Gaonim (gāō´nĬm) [Heb.,=excellencies], title given to the heads of the Jewish academies at Sura and Pumbedita in Babylonia immediately following the period of the Saboraim until the middle of the 11th cent. Thereafter the title was adopted by the heads of the Palestinian academies; later it was used as an honorific title to indicate a great scholar. The Gaonim asserted the primacy of the Babylonian Talmud over the Palestinian Talmud and contributed to the standardization of Jewish law and liturgy. The greatest Gaon at Sura was Saadia ben Joseph al-Fayumi. Of those who held office at Pumbedita, Sherira Gaon (968–98) and his son Hai Gaon (998–1038) are most notable. Under Sherira the waning prestige of the Babylonian academies was restored, and it was maintained by Hai until his death. Thereafter European Jewry came to play an ever more dominant role in Jewish life.
See J. Neusner, There We Sat Down (1972).