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Plural of Gaon, the heads of the two great colleges of Sura and Pumbedita in Babylonia from the seventh to the eleventh centuries, though a minor Gaonite flourished also in the land of Israel and, after the tenth century, in Baghdad. The word Gaon means ‘excellency’ or ‘pride’, based on the verse: ‘For the Lord has restored the pride of Jacob’ (Nehemiah 2: 3.).

The Geonim looked upon themselves as the legitimate successors to the Babylonian teachers of the Talmudic period and it was largely owing to them that, for purposes of Jewish law, the Babylonian Talmud–‘our Talmud’ as the Geonim called it—came to enjoy greater authority than the Palestinian Talmud. It was said of the Geonim that all their words were ‘words of tradition’.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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