Solomon ben Judah

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SOLOMON BEN JUDAH (d. 1051), Palestinian gaon and academy head in Jerusalem and in Ramleh from 1025 to 1051. It appears that R. Solomon was the son of a family of scholars from Fez. He married into the family of Solomon b. Joseph ha-Kohen, who preceded him in the gaonate. He was the father of three sons and a daughter, including Abraham who held the position of "fourth" in the yeshivah, and Yaḥya who studied under R. Hai Gaon.

At first R. Solomon was ḥazzan in Jerusalem, then a member of the academy, then av bet din, and finally head of the academy. The members of his bet din were Nathan b. Abraham as av bet din, Tobiah b. Daniel, and Joseph ha-Kohen and Elijah ha-Kohen of the family which held positions in the Ereẓ Israel gaonate. More of his letters have been preserved than of any other Palestinian Gaon, and many were published. His Hebrew had a figurative style, and his particular concluding blessing was "great salvation." He also wrote in Arabic. Most of the letters were sent to Egypt. A document of his bet din from 1044/45 – evidence of the receipt of a pledge in Jerusalem and signed by the gaon and Elijah ha-Kohen – has been preserved. A letter of recommendation written by him for a Jew of Khurasan, who traveled to Egypt to collect funds, is also extant. He also wrote piyyutim, some of which were published. These include a kerovah for Ḥanukkah, a section of a piyyut for Shavuot, and a poem expressing yearning for the redemption of Jerusalem. A piyyut in his honor was written by the ḥazzan Eli ha-Kohen b. Ezekiel of Fostat, and Ephraim he-Ḥaver b. Shemariah wrote a kinah in his memory.

A peaceful man, his judgments were lenient and inclined toward making concessions. His approach to the Karaites was also tolerant; he attempted to abolish the ban which was issued against them every year on Hoshana Rabba on the Mount of Olives. In spite of the authorities' prohibition, the ban was once issued against the Karaites without his consent. As a result, several scholars were arrested and imprisoned in Damascus. The sufferings he endured at the hands of his adversaries are echoed in his letters. He was accused of having taken for himself a contribution which was sent from Mahdīyya to the yeshivah. His relations with Elhanan b. Shemariah were strained and he was compelled to leave Jerusalem after he was declared guilty of not helping certain prisoners. It is also possible that pressure from the local Karaites brought about his departure from Jerusalem to Ramleh. His principal adversary was Nathan b. Abraham, the disciple of Samuel ("the Third") b. Hoshana, and R. Ḥushi'el of Kairouan. After the death of his uncle Bar Yoḥai, the av of the academy, Nathan was appointed, with the support of influential circles in Egypt, as av in Ereẓ Israel. While R. Solomon was in Jerusalem and Nathan in Ramleh, Nathan proclaimed himself academy head (rosh yeshivah). The Gaon then went to Ramleh and issued a ban against him for overstepping his bounds. Both factions engaged in polemics and sent letters of accusation to Egypt. The representatives of the Fatimid government in Jerusalem and Ramleh supported R. Solomon, according to instructions received from Egypt. The dispute continued for three years and in 1043 an agreement was reached between the adversaries. According to this, Nathan was to remain av and after the death of the gaon, he would assume the position of rosh yeshivah. During R. Solomon's time the economic situation in Ereẓ Israel, especially in Jerusalem, was poor; heavy taxes were imposed. In 1024 bedouin of the Jarāḥ tribe attacked the country and plundered Ramleh and the rest of the centers. A plague raged through Jerusalem, and in 1033 the country was struck by an earthquake. The pilgrimage from the Diaspora, on which the incomes of the academy and the Jewish population were to a great extent dependent, declined. In his letters to Egypt, R. Solomon described the distressing situation and appealed for support for maintenance of the Jews. He maintained relations with the communities of Damascus, Aleppo, and Tyre; they requested that he pray for them and give them his blessing, and they contributed to his academy. A letter from distant Spain was brought to him "from the merchants in Seville." The nagid Jacob b. Amram of Mahdīyya (near Kairouan) sent a contribution to his academy. The gaon also exchanged letters with R. Hai Gaon. Relations with Babylonia deteriorated as a result of the rivalry for the support of Egypt, the wealthiest contributor to the academies in Babylonia and Ereẓ Israel. Egypt was the political and financial pillar of Ereẓ Israel and the majority of the academy's income came from there. In 1026–27 R. Solomon sent a ḥazzan named Solomon and his own son Abraham in order to raise funds in Egypt. He also maintained a correspondence with personalities in the inner circles of the royal court and the heads of the Egyptian communities, such as the communal leader Samuel b. Talyon and the "chief of the congregation" Abraham b. Isaac ha-Kohen. Most of his letters were addressed to three personalities: Abraham b. Sahlan and his son Sahlan, leaders of the Babylonian community in Fostat who also supported the Ereẓ Israel academy, and Ephraim b. Shemariah of Gaza, a member of the "Great Sanhedrin" and leader of the Ereẓ Israel community in Fostat. The Jerusalemite community in Egypt was subject to the authority of R. Solomon, who also intervened in its internal affairs.


A. Epstein, in: rej, 25 (1892), 272–6; A. Marmorstein, in: jq R, 8 (1917–18), 1–29; Mann, Egypt, 1–2 (1920–22), index s.v.Solomon b. Yehudah; idem, in: huca, 3 (1926), 269–76; Mann, Texts, 1–2 (1931–35), index; R. Gottheil and W.H. Warrel, Fragments from the Cairo Genizah in the Freer Collection (1927), 196–201; S. Assaf, in: Zion, 2 (1927), 115–6; idem, in: Mi-Sifrut ha-Geonim (1933), 208–9; idem and L.A. Mayer, Sefer ha-Yishuv, 2 (1944), index; Marx, in paajr, 16 (1946–47), 195f.; M. Zulay, in: Sinai, 25 (1949), 41f.; A. Scheiber, in: Tarbiz, 22 (1951), 171–3; B. Shapira, in: Yerushalayim, 4 (1953), 118ff.; H.Z. Hirschberg, in: Eretz Israel, 5 (1958), 216–7; A.M. Habermann, in: Sinai, 53 (1963), 183–92.

[Eliezer Bashan (Sternberg)]