Amram Ben Sheshna was gaon of Sura in the middle of
the 9th century CE, when world Jewry (except, maybe, Israel)
was most willing to accept the authority of the Babylonian academies. As a result, his responsa were highly influential.
The precise period during
which he served in the gaonate is uncertain;
however it is clear from one of his responsa
that by 858 CE he was already acting in that
capacity. More than 200 of Amram's responsa
are extant. Some were in collections (and
might, therefore have been corrupted). Others
have been discovered in the Cairo Genizah.
His responsa include both practical halachic decisions and comments on the Talmud. In one
of them he states that it is prohibited to
lend money to a non-Jew on interest, and even
though indirect interest ("avak ribbit")
is permitted, scholars should shun it.
Amram's fame, however, rests primarily on his Seder (commonly called
his siddur), "the order of prayers and blessings for the entire
year... according to the tradition which we possess, as laid down by
the Tannaim and Amoraim."
The Seder, "Yesod
ha-Amrami," originated in a responsum
which was seemingly sent to the community
of Barcelona. From there it spread throughout
Spain and to other countries. The Seder Rav
Amram is the oldest order of Jewish prayers
extant. It contains the text of the prayers
for the entire year, as well as the laws and
customs pertaining to the different prayers.
Although Amram's predecessor Natronai had written a responsum (mentioned
at the beginning of Amram's Seder) to the community of Lucena explaining
how the rabbinic injunction to recite 100 blessings daily should be
fulfilled and had established the sequence of weekday prayers, Amram
was the first to compose a systematic arrangement including prayers
for the whole annual cycle as well as the pertinent laws.
Amram's sources, in addition to the Talmud,
were the works of the geonim and the rites of the Babylonian academies.
The Seder enjoyed a very wide circulation and was extensively quoted
by the leading scholars of Spain;
Provence, France; and Germany.
It served as the basis for later orders of service, such as Siddur Rashi,
Machzor Vitry, and especially the liturgy of countries which came under
Rabbenu Tam (12th century) declared: "Whoever is not well-versed
in Rav Amram's Seder and in Halachot Gedolot... dare not alter the words
of the early authorities or their customs, for we must rely upon them
wherever they do not contradict our Talmud but [merely] add to it. Many
customs we observe originated with them."
Three different manuscripts of the Siddur are extant, and additional
fragments have been discovered in the Cairo Genizah. The present work
is not that written by Amram, and contains later interpolations. Moreover,
a thorough study of the Seder, as well as a comparison between it and
passages cited from it by the earlier rabbinic authorities, show that
in the course of time changes were introduced into Amram's original
text, both in the sections comprising the prayers and in those dealing
with the laws.
Some scholars even maintain that Amram sent to Spain only the "order"
of the prayers and blessings together with the relevant laws but not
the actual text of the prayers and blessings, which were added later.
Sources: Gates of