PUMBEDITA , town in Babylonia. Pumbedita was situated on the bank of the River Euphrates on the site of the Shunya-Shumvata (Git. 60b), the most northerly of the canals joining the Euphrates and the Tigris. A canal called Nehar Papa also passed through Pumbedita itself (Yoma 77b), and situated near it was the town of Peruz-Shavur. The area had an exceptionally abundant water supply and a pleasant climate, and commerce flourished there, the caravan route to Syria passing nearby. Crops included cereals and fruits, dates being especially plentiful (Pes. 88a), and the flax grown there (Git. 27a; BM 18b) was the basis of the local textile industry. The Jewish settlement in Pumbedita apparently already existed during the period of the Second Temple and was included by Sherira Gaon among those settlements which were centers of the study of Torah during that period (Iggeret Ray Sherira Ga'on, ed. by B.M. Levin (1921), 40). However, its importance as a communal and religious center dates only from the middle of the third century c.e. In 259, after Nehardea was destroyed by Papa b. Naser (see *Odenathus and Zenobia), commander in chief of Palmyra, Judah b. Ezekiel founded an academy there. This academy and its bet din were the central religious authority for Babylonian Jewry until the middle of the fourth century c.e. During that period some of the best known *amoraim of Babylonian Jewry headed the academy – Rabbah b. Nahamani, Joseph, Abbaye, and Rava. During the time of Rava the academy was transferred to Mahoza, where Rava resided. During this period, when the academy began to flourish, exceptionally strong ties were established between it and its sister academy at Tiberias through the medium of the *neḥutei. The aforementioned heads of the academy, with the exception of Joseph, were distinguished for their teaching methods which were marked by acumen and even casuistry (Hor. 14a; bm 38b). As a result of this intellectual acumen, which in their opinion was an efficient method to discuss halakhah and arrive at correct decisions, they came to be called "uprooters of mountains," and it was said of them that "they could draw an elephant through the eye of a needle" (bm 38b).
From the death of Rava in 352 until the first half of the geonic period, the Pumbedita academy did not occupy a central place in the scholastic and halakhic world. It was subordinate to *Sura, which was granted more privileges than Pumbedita. Life in a large, bustling, commercial city full of connections with foreign merchants had a deleterious influence on the character of the Jews of Pumbedita. The Babylonian Talmud has preserved many adverse evaluations of their moral character. Mention is made of the cheating by workers (bb 46a; Ḥul. 127a), and Rava refers to the thieves who would come to the city, as well as the resident thieves (Av. Zar. 70a). In fact, the dishonest practices of the people of Pumbedita became a byword among the Jews of Babylon (Ket. 82a), and it is therefore not surprising that scholars were not popular among them, since the scholars rebuked them for their deeds (Shab. 153a). One scholar advised his son not to dwell in affluent Pumbedita (Hor. 12a).
During the Post-Talmudic Period
Sherira Gaon related that as the result of religious persecution under Persian rule, the Pumbedita academy was transferred to Peruz-Shavur, in the vicinity of Nehardea. It remained there during the period of the *savoraim; when the Arabs conquered Babylonia (c. 634 c.e.), it returned to Pumbedita. R. Isaac, the Gaon of Pumbedita, who lived in Peruz-Shavur, went out to welcome the conquering caliph ʿAli ibn Abi Ṭāleb. During the Arab period Pumbedita was known as Anbar, and the academy was called yeshivah shel ha-golah ("academy of the Diaspora"). Until the beginning of the ninth century Pumbedita was overshadowed by *Sura. During the 830s the ḥakhamim of the Pumbedita academy backed the candidacy of David b. Judah as exilarch against Daniel, who had the support of the ḥakhamim of Sura. The former's election as exilarch also resulted in the consolidation of the Pumbedita academy. From his time the Jews gathered in Pumbedita on the occasion of the Shabbeta de-Rigla (Iggeret R. Sherira, p. 93). In an extant letter of his son, the exilarch Judah, he seeks contributions for the academy, which is described "as having many *allufim, ḥakhamim, elders, Mishnah scholars, Talmud scholars, and tannaim: there are seven allufim …" (Abramson, Merkazim, 18).
An important head of the academy in this period was *Paltoi b. Abbaye (842–52), the first to be styled Gaon of Pumbedita, who maintained contacts with the communities of Spain and North Africa. From Spain, they turned to him "to write the Talmud and its interpretation down for them, and upon his order it was written for them" (Sherira Gaon, Iggeret…, ed. by M.N. Adler (1907), xxiii (2nd Roman pagination)). During his son *Ẓemaḥ's (872) lifetime these ties were strengthened and the status of the academy surpassed that of Sura. In the Kaddish the name of Ẓemaḥ b. Paltoi was mentioned before that of the gaon of Sura, *Ẓemaḥ b. Ḥayyim.
During the days of the GaonHai b. *David (890–98), who had previously been a dayyan, the academy was transferred to Baghdad. In the first half of the tenth century contributions to the academy decreased – the centers of the Diaspora established their own Torah institutions and their attachment to the Babylonian center was thus weakened. The contest for the gaonate between R. Aaron Sargado and R. *Nehemiah b. Kohen Ẓedek from the 940s to 960s and the dispute between the latter and R. Sherira were also responsible for the decline in the status of the academy. The situation changed under Sherira *Gaon, a powerful personality, who renewed the contacts with the communities of North Africa and called upon them to support his academy. The period of office of Sherira Gaon (968–98) and that of his son *Hai Gaon (998–1038) was the period of Pumbedita's efflorescence. The greatest number of extant responsa to the Diaspora, especially to the communities of North Africa (e.g., Kairouan, Fez, etc.), was written by these two geonim. Students came from abroad to study with R. Hai and later went on to hold important positions. These included *Shemariah b. Elhanan of Egypt, who was "the first in the 'great' [first] row of the three rows of the academy"; Maẓliaḥ b. Albaẓak of Sicily; the gaon Solomon b. Judah's son from Palestine; and students from Byzantium and Italy. After R. Hai's death the exilarch *Hezekiah b. David headed the Pumbedita academy for 20 years (until 1058).
According to sources found in the Cairo Genizah, the divan of Eleazar b. Jacob ha-Bavli, and Arab sources, it appears that the Baghdad academy continued in existence until the 13th century. The names of nine geonim who lived during the 12th and 13th centuries and considered themselves the heirs of the Pumbedita academy are known. The last Gaon was Samuel b. Daniel ha-Kohen (1288). According to Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Babylonia in the 1170s, there were about 3,000 Jews in Pumbedita. Even though this number seems to be exaggerated, it appears that an important community still existed there.
[Moshe Beer and
Eliezer Bashan (Sternberg)]
talmud: Neubauer, Géogr, 349; A. Berliner, Beitraege zur Geographie und Ethnographie Babyloniens im Talmud und Midrasch, 57f., in: Jahres-Bericht des Rabbiner-Seminars zu Berlin pro 5643 (1882/83); J. Obermeyer, Die Landschaft Babylonien (1929), 226–42; M.D. Yudilewitz, Yeshivat Pumbedita bi-Ymeiha-Amora'im (1932); idem, Ha-Ir Pumbedita bi-Ymei ha-Amora'im (1939). post-talmudic: S. Schechter, Saadyana (1903), 117–21; L. Ginzberg, Geonica, 1 (1909), 14–22, 62–66; G. Margoliouth, in: jqr, 14 (1901/02), 307–11; A. Cowley, ibid., 18 (1905/06), 399–403; 19 (1906/07), 104–6; J. Mann, ibid., 8 (1917/18), 341–62; 9 (1918/19), 139–47; 11 (1920/21), 419–21; idem, in: Tarbiz, 5 (1933/34), 148–79; Mann, Texts, 1 (1931), 75–145, 179–201; B.M. Lewin (ed.), Iggeret R. Sherira Ga'on (1921), 99–100, 109–14, 119–22; Dinur, Golah, 1 pt. 2 (19612), 106–9; Abramson, Merkazim, index; S. Assaf, in: Ha-Shilo'ah, 39 (1921), 218–20; Assaf, Ge'onim, 42–70, 261–78; B.M. Lewin (ed.), Ginzei Kedem, 2 (1923), 46–48; H.Z. Taubes, in: Sefer Zikkaron li-Shelomo S. Mayer; Koveẓ le-Toledot Yehudei Italyah (1956), 126–41; Benjamin of Tudela, Masa'ot…, ed. by M.N. Adler (1907), 34, 46 (Heb. pagination); Neusner, Babylonia, passim.