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fact that the Gaon had determined to make Zakkai ben
Ahunai Exilarch. In this purpose he was aided and
abetted by the Gaon of Sura. With united forces they
worked to remove Natronai from his office, and put Zakkai
ben Ahunai in his place, and they succeeded. Natronai
was forced out, and, grieved by the dishonour done him,
he left Babylonia, and settled in Palestine ^. The cause of

^ Weiss accepts the incorrect reading 'i<rm, while Graetz properly has
■'i^2"'2n. Albargeloni, DTj^n 'd, 256, writes the name 'synn, as Kabbi
Isaac of Vienna does in I'^is', I, 114 d, though the source followed by the
last, C"nD , 28 a, reads ^i^rnn .

2 Graetz again displays his insight here, when he translates ni3?a with
Maghreb, that is, Spain and North Africa, for Albargeloni, 1. c, and
the correspondents of Eabbi Hai (o'lpt cric, 56, where na-i:^ is a printer's
error for iicc, the Parma MS. and Albargeloni, m^:u> 'd 'z, 108, having
the correct word ^^i:D) have the tradition that Eabbi Natronai went to the
Maghreb. My colleague Dr. Friedlaender tells me that the Arabic writer
Ibn Hazm, a contemporary and acquaintance of Rabbi Samuel ha-NagicI,
makes sport in his Milal wa'n-Nihal, I, 156, and V, 4, of the Jews who say
that one of their sages went from Bagdad to Cordova in a day, and
horned an enemy of their people there. Tliere can be no doubt that
this sage was Rabbi Natronai, of whom Albargeloni and Rabbi Hai
alike rej)ort that he went to Spain by means of -|-nn nii>E:p. It is true



the conflict was, as we can see from the Letter of Rabbi
Sherira, that Natronai was a scholar, and the Geonim did
not care to have a learned Exilarch in office."

In the first place, Rabbi Sherira makes the explicit
statement that Zakkai had been Exilarch many years
before Natronai. Then, even if it were true that the
Geonim opposed Natronai, which I hope to show was not
the case, they were not conspiring against the Exilarch in
office. On the contrary, they were giving him their support
in his struggle with an usurper of his dignity. Graetz, who
speaks in the body of his book (p. 174) somewhat vaguely
of the conflict between Natronai and Zakkai as a " quarrel
about the Exilarchate between two pretenders," is more
precise in his note on the passage, in which he properly
denominates Natronai a usurper. Halevy, in a long tirade
against "the German scholars" (231-2), accuses Graetz
of having perverted facts only to cast a slur upon the
Geonim, yet he himself agrees with Graetz in his statement
of the affair between the Gaon and the Exilarch. The truth
is that Graetz, and Halevy as well, misunderstood the case

that Rabbi Hai does not give credence to the story told him about
Rabbi Natronai, but his incredulity extends only to the miraculous
manner of his removal from place to place, not to the fact of his
emigration to Spain. Albargeloni furthermore relates that Rabbi Natronai
wrote the Talmud down, from memory, for the use of the Spanish
Jews. The statement of the great-grandson of Rabbi Paltoi, J.Q.R.,
XVIII, 401, that Rabbi Paltoi sent the Spanish congregations copies
of the Talmud and Talmudic explanations, in no wise contradicts
Albargeloni. Even if it is true that Rabbi Natronai wrote the whole
Talmud down for the Spaniards, it would not be at all remarkable
to find that copies of the Talmud were rare in Spain a century later.
One hundred and fifty years after Rabbi Paltoi, Rabbi Samuel ha-Nagid
(Ibn Daud, 72, 2, bottom) had copies of the Talmud made and distributed.
On the subject of the circulation of copies of the Talmud in the time
of Rabbi Paltoi, see G. S., p. 295. The Responsum discussed there (p. 294)
was probably given by Rabbi Natronai, the contemporary of Rabbi Paltoi.
Brull, Jahrbucher, IX, 117, attributes the opposition of the Geonim to
Rabbi Natronai to the fact of his putting the Talmud into writing.
They insisted upon oral transmission. But how could they have divined
what he would do after leaving Babylonia ?



completely. With historic insight Graetz (1. c.) recognised
the difficulty in Sherira's words : pb N^i'D m l^^iO Mnnyi
nnVDi? i?T« N^K^J ^N^nuJI pV- Connecting the death of Rabbi
Malka with the departure of Rabbi Natronai for the
nnyD is altogether inexplicable, and the solution of the
difficulty offered by Graetz not at all satisfying. But this
is far from being the only knotty point in the passage in
which Sherira mentions the occurrence. He begins his
description with the words, "And Rabbi Malka deposed
Natronai,"^ and continues with the statement that the two
Academies, in joint session, attended also by the Exilarch
Zakkai, deposed the opponent of the latter, the same
Natronai. But if both Academies made common cause
against Natronai, then why should Rabbi Malka be
singled out as the one to depose Natronai? It is clear
that Sherira speaks of the activity of Rabbi Malka in
the first sentence, and in the second sentence of the
activity of the two Academies, which makes good sense
only if Rabbi Malka acted in opposition to the two
Academies. And that is exactly what Sherira reports.
b]J , , , 7 ^''n^^« does not mean " to depose," but, on the
contrary, to install one in office in opposition to another.
Sherira himself corroborates this linguistic usage on the
next page (38, 11): 'I'D bv '•mnnxi . . ♦ pn^^ nn id i?D nnnni
fjOV un — "and after him Rabbi Isaac officiated as Gaon,
whom they [the Academy and the Exilarch] installed in
opposition to Rabbi Joseph." Sherira goes on to explain
that Rabbi Joseph, by reason of his position, learning,
and descent, had a claim upon the Gaonate, but that the
Exilarch had ordained Rabbi Isaac as Gaon " over him." In
the light of these facts the passage regarding Rabbi Malka
in Sherira's Letter reads as follows : " And he [Rabbi
Malka] installed Natronai ben Habibai as Exilarch in
opposition to the Exilarch Zakkai ben Ahunai, who had
been vested with the office for some years. The two
Academies, on the other hand, assembled in joint session,
Zakkai also being present, deposed him. Accordingly, when

c 2


Rabbi Malka departed this life, the Exilarch Natronai
emigrated to the West."

This case anticipates the later one of Rabbi Saadia,
when he made Hassan Exilarch in opposition to David,
who had been holding the office for many a long year.
And as, at the time of Saadia, the two Academies,
yielding to the pressure brought to bear by the Exilarch
David, divested Saadia and Hassan of their dignities, so
also it happened at the time of Rabbi Malka, for Mnnyi,
as the correct texts read, refers to Rabbi Malka : " They
[the Academies] together with the Exilarch deposed him
[Rabbi Malka]." Later copyists, who went astray in the
same way as the modern historians, added ^NJinD^P after
\nn3yi ^ Naturally, it cannot be supposed that Rabbi
Malka acted single-handed in his opposition to the reigning
Exilarch and the Academies. He must surely have had
his followers, like Rabbi Saadia during his suspension
from office, and it is not at all unlikely that he would
have come out victor in the end, as Rabbi Saadia suc-
ceeded in his struggle, had he not fallen during the fray.
And his death was the reason that made Rabbi Natronai
go to the West. He had to give up the contest after his
main support. Rabbi Malka, had passed away.

The accusation against the Geonim, that they incited
quarrels with the Exilarchate when the incumbent was
a scholar, is wholly unfounded. If history were written
according to such methods, the inquirer would reach the
opposite result, that the partisanship of the Geonim for
one close to them in intellectual interests led them to

^ But even if \v:"n"c:b Tn-iiyi were proved to be the correct reading, the
other assertion, that Rabbi Malka was not the opponent, but rather
the friend, of Rabbi Natronai, remains unassailed. It is, however,
inconceivable that Rabbi Sherira should have used the expression "•miis'i
of an usurper, seeing that with him, as for instance 36, 9, it has the
meaning of removing one from an office legitimately held. And it
would be an absurdity to say that "the Exilarch removed the couiiter-
Exilarch from office," as though a pretender would acknowledge the
legitimacy of his opponent.


prefer a learned to an unlearned Exilarch. Now we
know that the quarrel about the Exilarchate at the
time of Zakkai ben Ahunai grew out of far other motives.
From the Genizah fragment given in Saadyana, 76, it
appears that Zakkai was a descendant of Bostanai and
a Persian princess, a marriage the legitimacy of which
was questioned by many. For this reason, Rabbi Malka
was TDrepared to support Natronai, whose descent was
unblemished. From the Genizah fragment we learn also
that the descendants of the princess tried to force the
recognition of their legitimacy by resort to the power of
the non-Jewish government. Accordingly Rabbi Malka
was justified in his opposition to Zakkai.

Scarcely ten years pass (782), and again we hear of the
Exilarch' s deposing the Gaon of Pumbedita, Rabbi Haninai
ben Abraham. Rabbi Sherira, who usually drops a hint at
least as to the cause of such disputes, has not a word to say
about this occurrence. It is fair to take this as corroborat-
ing the supposition made above (p. 10), that Rabbi Abraham
Gaon, the father of this Rabbi Haninai, was a brother of
Rabbi Xatronai, and, as he belonged to the Sura Academy, as
will appear later, and received the Gaonate of Pumbedita
against the wish of the Academicians there, the assumption
is not unwarranted that the deposing of Rabbi Haninai
was due to the wishes of the Academy, which was not
inclined to accept an outsider. As to Rabbi Sherira, he
had good reason for not desiring to enter into a detailed
discussion of the case ; it hardly redounded to the credit of
his own Academy.

In the year 828 we hear once more of interference with
the affairs of the Academy at Pumbedita on the part of the
Exilarch. The two pretenders to the Exilarchate, Daniel
and David, each had " his " Gaon at Pumbedita, with the
result that even when David maintained the upper hand,
Pumbedita was supplied with two Geonim, Rabbi Abraham
and Rabbi Joseph.

It is not possible to define the part played by the


Exilarchs in the disputes at Pumbedita between the Geo-
nim Rabbi Isaac and Rabbi Joseph ben Rabbi in 833,
and between Rabbi Menahem and Rabbi Mattathias in
859. About Rabbi Isaac, Sherira says (38, 14) that the
Exilarch David ben Judah had installed him, but that does
not guarantee Isaac's having beeu his candidate as opposed
to Rabbi Joseph, because the expression used by Sherira is
i.TJinNi, "and they appointed him [Rabbi Isaac] as Gaon."
" They " probably means the members of the Academy ^

Finally, a feud of many years' duration broke out
between the Academy of Pumbedita and the Exilarchs,
under the last of them, David, who appointed Rabbi
Kohen-Zedek to be the Gaon, while the Academy invested
its own candidate, Rabbi Mebasser, with the dignity.

The Language of Nathan ha-Babli's Report.

To the student who regards history as more than a
mere stringing together of disconnected events, the friction
between the Exilarchs and the Geonim of Pumbedita
presents an interesting problem in various respects. Many
a question evoked by the combative relation between
Gaonate and Exilarchate clamours for a reply. In the
first place, why was it that the Academy at Sura was not
troubled by the interference of the Exilarchs in the course
of a period during which the Academy at Pumbedita felt
their heavy hand half a dozen times'? What was the
reason that the Exilarch, who lorded it over the Academy
at Sura until the end. of the seventh century, assumed so
peaceable an attitude toward it during the three centuries
that followed '? And, in the third place, v^hat explanation
can be adduced for the fact that all the wraugles between

1 Halevy, who regards the Exihirchs as universal scapegoats, holds
(p. 271), without advancing any proofs, that it was again the Exilarch
who appointed Kabbi Isaac as Gaon in opposition to the wish of the
Academy. The words noCD iDi prove nothing, because the official
ordination was always performed by the Exilarch.



the Exilarchs and the Geonim of Pumbedita occurred in
a single century, from 719-828 ? ^

These questions can be answered only when we have
attained to intimate knowledge of the rise of the Gaonate
and its relation to the Exilarchate on one side and the
two Academies on the other, and knowledge of this sort is
accessible to us only through closer acquaintance with the
sole and only account of the Academies that has come
down to us.

Kabbi Samuel Shulam, in his additions to Rabbi
Abraham Zacuto's Yohasin, gives an account of the
Babylonian Academies and of the Exilarchs Ukba and
David, after one Rabbi Nathan the Babylonian. An
Arabic fragment of the report concerning Ukba was
published by Dr. Israel Friedlaender in the J. Q. K, XVII,
747-61. The great historical value of this document
makes the language in which it was written originally
a matter of prime importance, and it behoves us to give
our attention to this question first of all. Dr. Fried-
laender, in his learned and instructive introduction to the
narrative, is decidedly of opinion that it was wa-itten in
Ai'abic originally, but I venture to believe that the proofs
adduced by him are not conclusive.

The expression D^D^jn y^iu . . . j< nnx is admittedly an
Arabism, but it had become so fluent a locution with the
Arabic-speaking Jews that it cropped up in their Hebrew
and Aramaic writings as well. Its use by Nathan, there-
fore, proves nothing. In Rabbi Sherira's Letter it occurs
three times (^^, 6, below ; 40, i ; and 40, 5), yet no one
is inclined to doubt that the Letter has been transmitted to
us in its original language^. Dr. Friedlaender further

^ The controversy between Eabbi Mebasser and Rabbi Kohen-Zedek is
of quite another character, as will be demonstrated in detail further on.

- The expression .... 2 rT3 occurs frequently in original Hebrew
works ; comp., for instance, njccrr, I, 61 ; D^'ju.'n^ ^t]:, III, 15 b ; J.Q.R., XIX,
106, 730, 734. The phrase, derived from the Arabic, was the model for
13:, "known under the name"; comp. Harkavy, D'2U." dj D'\rnn, II, 10.
In the inscription on the Cattaui synagogue in Old Cairo, reproduced



claims the phrase D:^•Nn bv *h um^l (79, 19) as a translation
of the Arabic nriDN'n Hpy''"). The expression, occurring
three times in close succession, has a Hebrew equivalent in
each of the three contexts: K-'NI inix irnj^l— D'sn \nM< irn^ni
— "invy bv inrn^ni. If the use of n^i<i . , . Mny) proves
anything, it would rather indicate that the one who trans-
lated the document from Hebrew into Arabic did not
understand it, and left the original untranslated. What
Nathan says in this passage is that the Gaon of Sura
sent word in writing to his followers, either to offer their
congratulations personally to David ben Zakkai, on his
assumption of office (in^nn^CJ^), or, if there were any ^ who
for some valid reason could not appear before him, to
express their gratification at his success in a letter to
the Exilarch — DC^SD bv "h lin^). In one way or another
they all were to manifest their assent to his choice as
Exilarch — ^i^l iniN* "i:m:)''1. In the description that follows,
of the public presentation of the Exilarch, Nathan properly
omits all reference to the written homage ordered by the
Gaon. Nathan is equally precise in his account of the
homage paid the Exilarch by Kohen-Zedek. The two
dignitaries met face to face, hence the expression used
by Nathan, pvy bv inJMJni, where DVy is a synonym for
the C'2:i used before. For the rest, the phrase employed
by Nathan to express the public recognition of the
Exilarch as such, Dli': C^NI 3^'^J^, throws new light upon
an expression occurring in the Talmud several times —
c^mi snp^y N^nni? n^dh in nnms — which has caused the
lexicographers no little difficulty'-. The Aramaic ins

by E. N. Adler, " Jews in Many Lands," 30, i-ii^rr does not mean '' the
famous," but "named.*' Comp. also Harkavy, Saadia, 114, .... p jniM,
and 227, note 6, and Steinschneider, Jubelschri/t, 139, line 8 from bottom,
and Harkavy, 186, where I3: = a nrn.

1 On the Tannaim mentioned in this passage, comp. Marx, J.Q.R.,
XVIII, 771, to which should be added that Rabbi Hai in the Responsum
appearing as an aj)pendix to Ral)bi Sherira's Letter, ed. Mayence, speaks
of . . . D'b^^nrr (65) ; comp. also yz'nv 'c, 130, ed. Neubauer.

2 On the locution "ihtoin u'D3n, in the Seder 'Olam Zutta, see Lazarus, Die
Haupter der Vertriebenen, loo-i, and Briill, Centralanzeiger, 67.



corresponds exactly to the Hebrew :M:n of Nathan.
Accordingly, the translation would run: "Rabbi Hisda
proclaimed Rabban Ukba as Exilarch, on which occasion
the new Exilarch spoke as follows." The Arabic llpyn
nriDNn would be rather colourless, while the Hebrew
:^n:n is the very term one would expect to find here.

The expression bv 1DV is not an Arabism ; it is found
in the Talmudim and the older Midrashim with con-
siderable frequency. I shall adduce only a few of the
passages. D^D^n vi^y niroyl? 'hy i6) py ^ir\:i nvi^'^'iyn jo,
" Twilight lasts but an instant, so that the scholars could
not determine its duration" (Yer. Berakot, 1, 2b, ^^, and
parallel passages ; Bahli, ibid., 2 b, end), hv ^yoyh C'P''3:r
b^'yi^' b^ P^:d, "He wanted to determine the number of
Israelites," which corresponds exactly to the expression
used by Nathan {Yer. Taaniyot, II, 56 d, 44). The Tal-
mudic equivalent for errando discionur is bv T^oiy Qm px
nna b^::: p DN» n^s» nnin nn*!, "Man cannot fathom the
words of the Torah until he has made mistakes" (Glftin,
43 a). Regarding the motion of the celestial spheres, Rabbi
Simon ben Yohai says: nmai? IK^SS -"i^l nXD nz'p nann
vby Tipy?, "It is so difficult a problem that man cannot
fathom it " {Genesis R., YI, 8, and parallel passages).

These quotations will probably suffice to show that
bv I'OV ^ is an Arabism neither with Nathan nor with
Rabbi Saadia, who employs it twice (Harkavy, Saadla,
152, 20, and 170, 20).

1C^5<"1 bv "i^y in the sense used here is no better Arabic
than Hebrew, vi'y 112V is classical Hebrew (Judges iii. 19,
2 Kings xxii. 19), and the connexion with £^'S"l can be
authenticated as little in Arabic as in Hebrew. Never-

^ In the Eesponsa of the Geonim this is not a rare expression ; comp.,
for instance, fn, 143 (which is falsely ascribed to Eabbi Joseph ben
Abitur, while it actually is from the hand of a Gaon of Sura, as appears
from the reference to "my teacher Rabbi Zadok " ; the superscription
in MS. Luzzatto, p«3 n^CQ i"q, has probably preserved the truth for us),
and G.S., p. 284 ; also Rashi, Pesahim, 46 a.


theless, the expression is well chosen. It is a vivid
description of Kohen-Zedek sitting absorbed in study, his
head bent over his book, and suddenly raising it to see
Nissi standing before him, as it were, " over his head."
Moreover, the expression l^^'NT bv i^V is found in an
original Hebrew letter from the last Exilarch Hezekiah
(R.£.J., LY, 50), though it must be admitted that the
meaning there is not clear.

That the employment of the Biblical expression }*"is
innp^D, " native' land," in the sense of " native place," is
a result of Arabic influence, will hardly recommend itself
to acceptance. In such early passages as 2 Sam. v. 6 and
I Chron. xi. 4, '^"IX is used in the meaning of city, in these
cases Jerusalem. Similarly in the Mishnah and in post-
Talmudic Hebrew n^^lD means both city and province.

Other variations between the Arabic fragment and the
version of the Yohasin are as inadequate to establish
the priority of the former as we have found the linguistic
peculiarities of the Arabic. As to the difference between
the Arabic and Hebrew texts, relative to the length of
Kohen-Zedek's Gaonate (78, 7), it will be shown below,
p. 66, that neither is correct. Even if we accept the Arabic
reading, the ^D of the Hebrew text may still be explained
as a copyist's misreading of the Hebrew yn^iN as D^yms.

In the next line, the Hebrew has only r\)zn pi'Oi: 'M,
while the Arabic reads pn KtT^N* n5\ '• whence the Dayyanim
used to be sent thither." Dr. Friedlaender notes that it
is "missing in Hebrew." The fact is that the expression
used in the Hebrew is the one current in the Talmud
[Sanhedrln, 5 a) to indicate the conferring of judicial
authorisation^. The Arabic is a somewhat prolix circum-
locution of a Hebrew and Aramaic terinhius technicus.
The same seems to apply to the next line, where the
Hebrew has SI^DJ l^nm, "and his son-in-law Natira," while
the Arabic reads, ntdj nn:3S 3ir ninSi, "his son-in-law

^ Coinp. also the Genizah fragment, J. Q. R., XVIII, 402, where nvici
is used in this sense.


Natira, the husband of his daughter." The only explana-
tion that can be offered for the superfluous description of
a son-in-law as the husband of one's daughter, is that the
Arabic first gave a literal translation of the Hebrew i^rini ,
which is the Arabic n3n5l, but as this Arabic word may
mean not only son-in-law (the Hebrew ^^^^^), but also
father-in-law (the Hebrew IJnini), the translator added, in
the interest of intelligibility, " the husband of his daughter."
The fact that in the Hebrew, 78, 3, below, and in other
passages (79, 20, 25), ^22 is used in the sense of Bagdad, makes
it impossible to assume that "the editor" was ignorant
of this use of b22. The correct reading of the Hebrew is
b22 ']bj2r\, and the sentence bn l^?:n iOi'^c^ ny is to be trans-
lated "until the king [ = Sultan] left Bagdad," exactly as
the Arabic has it. Taking into consideration the Biblical
style of the Hebrew, it is not surprising to have N^*^
construed with the accusative instead of with p. The
notion conveyed by the Arabic, that the Exilarch was
merely expelled from Bagdad, is certainly erroneous. In
this case, it would be inexplicable why he should have
felt compelled to journey to Africa. The Hebrew version
offers a natural solution. After the Exilarch had been
banished from the whole of Babylonia, he tried to settle
in the East, that is, in the Persian provinces. But those
regions stood under the jurisdiction of the Exilarch, as
Nathan himself observes (86, 19), and he had no choice
except to go to the West^. The misunderstanding, it
appears, cannot be charged against the Hebrew, nor against
" the editor." It lies with the Arabic, which attached an
incorrect meaning to ^32 in the expression ^22 DJD^ i6^
i?33 ni3^D (79, 13) — a rather excusable error, as Nathan
uses ?D2 throughout for Bagdad.

According to Dr. Friedlaender, the Hebrew is guilty of

1 The observation made by Professor Noldeke and reported by
Dr. Friedlaender, 1. c, 759, note 7, is unintelligible to me. That Ukba
migrated to Africa and not Palestine is reported very clearly at the
beginnina; of Eabbi Nathan's narrative.


a gross mistake in ascribing thaumaturgical activity to
the blind Nissi^ of wliich, he says, the document which
he holds to be the original knew nothing. On the other
hand, Dr. Friedlaender himself concedes that he is unable
to establish how the alleged Arabic original actually did
read, to produce the error, and in these circumstances,
it seems to me, the question must be left open, all the
more as so eminent an Arabist as Dr. Noldeke, whose
view is quoted in Dr. Friedlaender's article, maintains that
the Arabic fragment credits Nissi with wonder-working
powers. It may be said, parenthetically, that the mira-
culous opening of locked doors is mentioned elsewhere in
Jewish legend. Mordecai, a Midrash relates (Buber, 'd
Nmi^«^, 6^), surprised Bigthan and Teresh at night,
unobserved by the guards, and hindered by none, as it
is written: "I will go before thee and make the crooked
places straight. I will break in pieces the gates of brass
and cut in sunder the bars of iron " (Isa. xlv. 2).

I hold, then, that not only is there no support for the
theory that Nathan's account was written originally in
Arabic, but a comparison between the Arabic fragment
and the Hebrew version in Yohasin, reveals some features
tending to establish the priority of the Hebrew. Never-
theless, I consider that the question as to the language
in which Nathan wrote, is still open. There is one sentence
which betrays an unmistakable Arabism : n^^nn p) '•'J'Jon p

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