About Amram Gaon of Sura
Amram ben Sheshna Gaon
Amram ben Sheshna was gaon (Heb. head) of the academy of Sura in the second half of the ninth century. According to Sherira Gaon in his historical Epistle (Heb. Iggeret Rav Sherira Gaon ), Amram served as gaon in Sura after Naṭronay bar Hilay and before Naḥshon bar Ṣadoq, a period of eighteen years. Sherira adds that Amram had a dispute with Naṭronay sometime before his accession and as a result left the academy to found his own school. He remained there until Naṭronay’s death, and then returned to Sura to become gaon . None of these details fits in with the Epistle’s chronological framework for the geonim of Sura. Some scholars suggest that the period of eighteen years includes both the time Amram was head of his own school and the time he was gaon in Sura after Naṭronay’s death (858 or 860) in all eighteen years (853-871). Another opinion is that Amram was never gaon in Sura and for the whole eighteen years was head of the branch of the academy that split from Sura (857–875).
Amram wrote many responsa, about two hundred of which are known, among them one that was sent as far as Barcelona. His most famous work however, written originally as a responsum to Spain, is Seder Rav Amram , the earliest comprehensive prayerbook (siddur) that has come down to us. It includes versions of all the prayers for weekdays, Sabbaths, festivals, and special occasions, intermixed with halakhic decisions and discussions in Hebrew and Aramaic.
The Seder Rav Amram enjoyed vast popularity in Europe, and large parts of it were copied in other works, such as the Siddur of Rashi and the Maḥzor Vitry. In the east, however, it was supplanted by the later siddur of Saʿadya Gaon , which included Judeo-Arabic instructions and explanations. As a result, whereas it was preserved in full in three European manuscripts, only a few fragments survived in the Cairo Geniza.
The textual situation of Seder Rav Amram is very poor, in part because it was quite popular outside Babylonia. Amram’s versions of the prayers were often adapted to local customs, and some scholars doubt whether they were ever originally part of it. The halakhic part of the Seder was also extensively adapted and altered, and materials were inserted from Amram’s responsa and the responsa of later geonim, as were references to local customs outside Babylonia.
Because passages from the Seder were occasionally cited in the name of Rav Ṣemaḥ, some scholars attribute the Seder to Ṣemaḥ ben Solomon, chief judge of the court in Amram’s academy. Others maintain that Ṣemaḥ compiled an enlarged edition of Amram’s work. Neither argument is decisive. More likely, the original Seder of Rav Amram was revised extensively at the end of the ninth century, perhaps in North Africa. This revised edition was the source of most of the additions, and the original of all the versions that have come down to us, together with later additions added in one or another manuscript.
Brody, Robert. “Amram ben Sheshna—Gaon of Sura?” Tarbiṣ 56 (1987), pp. 327–345 [Hebrew].
———. “The Enigma of Seder Rav Amram,” in Knesset Ezra (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 1994), pp. 21–34 [Hebrew].
Epstein, Jacob Naḥum. “Seder Rav Amram: Compilation and Compiler,” Ṣ iyyunim— Qove ṣ J .N. Sim ḥ oni (Berlin: Eshkol, 1929), pp. 122–141 [Hebrew].
Gil, Moshe. Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2004).
Ginzberg, Louis. Geonica (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1909), vol. 1, pp. 119–154; vol. 2, pp. 301–345.
Roni Shweka. " Amram ben Sheshna Gaon." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. Jim Harlow. 03 July 2012 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/amram-ben-sheshna-gaon-SIM_0001890>
Aaron ben Me’ir (452 words)
Aaron ben Me’ir
In 921, a conflict erupted between the Babylonian yeshivot and the Palestinian yeshiva over the day on which the Passover holiday should be celebrated in 922. According to the Palestinians, the first day of Passover would be a Sunday, whereas the Babylonians held that it would be a Tuesday. The ensuing dispute was but one element in the ongoing struggle in the gaonic pe riod between the Babylonian yeshivot and the Palestinian yeshiva for hegemony over the world’s Jewish communities. Both the calendar dispute and the overall conflict ended in a Babylonian victory.
Aaron ben Me’ir led the advocates of the Palestinian position, although it is possible that his father, Me’ir ben Aaron, was still head of the yeshiva at the time. A document fragment from the Cairo Geniza that is ascribed to Sahlān ben Abraham, the leader of the Babylonian community in Fustat, states that Me’ir and his son Aaron served as geonim for fourteen years; according to the calculations of Moshe Gil, this would have been from 912 to 926. The fragment does not say how the span was divided between father and son.
Before the outbreak of the calendar conflict, Aaron had supported Mevasser Kahana ben Qimoy against Kohen Ṣedeq for leadership of the Pumbedita yeshiva. He expected Mevasser’s support, in return, in the calendar conflict, but this hope was shattered when Sa‘adya Gaon (still known as Sa‘adya ben Joseph because he was not yet gaon) managed to unite the leaders of Babylonia against the Palestinians on the calendar issue. Sa‘adya wrote his Sefer ha-Mo‘adim (Book of Seasons) to refute the position taken by Aaron.
A faction in Babylonia supported the Palestinians, and apparently a group in the Palestinian yeshiva supported Babylonia. The letter ascribed to Sahlān ben Abraham mentions a Palestinian gaon named Joseph ha-Kohen ben Yoḥay. He may have been the leader of Aaron ben Me’ir’s Palestinian opponent. In the Sefer ha-Mo‘adim, Sa‘adya alludes to a conflict between the gaon of Palestine and members of the priestly family. It is possible that the conflict about the calendar within the Palestinian yeshiva was the factor that led to the yeshiva’s move from Tiberias to Jerusalem.
Bornstein, Haim Yeḥi’el. The Dispute Between Rav Saʿadyah Gaon and Ben Meir on the Fixing of the Years 922–924 (Warsaw, 1904) [Hebrew].
Fleischer, Ezra. “Literary Documents Concerning the History of the Gaonate in Palestine,” Zion 49 (1984): 375–385 [Hebrew].
Gil, Moshe. A History of Palestine, 634–1099 (Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 562–569, 653-657.
Lasker, Arnold A., and Daniel J. Lasker. “642 Parts—More Concerning the Saadya–Ben Meir Controversy,” Tarbiz 60 (1990): 119–128 [Hebrew].
Stern, Sacha. Calendar and Community: A History of the Jewish Calendar Second Century BCE-Tenth Century CE (Oxford, 2001), pp. 264–275.
Citation Yoram Erder. " Aaron ben Me’ir." 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/aaron-ben-meir-SIM_0000020>