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Natronai ben Nehemiah, the Gaon of Pumbedita. His hypothesis that
rntt;"! is simply a slip for •':n\n is doubtless correct, and corroborated
by the MS. reading, but the inference is by no means inevitable that


of the Geonim of Sura began as early as the eighth century.
The first Gaon of Pumbedita from whose hand we possess
Responsa in numbers is Rabbi Paltoi, and the first three
years of his Gaonate coincide with an interregnum in the
Sura Gaonate^. But even the Responsa originating in
Pumbedita after the time of Paltoi cannot compare with
the output of Sura, either in point of quantity or quality.
The Responsa bearing the names of Kohen-Zedek, Sar
Shalom, Natronai, Amram, Nahshon, Zemah, Hilai, Saadia —
all Geonim of Sura — practically form the Geonic Responsa
literature until Rabbi Sherira and Rabbi Hai appear upon
the scene. When the extinction of the Gaonate was immi-
nent, the Geonim of Pumbedita stepped into the foreground
by reason of the dissolution of the Academy at Sura. The
assertion that the communities of Africa addressed their
questions to the Geonim of Pumbedita, and those of Spain
theirs to the Geonim of Sura, is incorrect in both its parts.
Natronai, Zemah, Saadia, and even Samuel ^, the last Gaon

the Responsum was written at the thne of the false Messiah "'3n^% as
little as Emden's zeal against Sabbatians argues his contemporaneity
with Sabbatai Zebi. The authorship of Rabbi Natronai ben Hilai is
confirmed by the fact that Responsum 9 in y"r, 24 a, is by the same
Gaon as no. 10, and in the former a plain reference is made to the
Karaites. Accordingly, Natronai ben Nehemiah, who lived long before
Anan, cannot be the author. Notice also the linguistic peculiarity that
the Responsum is introduced with the expression b'l'^ra, a habit of the
Sura Gaon Rabbi Natronai ben Hilai. Comp. m'^nj, 32; ]>"v, 21b, 22;
and 2?"nr, 15 a, bis, which belong to Rabbi Natronai ben Hilai beyond the
peradventure of a doubt.

^ Comp. Farcies, 21 d, where Rabbi Paltoi is described as mr\r>' \"nr b"^ bn:.

2 On Natronai and the scholars of Kairwan, comp. above, p. 32,
note 7. Of Rabbi Zemah ben Hayyim we have not alone his correspon-
dence with the scholars of Kairwan relative to Eldad, but also his
Halakic Responsum addressed to the same in diid, 21a. The corre-
spondence of Rabbi Saadia with the scholars of Kairwan is to be found
in y'"\r, iSb-iga, referred to above, j). 32. Even Rabbi Dosa, the son
of Rabbi Saadia, corresponded with the scholars of Kairwan ; comp.
rvohv: nbnp, 72. The correspondence of Rabbi Samuel ben Hofni with
the scholars of Kairwan is published in the J. Q. R., XVIII, 402. The
scholars of aiyiD with whom R. Nahshon used to correspond (Pardes, 26 d)
are probably the scholars of Kairwan.

E 2


of Sura, were consulted by the African Jews, and, on the
other hand, Paltoi and his son Zemah, of Pumbedita, re-
ceived inquiries from Spain ^.

The fertihty of Sura, manifested in the Responsa litera-
ture, was no less noticeable in other departments. The
w^orks of the Geonic period originated there rather than
in Pumbedita. Not counting the works of Hai, whose
literary activity falls in a time in which the Sura Academy
had gone out of existence, the only production by a Gaon
of Pumbedita preserved for us is the lexicographical work
of Rabbi Zemah ben Paltoi ^. The authoritative works all
originated in Sura. The author of the fn ^, and Rabbi
Amram and Rabbi Saadia, all occupied the Gaonate of
Sura. Rabbi Amram compiled his Seder in compliance
with a request addressed to him by Spanish communities,
and Rabbi Saadia his order of prayers in compliance with
a request addressed to him by Egyptian communities,
showing that in so important a matter as the fixing of
the liturgy, the communities of the Diaspora desired to
have the advice of the Sura Academy alone.

The Origin of the Gaonate under the Mohammedan


Returning for a hrie? resume of the results of our inquiry
into Nathan's account, w^e find that Rabbi Samuel ha-Nagid
derives his data about the Academies from Rabbi Nathan,
and a source that was considered authoritative by Samuel
surely deserves our confidence, too. Further, we have seen
that Nathan's report has nothing to do with the Amoraic
Academies ; it deals exclusively with those of the Geonic
period, and by no means can the origin of the latter, as
was demonstrated in detail, be relegated to the Talmudic

1 Comp. J. Q. R., XVIII, 401-2, 770.

2 And even this is doubtful ; comp. below, pp. 159-60.

^ Whoever may be designated as the author of the :i"n, it is certain he
must have belonged to the Sura Academy. Comp. Epstein, bi^ "iono
i"n 'd.


time, seeing that the older epoch knew nothing of a well-
organized institution like the Gaonate, vested with great
power and unquestioned authority. At the same time, our in-
vestigation has completely corroborated Nathan's statement
that at first there was but one Gaon, the Gaon of the Academy
at Sura. Hence the transition from the schools of the time
of the Amoraim and Saboraim to the Academies of the
Geonic period requires an explanation that concerns itself
with more than the merely Jewish conditions prevailing in
Babylonia. It is in some way connected with the political
situation. It must be conceded that we possess no direct
historical information naming the Gaonate as an institution
of the early Califate, but no other political change took
place during the centuries following the redaction of the
Talmud capable of producing an institution of the character
of the Gaonate. The supposition made by Graetz (V^,
895-6), that the Gaonate arose under Ali (6^"]), remains
the only plausible hypothesis, the more so if one remembers
what Sherira says regarding the kind reception which Ali
accorded a great Jewish scholar, Rabbi Isaac, of Firuz-
Shabor. Graetz, however, can hardly be right when he
supposes that this Rabbi Isaac obtained special privileges
for Sura. It is, as Halevy says — if Rabbi Isaac had been
inclined to be partial, his bias would have been in favour
of his ahna mater at Pumbedita, to which Firuz-Shabor
belonged. It seems rather that what the spiritual leaders
of the people secured from the new rulers was the per-
mission to call into being, by the side of the Exilarchate,
a religious authority with definite powers and competence.
If this was so, it was natural that the chief of the old and
venerable Academy at Sura should be placed at the head of
the new board. In the course of time, as the Academy at
Pumbedita developed more and more, its chief in the same
measure gained in importance. But the parity of the two
Academies reached the stage of an accomplished fact only
in the time of Kohen-Zedek, when it is probable that Sura
happened to be without a Gaon.


This assumption as to the origin of the Gaonate explains
at the same time the frequent occasions for friction between
the Exilarchs and the Geonim of Sura until the year 689,
though they disappeared for ever after that crucial time.
It was natural that the Exilarchate should not accept so
powerful a rival as the Gaonate of Sura without manifesting
some resistance. It required almost two generations for
the Exilarchs to forget their former undivided power.
But scarcely had the reconciliation of the Exilarchs and
the Geonim of Sura taken place when the rise of the
Academy at Pumbedita gave occasion for new difficulties.
From the time of Mar Yanka (719), who had been installed
as Gaon at Pumbedita contrary to the wish of the Academy,
until the equally arbitrary appointment of Eabbi Isaac
(S^^), there elapsed more than a century, during which
the Pumbeditans had much to endure at the hand of tlie
Exilarchs. The Gaonate of Sura was recognised by the
State, and therefore the Exilarchate was forced to respect
its rights ; while the Academy at Pumbedita possessed
no privileges reinforcing its claims, and was exposed
to wanton interference on the part of the Exilarchs.
Finally, in 830, when the Calif Maimun decreed that
ten members of a religious body sufficed for the election
of a chief for themselves, the disputes between Pumbedita
and the Exilarchate were silenced for ever. After this
ordinance was in effect, the Gaonate of Pumbedita took and
maintained its place by the side of the Gaonate of Sura
as an equal power. Thenceforth, neither the Academies
nor the Exilarchate could count upon the exclusive support
of the government ; it was a matter of chance which gained
its ear, and their differences had to be adjusted privately-.
These circumstances explain the fact remarked above, that
Rabbi Paltoi (842) was the first of the Geonim of Pumbe-
dita who issued decisions to outside communities. As lono-
as the Gaonate of Sura was, beside the Exilarchate, the
only Jewish authority recognised by the State, foreign
Jews addressed their questions to the Geonim of Sura.


After the rescript of Maimun, it depended primarily upon
the learning of the Gaon in the one place or the other
whether the Academy of Sura or that at Pumbedita was
given the preference.

Nathan ha-Babli's Account of Ukba.

We have again come round to our starting-point, and
I venture to think that a satisfactory conclusion has
been reached concerning the remarkable relation sub-
sisting between the Exilarchs and the two Academies.
Before leaving the subject, however, it would be advisable
to give close consideration to the last controversy between
the Academy of Pumbedita and the Exilarch.

Of this controversy we have two widely divergent
reports. At the end of his Letter, Sherira informs us
that a quarrel broke out between two factions after the
death of his grandfather Judah, in the year 917. One
party favoured Mebasser^; the other, with the Exilarch

^ Steinschneider, Arabische Literattir, 70, believes the name to be a
translation of the Arabic Mubashshir, which is not very convincing to
me. Kather I should take it to be a n33 for Elijah, whose appellative
in Jewish literature is Mebasser, "Proclaimer of Good Tidings," without
further mark of identification. In the synagogue at Aleppo there is
an inscription dated 834, in honour of -urio ii p: -in >b2? (Adler, Jercs
in Many Lands, 161), probably the earliest mention of the name known.
In a letter dated 1029, also coming from Aleppo (c'^'TTTT' n::i, III, 16 a),
there occui-s a -i^uiD p nc ; likewise in a letter of the same year, written
in Egypt, a aim '2 iumo and a iirio 'a HDV are mentioned (J. Q. R., XIX,
^254). In the J.Q.R., 1. c, 727, occur the following : Mb p "nrao, p nimn
-i\r2D, and nbu: p ixcio, all from the middle of the eleventh century.
That an appellative of Elijah's should be used as the name of a person
is not strange ; the widespread name Emanuel is an epithet of the
Messiah, as are also Zemah, the name of three of the Geonim, and in
common use down to our own day, and Sar Shalom (Isa. ix. 5), which is
known to have been borne by others besides the prominent Sura Gaon,
as, for instance, Sar Shalom ben Joseph, the signer of a contract in
Fostat in 750 (•/. Q. R., XVII, 428), and the Chief Rabbi of Persia at
the time when Benjamin of Tudela visited the land. Comp. also
Harkavy, Saadia, 225, bottom. A propos of names in the Geonic time,
is the name of the Gaon ">«-m, identical with smi used by French Jews,
recorded in Gross, Gallia Jiidaica, 149 ?


David at its head, favoured Kohen-Zedek, as Gaon of
Pumbedita. Five years later a truce was concluded, the
Exilarch gave up his opposition to Rabbi Mebasser.
Nevertheless, Kohen-Zedek persisted, supported by a
number of influential men, who remained loyal to him.
Finally, after the death of Eabbi Mebasser, in 926, Kohen-
Zedek was acknowledged Gaon by all, and he occupied the
position for ten years, until his death.

At first sight the account of the occurrence given by
Nathan ha-Babli seems far different. He has this to
say: Between the Exilarch Ukba and the Gaon Kohen-
Zedek a dispute broke out on account of the revenues
derived from the community of Khorasan. Ukba appro-
priated them, though the moneys belonged to the Academy
of Pumbedita. The Sultan, urged by the most influential
of the Jews, banished the Exilarch, but he reinstated
him after a year's exile, and then banished him again,
this time irrevocably. Ukba emigrated to Africa. The
Exilarchate, having been left vacant for a period of four
or five years, the people demanded the appointment of
David ben Zakkai. Their candidate was endorsed by
Rabbi Amram ben Solomon, the Gaon of Sura. But Kohen-
Zedek could only be prevailed upon to acknowledge the
new Exilarch after a period of three years.

Now, it would be possible to reconcile the differences
between Sherira's account and Nathan's as they affect
the relation between Kohen-Zedek and the Exilarch. As
the facts are, it would not be impossible to assume that
a whilom enemy, once reconciled, is transformed into a
friend. But the difficulty lies elsewhere. The chrono-
logical contradictions between the two sources are so
numerous that Graetz's way of escape does not help the
honest inquirer. Graetz accepts Nathan's account in
respect to the facts of the case, and he places trust in
Sherira's chronological data. Hale vy justly argues against
a method that is arbitrary and unscientific, and carries
with it the implication that an authority like Sherira tells


a confused and unreliable tale of events happening in
his own lifetime. Halevy himself, who represents Nathan
as an ignoramus living after the extinction of the Gaonate,
and patching his report together from older sources which
he failed to understand correctly, is even further removed
from the truth than Graetz.

It appears now that it is not sufficient for us to deal
with a detail. The question that takes precedence is
Nathan's credibility and trustworthiness. It therefore
behoves us to analyse Halevy's presentation of the matter.
The controversy, Halevy maintains, was not between Ukba
and Kohen-Zedek, the Gaon of Pumbedita, but between
Ukba and the Kohen-Zedek who was Gaon of Sura (845).
But Nathan, according to Halevy, knew nothing about the
older Kohen-Zedek, and he confused him with the younger
man, the Gaon of Pumbedita of the same name, and, as
he was aware that at some time a dispute had occurred
between the Academy of Pumbedita and the Exilarch
David, he constituted Kohen-Zedek the opponent of David,
although Sherira informs us that the opposite was the
case. As a consequence of the quarrel between Ukba
and the Sura Academy, of many years' duration, Amram
was appointed Gaon by the Exilarch, in opposition to the
incumbent Natronai (^53-6). The celebrated Gaon Amram
bar Shashna^ the author of the Seder, Halevy holds, is no

^ The great difficulty lies in this, that, according to Eabbi Sherira's
Letter, Ealjbi Amram had himself proclaimed as Gaon during the lifetime
of Eabbi Natronai, while, to judge by the r"-iD, the relation between the
two must have been very cordial. Not only does Eab Amram speak
of Eabbi Natronai with great respect (comp. particularly his words in
Marx, Untersuchmigen, Sic, 2), but he also quotes his Eesponsa on every
page of his Seder. Indeed, the nvimber of Eesponsa by Eabbi Natronai
in the !?"-iD is larger than those quoted from all the other Geonim taken
together. Halevy's hypothesis, so far from doing away with the difficulty,
rather increases it. For if Eab Amram, as Halevy maintains, was put
up as Gaon in opposition to Eabbi Natronai, during the quarrel between
the Sura Academy and the Exilarch Mar Ukba, then Eab Amram was
disloyal not only to Eabbi Natronai, but to the Academy as well ! This
forces upon me the conjecture that the passage in question in the Letter


other than Amram ben Solomon, who continued to preside
over the Academy at Sura, according to Nathan's state-
ment, even during the interval between the deposing of
Ukba and the installation of David. The latter was generally
accepted as Exilarch about 875, shortly after the death
of Amram, and he remained in office for more than half a
century. Furthermore, Halevy says, Nathan labours under
a misapprehension when he states that Hai ben Kiyyumi ^
was the predecessor of Saadia in the Gaonate. The simple
explanation is that he had heard of a Gaon of Sura named
Hai, Hai ben Nahshon, and he confounded him with the
celebrated Hai ben Sherira, the last Gaon of Pumbedita,
and at once he was ready to make the latter Gaon of Sura,
and endowed him with a father of another name.

So far Halevy. For the present, we shall put aside the
question as to the time and trustworthiness of Nathan, and
shall confine ourselves to the consideration of Halevy's

by Eabbi Sherira is corrupt. I would propose the following reading :
n^rn n^n:i nj^^N c-.-r nib p><: rbs mn p^n ^opi— '^And before this time
[before Kab Amram became Gaon], the Gaon [Rabbi NatronaiJ waived the
honour due to him from Rab Amram, and the latter therefore omitted
to pay his respects to him." It must be remembered that np's rSc, " to
show respect," is used in the Talmud, as,, for instance, Baba Batra, 119 b,
and in /n, 54, by Rabbi Natronai, in the sense of "yielding precedence."
Furthermore n>:n n^ra is the reverse of rr^np rn^, which Rabbi Sherira
uses, 28, 5 ; 41, 4, to express the recognition given to a Gaon, in that
the members of the Academy, including even the most prominent
scholars, attended the lectures of the Gaon occasionally. Attention
should be called to the fact that in this passage n^"? :i>i2 cannot be
translated by ''he opposed him." For this Sherira would have used
n>by, as in 41, 4. There remains only to add that the words dioj? n"m
]i«: \v:iT>D3 'lb TUJn, quoted by Rabbi Aaron, of Lunel, in n"ii<, I, 18 a,
from Nahmanides, are to be corrected so as to read n'^'»rr "td moi- 'i -nc^m
p«a \v:i-\!CD '-I, as appears from Nahmanides, on mdUn, 24, who quotes
Rabbi Natronai's Responsum given in r"iD, 11 a. A MS. of the r^"■^n in
the Sulzberger Collection of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America,
contains not only the corrupt text in the edition, but 122"^^ instead of
p"^i besides !

^ Perhaps nothing but another way of writing n^iV-



In the first place, it is settled that David ben Judah was
Exilarch in 8^^. Sherira and other sources^ are unanimous
on this point. After him, and before Ukba ruled, there
were two Exilarchs, Natronai and Hisdai, the son of Na-
tronai ^. According to Halevy, the rule of these two
Exilarchs together could not have exceeded twelve years,
ibr in 845, the date of the Suran Gaon Kohen-Zedek, he
says, Ukba was in the thick of a conflict with the Sura
Academy. Considered by itself, this brief period is not
a probability, but the assumption is stamped as an
impossibility by the fact that we meet with the Exilarch
Hisdai as an active participant in affairs as late as the
Gaonates of Natronai and Amram". This disposes of
the possibility of a dispute between Ukba and Kohen-
Zedek of Sura.

From the premise set up by Halevy, that the quarrel
between the Exilarch and the Academy was caused by
the revenues from Khorasan, appropriated without warrant
by Ukba, it follows, he says, that the encroachments of
the Exilarch brought him into conflict with Sura, and not
with Pumbedita, as Khorasan is in the neighbourhood of
Bagdad, the judicature of Sura. An elementary atlas might
have taught Halevy that Khorasan lies only about 800
miles to the east of Baofdad!

As a matter of fact, the case is precisely the reverse
of its statement by Halevy. Originally, the sources of

^ Comp. Graetz, Geschichie, V^, 389.

2 Dukes in Ben Chananjah, IV, 141-2, from a MS. Kesponsum by Kabbi
Zemah ben Solomon, chief judge of the court of the Exilarch Hisdai.

' Ibn Gama, in Graetz, Jubelschrift, 17, names Rabbi Nathan ben
Hananiah (comp. above, p. 32) of Kairwan as the correspondent of
Rabbi Natronai, and he is the same Rabbi Hananiah to whom was
addressed the Responsum, mentioned above, by Rabbi Zemah under the
ExiLai-chate of Hisdai. As the sons of Rabbi Nathan were contemporaries
of Rabbi Saadia (928) (comp. above, p. 32), he could not have flourished
before the Gaonate of Rabbi Natronai (850), and the letter of Rabbi
Zemah must date from the period during which the Sura Gaonate was
vacant, probably between Rabbi Malka and Rabbi Hai ben Nahshon,
about 888 J comp. Sherira, 39, 17.


revenue assigned to the Exilarchate and to the Sura
Gaonate were limited to Babylonia and the nearest Persian
provinces. The Academy at Pumbedita, which attained to
equality with Sura at a comparatively late day, had to
content itself with revenues gathered in the more remote
provinces. The only possible inference then is that Khorasan,
situated at a considerable distance, belonged to the parish
of Pumbedita.

The peculiarity of Halevy's method is again illustrated
by his opinion that Nathan confuses the Gaon Hai ben
Nahshon with the celebrated Hai ben Sherira— and then
calls him Hai ben Kiyyumi. But how is it conceivable
that that ignoramus Nathan, who mixed up the Geonim
of Sura with the Geonim of Pumbedita, who had not the
slightest knowledge of the happenings in the Academies,
nor of the relation of the Academies to the Exilarchate —
how is it conceivable that he should have hit upon so
obscure a name as Kiyyumi, he who was not even
acquainted with Sherira ?

In the earlier portion of this Introduction certain facts
were set forth testifying to the credibility and trustworthi-
ness of Nathan. We shall now pursue this subject further.
The introductory words of Nathan's account, "What he
himself partly saw and what he partly heard in Baby-
lonia, relative to the Exilarch Ukba," are a s^ood recom-
mendation for the author. A gossip or a vagrant scribe
would not have used this circumspect clause. His exactitude
in the description of the vicinity of Bagdad displays itself
particularly in the Arabic version, as Dr. Friedlaender shows
in the above-mentioned article. A writer who is acquainted
with the name of a mistress of the Persian king in whose
honour a fountain had been erected centuries before, does
not impress one as likely not to know the leaders of his
nation at his own time, at least by name.

As to what Nathan's time was there can be no doubt.
In the Arabic version of his report he speaks of Natira,
" the father of Sahl and Ishak," showing that he lived after


the death of Natira, but contemporaneously with the sons
of Natira. Accordingly, he had not been an eye-witness
of the dispute between Ukba and the Academies, in which
Natira was the chief figure, or he was too young at the
time to carry personal recollections of it away with him.
On the other hand, not only was he an eye-witness of the
quarrel of Saadia with the Exilarch David, he was actually
present when David entered upon his office in 920. Nathan's
minute description of the ceremonies at the installation of
an Exilarch — he goes so far as to give in detail the exact
height and width of the throne used by the Exilarch on the
occasion — admit of no doubt as to his having been present
and seen such a celebration, and it could have been only
at the induction of David into office, as Nathan expressly
calls him the last of the Exilarchs. This offers us, not only
a terminus a quo, but also a terr)iinus ad quein. A Genizah
fragment, published by Dr. Cowley in the /. Q, R., XVIII,
402, gives the information that the Exilarchate, vacant
since the death of David, was filled again in 953. Nathan
therefore must have written his account before 953. As,
on the other hand, he mentions Aaron Sargado as Gaon
of Pumbedita^ who entered upon office in 943, Nathan's
account must have been composed between 943 and 953,

^ Halevy, 276, doubts the identification between n«jTc 'a nbs mentioned
by Nathan and Rabbi Aaron ben Joseph, Gaon of Pumbedita, though
all of seven years before the publication of Halevy's book, Harkavy liad
published, in D"':m\snb p-iDi, V, the polemics of Rabbi Aaron against
Rabbi Saadia, whence the identity of the two appears unmistakably!
The name F]bD ^ I'^D (comp. J. Q. R., XI, 127) occurs in so early a document
as one dated 750, J. Q. R., XVII, 428. From the fact that Rabbi Nathan
knew no Exilarch after David ben Zakkai, it follows that his account
actually ends with the j^assage on Sargado. By homoeoteleuton the
passage on the Gaonate of Rabbi Hananiah dropped out at the end
of the report. The reading should be : T\l^r^^^ '-i p n"'::n vinx I'jm "T::c2"t

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