Kohen Ṣedeq II "Yakob" ben Yosef, Gaon of Sura & Pumbeditha

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About Kohen Ṣedeq II "Yakob" ben Yosef, Gaon of Sura & Pumbeditha

Kohen Ṣedeq ben Joseph Gaon

Kohen Ṣedeq ben Joseph—not to be confused with Kohen Ṣedeq Bar Ivomay, gaon of Sura from 832 to 843)—served as gaon of Pumbedita from February of 917 to 935 (see Yeshivot in Babylonia/Iraq). His gaonate was marked from the beginning by a series of heated and sometimes overlapping controversies, in all of which he played some part. The first of these concerned his own accession to the gaonate. Kohen Ṣedeq was appointed to succeed Judah ben Samuel by the exilarch David ben Zakkay I, but most (or at least the most influential) of the yeshiva’s scholars appointed Mevasser ha-Kohen ben Qimoy. The yeshiva was riven by two factions, each asserting the legitimacy of its own gaon. The two sides were reconciled in August 922. Thereafter the two gaons shared the office until Mevasser’s death in December of that same year, upon which Kohen Ṣedeq was confirmed as sole gaon of Pumbedita.

The next controversy concerned a difference of opinion between the Palestinian gaon, Aaron ben Me’ir, and the Babylonian authorities as to when Passover was to be celebrated in the year a.m. 4682 (= 921/22 C.E.). It broke out just as the previous controversy neared a resolution, and to a certain degree must have contributed to the impetus for that resolution. Saʿadya ben Joseph (not yet gaon) played a significant role in the dispute, first by calling attention to the issue and then by strongly defending the Babylonian position. In a letter to his supporters in Fustat written on January 3, 923, after he had become a member of the Pumbedita yeshiva, Saʿadya refers with not unnatural reverence to Kohen Ṣedeq’s judgment on the matter. He exhorts the letter’s recipients to keep the gaon’s epistolary statement on the calendar issue ready at hand to be studied “at every opportunity” (Ar. fī kulli waqtin), “for every one of [Kohen Ṣedeq’s] statements is a doctrinal fundamental” (Ar. fa-inna kull kalima min kalāmihā aṣl min al-uṣūl; per Gil, Be-Malkhut, vol. 2, p. 25, ll 6–8).

Yet another major controversy arose in 930, two years after Saʿadya was appointed gaon of Sura by the exilarch David ben Zakkay (with the support of Kohen Ṣedeq). As a result of a disagreement about the validation of an especially large inheritance, Saʿadya tried to depose the exilarch. This put Saʿadya in direct conflict with his former gaon, Kohen Ṣedeq, who sided with the exilarch. In contrast to the aforecited encomium of Kohen Ṣedeq, Saʿadya, in a fragment of his Sefer ha-Galuy relating to this conflict, now refers to Pumbedita (albeit not explicitly to the gaon) as “the flies on the left” (Heb. ha-zevuvim asher ‘al ha-śema’lit; see Mann, p. 166). Notwithstanding this belittlement, however, the combined power of David ben Zakkay, Kohen Ṣedeq, and their ally Aaron ibn Sarjado was too much for Saʿadya. He ultimately had to go into hiding and was replaced as gaon by Joseph bar Saṭya, but in 937 he was reconciled with the exilarch, and hence also with Kohen Ṣedeq.

Another controversy sometimes thought to have plagued Kohen Ṣedeq’s gaonate—per the account of Nathan ha-Bavlī in his Akhbār Baghdād (Chronicle of Baghdad)—concerned the equal division of the ḥoq and rashut funds between the two Babylonian yeshivot. However, as shown by Mann and confirmed by Gil (ibid., vol. 1, sec. §140), this took place ca. 907, during the gaonate of Kohen Ṣedeq’s predecessor, Judah ben Samuel.

Michael G. Wechsler


Abramson, Shraga. Ba-Merkazim uva-Tefu ṣ ot bi-Tqufat ha-Ge‘onim (Jerusalem: Mosad Ha-Rav Kook, 1965.

——— . ‘Inyanut be-Sifrūt ha-Ge’onim (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1974).

Gil, Moshe. Be-Malkhut Yishmaʾʿel bi-Tqufat ha-Geʾonim, 4 vols. (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1997; rev. trans. of vol. 1 by D. Strassler, Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages (Leiden:Brill, 2004).

——— . A History of Palestine, 634–1099, trans. E. Broido (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

Lewin, Benjamin M. (ed.). Iggeret Rav Sherira Ga’on (Haifa: n.p., 1921).

Mann, Jacob. “ ʿInyanim Shonim le-Ḥeqer Tqufat ha-Geʾonim,” Tarbiz 5 (1933/34): 148–179.

Citation Michael G. Wechsler. " Kohen Ṣedeq ben Joseph Gaon." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2013. Reference. Jim Harlow. 24 January 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/kohen-sedeq-ben-joseph-gaon-SIM_0013060>

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