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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: August 2014

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Summary

Saadia Ben Joseph Gaon (882–942) was the outstanding Jewish personality of the geonic period (eightheleventh centuries). His intellectual accomplishments cover the entire spectrum of Jewish endeavors: *Bible translation and *Bible commentary, *theology, *thought, liturgy, linguistics, chronology, calendation, *poetry, polemics, and more. Born in Fayyum, *Egypt, Saadia studied in the Land of Israel before moving to *Iraq. Given his foreign origins, Saadia would not have been a natural choice to become *Gaon, the head of the Babylonian talmudical academy of *Sura, but the strength of his personality and his multiple accomplishments could not be ignored. His tenure as the head of the academy was not untroubled, however, and his principled stances and combative personality made for clashes with the communal authorities.

Saadia's early career was marked by polemical defenses of Babylonian rabbinic hegemony in the following areas: (1) the Jewish *calendar (against Ben Meir, the Gaon of the Land of Israel); (2) the divine origin of the Bible (against the heretic Haywayhi of Balkh, usually known in Hebrew as Hivi ha-Balkhi); and (3) the truth of the Oral *Torah versus the *Karaites. It should be noted, however, that the traditional *Rabbanite view of Saadia as the victor over a major Karaite threat overemphasizes the status of Karaism in his day. Saadia's translation of the Bible into *Arabic and his rationalistic commentaries on most of its books set the standard for later Jewish understanding of Scripture.

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