz’s brother, as a puppet king and changed his name to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim was actually the eldest son of Josiah but he was passed over at his father’s death as undeserving of the throne. The original decision was correct. Jehoiakim’s reign was characterized by idolatry and he had incestuous relations with his mother, step-mother, and daughter-in-law. Jeremiah railed against the rampant immorality. In beautifully poetic language he implored the citizenry to return to their heritage. Rebuked by king and populace, Jeremiah predicted the end. By the turn of the century Nebuchadnezzar had ravaged Syria, Phoenicia, and Philistia. In 601, Babylonia defeated Egypt at Carchemish in one of the decisive battles of ancient times. Jehoiakim, who had submitted to Babylonia a few years earlier, decided now to withhold tribute and rebel. However, within a year he was dead, perhaps a victim of assassination after his exile to Babylon. Jehoiakim’s son by Nehusta daughter of Elchanan, Jeconiah, or Jehoiachin, was only eight when he was appointed king. After three months he was deposed and carried off to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar installed as king Jehoiachin’s uncle Mattaniah, whose name was changed to Zedekiah. Zedekiah was the son of Josiah by Hamutal, daughter of Jeremiah from Libnah. Sinful and foolish Zedekiah’s eleven year reign was disastrous. He finally rebelled against those who appointed him and as a result Jerusalem was laid waste, the Temple burned and destroyed, and the wealth of the city carried off to Babylonia. The leaders of Judah, the Prophets, writers, priests, and royal family were sent into exile. The year was 587 B. C. E. and it marks the date that our family’s geographical center shifts eastward to the Tigris-Euphrates valley.
Jehoiachin, with his mother Nehusta, the royal servants, and officers of the court had been exiled to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar kept the young king imprisoned for thirty-six years, during which time Jehoiachin repented for his sins and made peace with G_d. For a long time he was kept in solitary confinement and it was feared that his death would mean the extinction of the House of David. After some time, the Sanhedrin convinced Nebuchadnezzar to allow Jehoiachin’s wife to live with him. After the dictator’s death, Jehoiachin was freed within two days and treated with respect by Nebuchadnezzar’s son. The Davidic family retained leadership of the Babylonian exiles and Jehoiachin’s descendants were in the vanguard of those who returned to Zion. The first Exilarch was no less a person than Jehoiachin, the last king but one of the House of David, whom the Exilarchs regarded as their ancestor. . . Even without any authentic genealogical tree of the family of the Exilarchs, it could not have been difficult to find a genealogical connection between them and King Jehoiachin, since a list including generations of the descendants of the King is in Chronicles I.
Although the ancestors of the Ibn Yahyas and Charlaps are all in the family of the Exilarchs, every one in the line did not fill the role of Rosh Golah. Hence, the family ancestral line is not exactly the same as the chronology of Exilarchs.
Jehoiachin had seven known children: Assir Shaltiel, Malchiram, Pedaiah, Shenazzar, Jekamiah, Hoshama, and Nedabiah. Our line extends through Shaltiel (Assir Shaltiel). There is some confusion about what next occurs. All of our family trees show that Shaltiel had a son Pedaiah who was the father of Zerubbabel. Chronicles I 3: 17-19 lists Zerubbabel as the son of Pedaiah; other references in the Bible refer to him as the son of Shaltiel. Allen Menton offers the following explanation to this conundrum:
In Chronicles I, Zerubbabel is listed as son of Pedaiah, consistent with the family genealogy, but in all other biblical scripture Zerubbabel is named as a son of Shaltiel. Most biblical scholars seem to agree that they (Zerubbabel) are the same person and it is widely considered that one of the two brothers died childless and that the surviving brother took his wife in order that the brother’s name might be perpetuated. That was common practice in those days and was indeed required by law (seeDeuteronomy 25: 6). That might also explain why both brothers are listed in the family genealogy: both are, in the Levite sense, “fathers” of Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel may also have been adopted by his uncle Shaltiel, which might explain why other sources list Zerubbabel’s father as Shaltiel.
Another explanation is that “son of” is often used to describe relations between generations not immediately following one another. Hence, we might all be described as “sons of David,” or “sons of Abraham Charlap.” For now, I can find no compelling reason to doubt the veracity of genealogy as depicted in our family trees and in Chronicles I. The chronology fits rather well if we allow twenty years for each generation. Zerubbabel was born circa 540. The origins of his name are either the Hebrew “begotten in Babylon” or the Assyro-Babylonian “offspring of Babylon.” In any case, Zerubbabel emerges as one of the leaders of the return to Eretz Yisrael after the Persian Cyrus the Great restored the Jews to their land. Zerubbabel was Governor of Judah in 520 B.C.E. during the reign of Darius, but was denied being made king. During his tenure, the Second Temple was completed and a large Passover celebration was held in 515. Not much more is known of Zerubbabel’s life except that he was said to return to Babylon where he died. His children Meshullam, Hananiah, and Shelomith are listed in Chronicles I, 3: 19.
The next generation of our family genealogy presents the same problem in identifying brother from son as discussed with Zerubbabel. Again, Chronicles I, 3: 20 lists the children of Meshullam as: Hashubah, Ohel, Berechiah, Hasadiah, and Jushab-Hesed. Our genealogy goes from Meshullam to Hananiah to Berechiah. Was Hananiah another child of Meshullam or was he Meshullam’s brother, misplaced on our tree? In either case, the line to King David remains intact. Berechiah was born circa 450 B.C.E. Little is known of the next ten generations beyond their names. The genealogical tables list them in this order: Chisdiah, Hezekiah, Yeshaiah, David, Shlomo, Shemaiah, David, Shechaniah, who lived at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, Hezekiah, Shalom. Of these, the first Hezekiah, the two Davids, Shlomo, and Shalom did not hold the post of Rosh Golah. Shalom’s son was Nathan De-Zuzita. Zuzita literally means “sparks” or “hair” and there are many explanations and legends concerning how Nathan received that appellation. The venerable Rashi states that there was a radiance about his head. There is a great deal of confusion as to the identity of Nathan. The consensus of scholars is that there were at least two Nathan De-Zuzitas. The first lived around the time of Rabbi Akiba, that is circa 100-135 C.E. The second was known as Ukban and lived some 300 years later. Nathan’s line continues through Huna, Shlomo, Yaacov, and Nahum. Of these, only Nahum is listed as an Exilarch. He probably held that position shortly after the Hadrianic persecutions. Our line continues through David, Yohanan, Shafat, and Anan. In some sources Yohanan is listed as Nahum’s brother, succeeding him as Rosh Golah. All sources agree that the next two Exilarchs were Yohanan’s son and grandson. Anan was likely the Grandfather of the Anan who was a Babylonian Amora (Disciple of the Great Teachers). Anan was indeed a disciple of Mar Shmuel and contemporary of Rab Huna, who was his cousin. Yet, Huna did not consider him his equal and when Anan addressed him as “colleague”, Huna replied in a very condescending manner. The elder Anan begat Hiyya (Chiya) who was the father of Huna, known as the Babylonian. Huna was born about 216 and died circa 296. He was held in great esteem for his scholarship and piety and was appointed first Rosh Yeshiva of the Academy in Sura. Under his guidance Sura displaced the Palestinian academies in importance. It attracted students and teachers from distant lands and at one time its student body numbered over 800 and its faculty included thirteen Amoraim. Huna presided over the Academy for forty years until his death. He was buried in Eretz Yisrael next to Hiyya Rabbah, a distant cousin of his father, who bore the same name. Hiyya Rabbah traced his ancestry to Shimei, a brother of King David.
Huna’s wife, Hobah, bore the next in our line, Nathan the Exilarch, who ruled from about 260-270. He was known as Mar Ukban II. Nathan’s successor was Nehemiah who is sometimes confused as his brother. During his time the Persians engaged in severe persecution of the Jews. The year 313 C.E. was the hardest but the community persevered and Nehemiah tried to preserve the dignity of the House of David. To demonstrate his royal ancestry he dressed only in silk. Nehemiah fathered another Nathan, known as Mar Ukban III. This Nathan Ukban was also referred to as De-Zuzita, and is often confused with his ancestor Nathan De-Zuzita, contemporary of Rabbi Akiba. Nathan Ukban was an Exilarch of the first half of the fourth century. His son Abba served as Exilarch and, according to most Charlap/Ibn Yahya genealogies, fathered the first of the famous Exilarchs bearing the name Mar Zutra. Some sources insert another generation between Abba and Mar Zutra. It is said that Abba had two sons, Mar Kahana and Nathan, both of whom led the community. The chronology seems to support this extra generation. However, the sources are confused as to which of these brothers, Mar Kahana or Nathan, fathered the next Exilarch Huna. Moreover, they state that Huna died in 441. It is probable that the date is a scribal error and should be 401. For in that year Huna was succeeded in the post by his brother Mar Zutra. Mar Zutra I was born in the latter part of the fourth century. He served as Exilarch from 401-409 and died circa 414. He was known for his extreme devotion to theTorah and for his humility and consideration of his fellow scholars. For these characteristics he was known as Mar Zutra the Pious. He lived in Sura where he presided over an annual harvest festival. Mar Zutra I was succeeded by his son Kahana II. Upon his death, his brother, Huna V, became Rosh Golah. Huna fell victim to the persecutions of King Peroz and was executed in 470. Huna VI, son of Kahana II, was not appointed Exilarch until the persecutions had abated in 488. He served until his death in 508. Huna’s son Mar Zutra II, who then became Rosh Golah formed an autonomous Jewish kingdom based in Mahoza.
The independence thus conquered by Mar Zutra lasted nearly seven years; the Jewish army was finally overcome by the superior numbers of the Persian host and the Prince of Captivity [Rosh Golah or Exilarch] was taken prisoner. He and his aged grandfather, Mar Haninai, were executed and their bodies nailed to the cross on the bridge of Mahoza (about 520). The inhabitants of the town were stripped of their possessions and led into captivity, and it is probable that this was not the full extent of the persecution. The members of the family of the Prince of Captivity were compelled to flee. They escaped to Judaea.
Our line continues through Mar Zutra’s brother Hezekiah (Chiskiah) and his son David. It is possible that David’s son was Mar Zutra III. A romantic legend has it that Mar Zutra III was born on the day of Mar Zutra II’s execution and was therefore named for his father. This story is repeated in many historical sources and cannot be lightly dismissed. On the other hand, we have many independent trees which show David to be the father of Mar Zutra III. The Ephraim Zvi Charlap Parchment is unclear on this issue. It goes from David to “Mar Zutra who is the son of the well-known Exilarch Bostenai.” It then has another Mar Zutra in the next generation. Von Neumann offers another version. He has David as being the father of Mar Zutra III who he lists as having been born in 523. Then he has a Mar Zutra IV, born in 558. He is listed as the father of Guriah, known as Bostenai, who then sired another Mar Zutra, the V. In any of these cases the Davidic line would be intact. Mar Zutra III became Exilarch but left Babylon during the persecutions to settle in Eretz Yisrael. ThePalestinian Talmud was believed completed in his lifetime, heavily influenced by the Babylonian teachings he had brought with him. He resided in Tiberias where he was recognized as the official leader of the Palestinian Jews. He courageously opposed the Emperor Justinian’s edicts proscribing reading from the Holy Scriptures.
Guriah, is next in line. He flourished in the middle of the seventh century. The name is associated with Bostenai, whose father is usually cited as Haninai, the grandson of Mar Zutra II. Again, in either case, the Davidic line remains solid.
Bostenai was the ancestor of the Exilarchs who were in office from the time when the Persian Empire was conquered by the Arabs in 642, down to the eleventh century. Through him, the splendor of the office was renewed and its political position made secure. His tomb in Pumbedita was a place of worship as late as the twelfth century, according to Benjamin of Tudela. Not much is known regarding Bostenai’s successors down to the time of Saadia except their names; even the names of Bostenai’s son is not known. . . The relation of Bostenai to the Persian princess Dara had an unpleasant sequel. The Exilarch lived with her without having married her, and according to rabbinic law she should previously have received her “letter of freedom,” for being a prisoner of war, she had become an Arabian slave, and as such had been presented to Bostenai. After the death of Bostenai his sons insisted that the princess as well as her son, was still a slave, and, as such, was their property. The judges were divided in opinion, but finally decided that the legitimate sons of the Exilarch should grant letters of manumission to the princess and her son testifying to their emancipation. . . Nevertheless, the descendants of the princess were not recognized as legitimate 300 years afterward.
The episode did not register well with the Judaeo-Babylonian community and the Exilarchate’s prestige suffered for a few centuries. The descendants of Bostenai’s gentile wife had succeeded to the post of Exilarch and this posed a serious halachic problem that preoccupied the Gaonim of the academies.
Our family line continues through Bostenai’s son, another Mar Zutra, and then for eight generations little is known other than their names. In order we have Yaacov, Magus, Nehemiah, Abdimi, Chatzov, David, Nathan, and Abraham. Abraham’s son was Zakai, born about 880. He was Rosh Golah in Babylon and was involved in the controversy which arose because of the rivalry between the Pumbedita and Sura academies. One son of Zakai was Josiah, but it was David ben Zakai who became Exilarch and continued the controversy. David alternately feuded with, and maintained friendly relations with, Saadiah Gaon. It is for these controversies that he is most remembered. The final reconciliation with Saadiah came in 937. After the Exilarch’s death in 940, Saadiah spoke highly of him and supported his son Judah as the next Exilarch.
This brings us close to the end of the Babylonian sojourn. Judah, son of David ben Zakai, represents a missing generation in the family trees as handed down by various ancestors. David had died a few years before Saadiah. Judah followed his father a scant seven months later, but left a twelve year old son whose name we do not know. Saadiah took the grandson of his former adversary into his home and educated him until his death in 942. This scion of the House of David was the father of Chiskiah (Hezekiah), last of the Exilarchs, who was executed in 1040. The drama of our family then swept westward towards Spain and Portugal.