ALCONSTANTINI


ALCONSTANTINI
ALCONSTANTINI, family of Jewish courtiers in 13th-century Aragon probably originating from Constantine, North Africa. Naḥmanides refers to them disapprovingly as "the Ishmaelites of the court." Many members of the family were hated by the ordinary Jews for their arrogance and lack of sensitivity to the social problems of their community. The first members to attain importance were the brothers BAḤYA (Baḥi'el, Bafi'el) and solomon of Saragossa. By 1229 the two brothers were already in receipt of crown grants from James I of Aragon – the revenues from the local dyeing vats and two pounds of mutton daily from the Jewish slaughterhouse. In the same year Baḥya, who was Arabic interpreter to the court, was sent to Majorca with the count of Roussillon to conduct negotiations for the surrender of the Muslims. Baḥya also took part in Jewish communal affairs and in 1232 signed the counterban against the group who had banned the study of maimonides . The overweening ambitions of the two brothers to attain the position of supreme judicial authority (dayyan) in Aragonese Jewry were frustrated by Judah de la Cavallería, the royal baile. Naḥmanides also opposed the claims of the family to have one of its members appointed as rabbi and judge of Aragonese Jewry. However, Baḥya continued his diplomatic activities. During the distribution of the lands of the conquered territories in the 1260s he received grants of large estates. In 1240 Solomon held a village and fortress near Tarragona and the revenues from some Catalonian knights. Of Baḥya's two sons, Moses and Solomon, the former was by far the more active and important. The two brothers appear in the sources from 1264. Moses was appointed baile of Saragossa from 1276 until the end of 1278; he succeeded the late Judah de la Cavallería, of a family that was Alconstantini's staunchest opponent. As baile of Saragossa he was much involved in the collection of the salt tax in Aragon. In the years 1280–81 Moses was the baile of the city of Valencia. Even before his campaign for the conquest of Sicily had begun, Pedro III gave in to the growing anti-Jewish pressure of the clergy and the nobility. Moses was the last Jew in the royal service to be dismissed from office. He was thrown into prison and brought to trial, in which he almost lost his life. The trial was the result of unpaid debts which he incurred during his work for the king. He was greatly disliked by Jews and Christians for his unscrupulous conduct. Moses was also deeply involved in the affairs of the Jewish community. Members of the Alconstantini family were at constant odds with the community and its leading members, first and foremost Judah de la Cavallería. Solomon Alconstantini was appointed one of the three magistrates (berurim) of the Saragossa community in 1271. Moses was implicated, with Meir b. Eleazar, in beating up R. Yom Tov Ishbili for having delivered a legal opinion to the royal clerk on the feuds of the local great families. The Alconstantini family was still aspiring to the office of chief justice and "crown rabbi" of the kingdom in 1294, and the queen of Castile applied to James II of Aragon with the request that Solomon Alconstantini be confirmed in this office. James, however, refused, on the ground that the privileges granted to the family had lapsed during the reigns of his predecessors: "for great damage and destruction has been suffered by all the Jews in our kingdom, and it would be unreasonable that for the sake of one Jew we should thereby lose all the others." In the 14th century the Alconstantini family declined from its former eminence. Some physicians of this name are mentioned as living in Aragon. solomon (early 14th century), probably a descendant of the family, was the author of Megalleh Amukot. enoch b. solomon al-constantini was the author of philosophical works. An Alconstantini represented the huesca community in the disputation of tortosa (1413–14). After the expulsion from Spain, members of the Alconstantini family are found in Turkey. Later, they moved to Ancona, where the name assumed the Italian form, Constantini. Some of them were rabbis and community leaders in Ancona during the 17th and 18th centuries. When the French conquered Ancona (1797) Sansone was one of the three Jews elected to the city council. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Baer, Spain, index; Baer, Urkunden, 1 (1929), index; idem, in: Dvir, 2 (1924), 316; Miret and Schwab, in: rej, 68 (1914), 179; Ibn Verga, Shevet Yehudah, ed. by A. Shochat (1947), 95. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: D. Romano, Judíos al sevicio de Pedro el Grande de Aragón (1983), 87–112 (Haim Beinart / Yom Tov Assis (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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