R' David Nathan ben Chazub, Exilarch, Rosh Golah of Judah (c.878 - c.945) MP

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Nicknames: "Abu Tahir Ibrahim ibn al-Hasan", "David ben Zakkai"
Birthplace: Tiberias, Israel
Death: Died in Ramla, Israel
Managed by: Jaim David Harlow
Last Updated:

About R' David Nathan ben Chazub, Exilarch, Rosh Golah of Judah

David ben Judah (a/k/a "David ben Zakkai")

David ben Judah was an exilarch during the first half of the ninth century. In his bid for office, David was opposed by another member of the exilarchal dynasty named Daniel. The dispute between the two candidates is mentioned in the Epistle of Sherira Gaon, as well as in the Syriac chronicles of Michael the Syrian and Bar Hebraeus.

According to the latter sources, David was backed by the Jews of Tiberias, while Daniel, described as a follower of ʿAnan ben David, had the support of the Babylonians. The same sources connect the conflict with a proclamation by the Abbasid caliph al-Maʿmūn (d. 883) allowing religious groups of at least ten people to appoint their own leaders. David is generally thought to have been the victor in the controversy, but a reference to the grave of “the exilarch Daniel in the time of al-Maʿmūn” in an eleventh-century letter from the Cairo Geniza recently led to the suggestion that each of the candidates may have viewed himself as the legitimate appointee. Sherira notes in the Epistle that in David ben Judah’s time the exilarchate lost its authority over the Pumbedita yeshiva. David had a son named Judah who was an exilarch in the second half of the ninth century.

According to the Judeo-Arabic report of Rabbi Nathan ha-Bavlī (Nathan the Babylonian), David ben Zakkay (d. ca 940) succeeded ʿUqba as exilarch in the first quarter of the tenth century, the latter having been forced out of office by a faction made up of the leaders of the Pumbedita yeshiva and some wealthy Jewish bankers in Baghdad. A letter sent to Palestine in this early phase of his tenure in office reflects David’s efforts to establish close ties with Jewish communities outside Iraq.

Relations between David and Saʿadya ben Joseph were initially good. Together they resisted the attempt by the Palestinian gaon, Aaron ben Me’ir, to announce a calendar for the year 4682 (921/22 C.E.) that differed from the one officially sanctioned by the Jewish authorities in Iraq. Later, in 928, David appointed Saʿadya head of the failing Sura yeshiva, an institution historically allied to the exilarchate, perhaps in recognition of his spirited defense of Babylonian primacy during the calendar controversy. It was apparently David’s practice to submit legal rulings issued under his name to Saʿadya for confirmation, a procedure that eventually led to the famous rupture between the two. According to Nathan ha-Bavlī, on one such occasion, in a matter involving the settlement of a will from which the exilarch stood to gain a considerable sum of money, Saʿadya refused to confirm David’s judgment. Enraged, David deposed Saʿadya and named Joseph ben Jacob bar Satya gaon of Sura in his place. Saʿadya countered by deposing David and appointing his brother Josiah as exilarch. Both men had supporters among the leaders of the Baghdad Jewish community, and a reconciliation was reached around the year 937 with the help of the banker Bishr ben Aaron. Saʿadya was reinstated as gaon of Sura, and David resumed the post of exilarch; his brother Josiah was reportedly exiled to the outlying province of Khurasan, where he died. David himself died only a few years later, and, according to Nathan ha-Bavlī, was succeeded as exilarch by his son Judah.

David ben Zakkay’s tumultuous career—in particular his conflict with Saʿadya Gaon—reflects the ongoing tensions between the ecumenical heads of the Jewish community during the Middle Ages as they vied with one another for recognition and financial support.

Arnold Franklin

Bibliography

Brody, Robert. The Geonim of Babylonia and the Shaping of Medieval Jewish Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998).

Malter, Henry. Saadia Gaon: His Life and Works (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1921).

Gil, Moshe. The Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2004).

Goode, Alexander. “The Exilarchate in the Eastern Caliphate, 637–1258,” Jewish Quarterly Review, n.s. 31 (1940): 149–169.

Citation Arnold Franklin. " David ben Judah." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2013.<http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/david-ben-judah-SIM_0006400>

"David ben Zakkay." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online, 2013.<http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/david-ben-zakkay-i-SIM_0006420>

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