Ephraim bar Saṭya HaDayyān al-Mosul

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About Ephraim bar Saṭya HaDayyān al-Mosul

Bar Saṭya, Joseph ben Jacob

In the famous Epistle of Sherira Gaon (Heb. Iggeret Rav Sherira Ga’on), Joseph ben Jacob is described as “a son of geonim, grandson of the officiants, the priests,” from which it has now been established that Joseph’s father was Jacob ha-Kohen ben Naṭronay (not Jacob ben Mordechai, as per Ibn Da'ud in his Book of Tradition), the gaon of Sura from around 911 to 924. Joseph was appointed gaon of Sura in 930 by the exilarch David ben Zakkay I in apparent retaliation against the presiding gaon, Saʿadya ben Joseph, for his support of the attempted deposition of David in favor of the exilarch’s brother Josiah. Joseph, however, was undistinguished as Sura’s gaon, for Sherira also writes of him in his Iggeret: “he was not very eloquent” (Aram./Heb. la hava leh pitḥon peh) and “was a trifling scholar compared to R. Saʿadya Gaon” (talmid qaṭan haya le-gabbe me-rav saʿadya gaʾon). Interestingly, when Saʿadya and the exilarch David were reconciled, Joseph apparently stayed on as gaon emeritus, because as Nathan ha-Bavlī writes in his Chronicle, Joseph “stayed at home; nonetheless, the ḥoq (stipend) that he used to receive when he was head of the yeshiva was not withheld from him, but sent to him at his house.” In any event, after Saʿadya’s death in 942, Joseph remained gaon of Sura until its closure in 944, after which he moved to Basra, where he died around 960.

Joseph apparently had two brothers: Yom Ṭov ha-Kohen, who served as gaon of Sura for about one year after his father Jacob, and Ephraim bar Saṭya, appointed dayyān in Mosul by Khalaf (Aaron ha-Kohen) ibn Sarjāda [his uncle]. The reason for the apparent sobriquet bar Saṭya (superficially meaning “son of deviation”) is unclear (in one copy of Sherira’s letter Joseph is referred to as “Bar Sanūyā,” but this is probably an error). Three responsa were attributed to Joseph by A. Marx from Ms. JTSA ENA 1765, though M. Gil points out that on chronological grounds this attribution is impossible.

Michael G. Wechsler


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

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

Malter, Henry. Saadia Gaon: His Life and Work ( Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1942).

Citation Michael G. Wechsler. " Bar Saṭya, Joseph ben Jacob." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2013. Reference. Jim Harlow. 16 January 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/bar-satya-joseph-ben-jacob-SIM_0003160>

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