In the early Middle Ages, while most Jews lived under the Islamic Caliphate, Judaism was being torn apart from within. Somehow Judaism survived, thanks to the brilliant writer and deep thinker, Saadiah Gaon.

From combating the threat of the Kaarites, a Jewish sect which argued that the the written Torah was all that mattered, to ending a schism between the Jewish academies of Babylonia and of the Land of Israel, Rabbi Saadiah ben Yosef Al Fayyumi was one of Judaism’s most brilliant and influential figures.

Through his simultaneous reverence for long-standing practice and embrace of scientific thought, he went on to write the first rule book of Hebrew grammar and translate the Bible into Arabic. He was even appointed the Gaon of the Sura Academy in Babylonia, until he got into a fight with the Exilarch over a legal case about inheritance, ending in his exile from Sura. During his exile he wrote The “Book of Beliefs and Opinions,” which blended Greek philosophy, Jewish theology, and Arabic literary style, uniting both religious leaders and rationalists. Rabbi Saadiah’s actions and innovative thought paved the way for the Golden Age of Judaism and the concurrent rise of the Rambam.

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Co-Executive Producers:
– Melinda Goldrich
– Shmuel Katz

Gold Level:
– Goldrich Family Foundation
– Morrie Silverman & Lori Komisar
– Melanie & Martin Glatt

Image and footage credits:
– Chrstphre/Flickr

About The Jewish Story: Understand three thousand years of Jewish history in these short videos based on the book Letters to Auntie Fori: The 5,000-Year History of the Jewish People and Their Faith by the renowned historian Sir Martin Gilbert. Learn the Jewish story from the ancient Israelites of the Bible to Hellenization, the Jews of the Middle Ages to modern day, and more.

About Unpacked: We provide nuanced insights by unpacking all things Jewish. People are complex and complicated — yet we’re constantly being pushed to oversimplify our world. At Unpacked we know that being complex makes us more interesting. Because of this, we break the world down with nuance and insight to drive your curiosity and challenge your thinking.

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