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Ismāʿīl al-ʿUkbarī

(393 words)

Author(s): Yoram Erder
Ismāʿīl al-ʿUkbarī, who was active during the reign of the Abbasid caliph al-Muʿtaṣim (r. 833–842),  founded one of the many Jewish sects that came into being in Babylonia at the beginning of the gaonic period. The sect was no longer in existence by the first half of the tenth century. What little is known about it is derived from Karaite and, to a lesser extent, Muslim sources.   Al-ʿUkbarī’s movement was apparently messianic in nature, as can be inferred from the instructions he gave his followers to inscribe the phrase “the chariots of Israel and the horsemen th…


(380 words)

Author(s): Yoram Erder
Yūdghān was the founder of one of the many Jewish sects in Babylonia and Persia around the beginning of the gaonic period. According to Jacob al-Qirqisānī (10th century), he was a student of Abū ʿĪsā of Isfahan, which indicates that he was active at the beginning of the Abbasid caliphate in the second half of the eighth century.As is the case for the other Jewish sects of this era, our information about Yūdghān’s doctrines comes from Karaite and Muslim sources. His followers referred to him as the “shepherd,” meaning that they considered him the “shepherd of the nation.” According to the Kitāb …

Mīshawayh al-ʿUkbarī

(785 words)

Author(s): Yoram Erder
Mīshawayh al-ʿUkbarī founded a sect in Babylonia/Iraq in the second half of the ninth century that is known mainly from Karaite texts (see Karaism). The name Mīshawayh indicates that he was of Persian origin. ʿUkbara is not far from Baghdad. Some Karaite sources refer to him as Baʿalbeqi, which perhaps indicates that he emigrated from Babylonia to the vicinity of Baalbek in northern Lebanon.Although Mīshawayh was later attacked by the Karaites, he appears to have been associated with the Karaite Mourners of Zion sect at the beginning of his career. The Mourners held that si…

Daniel ben Saul ben Anan

(1,016 words)

Author(s): Yoram Erder
Daniel ben Saul (fl. 9th century) was the grandson of ʿAnan ben David, said to have founded the proto-Karaite Ananite sect in the eighth century. The Jacobite Syrian historian Bar Hebraeus (d. 1286), basing himself on earlier Syriac chronicles, recounts that in 825 a battle over the office of exilarch in Baghdad broke out between Daniel and David ben Judah. Bar Hebraeus asserts that Daniel was an adherent of the Ananite heresy. Since this conflict had repercussions for Christians in the Abbasid caliphate, it attracted the attention of Christian chroniclers. According to their accou…

Aaron ben Me’ir

(444 words)

Author(s): Yoram Erder
In 921, a conflict erupted between the Babylonian yeshivot and the Palestinian yeshiva over the day on which the Passover holiday should be celebrated in 922. According to the Palestinians, the first day of Passover would be a Sunday, whereas the Babylonians held that it would be a Tuesday. The ensuing dispute was but one element in the ongoing struggle in the gaonic pe riod between the  Babylonian yeshivot and the Palestinian yeshiva for hegemony over the world’s Jewish communities. Both the calendar dispute and the overall conflict ended in a Babylonian victory.Aaron ben Me’ir led t…

ʿAnan ben David

(2,575 words)

Author(s): Yoram Erder
ʿAnan ben David was active in Baghdad during the reign of the city’s founder, the second Abbasid caliph, al-Manṣūr (r. 754–775). Starting in the twelfth century, Karaite historiography held that ʿAnan was an Exilarch and credited him with founding the Karaite movement in IraqIraq/Babylonia and the Karaite community in Jerusalem. Prior to the twelfth century, however, Karaites made a definite distinction between themselves and Anan. They described him as having founded the ʿAnanites (Heb. ʿ ananiyyim; Ar. al-ʿananiyya), one of the many religious sects in Babylonia and Pe…

Benjamin al-Nahāwandī

(728 words)

Author(s): Yoram Erder
Benjamin al-Nahāwandī, whose name suggests that he was of Persian origin, was active in the first half of the ninth century in the Jewish communities of Babylonia and Persia. What is known about him comes mainly from Karaite sources. He wrote a Book of Commandments ( Sefer Miṣvot), a Book of Laws ( Sefer Dinim), and several biblical commentaries, but few of his works have survived. The Karaites of the tenth and eleventh centuries considered him and his predecessor, ‘Anan ben David, to have been forerunners of the Karaite movement because they both denied the divine authority of the Oral L…

Yeshiva of Palestine

(1,615 words)

Author(s): Yoram Erder
Jewish historiography gave the geonic period its name on the basis of the title gaon (Heb. pride) that designated the heads of the Babylonian yeshivot in Sura and Pumbedita (see Yeshivot in Babylonia/Iraq). Thanks to documents found in the Cairo Geniza, it is now known that there was also a yeshiva in Palestine in this era, and it too was headed by a gaon. Like its counterparts in Babylonia, this yeshiva was called Yeshivat Ge’on Yaʿaqov (Academy of the Pride of Jacob), and it functioned throughout the early Muslim period in Palestine, from the Muslim conquest in 634…

Abū ʿIsā of Isfahan

(739 words)

Author(s): Yoram Erder
Abū ‘Īsā al-Iṣfahānī, in the mid-eighth century, was the founder of one of the first Jewish sects to arise in Babylonia and Persia. As was the case for many other Jewish sects in the early gaonic period, it disappeared soon after its appearance, and even remnants of its writings have not survived. Thus our information about ‘Abū ‘Īsā and his doctrine comes from sometimes contradictory Karaite and Muslim sources.According to the Muslim heresiographer al-Shahrastānī (d. 1153), Abū ‘Īsā was called Isaac ben Jacob, but others state that his name was Obed Elohim (Heb. wor…

Abū ʿImrān al-Tiflīsī

(367 words)

Author(s): Yoram Erder
Abū ‘Imrān Mūsā al-Za‘afrānī al-Tiflīsī founded a Jewish sect in Babylonia and Persia in the early ninth century during the gaonic period. The little that is known about him comes primarily from Karaite sources. According to the followers of Isma‘īl al-‘Ukbarī, their master had been Abū ‘Imrān’s teacher and the inspiration for his doctrines. Jacob al-Qirqisānī confirms that Abū ‘Imrān and al-‘Ukbarī held similar views on fixing the beginning of the month (Heb. rosh ḥodesh), but notes that Abū ‘Imrān did not follow his teacher’s example to the letter. According to the Karaite Japheth ben…


(20,326 words)

Author(s): Ruth Lamdan | Yoram Erder | Joseph Drory
1. The first Muslim Period (634-1099)In general historiography, the period under discussion is called the first Muslim period, whereas in the context of Jewish history it is referred to as the gaonic period. The present survey will begin with a general overview and briefly clarify the significance of the gaonic period for the Jews of Palestine, the Land of Israel (Heb. Ereṣ Yisraʾel) . Interface between Islamic and Gaonic Periods       The first Muslim period extended from the Arab conquest of Byzantine Palestine (634–641) to the Crusader conquest (1099). Islami…
Date: 2015-09-03