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Aaron ben Joseph Ha-Kohen Sargado


AARON BEN JOSEPH HA-KOHEN SARGADO (also known as Ḥalaf ibn Sargado ), gaon and head of the academy at Pumbedita, 942–60. His antagonist *Saadiah Gaon slanderously altered his Arabic first name, Ḥalaf, to read Kelev ("dog") and it appears in this erroneous form in the Hebrew translation of Nathan ha-Bavli's chronicle. No satisfactory explanation has yet been found for the surname Sargado.

The gaon Mevasser (916/7–925/6) appointed Aaron resh kallah ("head of the kallah") although he did not come from a family of scholars. He was the son-in-law of Bishr b. Aaron, one of Baghdad's wealthiest and most respected citizens. According to the tenth-century chronicler Nathan ha-Bavli, who does not seem to have admired Aaron, Aaron was very eloquent and erudite, but Saadiah was a much greater scholar and Aaron envied him for his superior learning. In the campaign against Saadiah, led by the exilarch David b. Zakkai, Aaron took the exilarch's side and attacked Saadiah in a malicious epistle. Upon the death of Gaon Ḥananiah (Ḥanina), the father of *Sherira Gaon, Aaron assumed the direction of the academy, although Amram b. Meswi, Sherira's uncle, who was the av bet din, was more deserving of the gaonate. Aaron was a self-righteous and willful person, and his term of office was marked by endless quarrels. Many years later a rival gaon, Nehemiah b. Kohen Ẓedek, was nominated, but he was unable to assert himself against Aaron who, according to Sherira, excelled him in scholarship. Sherira's son Hai, who later became gaon, was Aaron's pupil in his youth.

Only fragments of Aaron's literary work have been preserved; the Teshuvot ha-Ge'onim contain four responsa ascribed to him (Ḥemdah Genuzah (1863), no. 37–40, and Rashi Pardes, ed. by H.Y. Ehrenreich (1924), 118–22), but only one of these is definitely by Aaron. Another responsum by Aaron was published in Jeschurun, 12 (1925), 50–51. Sherira and Hai Gaon mention Aaron's interpretation of a passage in the tractate Yevamot in one of their legal opinions (L. Ginzberg, Geonica, 2 (1909), 67). Aaron also wrote an Arabic commentary on the Pentateuch, in the same style as that of his rival Saadiah. The few existing fragments are inadequate to judge the character of this work, or its relationship to Saadiah's exegesis. Aaron's commentary on Deuteronomy (beginning with the weekly portion Shofetim) is also mentioned. Fragments of his commentary on other parts of the Pentateuch are cited in Abraham Ibn Ezra's commentary on the Pentateuch. Maimonides mentions Aaron among the older Jewish scholars who opposed the view of the Greek philosophers that the universe is eternal.


H. Malter, Saadia Gaon (Eng., 1921), 113–7, 126–82, 428; Neubauer, Chronicles, 1 (1965), 66; (1965), 80 ff.; Stein-schneider, Arab Lit, 71; B. Lewin (ed.), Iggeret Sherira Ga'on (1921), 130–4; Mann, Texts, 1 (1931), index; idem, in: Tarbiz, 5 (1933/34), 174–5; idem, in: jqr, 11 (1920/21), 426; A. Harkavy, Zikhron la-Rishonim, 1, pt. 5 (1892), 222; S. Poznański, in: jqr, 13 (1922/23), 377–8; idem, in: Ha-Goren, 6 (1906), 63.

[Jacob Mann]

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