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The centuries between the final redaction of the
Talmud and the beginning of Jewish culture in
the West is one of the most obscure periods in the
history of the Jews of post-Biblical times. If we
regard the literary productiveness of a people as
the only standard by which to measure its culture,
then we must confess that this was a period of
decline ; the Geonic epoch has not brought forth
one monumental work. Yet, a period which has
produced such powerful religious movements as
Karaism and mysticism, and has for the first time
made a serious attempt to harmonize Hellenism
with Talmudic Judaism cannot be considered as
stagnant. The first step towards a correct under-
standing of this period must be a clear comprehension
of the institution which gave it its name : " the
Gaonate." With the exception of E. Saadia, who
flourished toward the end of this period, we meet
with no name of the first magnitude. But, the less
important the Geonim were in themselves, the
more important must have been the Gaonate to be
able to impress its stamp upon several centuries.
The fundamental question which we have to answer
before we proceed to form an estimate of this period
is : Were the Geonim only heads of Academies, or
were they representatives of authoritative bodies ?

The first volume of this book presents some
material towards the solution of this question.
Granted that we will never be able to form an
adequate picture of the activity of the Geonim, for
the contemporary sources are too meagre for this
purpose, yet I hope to have shown that the Gaon
was more than the president of a scholastic institu-
tion. The results of my studies are mostly directed


against the conception of the Gaonate as formulated
by Isaac Halevy in the third volume of his Borot
ha-Bishonim (Pressburg, 1898), according to whom
the Academies were only Talmud-schools, and the
Geonim Talmud teachers. In spite of all his Rab-
binic erudition and extraordinary critical acumen
Halevy has contributed but little towards the under-
standing of the Gaonate. His bitter attacks upon
men like Rapoport, Frankel, Weiss, Graetz, and
other Jewish scholars are but poor compensation
for the lack of positive results.

In accordance with my conception of the Gaonate
as an authoritative body, I have, in dealing with
the literary activity of the Geonim, confined myself
to their Halakic writings, since it is only in the
Halakah that the authority of the Geonim found
its full expression. In the chapter, " The Halakic
Literature of the Geonim" (pp. 72-205), I have
given a survey of the literary activity of the Geonim
along the different departments of the Halakah :
Codification, Talmud exegesis, Responsa, and Liturgy.
I hope that my investigation about the Seder JR.
Amram (pp. 119-54) will interest even those to
whom the Halakah is either a terra incognita or a
noli me tangere. Upon no other department was
the activity of the Geonim so decisive and im-
portant as upon the Liturgy, yet even this branch
of research remained uncultivated.

Conscious of the fact that in many respects I
have chosen a way which not all will be ready to
follow, I only claim credit for having undertaken
anew the examination of some important questions
relating to the history of the Geonim, which may
lead others to study this very obscure period of
Jewish history.

A considerable part of the material utilised in my
representation of the history and literature of the
Geonim is taken from the Genizah. There is no


exaggeration in maintaining that the discovery of
the Genizah by Prof. Solomon Schechter was in
no other department of Jewish learning so epoch-
making as in the history of the Geonim. Prof.
Schechter's Saadyana (Cambridge, 1903) is a fair
specimen of what we may expect from the Genizah
for the understanding of the Geonic period. Indeed
it is a veritable treasure trove for the history of
this period. New Halakic material, however, has
not been brought forth from the Genizah till now,
and yet no one will doubt, except those who are
given over to philological trifles or theological
sophisms that it is the Halakah alone which gives
us a true mirror of that time. Especially is this
the case with the Responsa which deal with life
in all its aspects. They enable us to penetrate
into the study of the scholar as well as into the
home of the everyday man.

The second volume consists of Halakic Frag-
ments from the Genizah now stored in the Taylor-
Schechter collection in the Cambridge University
Library, and in the Bodleian at Oxford \ The first
thirty-eight fragments are Geonic Responsa 2, which
hitherto were entirely unknown, or which differ
in some way from the form in which they have
been known. I have disregarded such Geonic
Responsa from the Genizah as are identical with
those previously printed as well as those which are
written in Arabic. With the exception of a few
very badly damaged fragments, this book contains
nearly all the Geonic Responsa from the Genizah
in the above-mentioned libraries.

The Fragments coming from the Bodleian were
copied by myself, and I can therefore confidently

^ Comp. Index s. v. ^«DN•>'5^"^l and irriaytt?— niVr. Pages 1-165 were first
published in the Jewish Quarterly Review, XVI-XX.

* Frag. XXXIV is a part of R. Nissim's Mafieah, which I have incor-
porated in this book, as the Mafteah is mainly based on Geonic Responsa.


vouch for their correctness in reproducing the
original. For the copies of the Cambridge Frag-
ments I am indebted to Ernest Worman, M.A.,

The Fragments reproduced here line for line,
page for page, are preceded by short introductions
describing the manuscripts and the nature of their
varying contents. I have made it a point to call
the reader's attention to certain interesting Halakic
views expressed in the Fragments. I was brought
up in surroundings where the understanding of the
Halakah was the chief subject of Jewish learning,
and even now I cannot free myself of the view
that the Halakah ought to be no less important
than the correct spelling of an Aramaic preposition.
The Appendix to the second volume contains
nine Fragments (XXXIX-XLVII) of the Slieeltot
and Halakot Gedolot. The importance of these Frag-
ments in the study of the early Geonic literature
is fully dealt with in the first volume (pp. 91-3,
108-9), and also in the introductory note (pp. 349-
52) preceding them.

To facilitate the use of the Fragments I have
added two Indices. The first, arranged according
to the SImlhan "Amk, gives the subject of the
Eesponsa ; those containing explanations of Tal-
mudical passages are indexed at the end of this in
accordance with the order of the Talmudical treatises.
The second index is alphabetical, and deals with
the historical or philological matter found either in
the text of the Fragments or in the notes and
introductions accompanying them.

I desire to acknowledge my indebtedness to the
authorities of the Cambridge University and Bodleian
Libraries for courtesies shown me in connexion with
the present work.





Palestine and Babylonia i

Salient Features of the Gaonate 6

Friction between the Exilarchate and the Gaonate of

Pumbedita 14

The Language of Nathan ha-Babli's Report . . . . 22

Nathan ha-Babli Identified 29

Nathan ha-Babli the Source for the Two Reports about the

Babylonian Academies 34

The Supremacy of Sura 37

The Title Gaon originally the Prerogative of Sura ... 46

The Origin of the Gaonate under the Mohammedan Rulers . 52

Nathan ha- Babli's Account of Ukba 55

The Last Conflict between the Exilarchate and the Pumbedita

Gaonate 62

The Predecessor of Saadia 66

The Chronology of the Geonim 69


Halakah the Main Feature of Geonic Literature
The Impulse to Geonic Literary Activity .

Rabbi Aha of Shabha

The Sheeltot and the Yerushalmi

Plan and Purpose of the Sheeltot

Rabbi Jehudai the Earliest Halakic Writer in Geonic Times

Conflicting Traditions about the Author of the Halahot Gedolot

Jehudai Gaon Author of the Original Halahot Gedolot

Later Amplifications of the Halahot Gedolot

Plan and Purpose of the Halahot Gedolot .

Codification not Favoured

Prayers First Put in Writing .

The Liturgical Part of the Seder Rah Amram





The B-aXsi^ic FsLYt of the Seder Rab Amram . . . , 144

Relation of the Manuscripts to the Printed Text . . . 151
Spurious Works attributed to the Geonim Nahshon and his

Son Hai 154

Works attributed to the Geonim Zemah, Hai ben David,

and Hilai 159

The Importance of Rabbi Saadia in Halakic Literature . . 162

The Three Great Successors of Rabbi Saadia .... 167

Anonymous Codes of the Geonic Time . . . . . 177

Origin of the Responsa Collections 182

The Importance of the Geonic Responsa 200





Palestine and Babylonia.

"'The staff shall not depart from Judah' — the Exil-
archs who govern the people with the ruler's rod ; ' nor
a lawgiver from between his feet' — the descendants of
Hillel who instruct the people in the Torah." This brief,
vivid characterisation of the two great Jewish institu-
tions of the Talmudic time, by a Jewish sage living at
the beginning of the second century^, remained no less
true in the centuries that followed. In spite of friction
now and again between the later Patriarchs and the
intellectual leaders of the Palestinian Jews ^, the dissension
never reached the point of causing a separation of the
spiritual power from the worldly power in Palestine.
Though the Patriarchs were not always the actual
presiding officers of the chief academy, de jure they were
looked upon, in Palestine and outside, as the spiritual
heads of the Jews. For instance, the last important
achievement that may be credited to the account of the
Jewish scholars of Palestine, the fixation of the calendar,
in the middle of the fourth century, is closely connected
with the name of the Patriarch Hillel II, and, as late as
the second half of the same century, the surveillance of
religious conditions in the Diaspora still lay in the hands
of the Patriarch, as we may learn from the account of
a Christian author of the time. The Patriarch dispatched

^ SanJiedrin, 5 a ; this anonymous Baraita must have originated in the
time of the Patriarch Rabbi Judah I ; the earlier Tannaim make no sort
of mention of the Babylonian Exilarchs.

^ Comp., for example, Yer. Sanhedrin, beg. of second chapter.


messengers, " apostles," not only for the purpose of col-
lecting moneys, but also, in the words of Epiphanius^,
" to maintain the observance of the law, and dismiss
unfit archisynagogues, priests, presbyters, and ministers."
In Babylonia conditions were vastly different. From
the earliest time there had prevailed a sharply marked
dualism. The Exilarchate, which could count upon the
support of the non-Jewish government, was a political
power and nothing more. It permitted no interference
in its province, either from within or from without 2.
Beginning with the early years of the third century, the
scholar's estate developed more and more into an essential
element in the life of the Babylonian Jews, though it
lacked a unified expression of its authority. There were,
indeed, the Academies, especially the two great central

^ Epiphanius, Adv.Haer., XX, 4 and 11, on the Jewish apostles. For
details, comp. Harnack, Die Mission vnd Ausbreitung cles Chrisienthums,
237-40 ; Krauss, J. Q. R., XVII, 370-83 ; and Vogelstein, Monatsschrift, IXL,
427 et seq. Apparently the Babylonian Geonim followed this example
and sent out apostles. Rabbi Nehemiah Gaon speaks, in his letter dated
962, of mbnpn ba nmnc mj« MbxD i^rn ntrnrt I'p-iTf TMy^xD -i'd i:"i^p' t br v.rrbsD n;m
(J.Q.R.f XIX, 106). Likewise Rabbi Samuel Ibn Hofni speaks of
m^DT nr\r'n po in one of his letters (J. Q. R., XIV, 308). This expression
conveys the notion that the oflfiee of -i>pD was an old institution. In the
year 750, we find Abi 'Ali Hassan, of Bagdad, as *'the head of the
congregation" of Fostat {J.Q.R., XVII, 428). The idea suggests itself
that he was sent upon a mission by the Babylonian authorities. In
another Genizah fragment, J.Q.R., XIX, 740, n^bM^n Dnor 'i, "the apostle
Rabbi Amram " is mentioned, who, however, seems to have been deputed
by the Palestinian Geonim. On the other hand. Rabbi Eleazar Alluf,
in Babylonia in 850, who gave the Geonim information about Spain,
was not a returned emissaiy of the Geonim, but a native Spaniard, as we
learn from the description of him in Harkavy, 201, and Schechter,
Saadtjana, 76: ■i;sc^b"is ;m 7X"m\r' n id ">i r^r^a ^M'hii y^ in sarr mn hdt. He
went to Babylonia, and probably took up his residence there, for we find
him there in 875 (Harkavy, I.e.). The custom of the Academies, discussed
in G. S., p. 302, of disposing in the month of Adar of the questions
submitted to them from all parts is probably connected with the dis-
patching of the messengers, as the Patriarchs also sent their apostles out
in this month, according to Krauss's correct observation (1. c, 374, note 4).

^ Sanhedrin, 5 a ; Yer. Baha Bathra, V, end ; and elsewhere.


bodies at Sura and Pumbedita, but they wanted the means
of making effective powers of themselves. The Academy
in Palestine, situated in the town in which the Patriarch
resided, was the highest court of justice, no matter who
and what the president might be at a given time, thus
in a measure representing the old Synhedrion^. In
Babylonia, on the other hand, the importance of an
Academy depended upon the learning of the presiding
chief. So lonof as Rab Huna and Rab Hisda were con-
nected with the Academy at Sura, it was in the lead, and
Pumbedita was pre-eminent when it could boast of a
Kabbah, a Rab Joseph, and other scholars of equal note.
Yet, however brilliant the respective representatives of the
Academies might be, neither of them could lay claim to
exclusive authority. For instance, when the Academy at
Sura, under the leadership of Rab Huna, was enjoying its
palmiest days, many a scholar, like Rab Nahman and Rab
Anan, refused to subordinate himself to its rulings 2.

This was exactly as it should have been. The truth of
the popular saying, " Knowledge is power," has been verified
abundantly in the course of Jewish history. Since the
destruction of the Jewish State, it has been Jewish know-
ledge that has always kept the Jews together, though they
were scattered over all the continents. But to be a power,
intellectualism must clothe itself in a concrete form, and
for this there was no provision in the Babylonian Academies,

1 Sanhedrin, 31 b, where inn n^n is not, as Rashi holds, some place or
other at which scholars foregathered, but the Academy over which the
Patriarch presided, as may be seen plainly from Yer. Berakof, IV, 7 d, and
Yer. Sanhedrin, II, beg.

2 Comp. Ketubot, 69 a, where Rab Anan addresses the head of the
Sura Academy as ^mn s;in, which evokes many an unpleasant remark.
Rab Nahman also speaks of pnn «;in, and, as Rabbi Sherira, in his
Letter, 32, 13, observes with fine insight, Rab Nahman did not acknow-
ledge the head of Sura as an authority superior to himself. Also the
passage Kiddushln, 70 a, throws light upon the relation subsisting between
Rab Nahman and Rab Huna. He did not consult with the latter
when he cited Rab Judah, the chief of the Pumbedita Academy, before
the court.

B 2


as long as they were purely spiritual centres, destitute of
every vestige of temporal authority.

Keeping this state of affairs in mind, we cannot find it
surprising that the Babylonian Academies were not yet
able to take the place, as they afterwards did, of those
in Palestine, when the latter entered upon a period of
rapid decline, beginning with the dominance of the religion
of love, the adherents of which extirpated the Jewish
culture of the Holy Land with fire and sword ^.

The importance of the Babylonian Academies dates
from the so-called Geonic time. To be accurate, it is
about the end of the seventh century that they begin to
appear as the paramount power of the whole of the

^ In the Geonic time, the superiority of the Babylonian Talmud was
acknowledged even in Palestine, in connexion with which the Responsum
reproduced in G. S., pp. 50-3, is of interest. Its author was a Palestinian
scholar in the latter half of the eighth century, who, in his discussions,
refers only to the Babylonian Talmud and the Gaon Eabbi Jehudai.
Also in the Ben-Meir controversy the Palestinians appeal to the Babylonian
and not the Jerusalem Talmud. Eabbi Paltoi, yV, 63 b, 40, expressed
himself very harshly concerning certain Palestinian customs : p:^x dttd
N'Dbj?! cinn Di^D rtb vn^m ^\'h^ '-io.vp nn im «imj ]13\^ pri-i. His words
give poignant expression to the decay of Palestinian supremacy in
Babylonia. The last demonstrable case of Babylonians applying to
Palestinians for a decision is that mentioned in HuUin, 59 b, for the
Rab Samuel ben Abbahu of this passage is the Sabora of that name,
who, according to Rabbi Sherira's statement. Letter, 34, 18, died in 505.
Neubauer's text has the incori'ect reading r^l^rr' in instead of init* '2, as
Wallerstein has it. On the other hand, Neubauer's reading in the previous
line, "'«Din>j, is preferable to 'TDim, as appears from MSS, M and of
'EruUn, 11 a, which have "-mn:, while in the parallel passage, MenaJiot,
33 b, MS. M also reads ^Dim — a corroboration of Rabbi Sherira's statement
that the name has been transmitted in two forms, ^mm and '•mm. Halevy
remarks, in Dorot ha-Rish., Ill, 13, that Rabbi Sherira was so exact as to
record so insignificant a variant as \soim and 'mm! Nor can Halevy
be endorsed in what he says (p. 7) about the colleague of Rabbi 'mm,
'DV N2X, whose name he changes into rpv 'i. The Responsum given
in G. S., p. 53, confirms the reading ••cv «ix. This unusual name was
corrupted into >dv '1 and F|DV 'i, which were more familiar forms to
the copyists. Comp. Rabbi Aaron of Lunel, D^'n 'i«, II, 194, who reads :
T\DV n . . . pn: 't, in Menaliot, 1. c, the first undoubtedly corrupted from
""om = ""mn:, and additions to G.S., p. 49.


Jewish Diaspora, and at the same time as a properly
organised institution with well-defined rights and claims,

A homilist of the Geonic period gives a telling descrip-
tion of the importance of the two Academies, the one at
Sura and the one at Pumbedita^. " God made a covenant
with Israel," he says, " that the Oral Law shall never
depart from his mouth until the end of all generations,
and therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, estabhshed
these two Yeshibot, that the Torah may be studied in
them day and night. . . . These two Yeshibot have had
no captivity to endure, and no religious persecution.
Neither Javan (Greece) nor Edom (Rome) has had power
over them. Twelve years before the destruction of Jeru-
salem [under Nebuchadnezzar], God sent the great masters
of the Torah into exile, with Jeconiah, to Babylon, where
the knowledge of the Torah has been cherished without an
interruption until the present day."

This great distinction of the Babylonian Academies, of
having maintained the continuity of the tradition from the
Biblical to the Geonic time, is a subject frequently referred
to by the Geonim ^. Nor can it be denied that the hege-
mony exercised by the Babylonian Jew^s for about four
centuries is due in part to the circumstance that at the

^ Tanhuma, Noah. This Derashah is introduced with the words nb.-^
n: mibin, which have no sort of connexion with the rest of the contents.
The only possible explanation is that this homily on the importance of
the Academies does not belong to the section Noah, but to the following
one, -jb "jb, the Pentateuch lesson read on the abvM Kniu:, the Exilarch's
reception Sabbath, on which a sermon was delivered by the Geonim,
or, to be accurate, by the Gaon of Sura (comp. below, pp. 45-6 and 94).
A favourite subject for this sermon was the duty of supporting and
paying deference to the Academies. The Tanhuma passage cited is one
of these sermons, one actually held on the occasion mentioned. In the
older form of the Tanhuma, its place was at the beginning of the lesson
"]b -y>, the new section being marked as such in the usual way, by
the closing words TO rrnbin nbx of the previous section n:. In the
course of the many modifications to which the Tanhuma was subjected,
the piece came to stand in the middle instead of the end of the lesson n: .

^ Comp., for instance, the anonymous Kesponsum in '\'^:i'n, IV, 73, which
here and there agrees literally with the Derashah in Tanhuma.


time when Palestine ceased to be the spiritual centre of
the Jews, Babylonia, with more justification than any
other country, could boast of a steady development of
Jewish culture extending over a period of several centuries.
But to look upon the Gaonate simply as a direct continua-
tion of the activity of the Amoraim, were as unhistorical as
to represent the scholars, the D^DDn ^''D^n, of the Tannaitic
time as another appellation for the disciples of the prophets,
the D''X^3M ^n of the Bible. It is true the scholar had the
same task to accomplish as the prophet ^ Both were the
teachers and spiritual leaders of the people. But the life of
the Jewish nation during the period of the Second Temple,
politically and religiously considered, differed so essentially
from its life under the Judges and the Kings, that the
respective leaders in the two epochs perforce show radical
differences, in spite of a number of ideals held in common.
And how far removed in character the Geonic Academies
were from the Talmudic Academies will appear in part
from the points about to be discussed.

Salient Features op the Gaonate.

Any Talmudic treatise selected at random will reveal
dozens of authorities on every folio, who were neither
presidents of Academies nor connected with the Academies
in any official way. From the rise of the schools in
Babylonia under Bab until the death of the last Amora,
Rabina, scarcely a dozen names of heads of Academies
can be mustered, though the number of Amoraim runs up
to hundreds. On the other hand, if we examine the
Geonic Responsa for a period of about 400 years, we
shall find that the name of hardly a single authority who

1 The following words of E. Saadia in Harkavy, Saadia, 158, are very
interesting : ''As the prophets led it [the Jewish nation] in their times,
so the righteous lead it in their generations."


is not a Gaon has come down to us ^. A phenomenon that
speaks volumes ! In the Talmudic time the Academy was

^ Miiller, in his Mafteah, has recorded Responsa by Rabbi Nathan,
whom he considers the same as the uncle of Rabbi Sherira. But of the
latter, Rabbi Nathan Alluf, we have no Responsa. The former, as will
be shown below, p. 31, is Rabbi Nathan ben Hananiah, of Kairwan. We
also have Responsa by Rabbi Dosa, the son of Rabbi Saadia, but it must
be remembered that the Sura Gaonate is to be considered extinct after
the death of Rabbi Saadia, barring only the brief period of Rabbi Samuel
ben Hofni's activity. It was natural, therefore, that Rabbi Dosa, the
worthy son of his great father, should be considered the representative
of the scholars of Sura, and as such should be addressed for decisions.
The Rabbi Hezekiah ben Samuel, "the grandson of Rabbi Paltoi," men-
tioned in G. S., p. 59, is doubtless identical with the writer of the letter,
dated 953, which was published in the J. Q.R., XVIII, 401-3, and is not

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