One of the most famous of the Jewish notables of Moslem Spain was Samuel HaLevi, who is also known as Samuel HaNagid. Beginning life as a shopkeeper, Samuel HaLevi ultimately became the chief minister at the court of Granada. By virtue of this office he became the political head of the Jews in Granada and probably thus received the title Nagid (“Prince”), his name becoming Samuel HaNagid. He served his community as rabbi and did a great deal to further Jewish learning throughout the world.
Samuel was a fine linguist, a scholar, a diplomat, and a distinguished soldier. His reputation in the Middle Ages was based mainly on his excellent poetry, some of which was written even on the battlefield.
The following account of his life is taken from Sefer Seder ha-Kabbalah (“The Line of Tradition”), a Hebrew historical work written by Abraham ibn Daud of Toledo in 1161.
One of the great disciples of Rabbi Enoch [d. 1014], was Rabbi Samuel HaLevi, the Prince, the son of Joseph, who was known as Ibn Nagrela, of the community of Cordova. He was an unusually fine Talmudic scholar and was also well versed in Arabic literature and language. He was of the type that could occupy a high position in the royal palace.
Samuel was a merchant, supporting himself with great difficulty until the devastating days in Spain which followed the fall of the Amirid kingdom when the Berbers secured the power. [The civil war, which began in Spain in 1009, reached its climax in 1012 in the sack of Cordova by the Berbers.]
It was then that the land of Cordova began to decline and its inhabitants fled. Some of them ran away to Saragossa, where their descendants are even now; some fled to Toledo and their descendants are known there even to this day.
This Rabbi Samuel HaLevi fled to Malaga. There he had a shop and was a petty merchant. His shop happened to be near the palace of Ibn alArif, the vizier of King Habbus , the son of Maksan, the King of the Berbers, in Granada. At the request of a maid servant of the vizier, Samuel used to write letters for her to her master the vizier, Abu alKasim ibn alArif. This latter saw his letters and was amazed at his wisdom.
Some time later this vizier, Ibn alArif, got permission of his king, Habbus, to return to his home in Malaga. There he asked the people of his house: “Who used to write those letters that came to me from you?” “A certain Jew,” they answered, “who comes from the community of Cordova and lives near your palace-he used to write them for us.” Immediately the secretary issued a command and they rushed Rabbi Samuel HaLevi to him. “It is unbecoming for you to sit in a shop,” he said to him. “Stay here with me.” He did so and became his secretary and adviser.
The vizier used to advise the King according to the advice given by Rabbi Samuel HaLevi, of blessed memory. All his advice was as though it came from God, and the King Habbus prospered through it very much. After some time the vizier, Ibn alArif, became mortally ill, and King Habbus, who came to visit him, said to him: “What shall I do? Who will advise me in the wars which encompass me?” “I have never advised you,” he answered him, “out of my own mind, but at the suggestion of this Jew, my secretary. Take care of him, and he will be as a father and a minister to you. Do whatever he advises you, and God will help you.” So after the death of the vizier, King Habbus took Rabbi Samuel HaLevi and brought him to his palace and he became his vizier and councillor.
In the year 4780 [l020] he was in the palace of the King Habbus. [Samuel was already an important official before 1020.] The king had two sons: the name of the elder was Badis, and the younger, Bulukkin. All the Berber princes favored Bulukkin, the younger son, as the successor, but all the rest of the people favored Badis. The Jews, too, and among them Rabbi Joseph ibn Migas, Rabbi Isaac ben Leon, and Rabbi Nehemiah, who was called Escafa, three Granada notables, favored Bulukkin, but Rabbi Samuel HaLevi favored Badis.
On the day that King Habbus died, the Berber princes and their distinguished men rose in the morning to crown his son Bulukkin. Bulukkin, however, immediately went and kissed the hand of his elder brother Badis. Thus Badis was crowned in the year 4787  and the face of his enemies turned black like the bottom of a pot; and against their will they had to crown Badis. [Badis was really crowned in 1038 and died in 1073.]
After this Bulukkin regretted that he had made his brother king and kept on getting the upper hand over his brother Badis, with the result that King Badis was unable to do a thing, big or small, without his brother’s interference. But after this his brother Bulukkin became sick, and the King gave orders to the physician not to cure him. The physician obeyed, and Bulukkin died. Thus was the kingdom established in the hands of Badis. These three distinguished Jews of the city, whom we have mentioned, fled to the land of Seville [then hostile to Granada].
Rabbi Samuel HaLevi was appointed Prince in the year 4787 , and he conferred great benefits on Israel in Spain, in north-eastern and northcentral Africa, in the land of Egypt, in Sicily, well as far as the Babylonian academy, and the Holy City, Jerusalem. All the students who lived in those lands benefited by his generosity, for he bought numerous copies of the Holy Scriptures, the Mishnah, and the Talmud-these, too, being holy writings. [Ibn Daud here refutes the Karaites who denied the authority of the Mishnah and the Talmud.]
To every one-in all the land of Spain and in all the lands that we have mentioned-who wanted to make the study of the Torah his profession, he would give of his money. He had scribes who used to copy Mishnahs and Talmuds, and he would give them as a gift to students, in the academies of Spain or in the lands we have mentioned, who were not able to buy them with their own means. [Printing was not yet invented. Manuscripts were very expensive.] Besides this, he furnished olive oil every year for the lamps of the synagogues in Jerusalem. He spread the knowledge of the Torah [Jewish learning] very widely and died an old man, at a ripe age, after having acquired the four crowns: the crown of the Torah, the crown of high station, the crown of Levitical descent, and what is more than all these, the crown of a good name merited by good deeds. He died in the year 4815  and his son, Rabbi Joseph HaLevi, the Prince, succeeded him. [It is more probable that Samuel died in 1056 or later when Joseph (b. 1035), succeeded him as vizier.]
Of all the good traits of his father, Joseph lacked but one. He was not humble like his father because he grew up in riches, and he never had to bear the yoke [of poverty and discipline] in his youth. He was proud to his own hurt, and the Berber princes were jealous of him, with the result that on the Sabbath, on the 9th of Tebet in the year 4827 [Saturday, December 30, 1066], he and the Community of Granada were murdered. [About 150 families were killed. This is the first known massacre of Jews in Spain by Moslems.]
All those who had come from distant lands to see his learning and his greatness mourned for him, and the lament for him spread to all lands and to all cities. Since the days of the ancient rabbis – of blessed memory-who wrote the Scroll of Fasts and decreed that the 9th of Tebet should be a fast, the reason for the decree was never known. But from this incident we know that they were directed by the Holy Spirit to fix this day. After his death his books and treasures were scattered and dispersed throughout the world So also were the disciples whom he had raised up. After his death they became the rabbis of Spain and the leaders of the generation.
REFERENCES TO TEXTBOOKS /Elbogen, pp. 56-57; Roth, pp. 160-161; Sachar, pp. 171172. /
READINGS FOR ADVANCED STUDENTS /Graetz, 111, pp. 254264, 273280; GraetzRhine, 111, pp. 131139,147ff /Margolis and Marx, pp. 313317, 321. / Dozy, R., Spanish Islam. See Index under “Samuel HaLevi” and “Joseph, son of Samuel HaLevi.” /Sassoon, D. S., “Diwan of the Vizier Samuel Hannaghid,” The Jewish Chronicle, (London), March 28, 1924, literary supplement no. 39. /JE, “Samuel haNagid.”
SOURCE: Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York: JPS, 1938), 297-300 Later printings of this text (e.g. by Atheneum, 1969, 1972, 1978) do not indicate that the copyright was renewed)