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Title given to the heads of the Talmudic academies of Sura and Pumbeditha in Babylonia between 589 and 1040. The name “Gaon” is derived from the phrase Geon Yaakov, or Pride of Jacob, in Psalms 47:5. After the period of the Geonim, the title fell out of use for more than 500 years; it was used again among rabbis and scholars to describe someone of great Jewish learning. The first Gaon was Hanan of the academy of Pumbeditha in 589 and the last was Rav Hai Gaon in 1038. There were 48 Geonim in the academy of Pumbeditha and 36 in that of Sura. The Geonim, who were known for their scholarship and wisdom, were the deciding judges in all religious matters. The Geonim also supervised the academies in their districts. Semiannually all the academy teachers would assemble to hear the Geonim render scholarly interpretations of questions on the Torah and the Talmud. In addition, the Geonim replied to written questions sent to them from all parts of Babylonia, and from other countries as well. Responses recorded by various Geonim are still in existence. Among the most famous Geonim were: Judah Gaon, Saadiah Gaon, Sherira Gaon, and his son, Hai Gaon.

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