The Geonim Sherira and Hai write the last classic Responsa of the Geonic Period
ALTHOUGH after the time of Saadia the Gaonate began to be eclipsed by the distinguished scholars of Spain, who were wresting the primacy from the East, Babylonia remained the centre of Jewish and especially Talmudic learning till well into the eleventh century. Even during this period of incipient decline the glories of the Gaonate were revived by two great scholars, the fathers and teachers of Israel as they were called afterwards, Sherira ben Hananiah and his son Hai, both of whom attained patriarchal age and between them held the office for a long period of years. While nominally Geonim of Pumbedita, they actually functioned in Baghdad. Hither questions came to them from all parts of the Jewish world, from Spain to India, and the Geonim displayed an immense activity in composing answers. There was practically no subject of Jewish interest that was not dealt with in the thousands of Responsa which Sherira and Hai drew up and signed either jointly or separately.
The most famous of all Geonic Responsa is linked with the name of Sherira. It was written in answer to a letter from Jacob bar Nissim ben Josiah, the head of the Talmudic school in Kairuan in North Africa, containing the following questions:
(1) How was the Mishnah written? (2) Is there any reason for the existing arrangement of the tractates in each Order? (3) What is the purpose of the Tosefta (supplement, independent Mishnah collection), and how were the Baraitot (continuation of the Mishnah) written? (4) How was the Talmud written down? (5) What is the sequence of the Saboraim (Ponderers, successors of the Amorain) and Geonim?
These questions were no doubt prompted by the conflict between Karaism and Rabbinism. The attack made by the Karaites on the authenticity of the oral tradition had caused doubts even among the faithful adherents of traditional Judaism. Sherira, in his answer, revealed an intimate acquaintance with the matter and drew up a remarkably precise account of the development of Talmudic tradition from the earliest days. Thus, what was intended as a Responsum to a single community became a message to all future