Daniel "Zakkai" ben Azariah, Exilarch & Gaon of Palestine Yeshiva in Fustat (c.1020 - c.1062) MP

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Nicknames: "Zakkai ben Azariah bar Adoi"
Birthplace: Ramla, Israel
Death: Died
Managed by: Jaim Harlow
Last Updated:

About Daniel "Zakkai" ben Azariah, Exilarch & Gaon of Palestine Yeshiva in Fustat

Daniel ben Azariah, a scion of the exilarchic house in Babylonia, was gaon of the Palestinian yeshiva from 1052 to 1062. After his branch of the family was deposed from the exilarchate, Daniel set out to find a place where he could build a following. Uncertain at first whether to settle in the Maghrib or in Egypt, he eventually created a cadre of supporters in Fustat, mainly among prominent members of the Jerusalemite congregation. Several Geniza documents indicate that Daniel was charismatic but arrogant, driven by ambition to obtain the gaonate of Jerusalem. His candidacy was apparently supported by the incumbent gaon, Joseph ben Judah.

When Solomon died in 1051, a struggle for the succession arose between Daniel ben Azariah, whose claim derived from his Davidic descent, and Joseph ben Solomon ha-Kohen, the av bet din (chief judge) of the yeshiva, who according to custom was next in line. Daniel’s candidacy was supported by highly influential people in Egypt and Palestine, and also by the Fatimid authorities. The conflict between Daniel and Solomon echoed the historic struggles centuries earlier between the Davidic monarchy and the Aaronic priesthood. It went on for about sixteen months, during which time the yeshiva was leaderless. Daniel ultimately triumphed, his success due mainly to the efforts of Maghribi Jews living in North Africa and Egypt who saw his ascendance as a merger between the authority to which they were aligned by virtue of their place of residence (i.e., Palestine) and their emotional and to some extent messianic connection with the exilarchate.

The period of Ben Azariah’s gaonate was a difficult time characterized by economic distress and political instability in the Fatimid caliphate. In addition, he suffered from a serious illness, apparently of mental origin (some type of depression), that made it very difficult for him to function. He was, nonetheless, intensely involved in affairs of the communities under his jurisdiction, especially those in Egypt, and also occupied himself in writing a halakhic commentary. He served as gaon for almost ten years. His personality combined two ideals cherished by the Jewish masses: the legacy of the Sanhedrin of Palestine and the mystique of the Davidic house. Daniel’s son David was too young to succeed his father, but later was involved in another dispute over the succession.

Cohen, Mark R. Jewish Self-Government in Medieval Egypt (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980).

Gil, Moshe. A History of Palestine, 638–1099 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

Goitein, Shelomo D. Palestine Jewry in Early Islamic and Crusader Times, ed. J. Hacker ( Jerusalem: Ben Zevi Institute, 1980), pp. 132–187 [Hebrew].

Elinoar Bareket. " Daniel ben Azariah." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. Jim Harlow. 04 July 2012 <http://www.paulyonline.brill.nl/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/daniel-ben-azariah-SIM_0006120> -------------------- Daniel ben Azariah, a descendant of the exilarchic house in Babylonia, was gaon of the Palestinian yeshiva from 1052 to 1062. After his branch of the family was deposed from the exilarchate, Daniel set out to find a place where he could build a following. Uncertain at first whether to settle in the Maghrib or in Egypt, he eventually created a cadre of supporters in Fustat, mainly among prominent members of the Jerusalemite congregation. Several Geniza documents indicate that Daniel was charismatic but arrogant, driven by ambition to obtain the gaonate of Jerusalem. His candidacy was apparently supported by the incumbent gaon, Joseph ben Judah.

When Solomon died in 1051, a struggle for the succession arose between Daniel ben Azariah, whose claim derived from his Davidic descent, and Joseph ben Solomon ha-Kohen, the av bet din (chief judge) of the yeshiva, who according to custom was next in line. Daniel’s candidacy was supported by highly influential people in Egypt and Palestine, and also by the Fatimid authorities. The conflict between Daniel and Solomon echoed the historic struggles centuries earlier between the Davidic monarchy and the Aaronic priesthood. It went on for about sixteen months, during which time the yeshiva was leaderless. Daniel ultimately triumphed, his success due mainly to the efforts of Maghribi Jews living in North Africa and Egypt who saw his ascendance as a merger between the authority to which they were aligned by virtue of their place of residence (i.e., Palestine) and their emotional and to some extent messianic connection with the exilarchate.

The period of Ben Azariah’s gaonate was a difficult time characterized by economic distress and political instability in the Fatimid caliphate. In addition, he suffered from a serious illness, apparently of mental origin (some type of depression), that made it very difficult for him to function. He was, nonetheless, intensely involved in affairs of the communities under his jurisdiction, especially those in Egypt, and also occupied himself in writing a halakhic commentary. He served as gaon for almost ten years. His personality combined two ideals cherished by the Jewish masses: the legacy of the Sanhedrin of Palestine and the mystique of the Davidic house. Daniel’s son David was too young to succeed his father, but later was involved in another dispute over the succession.

Elinoar Bareket

Bibliography

Cohen, Mark R. Jewish Self-Government in Medieval Egypt (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980).

Gil, Moshe. A History of Palestine, 638–1099 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

Goitein, Shelomo D. Palestine Jewry in Early Islamic and Crusader Times, ed. J. Hacker ( Jerusalem: Ben Zevi Institute, 1980), pp. 132–187 [Hebrew].

Elinoar Bareket. " Daniel ben Azariah." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. Jim Harlow. 08 July 2012 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/daniel-ben-azariah-SIM_0006120>

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Daniel "Zakkai" ben Azariah, Exilarch & Gaon of Palestine Yeshiva in Fustat's Timeline

1020
1020
Ramla, Israel
1050
1050
Age 30
1056
1056
Age 36
Ramla, Israel
1058
1058
Age 38
Ramla, Israel
1062
1062
Age 42