Sherira Gaon

(c. 906—1006)

Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

Head of the college in Pumbedita (see GEONIM). Reliable reports have it that Sherira lived for 100 years, the date of his death being given as around the year 1000. Sherira did not assume office as Gaon of Pumbedita until he was almost 70 years of age, after the Gaonite had suffered an eclipse. Thanks to Sherira's efforts, the Gaonite of Pumbedita became a central authority for Jews in other parts of the Jewish world. Because of Sherira's great age he was assisted towards the end of his life by his son, Hai, who was officially appointed Gaon of Pumbedita when Sherira died. Sherira and Hai feature very prominently in the Responsa of the Geonim, of which various collections have been made. Questions were addressed to these two Geonim from many parts of the Jewish world and their replies became authoritative in subsequent codifications of Jewish law.

Sherira's chief claim to fame rests on the letter he wrote in in the year 987 to Jacob ben Nissim of Kairowan in North Africa, Jacob having requested Sherira to explain in detail how the Mishnah and the Talmud had been compiled. Sherira's reply, in Aramaic, known as The Letter of Rav Sherira Gaon, is a major source for the history of the Talmudic period, based as it is not only on Sherira's erudition but also on the traditions preserved in the Babylonian schools. For the first time we have in the Letter a comprehensive account of how Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishnah and how the Babylonian teachers compiled the Talmud. Sherira's Letter is, however, used by modern historians of the Talmudic period with a degree of caution since, after all, it was written hundreds of years after the events of which it tells and occasionally Sherira reads back into the Talmudic period the conditions in the Babylonian schools of his and recent ages.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.