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David ben Zakkay I

(423 words)

Author(s): Arnold Franklin
According to the Judeo-Arabic report of Rabbi Nathan ha-Bavlī (Nathan the Babylonian), David ben Zakkay (d. ca 940) succeeded ʿUqba as exilarch in the first quarter of the tenth century, the latter having been forced out of office by a faction made up of the leaders of the Pumbedita yeshiva and some wealthy Jewish bankers in Baghdad. A letter sent to Palestine in this early phase of his tenure in office reflects David’s efforts to establish close ties with Jewish communities outside Iraq. Relations between David and Saʿadya ben Joseph were initially good. Together they resisted th…

Maṣliaḥ ben Solomon ha-Kohen

(299 words)

Author(s): Arnold Franklin
Maṣliaḥ ben Solomon ha-Kohen was a scion of a family of priestly geonim that controlled the yeshiva of Palestine over the course of several turbulent generations. His grandfather Elijah ben Solomon ha-Kohen was the head of the yeshiva from 1062 to 1083, a period during which it moved from Jerusalem to Tyre, possibly in connection with the Seljuk conquest of Palestine in the 1070s. Some three decades later, Maṣliaḥ’s father held the post of gaon as well, the yeshiva at that point having relocated to Damascus. By 1127, Maṣliaḥ, living in Fustat, had assumed the title of gaon along with that of raʾ…

Exilarch and Exilarchate

(2,242 words)

Author(s): Arnold Franklin
The title exilarch (Aram. resh galuta, Heb. rosh ha-gola, Ar. ra’s al-jalut) was given to those who held one of the principal offices of centralized Jewish administrative authority during the Middle Ages. The exilarchate first comes into view as an office responsible for administering the communal affairs of Babylonian Jewry in late antiquity. By the third century the family that controlled the exilarchate had developed, as a justification for its rule, a claim of descent from the line of King David, mirroring the royal ancestry alleged by the patriarchs in Palestin…

Kohen Ṣedeq Bar Ivomay Gaon

(191 words)

Author(s): Arnold Franklin
Kohen Ṣedeq Bar Ivomay (or Ikhomay) Gaon was head of the Sura yeshiva in Iraq from 838 to 848 (alternatively, 832 to 843). From the few sources attributable to him with a measure of confidence, it appears that Kohen Ṣedeq was one of the Babylonian authorities consulted on legal matters by the heads of the Jewish community of Qayrawan. A ruling of his on a liturgical question is also cited by the Andalusian scholar Isaac ben Judah ibn Ghiyyāth, and the reference therein to “the seder of Rav Kohen Ṣedeq” has led to the suggestion that he was one of the first to compile a prayerbook. Another of his respon…

David ben Judah

(243 words)

Author(s): Arnold Franklin
David ben Judah was an exilarch during the first half of the ninth century. In his  bid for office, David was opposed by another member of the exilarchal dynasty named Daniel. The dispute between the two candidates is mentioned in the Epistle of Sherira Gaon, as well as in the Syriac chronicles of Michael the Syrian and Bar Hebraeus. According to the latter sources, David was backed by the Jews of Tiberias, while Daniel, described as a follower of ʿAnan ben David, had the support of the Babylonians. The same sources connect the conflict with a proclamation by the Abbasid caliph al-Maʿmūn (d. …

David ben Zakkay II

(274 words)

Author(s): Arnold Franklin
David ben Zakkay II (d. ca 1216) may have been the full name of a member of the Babylonian exilarchic family named David who resided in Mosul at the end of the twelfth and beginning of the thirteenth century. According to the travel account of Petahiah of Regensburg, who visited Iraq around the year 1175, the Jewish community was divided between two candidates for the exilarchate, the cousins David and Samuel from the city of Mosul. A colophon stating that Rashi’s commentary on tractate Bava Meṣiʿa of the Babylonian Talmud was copied in 1192 for “David the Exilarch” may ref…

Joseph Rosh ha-Seder

(276 words)

Author(s): Arnold Franklin
Joseph ben Jacob Rosh ha-Seder was an Iraqi scholar who was active in Egypt during the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. His Hebrew title rosh ha-seder (head of the row) is one of the honorifics bestowed by the Babylonian authorities on local officials who demonstrated loyalty to them and their institutions. Joseph’s father,  Jacob, was a disciple and emissary of the gaon Samuel ben Eliand the author of a number of halakhic works, including one on the laws of ritual slaughter. In Egypt, Joseph earned a living as a copyist, a profession that required frequent travel. Docume…

Bishr ben Aaron

(507 words)

Author(s): Arnold Franklin
Bishr ben Aaron, scion of a wealthy Jewish family with close ties to the Abbasid court and considerable influence in public life, was a prominent figure in Baghdad during the first half of the tenth century. Bishr’s father, Aaron ben Amram, is identified in Arabic sources as one of two Jews to hold the position of jahbadh (court financier) during the caliphate of al-Muqtadir (r. 908–932) ( see Court Jews). In that capacity he reportedly provided individuals in the Muslim government with substantial loans and other financial services. A flattering reference to A…

Ibn Sarjado, Aaron (Khalaf) ben Joseph ha-Kohen

(399 words)

Author(s): Arnold Franklin
Aaron (Ar. Khalaf) ben Joseph ha-Kohen ibn Sarjado was gaon of Pumbedita from around 942 to 960. Ibn Sarjado was not from a family of scholars, but married into a wealthy Jewish banking clan in Baghdad that had come to play an increasingly important role in the selection of geonim and exilarchs. His father-in-law, Bishr ben Aaron, is credited with brokering the settlement that ended the protracted dispute between Saʿadya Gaon and the exilarch David ben Zakkay. Ibn Sarjado’s first official post within the hierarchy of the yeshiva came when Mubashshir, gaon of Pumbedita, appointed him

David ben Samuel

(159 words)

Author(s): Arnold Franklin
In a pair of documents dated 1197 and 1201, “ David, the head of the diasporas of all Israel,” appoints a father and son as beadles in the synagogue of Ezra the Scribe in Baghdad. These are the only known references to an exilarch whose name is given simply as David. According to Jacob Mann, this David was the son of Samuel of Mosul, one of two cousins whom Petahiah of Regensburg describes as competing for the exilarchate in the last quarter of the twelfth century. In Mann’s view, Samuel prevailed over his cousin, served as exilarch, and was ultimately succeeded …

Judah ben Joseph ben Eleazar ha-Kohen

(328 words)

Author(s): Arnold Franklin
Judah ben Joseph ben Eleazar ha-Kohen, often referred to simply as “the rav” in letters from the Cairo Geniza, was one of the most respected scholars in Egypt during the second half of the eleventh century. Sometimes confused with a prominent Egyptian merchant of the same name, he arrived in Fustat as early as 1050. It has been conjectured that he had family roots in North Africa and studied with Nissim ben Jacob ibn Shāhīn in Qayrawan. In his new home he became a highly regarded teacher and the spiritual leader of the circle of North African merchants around Nahray ben Nissim. Labraṭ ben Moses …

Petahiah of Regensburg

(545 words)

Author(s): Arnold Franklin
Petahiah of Regensburg (Ratisbon) was a Jewish traveler from Central Europe who visited the Islamic Near East in the last quarter of the twelfth century. He was born into a family of rabbinic scholars in Bohemia and was apparently involved in trade. He commenced his famous journey in the early 1170s, setting out either from Regensburg or Prague. After traveling eastward through Poland and Russia, he headed south across the Caucasus and into Asia Minor, and from there made his way to various parts of the Near East, including Iraq, Syria, Pa…