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(434 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
The biblical term aviv refers to the stage in the ripening of barley grain when its seeds have reached full size and, being already filled with starch, have not yet dried (e.g., Exodus 9:31). Accordingly, the “month of the aviv” (e.g., Exodus 13:4, Deuteronomy 15:1) in the biblical calendar denotes the month in which the ears of barley reach this stage, which since the Babylonian captivity has been called Nisan (e.g., Nehemiah 2:1). Only at a later historical stage did the term aviv come to denote the season of spring, which is …


(554 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
The Hebrew term haʻataqa (transmission) was used from the eleventh century onward to denote the Karaite tradition of halakha (religious laws and practices), often coinciding with the Hebrew term sevel ha-yerusha (inherited tradition). In some ways this concept parallels the Rabbanite notion of received tradition (Oral Law; Heb. tora she-be-ʻal-pe). Scholars formerly translated sevel ha-yerusha as “burden of inheritance” or “endurance of tradition” (e.g., Poznański, 1914; Nemoy, 1963; Ankory, 1955), but it has since been demonstrated that it should …

Elijah ben Abraham

(605 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
Elijah ben Abraham was a Karaite scholar, historian, and author in the eleventh to twelfth century. According to a questionable tradition, he lived in Palestine, but little is known of his life and works. The only known text attributed to him is a composition entitled Ḥilluq ha-Qara’im veha-Rabbanim (The Division of the Karaites and the Rabbanites,…

Ḥīwī al-Balkhī

(584 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
Ḥīwī al-Balkhī or ha-Balkhī, a native of Balkh, in Khurasan in the territory of Persia (now Afghanistan), was a ninth-century freethinker and Bible critic. His name is probably a misspelling of the Persian name Ḥayyawayh, the Arabicized form of Persian Ḥayyōyeh or Ḥayyūyeh, possibly shortened to Ḥayyōy (Ben Shammai 2003). A contemporary of Mishawayh and Ibn al-Rāwandī, Ḥīwī was opposed and condemned as a heretic ( mulḥid) and a blasphemer by both Rabbanites (Saʿadya Gaon) and Karaites, as well as by other biblically oriented sectarians (e.g., Abū ʿImrān al-Tif…

Moses ben Samuel of Damascus

(389 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
Moses ben Samuel of Damascus (Moses ben Samuel ha-Ṣefati), a native of Safed in Palestine, was a Karaite poet. In the mid-fourteenth century he moved from Safed to Damascus and became   chief secretary (Ar. kātib

Israel (ben Samuel?) ha-Dayyan ha-Maʿaravi

(551 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
Israel (ben Samuel?) ha-Dayyan ha-Maʿaravi (Israel ha-Dayyan al-Magrebi) was a Karaite scholar and poet who lived in Cairo and composed works in Arabic toward the end of the thirteenth century and the first half of the fourteenth. He is known to have served as a judge ( dayyan) of the Karaite community in Egypt, and the Karaite chronicler Ibn al-Hītī calls him “the learned Israel, the judge” (ed. Nemoy, 1963). Apart from some liturgical poems (Heb. piyyuṭim ), several legal treatises and other works are also attributed to ha-Maʿaravi. The legal treatises were probably once part of a comprehensive work on Karaite law entitled …

Ḥasan (Ḥusayn) ben Mashiaḥ

(371 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
Ḥasan (Ḥusayn, Ḥassūn) ben Mashiaḥ was a tenth-century Karaite scholar who probably lived in Baghdad. According to Ibn al-Hītī, he disputed with the Christian scholar-physician Abū ʿAlī ʿIsā ibn Zurʿa (d. 1009), the author of a polemical work against the Jews entitled Epistle to Ibn Shuʿayb. He also wrote refutations of Saʿadya Gaon. Although it is unlikely from a chronological standpoint, Ibn al-Hītī states in his chronicle that Ḥasan ben Mashiaḥ was a contemporary of Salmon ben Jeroham and Saʿadya Gaon, and Sahl ben Maṣliaḥ even asserts …

Nethanel Fayyūmī

(530 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
Nethanel (al-)Fayyūmī(Nethanel ben al-Fayyūmī) (d. ca. 1165) was a scholar and philosopher who lived in Yemen, apparently in Sanʽa, where he served as head of the Jewish community. The attributive name ( nisba) Fayyūmī indicates that his family might have originally come from Egypt. Some scholars (Adler and Kaufmann) identify him with Nethanel ben Moses ha-Levi, the gaon of Fustat, whereas others ( Mann) with the son or, more plausibly, the father of Jacob ben Nethanel al-Fayyumi ( Gottheil and Levine), to whom Maimonides wrote his famous Iggeret Teman (Epistle to Yemen). Nethanel …

David ben Ḥusayn (Ḥassūn)

(340 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
David ben Ḥusayn (Ḥasān, Hassūn) Abū Sulaymān was a Karaite scholar in the second half of the tenth century and may have been the son of the Karaite scholar Ḥasan (Ḥusayn) ben Mashiaḥ (Pinsker, 1860). David ben Ḥusayn is also known as Abū al-Ḥusayn David ben Mashiaḥ and is sometimes identified with …

Sahl ibn Faḍl al-Tustarī

(367 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
Abū ʾl-Faḍl Sahl ibn Faḍl al-Tustarī (al-Dustarī; Heb. Jashar ben Ḥesed ben Jashar) was a Karaite scholar and exegete from the famous Tustarī family. He came from Tustar (Shustar) in Persia and toward the end of the eleventh century settled in Jerusalem, where he soon entered into conflict with Jeshua ben Judah, the head of the Karaite community there. Sahl was one of the last known Karaite scholars active in Jerusalem. His son was taken captive by the Crusaders in 1099. Composing all of his works in Arabic, he wrote numerous commentaries, but nothing has been preserved except fragme…

Ben Naphtali, Moses (or Jacob) ben David

(424 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
Moses (or Jacob) ben David Ben Naphtali was a masorete—a scholar specializing in the reading and vocalization tradition of the Hebrew Bible (Heb. masora); see Grammar and Masora—who lived in Tiberias sometime during the ninth and tenth centuries. He was probably a contemporary of Aaron ben Moses Ben Asher. Nothing is known about his life, and even his first name is in dispute: Moses or Jacob. His surname is also suspect, resembling a random name intended to represent the factual or invented school under which different scholars of the Mas…

Ibn Sāqawayh

(579 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
Ibn Sāqawayh (Ibn Sāqeweihi or Saqūieh, Ibn Sakaweih or Sakoje) was a Karaite scholar and contemporary of Saʿadya Gaon, who probably lived in Iraq during the early tenth century. Very little is known about his life. Some scholars have conjecturally identified him with …

Nissi ben Noah

(431 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
Nissi (Nissim) ben Noah was a Karaite scholar and writer. Since there is no certain information about his life, the questions of where and when he lived have been widely disputed. Some scholars have dated him to the eighth century (Pinsker and  Graetz), others between the tenth and eleventh centuries (Steinschneider, Harkavy, Nemoy), or even between the mid-twelfth and the late thirteenth century (Ankori). Yet, taking into account that Nissi made use of David ben Abraham al-Fāsī’s dictionary, an…

Jacob ben Reuben

(666 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
Jacob ben Reuben, who was active in the late eleventh century and the early part of the twelfth, was a Karaite scholar and biblical exegete from Byzantium. While traveling to spread his religious doctrines, he apparently collected  Karaite Bible commentaries, especially those written in Judeo-Arabic. His most important work was the Sefer ha-ʿOsher (Book of Riches),a concise commentary in Hebrew, with Greek glosses, on the entire Bible. As Jacob explains in the introduction, the word “riches” in the title indicates that he drew from so many differ…

Josiah ben Aaron he-Ḥaver

(355 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
Josiah ben Aaron he-Ḥaver (d. 1025) was probably the last Palestinian gaon from the family of Aaron ben Me’ir. Very little is know about his life, and even the exact dates of his gaonate are unknown, although it seems certain that he was for a time av bet din (head of the court) in Acre (Akko). It was only afterwards, but no later than 1015, that he became the  gaon of the yeshiva in Jerusalem, and he served in this capacity at least until 1020. Later on, the yeshiva moved to Ramla, plausibly in consequence of the growing tension between the Rabbanite and Karaite communities in Je…


(237 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
The term Rabbanites (Heb. rabbaniyyim; Ar. rabbāniyyūn) is a general term used in Jewish and Islamic sources from approximately the tenth century on to denote the adherents of mainstream rabbinical Judaism. As opposed to the Karaites (see Karaism), their most notable adversaries at the time, the Rabbanites accepted the binding authority of the Oral Law ( tora she-be-ʿal-pe), as canonized in the Talmud (Mishna and Gemara) and the Midrash, and in the writings of later rabbinic authorities, such as the geonim (see Gaon and Gaonate), and considered all th…

Ibn Bābshād, Saʿīd

(406 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
Saʿīd ibn Bābshād ha-Kohen was a Hebrew poet, probably a Karaite, who lived in Iraq or Persia at the end of the tenth century and in the first two decades of the eleventh. His major composition, known only from fragments found in the Cairo Geniza, is a compendium of Wisdom proverbs that appears to have been written in the second decade of the eleventh century (Fleischer, 1990; Sklare, 1996). Portions of this work were published by Solomon Schechter in 1903 and have been quoted by scholars as an example of anonymous Jewish Wisdom literature written in Hebrew (Allony, 1969). In the 1960…