YEHUDAI BEN NAḤMAN (usually cited as Yehudai Gaon):
Gaon of Sura from 760 to 764. After the office of the gaonate was left vacant by the death of Mar Aḥa, the exilarch Solomon, departing from the usual custom, decided to appoint a scholar of the Pumbedita Academy, Yehudai ben Naḥman, as gaon of Sura. Shortly afterward Yehudai's brother Dodai was appointed gaon of Pumbedita (761-767). Yehudai was blind, and was perhaps so afflicted, as I. H. Weiss suggests, at the time when he was appointed gaon. If this was the case his appointment was contrary to Sanh. 49a, according to which a man blind in both eyes is incapable of acting as a judge or as president of a court. It is interesting, however, that it was Yehudai Gaon who decided that blindness should not act as a bar to the appointment as ḥazzan of a man otherwise irreproachable ("Or Zarua'," i. 116). As far as is known, Yehudai had one son, Joseph (see "Halakot Pesuḳot," ed. Schlossberg, p. 122); Mar Aḳinai is mentioned as his pupil.
Yehudai was highly respected as a halakic authority, and later geonim as well as rabbis hesitated to decide against his opinion (comp. "Teshubot ha-Geonim," ed. Lyck, No. 43, end; Jacob Emden, "She'elat Ya'beẓ," i., No. 145). His responsa, generally written in Aramaic, are precise and usually very short; they sometimes consist of only one or two words, giving merely the decision. But when he was asked to explain Talmudical passages his responsa naturally went more into detail; and there are also some long responsa dealing with property rights. Some Hebrew responsa are supposed to have been translated by his pupils or by the compiler. The majority of Yehudai's responsa deal with the order of the prayers and the readings from the Scriptures; with traveling on board a vessel and disembarking on the Sabbath, and various laws concerning the observance of the Sabbath and of holy days; with the tefillin (see Ḥayyim M. Horowitz, "Halachische Schriften der Geonim," i. 45 et seq.); and with dietary laws, divorce, and ḥaliẓah cases of Jews who had embraced Islam and returned to Judaism (comp. especially "Teshubot ha-Geonim," ed. Lyck, No. 45; Müller, "Mafteaḥ le-Teshubot ha-Geonim," pp. 66 et seq.).
Alfasi in his "Halakot" (Nedarim, end) asserts that it was Yehudai Gaon who did away with absolution from vows ("hattarat nedarim"), which was so carelessly granted by the rabbis of his time that it gave occasion for Karaite attacks. He even went so far as to abolish the study of the Talmudical treatise Nedarim ("Vows"), and his successors were anxious to adhere to this reform (see L. Löw, "Gesammelte Schriften," iii. 363).His Responsa.
Yehudai Gaon, however, is best known as the author of halahot, which are quoted under the titles of: "Halakot de-R. Yehudai Gaon," "Halakot Pesuḳot" or "Hilkot Re'u," "Halakot Ḳeṭu'ot," and "Halakot Ḳeẓubot" or "Halakot Ḳeṭannot" (as distinguished from the "Halakot Gedolot" of Simeon Ḳayyara). The relation to one another of these several versions, which are obviously adaptations from one and the same original work, is not yet quite clear, and indeed forms a very difficult problem in literary criticism. According to A. Epstein, who devoted an important study to the problem, this work was a collection of legal decisions (halakot), mainly in Aramaic, which first appeared in Yehudai's short responsa or were taken down from his lectures by his pupils and probably arranged by them later. Owing to the fact that the responsa are so short and confine themselves to a mere statement of the decision in question they were called "Decisive Laws" ("Halakot Pesuḳot" or, according to a more Arabic mode of speech, "Halakot Ḳeṭu'ot"). Of the numerous evidences brought forward by Epstein to prove that the responsa were actually called thus, only one may be indicated here. At the end of a collection of Meïr of Rothenburg's "She'elot u-Teshubot" (MS. Prague) some "Halakot Ḳeẓubot de-R. Yehudai" are given. Soon after this heading occurs the stereotyped form for "responsa," or , etc. These halakot have been published according to this manuscript by Joel Müller under the title "Handschriftliche, Jehudai Gaon Zugewiesene Lehrsätze." Besides, there must have been incorporated into these "Halakot Pesuḳot" or "Halakot Ḳeṭu'ot" a collection of "dinim," arranged according to the order of the Talmud or according to subject-matter; for such dinim are quoted by geonim and later rabbis as "Halakot Pesuḳot" and "Halakot Ḳeṭu'ot," sometimes with and sometimes without a mention of the authorship of Yehudai Gaon or his pupils (for the reference see Epstein, "Ma'amar 'al Sefer Halakot Gedolot," in "Ha-Goren," iii. 57 et seq.).
Simeon Ḳayyara, author of the "Halakot Gedolot," as well as Ṛ. Amram, author of the well-known "Siddur," borrowed largely from these halakot of Yehudai Gaon, for which, as Epstein points out, the two terms "Halakot Pesuḳot" and "Halakot Ḳeṭu'ot" were used promiscuously in the geonic period; only later, when the varying recensions of them increased in number, were the titles distinguished as designating two different recensions.His Halakot.
Yehudai's halakot were translated from Aramaic into Hebrew, including even the Aramaic quotations from the Talmud. This translation has been preserved in an Oxford manuscript under the original title "Halakot Pesuḳot," being also known, according to the first word of the text, as "Hilkot Re'u"; and it was published by A. L. Schlossberg, Versailles, 1886. It was probably made in a Greek-speaking country, as Halberstam showedin his introductory letter to Schlossberg's edition, and was brought thence to Babylonia. A very great part of it, however, is taken from the "Halakot Gedolot" in an abridged form, so that Epstein did not recognize it as being a translation of the "Halakot Pesuḳot," but rather deemed it a compilation of the "Halakot Gedolot," containing at the same time Hebrew quotations from the Aramaic "Halakot Pesuḳot."The "Halakot Ḳeẓubot."
The "Halakot Ḳeẓubot" seem to be a compilation from the "Halakot Pesuḳot" and the "Halakot Gedolot." They are preserved in a Parma manuscript that has been published by Ḥayyim M. Horowitz in "Halachische Schriften der Geonim," first part, pp. 14 et seq., Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1881. According to the beginning of the text, however, these "Halakot Ḳeẓubot" are ascribed to Yehudai Gaon. Since the term "Ḳeẓubot," a synonym of "Pesuḳot," seems to have been prevalent in Western countries (see "Sefer we-Hizhir," ed. Freimann, ii., Introduction; "Halakot Gedolot," ed. Hildesheimer, p. 469; "She'elot u-Teshubot Sha'are Ẓedeḳ," p. 29a; Zunz, in Steinschneider, "Hebr. Bibl." viii. 20), and as the "Halakot Ḳeẓubot" are not quoted in geonic literature, Epstein supposes Palestine or Italy to have been the birthplace of this compilation, which afterward was widely known in Germany and France, and was often copied and enlarged by additions. It is quoted especially in the "Sefer ha-Pardes," in the Vitry Maḥzor, in the "Sefer Issur we-Hetter" (Merzbacher MS. No. 6), and others.
Much has been written about the relation between the "Halakot Pesuḳot" and the "Halakot Gedolot" and their respective authors. The note in Abraham ibn Daud's "Sefer ha-Ḳabbalah" ("M. J. C." i. 63) that Yehudai Gaon gathered his "Halakot Pesuḳot" from the "Halakot Gedolot" of Simeon Ḳayyara, and the supposition of the medieval Jewish scholars of Germany and northern France that Yehudai Gaon was the author of the "Halakot Gedolot," caused great confusion regarding the authorship, and also regarding the dates of these two authors. Recently, however, the disputed points have gradually been cleared up.
The writing of halakic compendiums was always censured by those who were afraid that such works might displace the study of the Talmud itself, the mass of the people being perfectly satisfied to know the final halakic decision without caring for its development in the Talmud. It is interesting to observe that as old a compendium as the "Halakot Pesuḳot" of Yehudai Gaon met with the disapproval of Palṭoi, gaon of Pumbedita (842-858), for the very same reason (see Epstein, l.c. p. 57).
- Brüll, in Jahrbücher für Jüdische Geschichte und Litteratur, ii. et seq., v. 158 et seq.;
- Grätz, Gesch. v. 165, 174;
- idem, in Monatsschrift, vii. 217 et seq.;
- A. Harkavy, Responsen der Geonim, Index;
- A. Neubauer, in Ha-Maggid, 1873, pp. 125 et seq.;
- idem, in Letterbode, iv. 55 et seq.;
- Naḥalat Shedal, in Oẓar Ṭob, 1878, p. 17;
- S. Sachs, in Ha-Maggid, 1878, Nos. 31-34;
- I. Halevy, Dorot ha-Rishonim, iii. 194, 200;
- Weiss, Dor, iv. 31-40;
- Winter and Wünsche, Die Jüdische Litteratur, ii. 16 et seq.;
- Epstein, in Ha-Goren, iii. 55 et seq.;
- Schorr, in He-Ḥaluẓ, xii. 81 et seq.;
- Ḥayyim M. Horowitz, Halachische Schriften der Geonim, Preface, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1881;
- Steinschneider, Jewish Literature, pp. 26, 67;
- Zunz, G. V. p. 60;
- Buber, Sefer ha-Orah, pp. 20, 75, 82, 114, Lemberg, 1905.