Naṭronay bar Hilay (Hillel) (HaKohen), Gaon of Sura (c.795 - c.865)

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Nicknames: "R. Naṭronai b. Mar R. Hilai Gaon b. Mar R. Mari"
Birthdate:
Death: Died
Managed by: Shmuel-Aharon Kam (Kahn) / (שמואל אהרן קם (קאן
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About Naṭronay bar Hilay (Hillel) (HaKohen), Gaon of Sura

Naṭronay bar Hilay Gaon

Naṭronay bar Hilay was gaon of the Sura academy in the ninth century. The dating and duration of his reign are disputed by the early sources; he seems to have ascended to the gaonate between 853 and 859 and remained in office from five to ten years. A prolific writer of responsa, many of which have been preserved, Naṭronay maintained connections between the Sura academy and all parts of the Diaspora. One of his responsa, sent to the community of Lucena in Spain, includes a list of the hundred rabbinically ordained blessings to be recited daily; this responsum was the nucleus for the prayerbook of Amram ben Sheshna (Seder Rav ʿAmram Gaon), which extensively cites it.

A responsum given by Rabbi Natronai ben Hilai, gaon of Sura, in the year 853, states that although the Arabs did not permit the growth of the Jewish community in Cordoba at the time, many Jews lived in the neighboring town of Lucena: "There is not a gentile among you".

Many of Naṭronay’s other responsa also concern liturgical issues. One of them strongly objects to a textual modification of the Haggadah. Naṭronay clearly believed that the emended text was of sectarian origin, but it may actually have reflected a Palestinian tradition, and if so this indicates that his knowledge of Palestinian and sectarian traditions was limited. Although he was the first of the geonim to publicly repudiate Karaism, Naṭronay did not insist upon absolute allegiance to the Babylonian academies. Like other geonim, Naṭronay believed in the supernatural. Thus, he introduced a shorter version of the prayer service for Friday night to enable worshippers to get home earlier because it was popularly believed that demons were active at that time.

For at least some of his gaonate, Naṭronay was opposed by Amram ben Sheshna, who around 857 opened a breakaway academy. During this time, Amram established connections with the Diaspora and wrote a number of responsa, as well as his prayerbook. According to Sherira Gaon, Amram ascended to the gaonate of Sura following Naṭronay’s death, but this is disputed. Naṭronay’s writings were influential in Spain and Europe throughout the medieval period; he subsequently became a folk hero and appears as the protagonist in some Yemenite midrashim.

Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman

Bibliography

Baron, Salo W. A Social and Religious History of the Jews (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952–83).

Brody, Robert. “Teshuvot Hilkhatiyot shel Rav Naṭronay bar Hilai Ga’on” (Ph.D. diss, Hebrew University, 1981).

———. Teshuvot Rav Na ṭ ronay bar Hilai Ga’on (Jerusalem: Mekhon Ofeq, 1994).

Ginzberg, Louis. Geonica (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1909).

Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman. " Naṭronay bar Hilay Gaon." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. Jim Harlow. 17 July 2012 <http://www.paulyonline.brill.nl/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/natronay-bar-hilay-gaon-SIM_0016610>

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Naṭronay bar Hilay (Hillel), Gaon of Sura's Timeline

795
795
865
865
Age 70
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Died ‎853. Occupation: Gaon of Sura