Solomon ben Yehuda, Gaon of Palestine, describes an Earthquake
THE Gaonate which was established in Palestine in the beginning of the tenth century (see supra, p. 78) survived into the eleventh century and became, as has been shown by Jacob Mann from numerous references in the Genizah fragments, an important centre of Jewish learning, though much inferior to the Gaonate of Babylonia. An intensive correspondence was maintained by the Geonim from Jerusalem with the heads of the Babylonian schools and with the communities in Egypt, in Sicily, and elsewhere. One of the most prolific correspondents among the Palestinian Geonim was Solomon ben Yehuda, of whose letters numerous specimens and fragments have been found in the Cairo Genizah. These are concerned for the most part with political and internal affairs, quarrels of dignitaries and conflicts between the Karaites and Rabbanites. One of them, however, deals exceptionally not with any communal matter, but with an extraordinary physical event, the great earthquake that occurred in Ramlah and other places in the Holy Land towards the end of the year 1033, a date verified from other, non-Jewish, sources. While in accord with the religious outlook of the pious writer the event is regarded as a visitation from Heaven, his observations of the natural features are remarkably accurate.
The beginning and signature of the letter, which undoubtedly was written by the Gaon himself, are missing.
SOLOMON BEN YEHUDA TO AN UNKNOWN CORRESPONDENT
'All were alike, like people like priest, like servant like his master, when they sought refuge for their lives'
[Jerusalem (?), probably December 1033]
...They went out from their houses into the streets because they saw the walls bending though yet intact, and the beams becoming separated from the walls and then reverting to their former position. The strongest buildings collapsed and new houses were pulled down. Many were buried under the ruins, for they could not escape. All went out from their dwellings