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Babylonia (in part)



Dilling Exhibit 295

[page 413] After an interval of a few years, a nephew of the deposed Ukba, David b. Zakkai (920-940), was made exilarch, and Cohen Zedek II was forced to recognize him. Foiled as this ambitious Pumbeditan thus was in regard to the exilarchate, he was in addition compelled to witness the rise and development of the Academy of Sura, also strongly opposed by him, but which under Saadia reached a point of unprecedented splendor. Saadia, who had been called to Sura from Egypt because there was no scholar of sufficient Talmudic authority there, had already made himself famous by his translation of the Bible into Arabic, and by his commentary upon it. His activity as gaon of Sura (928-942) was even more meritorious than this accomplishment. His battles with the Karaites form but one side of the general polemic activity which ruled at this time in Irak among the professors of the various religions. There was a Parsee controversy (“ shikand gumanik Vijar “) against Jews and Christians In the ninth century (Darmesteter, “Rev. Et. Juives, xviii. 4). Sabaryeshu, a Jacobite presbyter of Mosul in the tenth century, waged a discussion with a Jewish sage (Assemani, l.c. iii. 1, 541; compare Steinschneider, “Polemische Literatur, p. 85); and Mohammedan writers like Al-Kindi were continuous in their attacks, from the ninth century on, against Jews and Christians alike (Steinschneider, l.c. p. 112). Two califs, Al-Muktadir and Kahir, interfered in the disputes between the exilarchate and the gaonate, with the result that both institutions suffered in influence. David had successfully maintained himself against his brother Joshua, whom Saadia had declared exilarch, and had thereafter made friends with the gaon, who had in the interval been banished to Bagdad. He left a son, Judah, to succeed him; but he ruled only seven months. Saadia then took affectionate charge of Judah’s infant son, until the latter was slain in a Moslem riot. The exilarchate had to be suspended (about 940) until quieter times permitted its artificial revival. There are some faint traces that a certain Hezekiah, a grandson of David’s son Judah, was exilarch for a time; but, according to other authorities, he was only gaon of Pumbedita—a post which, with his violent death in 1040, also passed way alter an existence of 800 years.

The Academy of Pumbedita flourished for a century longer. Aaron ibn Sargado, a wealthy merchant of Bagdad and an opponent of Saadia, acted as gaon of Pumbedita (943-460) and very effectively.

Of less importance was Nehemiah, son of Cohen Zedek; but in SHERIA (968-1000) and his son HAl or Haia, the Jews of Babylonia possessed two incumbents of the gaonate who shed unrivaled brilliancy upon their office. Yet both these respected dignitaries found themselves the victims of calumnious representations made to the calif AlKadir, probably through the instrumentality of scholars who felt themselves slighted. The two geonim were for a time imprisoned, but ultimately were set at liberty, and the now aged Sherira resigned his office favor of Hai, who discharged the duties of the gaonate until 1038. Upon his death the above-mentioned Hezekia ruled for two years longer, and with his murder the gaonate of Pumbedita came to an end.

The gaonate of Sura was extinguished less suddenly. About 970 a certain R. Jacob b. Mordecai is said to have written to the Jewish communities on the Rhine on the matter of a false Messiah (Mannheimer, “Die. Juden in Worms,” p. 27); this is, however, considered to be a fabrication. The last gaon of Sura was Samuel b. Hophni, the father-in-law of Hai; he was distinguished for his literary activities. When he died in 1034, the gaonate of Sura retrograded more and more, until at last it expired quietly and unnoticed.

A special intervention of Providence, according to Ibn Daud, was arranged in order that Babylonian learning should be transplanted to Europe. Four scholars, sent to the West to gather funds for the academies, were captured on the Mediterranean by an admiral of the calif of Cordova; and after many experiences these four became the founders of rabbinical academies in Alexandria, Kairwan, Cordova, and perhaps Narbonne. Babylonia thus lost its central importance for Judaism: it was, however, replaced by the rising communities of Spain, whither the two sons of the unfortunate Hezekiah above mentioned had also migrated.

This forms an appropriate point at which to consider the general influence of Babylonia upon European Judaism. Luzzatto (“ Hebraeische Briefe,” p. 865) thus, in substance, describes it: The West received both the written and the oral Law from Babylonia. Punctuation and accentuation were begun in Babylonia; so also the piyyut, rime, and meter. Even philosophy had its origin here: for the frequently mentioned but little-known David ha-Babli or Al-Mukammez, who lived before Saadia, is the oldest known Jewish philosopher. The greatest if not also the earliest payyetan, Eleazar Kalir, of the eighth century, was apparently a Babylonian. It is true indeed, adds Luzzatto, that heresy is also a Babylonian product; for, in addition to the Karaites, Hiwi al-Balkhi, Saadia’s opponent, was a Persian-in a broader sense a Babylonian. [The Talmudic usage survived for a long time of calling all Western Jews (ma’arbaye”) “Palestinians” and all Eastern Jews (“madinhaye”) Babylonians.] One peculiarity of the Babylonians, however, made no headway among the Jews of other lands: this was the system of supralineal punctuation (see Pinsker,”Einleitung in das Babylonisch-Hebraische Punctuationssystem “), called the Babylonian or Assyrian, and said to have been invented by the Karaite, R. Aha of Irak (see Margoliouth, in “Proc. Soc. Bibl. Archaeology,” 1898, p. 190). To Babylonian literary activity, in addition to the Babylonian Talmud, must be ascribed possibly the Targum Onkelos, together with some Midrashic works (“Rabhot”), “Halakot Gedolot,” and the well-known works bearing the names of the geonim Aha of Shabha, Amram, Sàadia, Sherira, Hal, Hophni, and others. Babylonian learning, always great from Rab’s time, expressed itself in independent works only toward the close of the period, and then disappeared altogether.

Babylonia, however, still continued to be regarded


Dilling Exhibit 296

[page 414] with reverence by the Jews in all parts. Eldad, who in the ninth century traveled extensively from Africa, notes that the Jews of Abyssinia placed “the sages of Babylon” first in their prayers for their brethren of the diaspora (Zemah Gaon, in Epstein, “Eldad ha-Dani,” p. 8);

Middle Ages.

and a similar prayer, [Hebr.], although it has quite lost its application, is extant today in many congregations. R. Paltiel of Cairo contributed one thousand gold pieces to the schools of Babylonia (“Medieval Jewish Chron.” ii. 128), in accordance, no doubt, with a custom prevalent in all places where Jews dwelt. In 1189 Abraham ibn Ezra was in Bagdad, and the exilarchate had possibly been restored at that time (see his commentary on Zech. xii. 7). Toward the end of the twelfth century, both Benjamin of Tudela and Pethahiah of Regensburg gave a description of Babylon; Judah al Harizi’s journey was somewhat later. Benjamin found seven thousand Jews in Mosul on the Tigris opposite ancient Nineveh, and at their head was B. Zakkai, of Davidic descent; he found also B. Joseph Burj al-Fulk, court astronomer of the Seljuk sultan Saifeddin. Pethahiah (“Travels,” London, 1856) found there two “nesi‘im” (princes) of the house of David. Other inhabitants paid a gold dinar to the government, but the Jews paid one-half to the government and the other to the two princes. In another passage (l.c. p. 20) Pethahiah says that every Jew In Babylonia paid a poll-tax of one gold piece to the head of the academy (of Bagdad?); for the king (calif) demanded no taxes. The Jews in Babylonia lived in peace. Passing through many places which counted two thousand, ten thousand, and even fifteen thousand Jewish inhabitants, Benjamin reached Bagdad, the residence of the calif. At this time the calif (Emir al-Mumemin) was considered only as the spiritual head of the state; the functions of government proper were exercised by

Benjamin of Tudela.

the Seljuk princes. “The calif,” says Benjamin, “is kindly disposed toward Israel, and reads and speaks our holy tongue.” In Bagdad there resided about a thousand Jews, and there were ten colleges, which he enumerates, all under a president of their own. At the head of all stood the exilarch Daniel b. Hisdai. This shows that the exilarchate must have been restored, and, to judge from Benjamin’s further description, it had lost but little of its former splendor. Pethahiah mentions only one academy in Bagdad and but a single presiding officer; he knows nothing of an exilarch. The inroad of the Mongolians seems to have wrought havoc in Bagdad; and the only large congregation known to Al Harizi (Makamas 12, 18, 24, 46) was that of Mosul. Passing through the city of Babylon, Benjamin reached a place inhabited by twenty thousand Jews, where the house of the prophet Daniel was shown.

Both travelers recount many legends and popular traditions concerning Daniel’s grave in Susa (see Cambridge Bible, Daniel. p. xxi.). Ezekiel’s synagogue, and the graves of individual Talmudists—traditions which survive to-day in great measure there, but which evidence considerable superstition on the part of the Babylonian Jews, a failing they share, however, with their Mohammedan neighbors. Al Harizi sings of Ezekiel’s grave in his 53rd makama; Niebuhr saw the grave in 1765, and was assured that even then many hundred Jews annually visited it (Ritter, l.c. x. 264). Benjamin went to Kufa, where seven thousand Jews dwelt, and visited also the academic cities, Sura and Pumbedita; in ruined Nehardea, Pethahiah found a congregation, and in the celebrated Nisibis there were then eight hundred Jews. He relates that the “nasi “ of Damascus received his ordination from the academic head of Babylonia, so that this country was still predominant in the minds of the Jews of the Moslem world. The gaon of Bagdad, Samuel b. Ali ba-Levi, did not hesitate to oppose Maimonides publicly. Two hundred years later, about 1880, there lived in Babylonia a prince, David b. Hodayah, who took up the cause of a German rabbi, Samuel Schlettstadt; this prince traced his descent, not from Bostanai, but from the Palestinian patriarchs (Coronel, “Commentarii Quinque,” p. 110, Vienna, 1864). There was likewise an exilarchate in Syria under the Egyptian sultan in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, with its seat at Damascus; the exilarch Yisha of Damascus (1288) joined hands with the exilarch David of Mosul and the rabbinical authorities of Babylonia-that is, Bagdad-in opposing the anti-Maimonists (“Hemdah Genuzah, p. 21b; “Kerem Hemed,” iii. 170).

Temporary commotion was caused in the life of the Jews of the califate by the appearance of David ALROY, who called himself in his Messianic capacity by the name of Menahem b. Solomon.

The califate hastened to its end before the rising power of the Mongolians. These heathen tribes knew no distinction, as Bar Hebraeus remarks, between heathens, Jews, and Christians; and their grand mogul Cubalai showed himself just toward the Jews who served in his army (Marco Polo, book ii, ch. vi). Hulagu, the destroyer of the califate (1258) and the conqueror of Palestine (1260), was tolerant toward both Jews and Christians; but there can be no doubt that in those days of terrible warfare the Jews must have suffered much with others.

Mongolian Period.

Under the Mongolian rulers, the priests of all religions were exempt from the poll-tax; and it is not true when Mohammedan writers deny that the Jews possessed the same privilege (Vambéry, “Gesch. Buchara’s,” i. 156, Stuttgart, 1872). Hulagu’s second son, Ahmed, embraced Islam, but his successor, Argun (1284-91), hated the Moslems and was friendly to Jews and Christians; his chief counselor was a Jew, Sa’ad al-Daulah; a physician of Bagdad (D’Ohsson, “Histoire des Mongoles,” book iii., ch ii., p. 31; Weil, “Gesch. der Islamitischen Volker,” p. 31). After the death of the great khan and the murder of his Jewish favorite, the Mohammedans fell upon the Jews, and Bagdad witnessed a regular battle between them. Ghaikatu also had a Jewish minister of finance, Rashid al-Daulah (Bar Hebraeus, i. 632). The khan Gazan also became a Mohammedan, and restored the so-called Omar Law (see above) to full sway. The Egyptian sultan Nasr, who also ruled over Irak, reestablished the same law in 1880, and saddled it with new limitations (~Vei1~ l.c. pp. 19, 398). Mongolian fury once again devastated the localities inhabited by Jews, when, in 1393, Timur […]