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Pirkoi ben Baboi

PIRKOI BEN BABOI (eighth–ninth century), talmudic scholar of the geonic era and author of a polemical halakhic work. A pupil of Abba, who was a pupil of *Yehudai, a Gaon of Sura, Pirkoi notes that it was only because of their teaching and tradition that he presumed to write to the scholars of Kairouan. His teacher Abba wrote the Halakhot de-Rav Abba, small fragments of which were published from the Cairo *Genizah by S. Schechter and J.N. Epstein. Some conjecture that Abba was one of the scholars of the Pumbedita Academy and that Pirkoi also apparently studied there. It was earlier assumed that Pirkoi b. Baboi meant "the chapters of [Pirkei] Ben Baboi," but Epstein showed that Pirkoi was a Persian personal name. According to Epstein, Pirkoi was born in Babylon, where he studied and wrote his Iggeret. According to Ginzberg, however, he was a native of Ereẓ Israel who studied in Babylon, where he settled and wrote his work. Fragments of the work were scattered in various libraries – St. Petersburg, Oxford, Cambridge – and were published from the Genizah, beginning in 1903, by various scholars such as Harkavy (Ha-Goren, 4 (1903), 71–74) and L. Ginzberg (Geonica, 2 (1909), 50–53), neither of whom identified the author. J. Mann, who added a third fragment, succeeded in indicating Pirkoi as the author; additional fragments were published by various scholars of the period including Solomon Schechter, J.N. Epstein, B.M. Lewin, Shraga Abramson, and S. Spiegel.

Pirkoi became renowned through his work Iggeret, which reflects his aspiration to make the Babylonian Talmud the authoritative code for world Jewry. Echoes of the long drawn-out struggle between the two Torah centers – Ereẓ Israel and Babylon – are heard in the polemical chapters of Pirkoi which constitute, in Ginzberg's view, the earliest halakhic work extant from the geonic era. Some were of the opinion that the Iggeret was sent to Ereẓ Israel, but more accepted the view of Lewin and Spiegel that it was sent to the countries of North Africa (around 812), where the customs of Ereẓ Israel were followed. Pirkoi's intention was to encourage them to accept the halakhah of Babylon and the customs of the two academies in Babylon. It is probable that Pirkoi's words in his Iggeret, "God established places of learning in all localities of Africa and of Spain and granted you the privilege of engaging in Torah study by day and by night," were directed especially to the people of Kairouan, which in the time of Pirkoi enjoyed tranquility and economic stability. The communal leaders and scholars of Kairouan endeavored to maintain places of learning in the town as well as in various localities in Spain. Emigrants who left Kairouan for Spain founded Torah centers there. Pirkoi complains about the pupils of the Babylonian academies who "learnt the customs of Ereẓ Israel," arrived in North Africa, and were then drawn after the ignorant customs and habits of Ereẓ Israel. In his view any custom or ruling which is not in accordance with the law and halakhah of the Babylonian Talmud is a consequence of the apostasy decreed by the wicked kingdom of Edom upon Ereẓ Israel. As a result Torah was forgotten by the inhabitants of Ereẓ Israel, and the Ereẓ Israel customs came to be "customs of apostasy." Pirkoi, as a "pro-Babylonian," stresses the superiority of the Babylonian academies as the only source in the world for the details of the Oral Law, and says that it is fitting that from them the Torah should go forth to Jews in all countries. In the opinion of many scholars (Lewin, Mann, Aptowitzer), this polemic of Pirkoi also had an anti-Karaite purpose: to ensure that the denial of the Oral Law by Karaites should not detach the Jews from the tradition customary in the Babylonian academies.


S. Schechter, in: Festschrift… D. Hoffmann (1914), Heb. pt. 261–6; V. Aptowitzer, in: REJ, 57 (1909), 246ff.; idem, in: HUCA, 8–9 (1931–32), 382, 415–7; idem, Meḥkarim be-Sifrut ha-Ge'onim (1941), 13–17; J. Mann, in: REJ, 70 (1920), 113–48; idem, in: Tarbiz, 6 (1935), 78f.; J.N. Epstein, in: REJ, 75 (1922), 179–86; idem, in: Madda'ei ha-Yahadut, 2 (1927), 149–61; idem, in: Tarbiz, 2 (1931), 411f.; L. Ginzberg, Ginzei Schechter, 2 (1929), 504–73; B.M. Lewin, in: Tarbiz, 2 (1931), 383–405; Ḥ. Tchernowitz, Toledot ha-Posekim, 1 (1946), 109–12; Baron, Social2, index S.V.; S. Abramson, in: Sinai, 50 (1962), 185f.; S. Spiegel, in: H.A. Wolfson Jubilee Volume (1965), Heb. pt. 243–74.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.