Daniel ben Saʿadya ha-Bavli, Gaon of Baghdad Yeshiva

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Daniel ben Eleazar ibn Hibat Allāh (ibn Hibat Allāh), Gaon Baghdad

Birthdate: (50)
Birthplace: Baghdad, Baghdād, Iraq
Death: 1220 (46-54)
Immediate Family:

Son of Eleazar "Sa'adya" ibn Hibat Allāh

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About Daniel ben Saʿadya ha-Bavli, Gaon of Baghdad Yeshiva

Daniel ben Eleazar ibn Hibat Allāh was also known as Daniel ben Saʿadya ha-Bavli

Daniel ben Eleazar ibn Hibat Allāh, who elsewhere refers to himself as Daniel b. Eleazar he-Ḥasid, succeeded Eleazar b. Hillel b. Fahd as gaon of the main Babylonian yeshiva in Baghdad (following the decline of the ones in Pumbedita and Sura). Daniel’s gaonate began no later than April–May 1201, which is when the earliest of his letters affirming his incumbency is dated. He is mentioned by the Arab historian and native of Baghdad Ibn al-Sāʿī (1197–1276) in the extant portion of his History (al-Jāmi ʿal-mukhtaṣar), in which he transcribes the writ of Daniel’s appointment to the gaonate by the ‘Abbāsid caliph al-Nāṣir li-Dīn Allāh.

The date of appointment, however, is erroneously given by Ibn al-Sāʿī as May 15, 1209, which, as established by Gil, should rather be taken as the date of Daniel’s death. As to Daniel’s qualifications for the position of “head of the Jews’ yeshiva” (Ar. raʾs mathībat al-yahūd), the caliph takes note of “how he is admired among the people of his faith” (Ar. mā yataḥallā bihi ‘inda ahl niḥlatihi) and affirms that Daniel has merited the position “by the excellence of his conduct among [his people] and the sincerity of his piety” (bi-ḥusn ṭarīqatihi fīhim wa-salāma madhhabihi).

In addition to the aforementioned letter written by Daniel in 1201 (most recently edited by Gil, vol. 2, §91), fifteen of his letters are extant and have been edited by Assaf (no. 2, pp. 43–45, 46–49; no. 3, pp. 41–44, 46–47, 48–49, 51–59, 61–65; for corrections to these, see Mann, p. 224, n. 52; contra Assaf’s attribution of these to Daniel’s predecessor Eleazar ben Hillel ibn Fahd, see Gil, § 267).

Daniel ben Saʿadya ha-Bavli was a rabbinic scholar and pupil of Samuel ben Eli Gaon who lived in Baghdad and Damascus in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. In Damascus, where he probably moved after the death of Samuel ben Eli (1194), he was noted for his eloquent preaching. The Andalusian poet and traveler Judah al-Ḥarīzī heard him there in 1220 and praised him in his Taḥkemoni (46).

Like his teacher Samuel ben Ali, Daniel ben Saʿadya, was a determined critic of Maimonides. He sent forty-seven refutations and questions on the Mishne Torah and another thirteen questions on Sefer ha-Miṣvot to Abraham Maimonides, Maimonides’s son, who answered them respectfully. These responsa were published in two parts: Birkat Avraham (1859) and Maʿase Nissim (1867). A few years later, Daniel wrote a commentary on Ecclesiastes in which he again criticized Maimonides’s philosophical views. Joseph ben Judah ibn Simeon, a devoted disciple of Maimonides, encouraged Abraham to excommunicate him, but Abraham refused to do so. Not satisfied with Abraham’s attitude, Ibn Simeon persuaded the exilarch of Baghdad to issue a ban against Daniel unless he recanted. Daniel subsequently fell ill and died in Damascus.

Some scholars have erroneously identified Daniel ben Saʿadya with Daniel “the third,” the so-called yesod ha-yeshiva (foundation of the yeshiva) mentioned by the Spanish traveler Benjamin of Tudela. It is more probable that this Daniel should be identified with Daniel ben Eleazar ibn Hibat Allāh. There is also no evidence for the identification of Daniel ben Saʿadya with Daniel Ibn al-Mashiṭa, although they were both part of the anti-Maimonidean movement in the East in halakha and philosophy.

Michael G. Wechsler


Assaf, Simḥa. “Qoveṣ shel Iggerot R. Shemu’el ben ‘Eli u-Vene Doro,” Tarbiṣ 1 (1929/30), no. 1, pp. 102–30; no. 2, pp. 43–84; no. 3, pp. 15–80.

Ben-Jacob, Abraham. Yehude Bavel mi-Sof Tequfat ha-Ge‘onim ‘ad Yamenu, 2nd ed. (Jerusalem: Kiryath Sepher, 1979).

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

Ibn al-Sāʿī. al-Jāmīʿ al-Mukhtaṣar fī ʿUnwān al-Tawārīkh wa-‘Uyūn al-Siyar, vol. 9, ed. Muṣṭafā Jawād (Baghdad: al-Maṭbaʻa al-Siryāniyya al-Kāthūlīkiyya, 1934).

Maimonides, Abraham. Mil ḥ amot ha-Shem, ed. Reʾuven Margaliot (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1953).

Mann, Jacob. Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1931), vol. 1, pp. 401–411.

Mann, Jacob. Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature, vol. 1 (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 1931).

Poznański, Samuel. Babylonische Geonim im nachgaonaeischen Zeitalter (Berlin: Mayer und Müller, 1914), pp. 16–17, 120–121.

Silver, Daniel Jeremy. Maimonidean Criticism and the Maimonidean Controversy (Leiden: Brill, 1965).

Michael G. Wechsler. " Daniel ben Eleazar ibn Hibat Allāh." 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/daniel-ben-eleazar-ibn-hibat-allah-SIM_0006130>

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Daniel ben Saʿadya ha-Bavli, Gaon of Baghdad Yeshiva's Timeline

Baghdad, Baghdād, Iraq
Age 50