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Ḥīwī al-Balkhī

(569 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

(380 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) of the local Mamluk emir, managing his private estates in Syria and Palestine. Sultan al-Malik al-Ṣāliḥ’s 1354 decree imposing discriminatory restrictions on Jews with regard to dress (see ghiyār ), housing, and mounts and banning them from government service (trans. in Stillman, 1979) led to an accusation of blasphemy against Moses ben Samuel, but he escaped the d…

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

(535 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 on…

Ḥasan (Ḥusayn) ben Mashiaḥ

(362 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

(518 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 …

Ibn al-Hītī, David ben Seʿadel

(357 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
David ben Seʿadel ibn al-Hītī was Karaite scholar and chronicler around the end of the fourteenth century and into the second quarter of the fifteenth. He was born in the town of Hīt on the Euphrates River in Iraq, but very little is known about his life except that he settled in Egypt, where he devoted himself to scholarship. Ibn al-Hītī’s only known work is a succinct chronicle of Karaite scholars written in the Arabic language. It was first published by Margoliouth in 1897 and later was translated into English by Nemoy. It contains short notes on distinguished Karaites from ʿAnan b…

David ben Ḥusayn (Ḥassūn)

(330 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 Abū ʾl-Khayr Dāʾūd ben Mūsaj (Gil 1997, 2004), an esteemed member of the interreligious circle of Neoplatonic philosophers in Baghdad gathered around Abū Sulaymān Muḥammad ibn Ṭāhir al-Sijistānī, known as al-Manṭiqī (the logician, d. 1009).All of David ben Ḥusayn’s works are lost, but …

Tobiah ben Moses ha-Avel

(791 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
Tobiah ben Moses ha-Avel was a Byzantine Karaite scholar, exegete, translator, and liturgical poet of who studied for a period in Jerusalem. The wide range of his intellectual activities, personal qualities, and life experiences gained him a number of Hebrew honorific titles in addition to conventional Karaite appellations like he-ḥakham (the sage) and ha-maskil (the teacher). Since he had studied with the Jerusalem Karaites known as Mourners of Zion ( avele ṣiyyon), his colleagues in Byzantium called him ha-avel (the mourner), but also ha-ʿoved (the worshiper); his great erud…

Sahl ibn Faḍl al-Tustarī

(358 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

(411 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

(565 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 Salmon ben Jeroham (Davidson, 1934, following Geiger), but others consider this highly improbable (Mann, 1972, Nemoy 1963). The fifteenth-century chronicler Ibn al-Hītī ascribes to Ibn Sāqawayh a polemical work against the Rabbanites and Saʿadya in which he sought to undermine the authority of the Ra…

Nissi ben Noah

(422 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…

Abū ʾl-Khayr Dāʾūd ibn Mūsaj

(444 words)

Author(s): Marzena Zawanowska
The Jewish philosopher and mutakallim (Ar. theologian, lit. discussant [of religious questions]) Abū ʾl-Khayr Dāʾūd ibn Mūsaj (also known as Abū ʾl-Khayr Dāwūd ibn Mushaj, David ben Mūsaj, Abū ʾl-Khayr al-Yahūdī, Abū ʾl-Khayr ben Yaʿīsh, and possibly Abū ʾl-Ḥusayn David ben Mashiaḥ), lived in Baghdad during the second half of the tenth century and thus was a contemporary of the Arab historian and geographer al-Masʿūdī (d. 957). It is not clear whether he was of Rabbanite or Karaite background. Abū ʾl-Khayr was once wrongly identified with the philosopher of Jewish origin Ibn al-Muqamm…

Jacob ben Reuben

(650 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

(345 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…


(232 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

(394 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…


(423 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 its main sense in Modern Hebrew. The month of Av…


(540 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

(595 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, ed. Pinsker, 1860). This work provides a historical overview of Rabbanite-Karaite relations and an elementary explanation of the dissent between them. According to Elijah ben Abraham, as a result of this dissent Isr…