Sa'adyah Gaon

BookSa'adyah Gaon

Sa'adyah Gaon

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


April 25th, 2013

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'Gives you a sense of who Sa'adyah was, and the impact of his works. It's a fascinating work, about one of the most fascinating personalities in Jewish thought.'
Ben Rothke, The Times of Israel

Sa’adyah Gaon was an outstanding tenth-century Jewish thinker—a prominent rabbi, philosopher, and exegete. He was a pioneer in the fields in which he toiled, and was an inspiration and basis for later Jewish writing in all these areas. The last major English-language study of his work was published in 1921, long before Genizah research changed the understanding of the time in which he lived. Robert Brody’s masterly work, covering Sa’adyah’s biography and his main areas of creativity in an accessible way, is therefore a much-needed reassessment of an outstanding figure.

The opening chapter, on the geonic period that formed the background to Sa’adyah’s life (a period on which there are few works in English), is followed by an overview that brings out the revolutionary aspects of his work and the characteristic features of his writings. Subsequent chapters consider his philosophical works; his Bible commentaries; his pioneering linguistic work; his poetry; his halakhic activity (including an examination of his use of the Palestinian Talmud compared to that of the Babylonian Talmud); and his activity as a polemicist, notably against the Karaites. An Epilogue sums up his importance in medieval Jewish culture.

Particularly valuable features of the book are the copious quotations from Sa’adyah’s works, which facilitate familiarity with his style as well as his ideas; the clarity in presenting complex and difficult concepts; the constant assessment of his relationship to his predecessors in his various fields of study and his own unique contributions to each field; and the contextualization of his contribution within the political, cultural, and religious climate of his times so that both revolutionary and conservative elements in his thought can be identified and evaluated.

Author Information

Robert Brody is Professor of Talmud at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and has taught at Yale and Harvard universities. He is also the author of 'The Responsa of Natronai bar Hilai Gaon' (1994, second edition 2011), which was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for Rabbinic Literature, and 'The Geonim of Babylonia and the Shaping of Medieval Jewish Culture' (1998), which received a National Jewish Book Award.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Cover 1
Half Title2
Title Page 4
Copyright 5
Note on Transliteration 10
Arabic and Hebrew Titles of Works Referred To in English 12
1. The Geonic Period and the Background of Sa’adyah Gaon’s Activities 14
The Geonic Academies: Continuity and Change 18
The Exilarchate 24
The Palestinian Centre and its Competition with Babylonia 27
The Sectarian Challenge 33
2. Sa’adyah Gaon, Revolutionary Champion of Tradition 38
Sa’adyah’s Life: A Brief Overview 38
Sa’adyah the Revolutionary 42
Daring in the Service of Tradition 44
General Characteristics of Sa’adyah’s Writing 49
3. Sa’adyah the Philosopher 53
The Background to Sa’adyah Gaon’s Philosophy 53
Sa’adyah and Kalam 55
Sa’adyah’s Theological Writings 59
Sa’adyah’s Philosophical Principles 65
4. Sa’adyah the Biblical Commentator 71
The Scope of Sa’adyah’s Exegetical Undertakings 72
Exegetical Principles 79
Theological and Polemical Dimensions 82
Attitude to Talmudic Literature 86
5. Sa’adyah the Linguist 92
First Breakthrough: The Egron 92
Sa’adyah’s Other Linguistic Works 97
General Conceptions 101
Grammatical Theories 104
6. Sa’adyah the Poet 110
The Foundations of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry 110
The Evolution of Liturgical Poetry before Sa’adyah’s Time 116
The Place of Liturgical Poetry in Sa’adyah’s World 119
Distinctive Features of Sa’adyah’s Poetry 124
Stretching the Bounds of Piyut and the Question of Sa’adyah’s Influence 126
7. Sa’adyah, the Man of Halakhah 131
The Variety of Literary Genres 131
Halakhic Monographs 136
Sa’adyah’s Use of Halakhic Sources 148
8. Sa’adyah, Polemicist and Publicist 153
Religious Debates 153
Polemic against Critics of the Bible 157
Polemic against the Karaites 160
The Calendar Dispute 167
Sefer Hagalui 169
Afterword 173
Bibliography 176
Index 180