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. ... -ib^i T^D3"i n!?nDi D':\r' 'n. The various texts of Rabbi Sherira's
Letter also show signs that passages have been dropped from it in this
way. Frequently the names of the Geonim and the length of their
official term are missing, due to the fact that the sentences between
two n^inn were ovei-looked by the copyist ; comp., for instance, ed.


The question as to who deserves more confidence, Sherira
or Nathan, ma}^ therefore not be decided, as Graetz does,
in favour of the latter, on the ground of his having been
closer in time to the occurrences described, for, as now
appears, they were contemporaries. One must agree with
Halevy, who insists that a Gaon, son and grandson of
Geonim to boot, must invite greater confidence than an
unknown writer. But if the two accounts are read with
a critical eye it will appear that they mutually complement,
and in no wise contradict each other.

Tpie Last Conflict between the Exilarchate and


The controversy between Kohen-Zedek and Ukba broke
out, according to the Arabic version ^ of Nathan's account,
in the fourth year of Kohen-Zedek's Gaonate. If we
remember that even according to Sherira he was appointed
as Gaon by the Exilarch in the year 918, tlien the year
922 would have to be designated as the beginning of the
dispute. A point to be noted is this, that Sherira makes
Kohen-Zedek to be put into office by the Exilarch David,
while, according to Nathan, Ukba was Exilarch at the
time. However, the Sherira text is very doubtful in this
portion. Most of the editions mention David's name
three times in connexion with the Gaonate of Kohen-
Zedek, but Wallerstein has it only once ^. Moreover, this

Wallerstein, 20-1. Therefore, the omission of Rabbi Hananiah's Gaonate
in Nathan's narrative proves nothing derogatory to the authenticity
of the narrator, as Halevy hokls (275-6), but only to the correctness of
our text. In Harkavy, 215, Rabbenu Hai is described as the son of
Rabbi Hananiah, which, naturally, is due to homoeoteleuton. The words
between i:^2"n^? and ir:n^< dropped out. If Rabbi Sherira's text regarding
the length of Rabbi Zemah ben Kafnoi's term of office is correct, then
we should read cxcin n"'! noc' in Nathan.

^ The Hebrew version has the fortieth year, which is absolutely out of
the question.

2 I am indebted to Dr. Alexander Marx for the information that the
Vienna MS. of Rabbi Sherira's Letter agrees with Wallerstein.



passage in Sherira's Letter offers a great difficulty in the
nature of the facts set down. The Academy, it says,
appointed Rabbi Mebasser the successor to Rabbi Judah,
while Kohen-Zedek was the choice of the Exilarch, and
the conflict between the Academy and the Exilarch lasted
five years (923). Finally, the Exilarch recognised the
Gaon chosen by the Academy. But Sherira goes on and
says that Kohen-Zedek, with his adherents, persisted in
their schism until the death of Rabbi Mebasser, in the
year 926.

One would search vainly for a similar occurrence during
the whole course of the Geonic time — an individual op-
posing the choice of both the Academy and the Exilarch.
If Kohen-Zedek, as Sherira is supposed to say, was put up
by the Exilarch as Gaon against the will of the Academy,
then it would seem inevitable that the victory of the
Academy over the Exilarch, when he finally confirmed the
choice of the Academy, would cut the ground from under
the feet of Kohen-Zedek. How account for the continued
opposition by Kohen-Zedek?

In several other respects the occurrence is unique. It
is the only case in which the Academy emerged triumphant
from a contest with the Exilarch about an appointment to
the Gaonate. In all other cases the Exilarch maintained
the upper hand. And yet it cannot be said from what
we know about him that David was a weakling. A man
who was able to hold his own in opposition to Saadia
and all the prominent men connected with Saadia who
had influence at the court of the Calif, should meekly
declare himself overcome by Rabbi Mebasser!

It now behoves us to view Sherira's statements in the
light afforded by the facts reported by Nathan. From
an incidental remark of Nathan's we learn that Kohen-
Zedek was related to Ukba, and we even learn that this
relationship was the reason why he opposed the appoint-
ment of David later on as Exilarch. This supplies the
motive for a quarrel between Ukba and the Pumbedita


Academy — he urged the appointment of a relative, Kohen-
Zedek, while the Academy installed as its chief Rabbi
Mebasser^ whose father had occupied the Gaonate. Then
Ukba sought to make the most of the schism in the
Academy, and seized upon the revenues from Khorasan,
in the hope that there was no need to apprehend obstacles
on the part of " his " Gaon. But it turned out to be a case
of reckoning without one's host. Kohen-Zedek was too
conscientious and honest to sanction such high-handed
measures. Some Jews of influence at the court of the
Calif managed to cause the banishment of Ukba, and the
Exilarchate remained vacant some years. But blood is
thicker than water, and with Kohen-Zedek the feeling's
of kinship were further stimulated by the recollection
of the fact that he owed his position as Gaon to this
relative of his who was deprived of his office. Therefore,
he could not make up his mind to acknowledge David
as Exilarch. He, and along with him probably a large
number of distinguished men, hoped it would prove
possible to induce the Calif to revoke the edict of
banishment issued against Ukba. But David had no
sooner been installed as Exilarch by one part of Jewry
than he hastened to conclude peace with the Academy
at Pumbedita and acknowledge the Gaon Eabbi Mebasser
chosen by it.

This explains what Sherira sa^^s, that the reconciliation
between the Academy and the Exilarch took place in 923.
David lost no time in making amends to the best of his
powers for the unwarranted interferences of his predecessor.
But the peace thus concluded exerted no influence upon
Kohen-Zedek and his followers. They refused to recognise
David as Exilarch, and persisted in their opposition to him
and Mebasser. According to Nathan, this opposition of
Kohen-Zedek ceased only three years later, in 926. But
from Sherira we learn that this was the year of Rabbi
Mebasser's death, when all parties acknowledged Kohen-
Zedek as Gaon.


Here Sherira furnishes us with the motive for the
reconciliation between Kohen-Zedek and David, of which
Nathan gives us no hint, and which he seeks in a miracle
in the real sense of the word^. But it is unnecessary
to impose a tax upon our credulity. Kohen-Zedek no
longer had any reason for opposing David. His position
as Gaon was now assured. And to bring about complete
unanimity between Sherira and Nathan we have but to
cross off the little word nn in Sherira's Letter, 40, 18.
The text then reads : "i235^x NnnTiD"! pnm Nn3ii?2 nini
. . , pnv jnD nn n^i? nvip j^'-c^'Ji ♦ . . pxj ntj^ao nn ii^b ninpi
21 nn nv ii^m nn i^i^b^ nnyi :V'^ r\:\^ b)bi^ ^v t«naii?2 mm
nc>nD — " There was a dispute. The scholars of the Academy,
held their meeting and chose Kab Mebasser as Gaon, while
the Exilarch [=Ukba] named Kohen-Zedek as Gaon. The
dispute lasted until Ellul of the year 2^^ [ = 923], when the
Exilarch David concluded peace with Rabbi Mebasser."

There is another possibility — ^that the beginning of this
passage is to be read i^^^^ in nn, "the uncle of the Exilarch
David." Sherira describes Ukba, the deposed Exilarch, as
the uncle of David, of whom he had spoken shortly before,
and to whom he had to refer again at once. As the last of
the Exilarchs and the opponent of Saadia, he could suppose
that his name was well known to his readers — a supposition
that would not hold good of Ukba. But the copyists,
considering 1)1 IM as dittography, either omitted the first
"in, as in Wallerstein, or inserted it in the last sentence,
before ii'^m^.

From the beginning of the Ukba controversy until the
recognition of David as Exilarch on the part of Kohen-
Zedek, about eight years elapsed according to Nathan, the

^ We may safely assume that the blind ^c^3 played an important part
in allaying the quarrel between the Exilarch and the Gaon, even if we
are not credulous enough to accept the miracle.

2 It is, however, highly probable that Rabbi Sherira at first spoke only
of x>iEi3 (= Ukba), and afterwards, in connexion with the reconciliation
with the Academy, properly mentioned «^u.-3n m, and then the m of the
second passage was added to the t^^ttj] of the first.


same number of years being occupied, according to Sherira,
by the dispute between Kabbi Mebasser and Kohen-Zedek.
The only disparity between the two accounts is that,
according to Nathan, Kohen-Zedek had been Gaon in 918
for more than four years, while according to Sherira it
would be impossible, as it was only in that year that his
grandfather Kabbi Judah died, and his death was the
occasion for the dispute about the succession. There can
be no doubt that the two sources are not in disagreement.
We are evidently troubled by a copyist's error. We must
put the date of Babbi Judah's death one year earlier in
Sherira, and we must read n:^ 1D3, " about a year," in
Nathan (78, 7, below), which was misread as [mtrj 'd3, the
1 being taken for a stroke over the D. This by reading
3?niN for D''vnnx, became piJ* 'l in the Arabic version.

This assumption is further supported by the variant
reading i"n instead of f'l, for the year of Rabbi Judah's
accession, and as all agree in naming eleven years as the
duration of his incumbency, f 3n results as the year of his
death, and not n^'^n. In that case, Kohen-Zedek would
have been in office about a year in n"2^.

The Predecessor of Saadia.

Another difference, at first blush essential, between the
two sources, concerns the Gaonate of Sura. According
to Sherira, it was filled during the eight years we are
now interested in by Rabbi Yom-Tob ben Rabbi Jacob.
Nathan, however, names Rabbi Amram ben Solomon as the
Gaon at Sura during the same period. The explanation made
by Halevy of this portion of Nathan's account we repu-
diated at an earlier stage. The difference between Sherira
and Nathan can be reconciled only by assuming that the
Gaon went by two names. There is a precedent for this.
Rabbi Yom-Tob had a celebrated predecessor in the presi-
dency of the Sura Academy, who also bore the name
Yom-Tob, and after his entrance into office changed it.


I refer to Rabbi Tabyomi ( = Yom-Tob), the son of Rab
Ashi, who was called Mar as chief of the Academy. It
is peculiar that Halevy should oppose the identification
of Rabbi Yom-Tob with Rabbi Amram on the ground that,
although Jews occasionally have two names, a Hebrew and
a non- Hebrew, it has never happened that the same man
bore two different Hebrew names. Is it conceivable that
an historian of the Geonim should write thus, failing to
recall that a celebrated Gaon of Sura is called Rabbi Moses
in some sources, and Rabbi n^^^^JD in others? Or is
a name with the ending n^ less Hebrew than 31D DV?
One of the oldest of the Geonim of Sura, Rabbi Shashna,
had the name n^^riC'D engraved on his official seal. So
Sherira reports. In connexion with this, it is worth
noting that Sherira shortens the name of the Sura Gaon
Sar Shalom to Shalom. It is not surprising, then, that
he should be tempted to put so long a name as Yom-Tob
Amram through the same process of abbreviation, by
lopping off the first half. In a much later time the
case of Immanuel of Rome forms an interesting parallel
to the one under consideration in the Geonic time. In
the introduction to his commentary on Proverbs he calls
his father Jacob, though elsewhere he appears only as
Shelomoh, just as the father of our Sura Gaon is Jacob
to Sherira and Solomon to Nathan. The probability is
that he owned both names, nj^b^ 2pv\ a combination not
infrequently met with in later times ^. There is still
another Gaon whose father's name undergoes a trans-
formation in different sources. Rabbi Paltoi is introduced
as the son of Abaye by Sherira and other authorities,
while the author of the I2pbn ••^ntr, 420, calls his father

1 An example in modern times is the '^Lissa Rav,'* who calls his
father n^^o and also n-i'o ipr. The latter may have received his second
name by means of curn "'"lou.", in consequence of some severe illness,
though it would be rather extraordinary that it should be Jacob, the
same name as his son's, an unusual occurrence among the Ashkenazim.

F 2


The only problem left unsolved in Nathan's narrative
is his statement that the successor of Rabbi Amram ben
Solomon and the predecessor of Saadia, in the Gaonate
of Sura, was Hai ben Kiyyumi, whom he describes as
" the first of his generation," and as occupying the Gaonate
for twenty years, until his death. As a period of twenty
years is out of the question here, and as D and n are
letters easily confounded, Graetz proposes to read 3 instead
of 3, so giving Hai ben Kiyyumi two years as president
of the Academy instead of twenty. The objection made
by Halevy to this emendation of Graetz cannot be taken
seriously. " How," exclaims Halevy, " is it possible to read
2 in this passage ? How could the writer [Nathan] have
been betrayed into the error of calling one 'the first of
his generation ' who officiated only two years ? Can a man
become the first of his generation within two years V It
is difficult to maintain one's gravity with such reasoning.
Does Halevy suppose any one would think of suggesting
that Rabbi Hai was called to the Gaonate as an infant
in arms? Nathan remarks that Hai received his exalted
office as the first, the most distinguished, scholar of his
time, and what more natural than such a remark ? Whether
Rabbi Hai, a contemporary of Rabbi Saadia, deserved the
title "inn c^^n cannot be determined after the lapse of time,
but Nathan surely had as good a right to apply it to Rabbi
Hai as many a modern author of Rabbinical works has
to call two and sometimes three of his endorsers, on one
and the same page, rh)in ^n ^3 tJ>^{n.

For the rest, this Hai apparently was not an insig-
nificant personage. Saadia did not consider it beneath
his dignity to quote him. Rabbi Isaac, of Vienna, in
his V)"^^ '^1^<, I, T97 a, top, cites an explanation with the
words \)^i ^\n nn OtJ^n '^2 |1N3 n^ivo 21). As both Rabbi
Hai ben David and Rabbi Hai ben Nahshon were not
living at Saadia's arrival in Babylonia, it could have
been no one but this Hai, who, according to Nathan,
died shortly before the appointment of Saadia, and, as


we know now^ Saadia lived in Babylonia for a time
before he was chosen Gaon. In this period he must
have made the acquaintance of Hai ben Kiyyumi, who
accordingly does not owe his existence to the ignorance
of Nathan, as Halevy would have us believe.

It is easy to surmise why this Hai is not mentioned

by Sherira, if one but scrutinises the words used by

Nathan. The remark introducing him, "he was the first

of his generation," yields the desired explanation. After

the death of Amram ben Solomon, or, to call him by the

name Sherira uses, Yom-Tob ben Jacob, Sura possessed

no dominant personality worthy to act as his successor

in the Gaonate. Rabbi Hai was "the greatest scholar

of his circle;' and as such he presided over the Academy,

if not as Gaon, at least as the leading spirit. It was

on his death that the Exilarch was forced to entrust

the office to the alien Saadia. That is the meaning of

the sentence ^<n^D nn^tj'> an:i pr iniN3 rm ^in mn Nim.

Sherira, who enumerates only the Geonim, had no occasion

to mention Rabbi Hai ben Kiyyumi, who was not a Gaon.

He was content to dispose of the couple of years of his

activity as vice-Gaon as the time when the life at Sura

was at its lowest ebb.

The Chronology op the Geonim.

We have reached the end of our investigation, which
has resulted in a brilliant vindication of Nathan. We
might stop here, except that it is proper to acknowledge
the fact that the dates used here for the terms of the
office of the Geonim were taken from the table contributed
by A. Epstein to the Jeiuish Encyclopedia, s.v. "Gaon,"

^ This follows from the letters in the Ben-Meir Controversy, the
correspondence relating to which can now be examined in its entirety
in Sokolow, bivn 'd, 19-189. It is noteworthy that while Rabbi Sherira
leaves the impression that Rabbi Saadia was called from Egypt to the
Claonate, Rabbi Nathan properly represents Rabbi Saadia as being in
Babylonia when the call came to him.


though I was well aware that, in spite of the extreme care
taken in compiling it, it must remain inaccurate in some
details, because it is based mainly on Sherira's Letter, of
which we are not yet fortunate enough to possess an
unexceptionable text, and Sherira himself is not blameless
of errors and inaccuracies, especially in connexion with the
older chronology.

How careful one should be in such matters is illustrated by
the following: In a long inquiry, extending over several pages
(pp. 240-41, 248), Halevy endeavours to prove that Rabbi
Zemah ben Paltoi occupied his office, not nineteen (o''''), but
nine ('o) years. Halevy's trouble was in vain. The great-
grandson of this Gaon, Rabbi Hezekiah ben Samuel, 5^jcn
"IID, writes in 953^, in explicit words, that Rabbi Paltoi
and his son Rabbi Zemah officiated "about forty years."
From this there can be but one inference, that Zemah was
in office at least nineteen years, which, added to the sixteen
years of his father's incumbency, amounts to thirty-five,
the " about forty years " of his great-grandson.^

In the discussion of the point whether Rabbi Samuel Resh,
Kalla, the great-gi-andfather of Rabbi Sherira, is identical
with Rabbi Samuel Resh Kalla, the teacher of Rabbi Aha
of Shabha, Halevy seems to find no particular difficulty
in the fact that the latter flourished about the middle of
the eighth century, while Rabbi Judah, the son of the
other Rabbi Samuel, died as late as 918, for Halevy
implies that this Rabbi Judah attained to the age of
one hundred and thirty years. Sherira reports that the
secretary to the Gaon, Rabbi Joseph (814) was J1N3 '•as* ont
i:>:iN ^ns*, which, according to Halevy's interpretation, means
that Rabbi Judah, who died in 918, occupied, in 814,
the high office of secretary to the Academy, and as it
is not likely that so important a position — Sherira tells
us that the secretary to Rabbi Joseph managed the whole
business of the Academy — would be entrusted to a man

' J.Q.E., XVIII, 401 ; on the writei'of the letter comp. above, p. 7, n. i.
^ Comp. Kiddushin, 12 a : z'cbs'- a"i">~.



under twenty-five, we must fix the year of his birth at
about 790. It is superfluous to defend so serious an
historian as Sherira against the charge of imbecility
involved in attributing such statements to him. The
sentence quoted means nothing but this, that "the
grandfather of the Gaon, who was my grandfather, was
the secretary to Rabbi Joseph 1." Accordingly, not Rabbi
Judah, but Rabbi Judah's grandfather, and the father of
Rabbi Samuel Resh Kalla, was the secretary to Rabbi
Joseph, and this fits the dates naturally, without the
wrench of a miracle. Rabbi Judah, who died in 918,
was probably born about the middle of the ninth century,
and his grandfather was a personage of importance as early
as 814.

The Geonic period is thus the poorer by two miracles:
neither Rabbi Samuel nor his son Rabbi Judah lived
beyond the age of Moses. But their descendant Sherira
is the gainer in his reputation for truthfulness. Accordingly,
when Rabbi Sherira speaks of the Gaon Rabbi Abba ben
Ami (869) as ^XlD^i' nn "ID i'^ m p, we may not, in imitation
of Halevy, impute to him the absurdity of meaning that he
is a grandson of Rabbi Samuel, who acted as Gaon in 733.
Sherira designates him as a " descendant " of this Gaon ^.

^ Eabbi Sherira did not care to say p><:n •';pT "'n« u^Ji, because his
maternal great-grandfather, Eabbi Zemah, had also been a Gaon, and
the expression ^:^^ might have been applied to him. Also in the letter
in J. Q. R., 1. c, n« ""at^ ""ax is used for a similar reason.

2 Comp. also Rabbi Sherira, 36, 4, below, -\'o->i2ii hv V22 "'32, naturally
not grandchildren, but descendants. Halevy should not have permitted
himself to forget the Halakah : □•'22D en nn W22 ^31.



Halakah the Main Feature of Geonic Literature.

All the literary products of the Geonim bear the marks
of a transition period. The ni^m: ni^i^n can equally well be
considered an epilogue to the Talmud as a precursor of
Maimonides' Yad. In an appraisal of the literary achieve-
ments of the Geonim, the double character of the influence
at work in their day must be borne in mind. On the one
hand, it was the time in which the text of the Talmud was
fixed, and the Targumim and Midrashim received their
final redaction, and, on the other hand, a beginning was
made in the study of the Hebrew language, in Jewish
philosophy, and in various other branches of literature
and science that attained to full development in a later
period, the so-called Rabbinic period.

However, though poetry and philology, Targum and
Midrash, mysticism and philosophy, were all represented
in the time of the Geonim, the Geonic literature par
excellence is after all Halakic in character and purport.
Rabbi Saadia is one of the fathers of Bible exegesis and
Hebrew grammar, and he may with propriety be called
the earliest Jewish philosopher — Philo was a Jew and a
philosopher, but hardly a Jewish philosopher. But Saadia's
many-sided effectiveness cannot be put to the account of
the Geonim. If he was a notable grammarian, a pioneer
philosopher, an original exegete, it was not because he was
a Gaon, but in spite of having been a Gaon. Even after
the decay of the Palestinian Academies, it was in the Holy
Land that the study of the Bible and the cultivation of


the Haggadah were carried on zealously ^ The Masorah
is a product of Palestine in the time we are considering,
the greater number of the later Midrashim originated there,
and there also we must look for the beginnings of the
Piyyut and of neo-Hebraic poetry. But when we come
to the field of the Halakah, we must turn to Babylonia,
whose Jews occupy the leading place as Halakists. The
rivalry of old standing between the Palestinian and the
Babylonian scholars was decided by the work of the Geo-
nim once for all time in favour of the eastern centre.
The Babylonian Amoraim created a Talmud ; the Geonim
made of it '' The Talmud." Even the Palestinians acknow-
ledged its authoritativeness ^. The historical importance of
the Geonim may be summed up in this expression : They
transformed a textbook into a code, and their literary
activity was limited almost exclusively to the exposition
and codifying of the Talmud.

The Impulse to Geonic Literary Activity.

It is difficult to determine the date from which to reckon
the beginnings of Geonic literature. The works preserved
to us originated as late as the second half of the eighth
century. But it is more than probable that written notes
of the older Geonim, as well as their oral teachings and
traditions, were embodied in the works of their successors ^.
For instance, the important decision given in :"n, 108 a
(ed. Hildesheimer, 44:2), relative to the wording of a docu-

^ The greater number of the so-called mOTcp 'do are, it is true, Palestinian,
but only their final redaction falls within the Geonic time. The works
proper belong to the Tannaitic-Amoraic period. The onrD 'co, pub-
lished by Schonblum in his wubzz cnDD r}-d^^, Lemberg, 1877, is likewise
pre-Greonic in its main contents. Rabbenu Hai, V'trn, II, 40, and D"rT,
189, quotes a Halakah as a d^idid m^bm i^n^nn, which is found literally
in DncD 'cQ. nninD 'dd alone is a Palestinian Halakic work of the
Geonim period, but the author was familiar, not only with the Babylonian
Talmud, but also with the Babylonian customs of his day. He must
have spent some time in a Babylonian Academy as a student.

^ Comp. above, p. 4, n. i.

3 Comp. y'j, 46 ; ^pDi^m "Jii^^D = '?iD\r'^«, II, 53.


ment manumitting a slave, is cited literally by Hai, but
not from this source. He introduces it with these words ^ :

m^niDr nn 'ni^:^ onno n^^:Di nnx nns* d^ji^^ni innn^ nr nan

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