Eldad Ha-Dani

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ELDAD HA-DANI (late ninth century), traveler. His origins and personality remain a mystery. He professed to belong to the tribe of Dan, whence his name ha-Dani. Eldad claimed that the Danites together with the tribes of Naphtali, Gad, and Asher, while leading a nomadic existence, formed an independent kingdom under the rule of their king Addiel (or Uzziel). Their kingdom was in Havilah, the land of gold (cf. Gen. 2:11) near Ethiopia. The tribes, of whom the descendants of Samson and Delilah were outstanding for their valor, were constantly at war with their neighbors. Eldad also mentions the "sons of Moses," who lived nearby but were cut off from the world by the *Sambatyon, an impassable river of rolling stones and sand which stops only on the Sabbath when it is surrounded by fire or covered by a cloud. It is possible to see and speak with these "sons of Moses" but not to cross the river. Eldad relates how he and a companion of the tribe of Asher set out on a journey but were shipwrecked and fell into the hands of cannibals; his companion was eaten but he escaped a similar fate owing to an attack by other natives, fire worshipers, from whom he was eventually ransomed by a Jew of the tribe of Issachar. He further gives a colorful description of the Ten Tribes, their whereabouts and independent existence. Eldad's accounts are probably embroidered legends, based on Jewish rulers and kingdoms known to have existed: the Arabian king Joseph Dhu Nuwas (sixth century) of Ḥimyar who along with his subjects converted to Judaism; the Falashas (*Beta Israel) in Ethiopia, who were possibly independent in the early Middle Ages; and the *Khazar state, whose rulers along with many of their subjects converted to Judaism. His aim was probably to raise the spirits of the Jews by giving them news of tribes of Israel who lived in freedom and by creating an attractive Jewish utopia. The report of the existence of such Jewish kingdoms undoubtedly encouraged and comforted Eldad's hearers, by contradicting the Christian contention that Jewish independence had ceased after the destruction of the Second Temple. For the Jews his stories obviously had far-reaching messianic implications.

According to the 12th-century Karaite Judah *Hadassi Eldad made two journeys, the first to Egypt, and the second to Africa. *Ẓemaḥ b. Ḥayyim, gaon of Sura, writes that Eldad spoke to R. Isaac b. Mar and R. Simḥah in Babylonia. It seems therefore that Eldad was in the east before arriving in Kairouan (North Africa) about 880. In Africa Eldad conversed with Judah *Ibn Quraysh. In 883 he sent a letter to the Jews of Spain and it appears from *Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut's letter to the Khazar king that he also visited Spain.

The Jews of Kairouan consulted Ẓemaḥ Gaon about Eldad, especially concerning four halakhot of his on the laws concerning sheḥitah and terefah. The source of these laws is not known. While in parts there is some resemblance to Karaite laws, which caused certain scholars (Pinsker, Graetz) to conclude that he was a Karaite, most of the halakhot resemble the traditional talmudic law, both Babylonian and Jerusalem, although some Islamic influence seems discernible. The language shows traces of Arab usage. It is therefore probable that they reached Eldad from a country influenced by both the Arabic language and the Jerusalem Talmud.

Meir b. Baruch of Rothenburg and Abraham Ibn Ezra regarded Eldad as an impostor but his halakhot, even if mostly not accepted, were quoted by many of the outstanding scholars of the Middle Ages (Rashi, Asher b. Jehiel, the tosafists, et al.). Neither was he rejected by Ẓemaḥ Gaon, who stated that the possibility of different traditions existed. Eldad's accounts have been preserved in several versions. They first appeared in print in Mantua in 1480. Changes were made in several later editions in accordance with the manuscripts. Besides this there are also extant the halakhot sent from Kairouan to Ẓemaḥ Gaon (Constantinople, 1516).


A. Epstein, Eldad ha-Dani, Sippurav ve-Hilkhotav (1891), introd.; idem, Kitvei …, ed. by A.M. Habermann, 1 (1950); Lazar, in: Ha-Shilo'aḥ, 9 (1902), 46ff.; 10 (1903), 42ff,; Graetz-Rabbinowitz, 3 (19292), 267–73; M. Schloessinger, Ritual of Eldad Hadani (1908); Neubauer, in: jqr, 1 (1888/89), 95–114; M. Higger, Jewish Utopia (1932); Kupfer and Strelcyn, in: Rocznik Orientalistyczny, 19 (1954), 125–41 (Fr.); Ashtor, Korot, 1 (1966), 94–102; Hirschberg, Afrikah, 1 (1965), index; E.N. Adler, Jewish Travelers (1930), 1–21.

[Azriel Shochat]