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Joseph bar Ḥiyya

(203 words)

Author(s): Roni Shweka
Joseph bar Ḥiyya became gaon of the Pumbedita yeshiva in Iraq in 825 and before this was av bet din (chief justice) under Abraham ben Sherira (816–828). He was nominated for the gaonate when Sherira was deposed in connection with the exilarchic succession dispute between David ben Judah and Daniel ben Saul.  He and Abraham ben Sherira apparently took opposite sides in the dispute, but it is uncertain which claimant each supported. They eventually agreed to share the leadership of the academy as co-geonim, but with Abraham enjoying superior status on public occasions. In his Epistle, Rav S…

Yehuday Gaon

(825 words)

Author(s): Roni Shweka
Yehuday ben Naḥman Gaon headed the Sura academy in Baghdad from 758 to 762. According to the Epistle (Heb. ’ Iggeret) of Sherira Gaon, Yehuday was originally associated with the Pumbedita academy, but the exilarch Solomon ben Ḥisday selected him for Sura because none of its members was a suitable candidate. Yehuday’s brother Duday concurrently served as gaon in Pumbedita (761–764). Sherira states that Yehuday was blind, and this tradition was frequently repeated by French and Ashkenazi scholars.…

Samuel ben Ḥophni Gaon

(1,470 words)

Author(s): Roni Shweka
Samuel ben Ḥophni (d. 1013) was the gaon of the Sura yeshiva and an original exegete, theologian, and halakhist who continued in the Judeo-Arabic cultural and literary path forged by Saʿadya Gaon. Ben Ḥophni was a scion of a family that occupied a leadership position at the Pumbedita yeshiva in the tenth century. His grandfather …

Amram ben Sheshna Gaon

(581 words)

Author(s): Roni Shweka
Amram ben Sheshna was gaon (Heb. head) of the academy of Sura in the second half of the ninth century. According to Sherira Gaon in his historical Epistle (Heb. Iggeret Rav Sherira Gaon), Amram served as gaon in Sura after Naṭronay bar Hilay and before Naḥshon  bar Ṣadoq, a period of eighteen years. Sherira adds that Amram had a dispute with Naṭronay sometime before his accession and as a result left the academy to found his own school. He remained there until Naṭronay’s death, and then returned to Sura to become

Qayyāra, Simeon

(837 words)

Author(s): Roni Shweka
Simeon Qayyāra was a rabbinical scholar in ninth-century Iraq and the author of Halakhot Gedolot. He probably came from Basra, and his cognomen, Qayyāra, can be interpreted as “seller (or maker) of tar” (Ar. qār or qīr). He probably lived in the mid-ninth century, and the information about him given by Abraham ibn Da’ud in his Book of Tradition (Heb. Sefer ha-Qabbala) cannot be correct. The French and Ashkenazi tradition erroneously interchanges Simeon Qayyāra with Yehuday Gaon, attributing Halakhot Gedolot to Yehuday. In the late halakhic literature, Simeon is simply called baʿal halakhot gedolot (The Master of the Halakhot Gedolot). The Halakhot Gedolot is similar in nature…

Ibn al-Māshiṭa, Daniel

(367 words)

Author(s): Roni Shweka
Daniel Ibn al-Māshiṭa was a theologian and critic of Moses Maimonides' philosophy at the beginning of the thirteenth century. His name first came to be known from a marginal note to a passage in the commentary of Abraham Maimonides on Genesis. In discussing his father's interpretion of Jacob's struggle with the angel ( Guide II, 42), Abraham attributes a point of criticism to Ibn al-Māshiṭa's Taqwīm al-Adyān (Ar. The Rectification of Religion). Part of this work, which was written in 1223, is in the Firkovich collection in St. Petersburg. As is clear from the title and introduction, Ibn al-Māshiṭa's objective was to purify the faith from the negative effects of philosophy and restore its ancient authenticity. He took aim, in particular, at Maimonidean rationalism. The book's eighteen chapters are all directed against positions espoused by Maimonides in the Guide and elsewhere; among the subjects treated are anthropomorphism, resurrection of the dead, divine knowledge and providence, and divine attributes. Ibn al-Māshiṭa's approach is conse…

Bustanay (Ḥaninay) ben Kafnay

(1,204 words)

Author(s): Roni Shweka
Bustanay (Ḥaninay) ben Kafnay (ca. 618–670),  frequently cited erroneously in some sources and by later scholars as Bustanay ben Ḥaninay,  was the first exilarch (Aram. resh galuta) after the Muslim conquest of the Sassanid empire. Most of the sources about him are legendary and tendentious, and the few historical facts they provide are doubtful. According to an anonymous gaonic responsum from the tenth century, Caliph ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb(r. 634–644) confirmed Bustanay in the office of exilarch and gave him Azdadwar, the captive daughter of the Sassanid king (in some sources Khosraw II, in others Yezdigerd III). The princess bore Bustanay three sons named Guranshah, Mardanshah, and Shahriyar. After Bustanay’s death, his two older sons by his Jewish first wife argued that their father had not converted the princess, his second wife, to Judaism, and therefore her children were slaves, not entitled to any part of his estate and not prin…
Date: 2015-09-03

Dosa ben Saʿadya Gaon

(313 words)

Author(s): Roni Shweka
Dosa ben Saʿadya was the gaon of the academy of Sura in Baghdad from 1012 until his death in 1018. He was the younger son of the great Saʿadya Gaon. In a letter written in 928, Saʿadya mentions his older son, She'erit, but not Dosa. Presumably he was born later, probably around 935, and thus was only a boy when his father died in 942. Dosa was at least seventy-five when he b…