Saadiah ben-Joseph

(882–942)
   Gaon of Sura 922–42. Saadiah was the most eminent of the geonim, and was instrumental in saving rabbinic Judaism from the dangers of sectarianism which gravely threatened it at that time. Saadiah was born in Egypt. At the age of twenty he published a Hebrew dictionary, followed three years later by a polemic against Karaism, the sect which threatened to split the Jewish world at the time (see Anan ben-David).
   After a period in Palestine and Aleppo, Syria, Saadiah settled in Babylonia. He was involved in a fierce dispute with the Palestinian gaon, Aharon ben-Meir, about the fixing of the dates for the holy days. Saadiah’s book on the subject became accepted. Soon after, he was appointed gaon of the famous academy of Sura. It had been declining, and there was a proposal to close it and transfer its pupils to Pumbedita. Under Saadiah, the prestige of the academy revived. The greatest scholar of his day, he attracted students from far and near, and answered legal queries from communities elsewhere.
   After two years, he fell out with DAVID BEN-ZAKKAI, the exilarch who had appointed him. When Saadiah refused to endorse a judgment given in the exilarch’s court, David ben-Zakkai appointed someone else to replace him. In return, Saadiah appointed a different exilarch. The quarrel split the Baghdad community and provoked the intervention of the caliph. After seven years, the elders of the community arranged a reconciliation, and Saadiah, who had been forced to flee, was reinstalled in office.
   Saadiah was supreme in all the fields of Jewish scholarship of the time: halachah, grammar, translation and philosophy. He also composed liturgical poetry. He was the first to write halachic books on single subjects, with sectional divisions. His best-known work was the great philosophical-theological treatise, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions (written in Arabic; English tr. 1948).

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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