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‘Anan - ‘Anan and the Exilarchate

One of the most infamous notes in history about ‘Anan is his conversion to Karaism (which predated ‘Anan, see: Origins of Karaism) because he was supposedly rejected for the position of exilarch. The following polemic is attributed to Sa‘adyah “Ga’on”:

‘Anan had a younger brother named Hananyah. Although ‘Anan exceeded this brother in both learning and age, his contemporaries in the yeshivah [Talmudic academy] refused to appoint him exilarch, because of his great wickedness and lack of piety. They, therefore, turned to his brother Hananyah, for the sake of the latter’s great modesty, mellow disposition, and fear of heaven; and they set him up as exilarch. Thereupon ‘Anan was seized with a wicked zeal - he and with him all manner of evil and worthless men from among the remnants of the sect of Saddoq and Boethus set up a dissident sect - in secret, for fear of the Moslem government which was then in power - and they appointed ‘Anan their own exilarch.

On a certain Sunday, the affair was discovered by the government, and the order was given that ‘Anan be imprisoned until the following Friday, when he was to be hanged on the gallows as a political rebel. In prison, ‘Anan came upon a Moslem scholar who was also confined there and was likewise to be hung on the same Friday, as a violator of the true faith (Islam). This scholar advised ‘Anan saying, “Are there not in the Law ordinances (of the Jews) contradictory opinions that are both accepted?” “Yes“, answered ‘Anan. “Observe then”, said the Moslem, “the interpretation accepted in the teaching of those who follow your brother, and take the other interpretation for yourself, providing that those who follow you will back you up on it. Also, bribe the viceroy, so that you may be permitted to speak on your defense, after which bow before the Caliph and say: ‘O, King, did you set up my brother to rule over one religion or over two?’ When he replies, he will say, ‘Only one’. Say then, ‘But I and my brother belong to two different religions’. This way you will certainly save yourself, if you can explain to him the difference between your religions and your followers back you up”.

‘Anan contrived to deceive his own followers and said to them, “Last night Eliyahu HaNavi’ came to me in a dream and said, ‘You deserve to be put to death for violating the Law’”. He said this to entice them with his crafty arguments and out of fear for his life, so he might save himself from a cruel death and might make his name eternal. He spent a great sum of money on bribes, until even the King gave him permission to speak. He spoke as follows: “My brother’s religion uses a calendar based on the calculations of new moons with the intercalation of leap years by cycles, mine uses actual observation of the new moon and intercalation regulated by the ripening of new grain”. Since the King’s religion (Islam) used this same method of calendar calculation ‘Anan gained his favour and good will.

The internal errors in this account are glaring. For example, if the king granted ‘Anan favour based on the similarity of their religion’s calendar calculations, what is the point of ‘Anan’s interaction with the Moslem sage? That point aside, how would a Rabbanite scholar who lived two hundred years after ‘Anan have privy insight into what would have been a secret conversation between two men doomed to die? One of the men presumably died (the Moslem), the other (‘Anan) would hardly have made such information public, especially if he were a misleader and deceiver, as the Rabbanite author paints him. Given that the author of this “history” takes great pains to attribute every evil adjective he can fit on the page to ‘Anan (wicked, deceive, crafty, impious, etc.), it should be clear to anyone that this is nothing more than a Rabbanite attempt to discredit him.

Additionally, the Exilarch at the time of ‘Anan was Yishaq Isakoi Ben-Shelomoh, not Hananyah. In fact, there was no Exilarch named Hananyah. ‘Anan’s father, Dawid, was the son of Hasde’el (Hisdai) son of the Exilarch Bustanai. Yishaq Isakoi’s father was Shelomoh the son of Hisdai II the son of Bar Adai the son of Bustanai. Shelomoh was ‘Anan’s second cousin and Yishaq his second cousin once removed. The only Exilarch to have a name resembling Hananyah was Haninai (the father of Bustenai) who was ‘Anan’s great-great-grandfather and the great-great-great-grandfather of Yishaq Isakoi!!!