Sunday 10 March 2019


A street sign in Tel Aviv.
R. David Alro’i (or Al Ruchi, or Al Ruji[1]) was another false messiah who was active around the mid-1100s. 

He was born in Iraq under the name Menachem ben Shlomo, and was a student of Chasdai the Exilarch as well as Ali the Gaon of Baghdad. He was well versed in Talmud, Jewish mysticism and acquainted with matters of the occult.[2] With time he built a reputation amongst the masses as a kind of wizard and miracle worker.[3]


Politically, these were very unsettled times because the early Crusades had begun to weaken the Caliphate in Persia and David Alro’i seized on the opportunity and led an uprising against Sultan Muktafi.

Historically, there had already been precedents of successful Jewish revolutions in Persia (around Iran and Iraq) with Jews capturing whole areas and ruling over them. In one instance, two brothers Chasinai and Chanilai ruled over a section of Iraq. In another case, a certain Exilarch or Reish Galuta also managed to capture a region and rule over it.[4]

The charismatic Alro’i wanted to free the Jews from Muslim rule, and he wanted them to follow him to Jerusalem where he would become the Jewish King. This grand messianic plan would have involved a great revolt against the Muslim Caliphate and a subsequent battle against the Crusaders to wrest Jerusalem from their grip.

Alro’i was following in the footsteps of his father, R. Shlomo, who claimed to be Elijah the prophet, whose role was to declare that his son was the Messiah. Another account (see below) has it that the father also professed to be the Messiah which makes the messianic claims an apparent family affair.[5]
It didn’t take long for Alro’i to have a considerable following and a fighting force was soon assembled. 

Many Jews of that time were known to have been fierce fighters [See The Jews of Arabia]. In nearby Azerbaijan, there lived a number of warlike mountain Jews who were also co-opted to join the battle. 

The Jewish rebel force was also encouraged and supported by the Yazidis.


The Jewish fighting force attacked the citadel of the strategic town of Amadiya which was on the Crusader route. They dressed like Talmud scholars assembling to listen to their sage Alro’i but with hidden swords concealed beneath their robes.

What happened next is uncertain. According to some accounts, the fighters were defeated and Alro’i was killed.


According to another account[6] when the Sultan heard that there was a ‘King of the Jews’ in his realm, planning a great revolt, he cast Alro’i into prison. Alro’i subsequently escaped and the story is embellished with miraculous legends - but essentially the Sultan threatened to kill all the Jews if Alro’i did not give himself up to the authorities. 

The Jewish leadership in Baghdad and Mosul then encouraged Alro’i to ‘give up his messianic aspirations’ but to no avail. The governor of Amadiya then bribed Alro’i’s father-in-law to assassinate him - which he did - and the revolt was quelled.

The remaining Jews of Persia now had to pay a large indemnity to appease the authorities to be allowed to remain there.


The earliest account of the story is provided by Ovadia the Ger (an Italian Catholic priest who converted to Judaism during the early 12th century):

“In those days there arose ‘children of the violent’ among the nation of Israel, who lifted up their souls to establish a vision and stumbled in their words...there arose a certain Jew named Solomon ben Ruji, the name of whose son was Menahem...

They wrote letters to all the Jews near and far in all the lands which were round about them, so that their renown and the contents of their letters reached a far distance.

Unto all the places which are upon the face of the earth where the Jews are scattered amongst all the nations beneath the heavens did their renown reach.

All of them said that the time had come when the Lord would gather his nation Israel from all the lands unto Jerusalem the holy city, and that Solomon b. Ruji was the King Messiah.

When all the Jews residing in the various lands heard the words of their letters, they rejoiced greatly. 

The waited days, months and years, but did not see anything. Many of the Jews spent many days in fasting, prayer and charitable acts, for they were awaiting the Lord’s salvation, as He had said through His servants the prophets. 

When they failed to see anything, their hearts were utterly broken within them, and the Jews became ashamed before all the gentiles (Muslims).”[7]

It is interesting to note that according to Ovadia the Ger, the fame of this pseudo-messiah was not just localised but had indeed spread throughout the entire Jewish world at that time, because “All of them said that the time had come when the Lord would gather his nation...” and “all the Jews residing in the various lands... rejoiced greatly.” [8]


Despite David Alro’i’s death, many Jews continued to believe that he was actually the Messiah.

Capitalising on this messianic sentiment, two impostors possessing a forged letter which they claimed was from Alro’i, persuaded his followers to hand over all their possessions and they were to meet on a certain night, dress in green, and then ‘fly’ from Baghdad to Jerusalem.

According to R. Adin Steinsaltz, it was Alro’i himself who made this promise while still alive. 

Either way, the followers waited up all night and even the Muslims “were so amazed at what had happened that they refrained from opposing (the Jews) until the result of their vain expectations had revealed itself (in the morning)”.[9]  


Shlomo ben Yachya or Samau'al al-Maghribi - or  שלמה בן יחיא אלמוגרבי‎ (1130 – 1180) - was the son of a Moroccan rabbi, Yehudah ben Abbas, a friend of Yehudah haLevi. Shlomo hid his conversion to Islam for some time in fear of offending his father, until eventually openly embracing Islam in 1163 (the year of Alro'i's death) after he allegedly had a dream instructing him to do so.  When his father eventually heard about his conversion, he immediately set out to Maragha, but died on the way in Mosul.  

[Shlomo ben Yachya is also known to have been a great mathematician and although he did not invent logarithms, he did explain the law of exponents, which is the basis of logarithms. He also studied the binomial theorem, the arithmetic triangle (usually called Pascal's triangle), and mathematical induction.]

Shlomo ben Yachya became an anti-Jewish polemicist. Perhaps he had been negatively affected and disillusioned by the messianic fervour which he witnessed.

According to Samau’al al-Maghribi, after that fateful night on the rooftops of Baghdad, the Jews named that year the ‘am al-tiran’ or year of the flight. They subsequently began to date the years and calendar as from that year.

Shlomo ben Yachya wrote a vitriolic account of the Alro’i incident:

“In order to show how [the Jews] are inclined to believe whatever is false and impossible in a big hurry, we will mention an incident that will show as well how weak are the intellectual powers of the Jews of Baghdad…

...when the rumors about [al-Ro’i] reached Baghdad, two swindling Jews, elders and men of esteem, conspired and wrote letters… to the Jews of Baghdad, to announce to them the Redemption for which they had been long waiting.

They set the date for a certain night in which they would all fly to Jerusalem. And the Jews of Baghdad, who glory so in their acuity [def: the ability to think clearly] and analysis, attended closely to this and trusted in the truthfulness of these two men.

And the women brought them their wealth and ornaments so they might give them to whomever needed them. And so the Jews donated a fair part of what they owned. They had clothes made for themselves and gathered on the rooftops that night, in order to wait for the angels that would carry me to Jerusalem on their wings.

And the mothers who were there and had babies to nurse worried tearfully, lest they should fly before their children or their children before them, that the babies would thus die for lack of nourishment…

That whole night, until the dawn, the Jews tried to fly. Finally, they came to know that they had been misled and had become a laughing matter.

The two swindlers fled, taking with them what they had gotten from the Jews…

They called the year “the year of flying” and used it to tell how old someone was… The whole matter is an eternal and constant shame for them.”[10]

The expression 'carry me to Jerusalem' may suggest that Shlomo ben Yachya was, at that time, part of the very group of Jews who were waiting on the rooftops - and after experiencing this event became disillusioned by what he saw. Perhaps that was the catalyst which prompted him to leave his religion and to write so angrily against his people.

As mentioned, R. Steinsaltz suggests that it was Alro'i himself who encouraged the Jews to wait on the rooftops. This may be borne out by the dating of Shlomo ben Yachya's account which is dated 1150. This would have been while Alro'i was still alive as he passed away thirteen years later in 1163.


After that fateful night, the remaining followers became known amongst the Jews as Menachemim.[11]

These followers perpetuated their belief in Alro’i’s messianic claims for about a generation or so after his death.[12]


Rambam was born in 1135 which makes it most likely that he would have heard about the events surrounding Alro'i. We know that Rambam entered into correspondence with Baghdadi Jews.

We also know that Shmuel ben Ali, the Gaon of Baghdad publicly accused Rambam of discarding a most fundamental precept within Judaism, namely the notion of the Revival of the Dead. The Gaon was the most outspoken critic of Rambam during his lifetime. This prompted Rambam - in 1191 - to write his Essay on the Revival of the Dead, to defend himself against this open charge of heresy. [See Rambam's View on the Revival of the Dead.]

In the Essay, Rambam writes equally scathingly about his adversary the Gaon of Baghdad:

"I received a copy of the writing of the Gaon. I found it was a collection of homilies and legends that he had gathered. Everyone knows that scholars are not expected to rehearse the homilies and the curious tales, of the sort that women tell one another in their condolence calls.”

Benjamin Disraeli's manuscript of his novel about David Alroy.
In 1833, the then British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (whose father left Judaism after a synagogue dispute) wrote a novel about the Alro’i revolt, entitled The Wondrous Tale of Alroy.[13]


Fascinatingly, R. Adin Steinsaltz suggests that the origins of the Star of David go back, not to King David, but to David Alro’i who used it on his shield as a possible magical symbol, being a practitioner of the ‘magical arts’. 

He also points out that this same symbol was common in Islamic countries and culture. Yet, over time it became a hallowed symbol of the Jewish People because it reminded them of a great hero “a dreamer, a leader...a young good looking man leading an army, sitting on a horse – with a Magen David!


There have been so many false messiahs over the ages [see here, here, here and here for just a few examples] and Jewish scholarship has different ways of dealing with them:

Some believe that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with (the ‘good’) false messiahs because like scientific experiments, one has to fail many times before getting it right. The person is therefore not held accountable, as his intentions were good - and in a different environment things could have turned out better.

There is even a Chassidic analogy that compares meshichei sheker or false messiahs to someone who has to wake up a sick person from time to time to prevent him from falling into a coma. So too the Jewish people have to be awakened from time to time to keep the messianic dream alive.

Another common explanation is that there has to be a potential messiah in every generation so that a candidate, so to speak, is always waiting in the wings. In this sense, not every messiah is a false messiah but rather a potential messiah.

On the other hand, one could argue that a false messiah is just that – a false messiah

One can very easily be inclined to go along with the latter argument, especially when one reads about the utter and sometimes unimaginable turmoil that often followed in the wake of such messianic claimants.

In our example, one just has to read the account of Shlomo ben Yachya al-Maghribi (quoted above). It’s easy to say that he was just a Jew turned anti-Jew because of his apostasy. In all probability that was the case. However, much usable material was handed to him on a plate, as he witnessed the messianic frenzy and he didn’t have to look far to find it.

Similar - and harsher examples - are glaringly apparent in wake of the many other false messiahs as well. As Ovadia the Ger said, in the aftermath ‘when they failed to see anything, their hearts were utterly broken within them, and the Jews became ashamed before all the gentiles’.

In fairness, if these false messiahs, themselves, had rather claimed to be potential messiahs then one could accept all the oft-repeated explanations offered for their failure. The problem is that they didn’t. 

They all claimed to the Messiah.

Surely that must place them in a very different category - no different perhaps from another great figure in Jewish history.

[1] Ruj is a region near or part of Aleppo.
[2] From a lecture by R. Adin Steinsaltz on David Alro'i.
[3] Ibid. R. Steinsaltz.
[4] Ibid. R. Steinsaltz.
[5] Alternatively, it is also plausible, as Moshe Gill explains, that Abu Da’ud - being the nickname for Suleiman (Shlomo) in Arabic - became somehow conflated with the father’s name Shlomo. Thus the full name of Menachem would have been Menachem ibn-abi-Da’ud Suleiman ibn al-Ruji, which was later recorded only as Da’ud, or David.
It has also been suggested that he assumed the name David to conjure up images of King David.
[6] The account of Benjamin of Tudela. For more on this adventurer rabbi see here.
[7] Translation from Norman Golb (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago) THE MESSIANIC PRETENDER SOLOMON IBN AL-RUJI AND HIS SON MENAHEM (THE SO-CALLED “DAVID ALROY”).
[8] This widespread fame and messianic acceptance was not limited to Solomon and David Alro’i but mirrored by other false messiahs as well. See Shabbatai Zvi regarding whom it appears that the majority of the Jewish world believed him to the righteous Messiah as well.
[9] Moshe Perlman, Samau’al al-Maghrebi, Ifham al-Yahud — Silencing of the Jews (Proceedings of the American Academy of Jewish Research 32, 1964).
[10] Samau’el Ibn Abbas – Ifham al-Yahud ca. 1150. [Non-italics mine.]

[11] As mentioned, David’s name was in fact Menachem.
[12] Ibid. R. Steinsaltz.
[13] Disraeli received a £300 advance from his publishers which he used to repay a debt to his father’s landlord.


  1. The Rambam's Iggeret Teiman relates another similar story:

    a multitude of Jews, numbering hundred of thousands, from the East beyond Ispahan, led by an individual who pretended to be the Messiah. They were accoutered with military equipment, and drawn swords, and slew all those that encountered them. They reached, according to the information I received, the vicinity of Baghdad. This happened in the beginning of the reign of the Umayyads.

    The king then said to all the Jews of his kingdom: "Let your scholars go out to meet this multitude and ascertain whether their pretension is true and he is unmistakably your Expected One. If so, we shall conclude peace with you under any conditions you may prefer. But if it is dissimulation, then I shall wage war against them." When the sages met these Jews, the latter declared: "We belong to the children of the district beyond the River." Then they asked them: "Who instigated you to make this uprising?" Whereupon they replied: "This man here, one of the descendants of David, whom we know to be pious and virtuous. This man, whom we knew to be a leper at night, arose the following morning healthy and sound." They believed that leprosy was one of the characteristics of the Messiah, for which they found an allusion to the verse: "stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted," (Isaiah 53:4), that is by leprosy. Whereupon the sages explained to them that this interpretation was incorrect, and that he lacked even one of the characteristics of the Messiah, let alone all of them. Furthermore they advised them as follows: "O, brethren, you are still near your native country and have the possibility of returning thither. If you remain in this land you will not only perish, but also undermine the teachings of Moses, by misleading people to believe that the Messiah has appeared and has been vanquished, whereas you have neither a prophet in your midst, nor an omen betokening his oncoming." Thereupon they were persuaded by these arguments. The Sultan turned over to them so and so many thousand of dinars by way of hospitality in order that they should leave his country. But after they had returned home, he had a change of heart with respect to the Jews upon whom he imposed a fine for his expenditures. He ordered them to make a special mark on their garments, the writing of the word "cursed," and to attach one iron bar in the back and one in the front. Ever since then the communities of Khorasan and Ispahan experienced the tribulations of the Diaspora. This episode we have learned from oral reports.

    1. Thank you for that fascinating account.

    2. I was amazed to discover that my speculation that Rambam would have been aware of the Alro'i incident is born out by research by Haggai Mazuz from Bar Ilan who writes:

      "In his Epistle to Yemen, Moses Maimonides answers an anonymous Jewish apostate's polemical claims about the truth of Islam. This apostate challenged the Yemenite Jews by presenting quotes from the Torah that Muslims considered proof of the future advent of Islam and Muhammad (dala’il). The identity of the apostate,however, has been disputed by researchers. This article proposes that the apostate Maimonides had in mind was Samaw'al al-Maghribī, the Jewish convert who authored Ifham al-Yahūd. The reasoning is based on unique characteristics of Samaw’al’s tract that distinguish it from other polemical works. Samaw’al discussed the dala'il with much greater sophistication than any earlier polemicist and used an advanced manner of presentation, in response to which Maimonides provided well-conceived refutations. This combination of Samaw’al’s sophisticated polemical arguments and Maimonides’s replies demonstrates that the two appear to be matched."

  2. absolutly agree. Moshe our true leader was the most humble, how different from saying I am mashiaj... etc. If they could only say potential mashiaj would be so... humble