EXILARCH


EXILARCH (Aram. רֵישׁ גָּלוּתָא, resh galuta), lay head of the Jewish community in Babylon. (See Chart: Exilarchs of Parthian and Sasanid Periods and Chart: Babylonian Exilarchs.)

Until the Arab Conquest

The government of Babylonian Jewry for the first 12 centuries C.E. lay in the hands of the exilarch. Rabbinic traditions incorporated in the *Seder Olam Zuta, trace the origin of the institution to the last years of the exile of Jehoiachin, on the basis of II Kings 25:27. Further data were derived from I Chronicles 3:17ff. Whether such an institution actually existed before Parthian times is not known, and certainty is impossible. Sources on Jewish life in first-century Parthian Babylonia, however, leave little ground to suppose there was an exilarch then. Josephus' account of the Jewish "state" of *Anilaeus and Asinaeus suggests, to the contrary, that no state-sanctioned Jewish government functioned at that time. Whatever the earlier situation, Neusner has put forward the conjecture that the Parthian government under Vologases I (d. 79 C.E.) probably established a feudal regime to govern Jewry as part of its

List of exilarchs of the Parthian and Sasanid periods (based on F. Lazarus; see bibl.). List of exilarchs of the Parthian and Sasanid periods (based on F. Lazarus; see bibl.).

reorganization of the Arsacid administration (see *Babylonia). Jews played an important part in first-century Middle Eastern politics, not only in Palestine, but also in *Armenia, *Adiabene, Charax Spasinu, and Babylonia itself. It was important to organize a loyal administration for Jewry, both for the stability of the empire, and for the purposes of foreign affairs. The Jews, living on both sides of the contested frontier between Rome and Parthia, could prove useful to either party able to enlist their support. Furthermore, the destruction of Jerusalem and, with it, the Temple administration which had formerly issued religious instruction to the Diaspora, necessitated Parthian consideration. The Romans, supporting the new rabbinical authority in Jabneh (see *Johanan b. Zakkai), exerted substantially more control than before.

The Parthians, perhaps earlier contented to allow local Jewry to receive instruction from Jerusalem, certainly took advantage of the change in Palestinian politics and the anti-Roman turn in world Jewish opinion, to establish local control of Jewry under close supervision. The result was highly beneficial. In the next century, Jews were the most loyal supporters of the Parthian cause against *Trajan, Septimius *Severus, and Alexander *Severus. In Palestine, circles of Jewish messianists were prepared to cooperate with the Parthians against Rome.

The first clear evidence of the existence of the exilarch comes in the middle of the second century C.E. Some Jewish authority certainly existed about 145 C.E. when *Hananiah the nephew of Joshua b. Hananiah intercalated the calendar in Babylonia (Eccles. R. 7, 8, no. 4, 7:26, for his exile to Babylonia; Ber. 63a; TJ, Sanh. 1:2, 19a; TJ, Ned. 6:13, 40a, for the intercalation). The accounts of the intercalation contain the name of a local official, given variously as Ahijah and Neḥunyon. At about the same time, moreover, Rabban *Simeon b. Gamaliel II rebuked R. Nathan, of Babylonia, for his part in a conspiracy against the former's rule, saying "Granted that the sash of office (kamara) of your father has indeed helped you to become av bet din, shall we therefore make you also nasi?" (Hor. 13b). Since the kamara, mentioned in various Iranian inscriptions, was one of the significations of office in Iran, it stands to reason that R. Nathan was the son of the Jewish ruler of Babylonia. The first talmudic mention of the title of reshgaluta, however, occurs with reference to Huna the exilarch (TJ, Ket. 12:3, 35a; TJ, Kil. 9:3, 32b; Gen. R. 33:3). *Judah ha-Nasi stated that if Huna were to come to Palestine he would give precedence to him, for Huna was descended from the male line of the Davidic household, while the patriarch, from the female line. Ḥiyya and his nephew *Rav may have been related to the exilarch, for both Babylonians claimed Davidic ancestry. Ḥiyya came from the same town as the exilarch, and called his nephew Rav bar Paḥti. The title paḥat was used in the Parthian documents from Nisa for satrap, and if Rav was son of a Jewish paḥat, then his father must have held high rank within the Parthian feudal structure. Other Jewish authorities, earlier in the same period, were reported by Palestinian rabbinic messengers to have Parthian names, wear Parthian dress, enjoy the perquisites of a retinue, and execute capital punishment, and yet to be knowledgeable in the law (Git. 14a–b; TJ, Kid. 3:4, 64a; TJ, Git. 1:5, 43c–d). So it is reasonable to suppose that a Jewish government did exist through the last century and a half of Parthian rule in Babylonia.

List of Babylonian exilarchs during the Middle Ages. List of Babylonian exilarchs during the Middle Ages.

The advent of the Sassanids, in 226 C.E., necessitated the provision of a new political foundation for Jewish self-government. At first, the Jewish administrators continued as before, hoping to hoodwink the Sassanids and forcibly to keep the Jews in line. R. Shila, for example, administered lashes to a man who had intercourse with a gentile woman; the man informed against him, whereupon a government agent (parastak) investigated the case. Shila persuaded the agent that he was loyal, and then murdered the informant (Ber. 58a). But in a similar situation, R. *Kahana had to flee to Palestine (BK 117a), for, Rav told him, "Until now the Greeks [Parthians] were here, who did not punish bloodshed, but now the Persians are here, and they will certainly cry, 'Rebellion, rebellion!'" For their part, the Sassanids under Ardashir I (226–42), who were closely associated with the cult of Ormuzd and Ānahīta, thought they could forcibly convert the various peoples of Babylonia and Mesopotamia to their religion. So for the first two decades of Sassanian rule, no modus vivendi could be reached. *Shapur I (242–272) chose a different, more tolerant policy, encouraging Mani to preach a syncretistic religion of Buddha, Zoroaster, and Jesus (but not Moses!) to appeal to the several major groups of the empire, and seeking to conciliate the Jewish community as well. The Jewish government was given a legitimate role in administering Jewish affairs, when it promised to abide by state law in matters of concern to the state, specifically rules of land tenure and payment of taxes. The agreement of *Samuel and Shapur I, summarized by Samuel's teaching that "the law of the government is law," was closely adhered to by the Jewish regime, which enjoyed a secure position, with few, brief interruptions, for the next four centuries. It is not known what role, if any, the exilarch played in the negotiations preceding this agreement. If there was one Jewish government in Babylonia, as seems plausible, then Samuel must have been acting in its behalf. But rabbinic traditions, which are the only ones to survive, do not mention the participation of the contemporary exilarch, Mar *Ukba I, in the matter.

Rabbinic opinion on the third-century exilarchate was divided. In the early part of the century, it is clear that the leading rabbis were subordinate to the exilarch. Rav was forced by him to administer market prices, which Rav held was not a proper function of the agoranomos, or market supervisor. Samuel deferred to the exilarch Mar Ukba. It was, after all, the exilarch who had earlier employed rabbinically trained functionaries in the courts and bureaus of Babylonia in late Arsacid times. He had done so probably to circumvent the local Jewish strongmen, typified by Anilaeus and Asinaeus in the first century, and the Parthianized Jewish nobility referred to above, in the second century. The rabbis appealed to the people on the basis of their knowledge of Mosaic revelation, which, they held, was unique to their schools, and they moreover affirmed the exilarch's claim to Davidic origin. At the outset, therefore, the rabbinate and the exilarchate were closely allied against the centripetal forces of feudal autonomy represented by local Jewish upper-class landholders. By the last third of the third century, however, tension developed between the exilarchate and certain rabbinical circles. The exilarch justified his rule over Jewry as an heir of the Davidic household, just as did the Maccabeans, the Herodians, Jesus, and others who claimed the right to govern "Israel." That claim did not depend upon study in the rabbinical academies or conformity to rabbinical rules. Whether or not the exilarch was a "good Jew" by rabbinic standards is ultimately irrelevant to the issue. The rabbis saw themselves as the sole bearers of Mosaic revelation in its complete, dual form. They alone possessed the Oral Law, which completed the written one and determined its interpretation. About 275, Geniva, a disciple of Rav, caused so much trouble for the exilarch that the latter sought the advice of the Palestinian *Eleazar b. Pedat. He was counseled to forebear. Geniva was shortly thereafter executed by the state. It is not known what Geniva did to irritate the exilarch. The only clue to his doctrine is his teaching that rabbis should be called kings, the proof-text for which was Proverbs 8:15, "By me kings reign." The eighth chapter of Proverbs was consistently interpreted by the rabbis as the message of the Torah personified. If by "me," meaning "Torah," kings rule, then those not qualified by "Torah" should subordinate themselves to those who are, namely the rabbis. If Geniva made such an assertion of rabbinical superiority, the exilarch would wisely have handed him over to the Sassanids, for subversion of the exilarch was subversion, likewise, of the Sassanid system of millet-government. At the end of the century, Judah b. Ezekiel founded the school at Pumbedita and, for the next 50 years, the heads of the school kept a fund for its support, thus attempting to remain independent of the exilarchic treasury. At the same time, leading rabbis asserted that rabbis should not have to pay the karga, or head tax, imposed by the Sassanid regime on minority communities. They held that Scriptures, tradition, and even Artaxerxes of Achemenid times, had all freed them of that obligation. Since taxes were apportioned by communities, the exilarch would have had to collect funds from other Jews in order to exempt the rabbis. This he did not attempt, and a further irritant in the relations of the two groups was the consequence. By the middle of the fourth century, the academy at Pumbedita, now headed by Rava, was subject to close exilarchic supervision, and moved to the exilarchic capital at *Maḥoza.

When, under Pērōz (459–84), Jews and Christians were persecuted, the exilarch Huna V was executed, according to the letter of R. Sherira, in the year 470. The office of exilarch remained vacant for some time. The virtual chaos of the reigns before Khusro I (531–79) combined with the anti-Jewish activities of the Mazdakites supported by the throne in the time of Kavadh (488–531), and the economic depression of the period, produced a lapse in orderly government for Jewry as well. For a time (c. 510–20) the exilarch Mar *Zutra II threw off fealty to the throne, probably provoked by Kavadh's support of Mazdak. From Khusro onward, the situation was restored to its former favorable condition.

[Jacob Neusner]

During the Arab Period

The first exilarch of the Arab period was *Bustanai, who founded a new dynasty of exilarchs from the descendants of his Jewish wife and his other wife, the daughter of the king of *Persia who was given to him, according to the sources, by *Omar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb. Some opinions doubt the authenticity of the latter detail, because Omar did not visit *Iraq, but the texts possibly refer to one of his generals. This fact expresses the recognition granted by the Arab rule to the scion of the House of David who stood at the head of the Jewish community. The children of his Jewish wife disqualified the children of the Persian wife from acting as exilarchs with the argument that since the mother had not been converted, her children had the status of non-Jews. The polemics and the halakhic discussion have been preserved in a series of sources. The ḥakhamim of the academies decided in favor of the Persian branch. In spite of the protests, which were also voiced after this decision, the descendants of the Persian wife were appointed as exilarchs.

Relations with the Rashei Yeshivot

The exilarchs maintained close ties with the heads of the Sura and Pumbedita academies. They also concerned themselves with the incomes of these academies which were raised throughout the Diaspora. One of the exilarchs, *Solomon b. Ḥisdai, the great-grandson of Bustanai from the Jewish branch (reigned 733–59), was himself a scholar and distinguished himself with his concern for the academy of Sura and its aggrandizement. He took Mar Samuel out of the Pumbedita academy and appointed him head of the Sura academy (Iggeret R. Sherira Ga'on, ed. by B.M. Lewin (1921), 106). Twenty-six years later he appointed Rav *Yehudai, who was also a disciple of the Pumbedita academy, to the same position. Although the position of exilarch was hereditary, it was not always the firstborn who was chosen, but rather the member of the family who was most suitable and accepted by the academy heads and the important merchants who wielded influence in the court of the caliph. The exilarchs and the heads of the Sura and Pumbedita academies were dependent on each other, because the election of each of them required the confirmation of the other party. Against this background, there were examples of self-assertion. *Anan b. David, the nephew of Solomon b. Ḥisdai, was worthy of being elected as exilarch because of his erudition, but the ḥakhamim found a "disqualifying blemish" in him because of his negation of the Oral Law. His younger brother Hananiah was elected in his place. The leaders of the Karaite community, who were known as nesi'im, were descended from Anan.

The split between the *Rabbanites and the *Karaites appears to have been the cause of the decline in the status of the exilarchs and the limitation of their authority. Caliph al-Maʾmūn (ruled 813–33) granted the request of the Karaites that their leader be recognized as the nasi of their community. In 825 he issued an order according to which any ten men – Jews, Christians, or Zoroastrians – were authorized to organize themselves into an independent community and were at liberty to elect a leader. After the death of the exilarch Iskoy II, there were two rivals to his position, *David b. Judah and Daniel. The dispute was brought before the caliph for arbitration by the supporters of both parties. It is possible that the above-mentioned order was also a result of this situation and R. *Sherira hints that the decline in the status of the exilarchs was due to this contention. From then onward they were compelled to share the spheres of their influence and their incomes with the academy heads. Another change which occurred was that the gatherings of the ḥakhamim which took place on fast days and on the Sabbaths of the weekly portion of Lekh Lekha, which were known as Shabbeta de-Rigla and which had until then been held in the home of the exilarch, were from then on held in the academies. The penalization powers of the exilarch were also restricted.

A dispute over the incomes of the exilarch and the academy head resulted in a crisis in which the latter gained the upper hand. The exilarch *Ukba attempted to appropriate the incomes of Khurāsān from which the Pumbedita academy had until then benefited. According to Seder Olam Zuta (Neubauer, Chronicles, 2 (1895), 78), *Kohen Ẓedek, the gaon of Pumbedita, was supported by the bankers and merchants *Joseph b. Phinehas, *Aaron b. Amram, and *Netira, and in 913 Ukba was expelled by the caliph al-Muqtadir (908–32), at first to Kermanshah and later to Kairouan, where he was received with much respect and the Sefer Torah was lowered before him (see below). The office of exilarch was vacant for three to four years until, under public pressure, *David b. Zakkai, the nephew of Ukba, was elected. David b. Zakkai (918–40) was a powerful personality and he insisted upon his right of appointing the academy head according to his own discretion. His candidate for the position of gaon of Pumbedita was Kohen Ẓedek, while that of his rivals was *Kubashshir b. Kimoi. The latter refused to confirm the appointment of David as exilarch and he ostracized him until they reconciled themselves in 922. David endeavored to raise the status of the Sura academy, and in 928 he appointed R. *Saadiah Gaon as its head, having recognized his vast Torah erudition. When he appointed him, he adjured R. Saadiah Gaon "not to appoint any other exilarch beside himself, not to associate himself with those who plotted against him, and not to deviate from his words in any direction." It appears that R. Saadiah Gaon desired to be independent of the exilarch and also to intervene in secular affairs. The crisis finally erupted between them when R. Saadiah Gaon refused to ratify a legal decision of the exilarch after it had already been ratified by the gaon of Pumbedita. David b. Zakkai issued a ḥerem ("ban") against R. Saadiah Gaon and appointed *Joseph b. Jacob ibn Satia in his place. R. Saadiah Gaon, in turn, issued a ḥerem against David b. Zakkai and appointed Josiah (Hasan), the brother of David b. Zakkai, as exilarch. Masʿūdī relates that the dispute was brought before the vizier ʿAlī ibn ʿIsā. On Purim of 937, an agreement was concluded between the opponents. David b. Zakkai attained a respected position in the court of the Abbasid caliph al-Muqtadir, who supported him against those communities which refused to pay their taxes to him; the caliph also assisted him in his feud with R. Saadiah Gaon.

In general, the separation between the various functions of the exilarchs and the geonim was maintained: *Hezekiah (II) b. David, a descendant of David b. Zakkai, was an exception; he combined the exilarchate with the position of academy head. He was exilarch for over 40 years, and from 1038 he succeeded *Hai as head of the Pumbedita academy until his death in 1058. As a result of the conflict between the exilarch *Daniel b. Ḥasdai (1150–74) and the gaon *Samuel b. Ali, the exilarch opened an academy in Baghdad which was independent of that of the gaon. When he died childless, two candidates of the Josiah b. Zakkai branch, David and Samuel, sought his position. The latter, who benefited from the support of the gaon Samuel b. Ali, was compelled to yield several of his powers to the gaon. From then onward most of the powers of the exilarchs were transferred to the heads of the academies.

The Induction Ceremony

The appointment of the exilarch was the occasion for a glorious ceremony, the description of which has come down to us from *Nathan b. Isaac ha-Bavli (Neubauer, Chronicles, 2 (1895), 83–85). It was accompanied by a popular festivity, the climax of which was the gathering in the synagogue on the Sabbath, when hymns were recited in honor of the exilarch and he was blessed with special blessings and piyyutim. His name was mentioned in the Kaddish and he delivered a sermon or authorized the head of the academy to do so. The ḥazzan lowered the Sefer Torah before him while the congregation stood on its feet. The people sent him presents. The festivities were extended over seven days, during which he was host to the people in his home. The Arab chroniclers who mention this office point out that descent from the House of David was an indispensable condition to election. The aristocratic origin and the heredity of the exilarchate made a strong impression on the Shi'ites already during the early history of Islam, to the point that they compared it to the imamate and their theory on the subject of the legitimate caliphate. In their writings they describe meetings between exilarchs and caliphs and imams as equals, with the former reproving the Muslims. Bīrūnī (d. 1048) and others in his wake regarded the exilarch as the lord of all the world's Jews, who were subordinated to him.

Official Status, Powers, and Functions

The status of the exilarch became one of the subjects in the discussion held between the Muslim researcher of religions Ibn Ḥazm (994–1064) and *Samuel ibn Nagrela ha-Nagid in Spain. The latter pointed out the honor and the powers of the exilarch of the House of David and considered this to be the fulfillment of the verse: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet" (Gen 49:10). Ibn Ḥazm rejected his words and claimed that the exilarch did not wield any influence, neither over the Jews nor over any others, that he lacked authority, and that his title was merely an honorary one and devoid of any actual meaning. A similar discussion was held in Jerusalem between a Jewish ḥakham and a Christian clergyman named Abraham di Tibériade. G. *Vajda, whose writings on this subject are based on a manuscript of 1689, assumes that this event occurred during the tenth century and possibly even later. The Jew points to the existence of the exilarchate as a proof that the sovereignty of the House of David has not been interrupted and that the Messiah has not yet come. He also refers to the above verse of Genesis. The clergyman mocks and denigrates that status of the exilarch who is not endowed with the title of king, lives in an outlying town of Iraq and not in the Promised Land, and lacks any punitive powers.

The Muslim rule granted the exilarch the same recognition as the Katholikos, the head of the Nestorian community. A letter of appointment of the exilarch is not available, but there is reason to assume that his powers and functions were of a similar character. In the letter of appointment which was granted to the Nestorian Katholikos in Baghdad during the 12th century it is said that he is authorized to intervene and mediate in the disputes between the various sects of his community and to dispense justice and that he is also responsible for the supervision of their charitable funds. Anyone disobeying him or interfering in his affairs will be liable to punishment. He shall organize the collection of the poll tax and its transfer to the government which, in exchange, will guarantee the lives of the people of his community and protect its property. The receipt of this letter of appointment was accompanied by a ceremony in which a delegate of the government participated. In addition to the duty of the exilarch to transfer the poll tax of his community to the authorities, he was also responsible for the execution of the Covenant of *Omar, the discriminatory laws which affected protected subjects. The Arab author Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 1200) relates that in 1031 the Katholikos and the Jewish exilarch were requested to assure that the members of their communities wear the special garb of protected subjects.

Benjamin of Tudela, the traveler who visited Baghdad in about 1168, writes of the exilarch Daniel b. Ḥisdai that his function had the confirmation of the caliph, who had ordered both Jews and Muslims to stand in the exilarch's presence. The caliph received him in his palace every Thursday, and on his way his carriage was preceded by horsemen who called for the clearing of the way before the son of David. "He has been invested with authority over all the congregations of Israel at the hands of the Amīr al-Muʾminīn, the Lord of Islam. For thus Muhammad commanded concerning him and his descendants" (Masot Binyamin, ed. by M.N. Adler (1902), 39–40, Eng. part). From the end of the 12th century the Baghdad academy heads assumed most of the powers of the exilarchs; from then onward they were the delegates of the community before the government. The letters of appointment which were granted to the academy heads in 1209, 1247, and 1250 by the Abbasid government, and which have been preserved, shed light on the functions of the exilarchs and their powers during this period when their leadership was a real one. These letters state that the members of their communities were to obey the exilarch's instructions and were to pay him the accepted taxes; the exilarch was to judge them and it was his duty to enforce the protection conditions and heed the orders of the caliph.

There is a divergence of opinions among scholars as to the appointment of judges (dayyanim) by the exilarch and its dependence on the academy heads. It appears that this matter varied with the authority exerted by the exilarchs. It can be divided into five periods: (a) until the reign of al-Maʾmūn appointments were made by the exilarch; (b) until after David b. Zakkai, when authority was divided between the exilarchs and the academy heads, the appointment by each party was restricted to its own domain; (c) during the days of Hai Gaon appointments were made by the supreme bet din of the academy heads; (d) in the 11th and 12th centuries appointments were made by the exilarchs; and (e) after 1175 (the year of the death of the exilarch Daniel) it was only the academy heads who appointed the dayyanim. Also, when the exilarchs appointed the dayyanim, the pitka de-dinuta ("judicial authorization") was granted by the academy heads, while the exilarch merely gave formal permission. The exilarch disposed of a tribunal known as bet dina de-nasi ("bet din of the nasi") or bava de-maruta ("gate of the master"). If the exilarch was a ḥakham, he headed the bet din himself. On most occasions, however, it was a distinguished ḥakham, the dayyana de-bava ("judge of the gate"), who headed the tribunal. R. Ẓemaḥ b. Solomon is mentioned as head of the tribunal of the exilarch Ḥisdai b. Natronai during the middle of the ninth century.

The exilarch had the following means of penalization at his disposal: bans, fines, imprisonment, and flogging. During the reign of the caliph al-Maʾmūn his penal authority was restricted so that the only remaining instrument was the ban. During a later period his powers were, however, once more extended and R. *Pethahiah of Regensburg, who visited Mosul during the 1170s, relates that the exilarch was authorized to sentence offenders, even if the second party was a Muslim, and that he had a prison in which he detained offenders.

The exilarch participated in the institution of halakhic takkanot, such as the one in connection with the collection of debts and the ketubbah from movable property instead of from real estate, a takkanah which was circulated throughout the Diaspora with the signature of the exilarch in collaboration with his dayyanim, the academy heads, and their battei din. A letter has been found from the exilarch, dated from 835, concerning the fixation of the intercalation – the exclusive right of the Palestinian academy. His incomes were derived from the taxes which were paid by the communities under his jurisdiction and which received government protection. According to the report of Nathan ha-Bavli (Neubauer, Chronicles, 2 (1895), 85) every Jew aged 20 years or older paid an annual tax of two zuzim. Butchers paid ¼ dinar as a fixed annual sum. The exilarch also derived incomes from ketubbot, gittin ("divorce bills"), bills, and gifts. These details are also confirmed by an Arab source which adds that the Jews paid him one-fifth of their income, as well as redemption fees for male children and animals. At the close of the 12th century the exilarch of Mosul owned fields and vineyards, in addition to half of the poll tax which he collected from his community for the authorities. The exilarchs bestowed honorary titles upon personalities who supported them. These included: "Friend of the Nesi'ut (Exilarchate)," "Favorable to the Nesi'ut," and "Supporter of the Nesi'ut."

The Exilarchate Outside Baghdad

From the 11th century, the period of the decline of the Abbasida caliphate when independent governments were formed in Mosul, Damascus, and Aleppo, descendants of the Babylonian exilarch's family also arrived in these places. As a result of their descent from the House of David the communities appointed them as nesi'im over themselves, while they also obtained their recognition by the authorities as the delegates of the Jewish community. They appointed officials and dayyanim, judged the people, collected the poll tax, and received tithes.

YEMEN. During the 12th century the Jews of Yemen were placed under the formal "authority" of the exilarch of Babylonia and the Palestinian rosh yeshivah of Egypt. This was expressed by the fact that the above personalities were mentioned by the ḥakham before his sermon, the interpreter before the reading of the Torah, and the person who recited the blessing at meals. In a document of 1134 concerning Maḍmūn b. Japheth Hasan Bendar of Aden (d. 1151) there is the expression: nagid of the Jews of Yemen "appointed by the exilarch and the academy heads." It, is however, possible that this refers to members of the Babylonian exilarch's household who came to Yemen. During the 1130s the cousin of the Babylonian exilarch, who had come from Persia, was in Yemen. "He promoted himself to [a leading] position and the local people gave him permission to make decisions in religious law in the synagogues of all Israel" (S.D. Goitein, in Sinai, 33 (1953), 232). The latter struck the minister who mentioned the "authority" of *Maẓli'ah, the Palestinian gaon of Egypt, in his prayer. Benjamin of Tudela relates that in his time the Yemenite community was led by Shalmon ha-Nasi and his brother Hanan, descendants of David, who "divided up" the country between themselves. They corresponded with their relative, the Babylonian exilarch, and addressed their religious questions to him. It should be noted that during subsequent periods the nesi'im of Yemen were referred to as resh galuta, although they had no connections with the Babylonian exilarch or the House of David.

PALESTINE AND EGYPT. The members of the family of the Babylonian exilarch who came to Palestine and Egypt were received with deference, but their status was merely a formal one without any practical basis in administration. As a result of the abortive rebellion of the exilarch Zutra against the Persian king Kavadh I (488–531) and the hanging of the rebel at the beginning of the sixth century, his wife fled to Palestine. When his son Zutra II, who was born after the death of his father, reached the age of 18, he was appointed rosh pirka or head of the Sanhedrin in Tiberias (520 C.E.). Eight or ten generations of his descendants succeeded him in this position. At the close of the tenth and during the 11th centuries members of the Babylonian exilarch's household appeared in Palestine and Egypt. The only one of these who rose to power in Palestine and combined the functions of nasi and gaon during the years from 1051 to 1062 was *Daniel b. Azariah of the family of Josiah b. Zakkai. He left Babylonia because his family had been deposed by the exilarch *Hezekiah II. Daniel succeeded the gaon *Solomon b. Judah and supplanted Joseph b. Solomon ha-Kohen, who was av bet din and to whom the position of gaon was due. From his seat in Ramleh and Jerusalem he ruled over the whole of Palestine and Syria, where he was the judge; he also appointed dayyanim. Even the communities of Egypt were subordinated to him. After his death the position of gaon reverted to *Elijah b. Solomon ha-Kohen.

David, the son of Daniel, would not reconcile himself to the loss of the sovereignty of the House of David over Palestine and Egypt. He attempted to undermine the Palestinian academy which had been exiled to Tyre because of the invasion of the Seljuks in 1071. In 1081 he went to Egypt, where he was received with respect and his needs were provided for. However, when he desired to dominate the Egyptian communities and the coastal towns of Palestine, he clashed with Mevorakh ha-Nagid. He imposed taxes and ruled with tyranny. The Fatimid caliph al-Mustanṣir bi-Allah (1036–1094), who claimed descent from the "Prophet" and favored the descendants of David, supported him. David was finally deposed in 1094. The Jews of Egypt accepted the formal authority of the Babylonian exilarch. In 1162 Daniel b. Ḥisdai ordained *Nethanel b. Moses ha-Levi in Baghdad as gaon and appointed him to the "bet din ha-gadol in all the provinces of Egypt." Even several years later, the name of the exilarch appeared in legal documents which were traditionally written with the "authorization" of the nasi. During Maimonides' time a nasi named Judah b. Josiah lived in Egypt; he ratified the legal decisions of Maimonides. There were nesi'im who demanded judicial powers for themselves, but the community and its leaders rejected these requests.

During the first half of the 13th century the nasi Solomon b. Jesse and his brother Hodayah, who had come from Damascus, lived in Egypt. The latter came into conflict with a dayyan from France named Joseph b. Gershom, who lived in Alexandria in the days of *Abraham b. David Maimuni (1205–1237), over a question of authority. The nasi issued a ban against the dayyan and anyone who would materially assist the Frenchman. In the reply of the nagid to the appeal of the dayyan, which was also ratified by other ḥakhamim, the tendency to restrict the authority of the nasi and to reduce it to a merely formal ratification is evident. Even though the exilarchs considered themselves as the appointees over the Jews of the lands of dispersion and even though they signed themselves "the head of all Israel's exiles," their intervention was not viewed favorably in all places and practical powers were not entrusted to them. This opposition was particularly outspoken in Palestine, which was not part of the Diaspora, and in those places in the Orient where the Jewish communities were led by negidim.

Hulagu, the Mongolian khan who liquidated the Abbasid caliphate with the conquest of Baghdad in 1258, did not harm the Jewish community and its exilarch Samuel b. David. The exilarchs maintained their positions during subsequent years and some opinions assume that their status was improved. There is no information available on their activities and only the names of some of them are known. The exilarchate was brought to an end by Tamerlane in 1401. Until the beginning of the 18th century it was the practice of the governors of the important towns of Iraq to appoint a wealthy Jew as ṣarrāf bāshī ("chief banker"); he also acted as nasi of the local Jews. His powers were almost identical to those of the Babylonian exilarch during the Middle Ages. The nasi of Baghdad was the "nasi of the state" and his authority also extended to distant communities. This office was the patrimony of the descendants of the House of David and was passed down from father to son. From the 18th century until 1849 the nesi'im who were appointed were not from the House of David. From then onward the functions of nesi'im were transferred to the *ḥakhām bāshī.

[Eliezer Bashan (Sternberg)]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

UNTIL THE ARAB CONQUEST: F. Lazarus, in: Bruell, Jahrbuecher, 10 (1890), 1–181; A.D. Goode, in: JQR, 31 (1940/41), 149–69; J. Liver, Toledot Beit David (1959), 37–46; M. Beer, in: Zion, 28 (1963), 3–33; idem, in: PAAJR, 35 (1967), 43–74; Neusner, Babylonia, 1 (1965), 50–58, 97–112; 2 (1966), 92–125; 3 (1968), 41–94; 4 (1968), 73–124; J. Gafni, in: Niv ha-Midrashiyyah (1968/69), 221–3; M. Beer, Rashut ha-Golah be-Bavel bi-Ymei ha-Mishnah ve-ha-Talmud (1970). FROM THE ARAB CONQUEST ON: Neubauer, Chronicles, 1 (1887), 63–67; 2 (1895), 78–87; Ibn Daud, Tradition, index; H. Tykocinski, in: Devir, 1 (1923), 145–79; J. Mann, in: Sefer Zikkaron… S. Poznański (1927), 18–32; Mann, Texts, index; idem, in: Tarbiz, 5 (1934), 148–61; I. Goldziher, in: Jeschurun (ed. by J. Kobak), 8 (1871), 76–78; idem, in: REJ, 8 (1884), 121–5; S. Pines, ibid., 100 (1936), 71–73; F. Lazarus, in: MGWJ, 78 (1934), 279–88; W. Fischel, ibid., 79 (1935), 302–22; idem, in: Sefer Magnes (1938), 181–7; A.D. Goode, in: JQR, 31 (1940/41), 149–69; S. Assaf, Geonim, 24–41; S.D. Goitein, in: Sefer ha-Yovel… M.M. Kaplan (1953), 51–53; idem, in: Bo'i Teiman, ed. by Y. Ratzaby (1967), 15–25; Abramson, Merkazim, 9–24; G. Vajda, in: Bulletin de l'Institut de Recherche et d'Histoire des Textes, 15 (1967/68), 137–50.


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.