Amram ben Sheshna

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AMRAM BEN SHESHNA (Amram Gaon ; d. c. 875), gaon of Sura noted for his responsa and the oldest surviving order of prayer. According to the epistle of *Sherira Gaon, Amram was given the title of *gaon even during the lifetime of his predecessor Natronai b. Hilai, although the circumstances which led to this are unknown. The precise period during which he served in the gaonate is uncertain; however it is clear from one of his responsa that by 858 he was already acting in that capacity. More than 200 of Amram's responsa are extant, some in collections of geonic responsa such as Sha'arei Ẓedek and Sha'arei Teshuvah, others of the earlier rabbinic authorities; still others having been discovered in the Cairo *Genizah. His responsa include both practical halakhic decisions and comments on the Talmud. In one of them he states that it is prohibited to lend money to a non-Jew on interest, and even though indirect interest (avak ribbit) is permitted, scholars should shun it (Sha'arei Ẓedek (Salonika, 1792), 40a). Amram's fame, however, rests primarily on his Seder (commonly called his siddur), "the order of prayers and blessings for the entire year… according to the tradition which we possess, as laid down by the tannaim and amoraim." The Seder, known also as "Yesod ha-Amrami" and as "Maḥzor de-Rav Amram," originated in a responsum which was seemingly sent to the community of Barcelona. From there it spread throughout Spain and to other countries. The Seder R. Amram is the oldest order of Jewish prayers extant. It contains the text of the prayers for the entire year, as well as the laws and customs pertaining to the different prayers. Although Amram's predecessor Natronai had written a responsum (mentioned at the beginning of Amram's Seder) to the community of Lucena explaining how the rabbinic injunction to recite 100 blessings daily should be fulfilled and had established the sequence of weekday prayers, Amram was the first to compose a systematic arrangement including prayers for the whole annual cycle as well as the pertinent laws. Amram's sources, in addition to the Talmud, were the works of the geonim and the rites of the Babylonian yeshivot. The Seder enjoyed a very wide circulation and was extensively quoted by the leading scholars of Spain, Provence, France, and Germany. It served as the basis for later orders of service, such as Siddur Rashi, Maḥzor Vitry, and especially the liturgy of countries which came under Babylonian influence.

In a responsum to Meshullam b. Nathan of Melun, Jacob b. Meir *Tam (12th century) states: "Whoever is not well-versed in Rav Amram's Seder and in Halakhot Gedolot… dare not alter the words of the early authorities or their customs, for we must rely upon them wherever they do not contradict our Talmud but [merely] add to it. Many customs we observe originated with them" (Sefer ha-Yashar, 619). Three different manuscripts of the Siddur are extant, and additional fragments have been discovered in the Cairo Genizah. The present work is not that written by Amram and contains later interpolations. Moreover, a thorough study of the Seder, as well as a comparison between it and passages cited from it by the earlier rabbinic authorities, show that in the course of time changes were introduced into Amram's original text, both in the sections comprising the prayers and in those dealing with the laws. Some scholars even maintain that Amram sent to Spain only the "order" of the prayers and blessings together with the relevant laws but not the actual text of the prayers and blessings, which were added later. Some contend that the Seder was basically composed not by Amram but by Ẓemaḥ b. Solomon, the av bet din at the time.

The Siddur has been edited by N. Coronel, Seder R. Amram Ga'on (in two parts; 1865); by A.L. Frumkin, Seder Rav Amram ha-Shalem (1912); and by D. Hedegard, Seder R. Amram Ga'on (only the weekday prayers; 1951). A. Marx published additions and corrections to Coronel's edition under the title of Untersuchungen zum Siddur des Gaon R. Amram (1908). A critical edition of the Seder R. Amram based on manuscripts and old editions was published by Daniel S. Goldschmidt (Jerusalem, 1971).


Graetz-Rabbinowitz, 3 (1894), 259; 464; Weiss, Dor, 4 (19044), 107–10; Halevy, Dorot, 3 (1923), 243–6, 258–9; B.M. Lewin, Iggeret R. Sherira Ga'on (1921), 115; J.N. Epstein, in: Koveẓ J.N. Simḥoni (1929), 122–41; Assaf, Ge'onim, 180–4; L. Ginzberg, Geonica, 1 (1909), 119–54; 2 (1909), 301–45; Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 358–60, 564–5; D. Goldschmidt, in: ks, 29 (1953/54), 71–75.

[Tovia Preschel]