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Ṣemaḥ Ṣedeq ben Isaac

(226 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Ṣemaḥ Ṣedeq ben Isaacserved as gaon of Sura from sometime after 987 until before 999. He was the first gaon of the Sura academy after the four-decade closure that began in 942. A grandson of Ṣemaḥ ben Palṭoy, gaon of Pumbedita from 872 to 890, Ṣemaḥ Ṣedeq corresponded with Elhanan ben Shemariah, whom he knew as a student of Sherira and Hay Gaon in Pumbedita, and he made efforts to strengthen ties between Sura and Fustat. In letters he wrote to Elhanan preserved in the Cairo Geniza, Semaḥ explained his position on theological topics such as God's unity and attributes.  He…

Sar Shalom ben Boaz

(509 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Sar Shalom ben Boaz served as gaon of Sura from either 847 or 851 until 857. More than one hundred of his responsa (or those attributed to him) have survived. Like gaonic responsa in general, the majority were addressed to the Jews of Qayrawan. Their survival attests to the strong relationship between Sura and Qayrawan under Sar Shalom’s gaonate. His immediate predecessor at Sura, Kohen Ṣedeq bar Ivomay (or Ikhomay), and his successor, Naṭronay bar Hilay, similarly corresponded extensively with Qayrawan. All three maintained ties with the Jews of the Iberi…

Samuel ben David

(269 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Samuel ben David was exilarch in Baghdad during the Mongol conquest of 1258. His name appears in the letter of Jacob ben Elijah of Valencia (or of Venice?) to the apostate Pablo Christiani describing the situation of the Jews in Baghdad at the time. In order to raise funds to defend the city against the Mongol forces, the Abbasid caliph al-Mustaʿṣim (r. 1247–1258) imposed an enormous tax on the Jews, allegedly at the behest of Muslims who, according to Jacob, claimed that the head of the yeshiva and the exilarch were extremely wealthy: “the head of the yeshi…

Moses (Mesharshaya) Kahana ben Jacob Gaon

(157 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Moses (Mesharshaya) Kahana  ben Jacob Gaon was the head of the Sura academy in Iraq from 829 to ca. 839, during the conflict over the exilarchate between David ben Judah and Daniel ben Saul ben Anan, the grandson of ʿAnan ben David. Moses Kahana supported the losing candidate, Daniel ben Saul. According to Hay (Hayya) Gaon (d. 1038), Moses was the subject of false rumors claiming “that he habitually used amulets and incantations and the like,” perhaps a bitter remnant of the struggle over the exilarchate. As gaon, Moses maintained ties with the Jewish center in Qayrawān in particular; t…

Sar Shalom ben Moses ha-Levi

(843 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Abū Zikrī Sar Shalom (Yaḥyā) ben Moses ha-Levi served as raʾīs al-yahūd (nagid) in Fustat around 1170 to 1171 and again from around 1173 to 1195. Like his predecessors in office Maṣliaḥ (1127–1139), Samuel ben Hananiah (1140–1159), and his brother Nethanel ha-Levi ben Moses (1159–ca. 1169), he bore the title gaon. Before his appointment to the headship of the Jews, Sar Shalom held the post of av bet din (chief judge) in the branch of the Palestinian yeshiva in Damascus. According to the twelfth-century traveler Benjamin of Tudela, the gaon of the yeshiva was Sar Shalom’s brother Azariah.…

Rosh ha-Seder

(249 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
Rosh ha-seder(head of the row), a venerable title in the Babylonian yeshivot, connoted the bearer’s position as first in one of the seven rows in the Iraqi academies (whether in the academy of the exilarch specifically is unknown). Already in amoraic times, Abba Arikha and Rav were referred to as resh sidra, the Aramaic equivalent of rosh ha-seder (B.T. Ḥullin 137b; Seder ʿOlam Zuṭa, in Neubauer, p. 77). In the Cairo Geniza documents from the late tenth and eleventh centuries, rosh ha-seder seems to have been an honorific granted to leaders outside Iraq, probably by the exil…

Gaon and Gaonate

(5,467 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow
The geonim (Heb. geʾonim; sing. gaʾon) were the heads of the yeshivot (academies of higher learning) in Iraq, Palestine, Syria, and Egypt between the sixth and thirteenth centuries. The office of gaon combined religious, legal, and political functions. Its incumbents had followers all over the Islamic world and in Christian Europe, and their works laid the foundation for all subsequent developments in Jewish law.  The title gaon is an abbreviation of rosh yeshivat geʾon Yaʿaqov (Heb. the head of the yeshiva of the splendor of Jacob, or alternatively, head of the yeshi…

Iraq

(10,793 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow | Reeva Spector Simon
1. Medieval Period As a geographic and administrative designation, Iraq (Ar. al-ʿIrāq) dates to the Arab conquests of the 630s. Strictly speaking, the name referred to the district around Baghdad, but in common usage, it came to include both Iraq proper and the area north of it, the Jazīra—more or less the modern country of the same name. In Judeo-Arabic documents from the Cairo Geniza, the congregations loyal to the geonim of Baghdad called themselves kanīsat al-ʿirāqiyyīn (the synagogue of the Iraqis). In Hebrew, Jews called Iraq by its biblical name, Bavel, conventio…

Syria

(7,961 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow | Moshe Ma'oz
1. Medieval Geography and Nomenclature In medieval texts in Arabic and Judeo-Arabic, Syria is called al-Shām. Geographical works of the period define the region as falling between the Euphrates River and the Mediterranean Sea north to the Taurus Mountains and south to the Gulf of Aqaba (modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Jordan), but in practice, the southern desert region was principally a thoroughfare for nomads and pilgrims to Mecca, and the northern border with Byzantium was…
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