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Bustanai ben Ḥaninai

BUSTANAI BEN ḤANINAI (c. 618–670), the first exilarch in Babylonia after the Arab conquest. According to legend, toward the end of Persian rule in Babylonia the king decreed that all the descendants of the house of David be killed, including the exilarch Ḥaninai, whose wife was pregnant at the time. Later the king had a dream in which he saw himself hewing fruit trees in a grove (bustan). Before the last tree was felled, a venerable old man appeared before him and struck him on the forehead. On the advice of his courtiers the king consulted a Jewish sage concerning the meaning of this dream. The sage, who was Ḥaninai's father-in-law, interpreted that the old man represented King David trying to prevent the extermination of his descendants. The king then summoned Ḥaninai's widow to his court and supplied her with all her needs. When she bore a son, she named him Bustanai in memory of the king's dream. When Bustanai grew up, he appeared in court before the king and the wisdom he displayed on that occasion amazed all who were present. Thereafter the king honored him and appointed him exilarch, to the great satisfaction of the Jews. After the Arabs had conquered Babylonia, the Caliph Omar confirmed Bustanai as exilarch; he gave Azdaudar, one of the captive daughters of Chosroes II, king of Persia, to Bustanai in marriage, while the caliph himself married her sister, thereby giving de facto recognition to Bustanai as one of the successors of the kings of Persia. (According to the Sefer ha-Kabbalah of Abraham ibn Daud, it was the daughter of Yezdegerd III, the son of Chosroes, and the caliph was ʿAli.) This legendary story throws light upon the course of events after the death of Bustanai. The Persian princess bore Bustanai three sons (according to another version, five sons). When Bustanai died, however, his other sons by his Jewish wives sought to treat their brothers by the Persian princess as slaves, because their mother had not been converted to Judaism. The scholars of the yeshivot, however, decided in favor of Izdundad, and her relatives, who held high offices in the government, also decided in her favor. The first dayyan who ruled that the descendants of the Persian wife were legitimate Jews was Haninai in the ninth century. The eldest son of Bustanai and the Persian woman even married a daughter of a chief dayyan. Nevertheless the question of the legitimacy of her sons remained a subject of controversy in the halakhic literature of the geonic period and thereafter. Sherira Gaon in the 10th century made a point of stressing that he himself was from the house of David but not a descendant of Bustanai. Bustanai was the progenitor of the Babylonian exilarchs of the period of Arab rule. His first successors were the offspring of his son born to one of his Jewish wives. Among the offspring of his Persian wife who attained the office of exilarch was Zakkai, a fourth-generation descendant of Bustanai. There was a longstanding rivalry between the descendants of Bustanai and the old geonim of Ereẓ Israel. R. Abraham ibn Daud belived that the Persian woman converted to Judaism. Concerning the age of Bustanai at the time of the Arab conquest, there are different versions. One says that he was 35 years old. According to other sources, the name of Bustanai's father was Kofnai. It seems that Bustanai was very active in the messianic movement before the Arab conquest of Babylonia. Arab sources note that he was in Medina in c. 623. Bustanai has other names and nicknames in Arabic and Christian sources. It seems that at the beginning of his activity he fought with the Muslim tribes, but he decided to sign an agreement with them in which he represented the Jews of Babylonia. At that time he received from the Muslim conqueror the Persian woman, an annual rent, and recognition as an exilarch. Bustanai was killed in a battle in 638. His sons by his Jewish wife were Hisdai (Gamil) and Bardai (Haled).


Ma'aseh Bustanai (on the various editions see Benjacob, Oẓar, 353, no. 1814; Devir, 1 (1923), 159n; Seder Olam Zuta (1865); B.M. Lewin (ed.), Iggeret R. Sherira Gaon (1944), appendix, xiv–xv; Tykocinski, in: Devir, 1 (1923), 145–79; Bruell, Jahrbuecher, 2 (1876), 102–12; Lazarus, ibid., 10 (1890), 24ff.; Graetz, Gesch, 5 (18953), 113ff.; Graetz, Hist, 6 (1949), index S.V. Bostanaï; Margoliouth, in: JQR, 14 (1902), 303–7; M.J. bin Gorion, Der Born Judas, 5 (Ger., 1921), 90–102, 300; Marx, in: Livre d'hommage S. Poznański (1927), 76–81. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Gil, Be-Malkhut Ishma'el, 1 (1997), 58–80.