First exilarch under Arabian rule; flourished about the middle of the seventh century. The name is Aramaized from the Persian "bustan" or "bostan" (as proper name see Justi, "Iranisches Namenbuch," p. 74). Almost the only exilarch of whom anything more than the name is known, he is frequently made the subject of legends. He was the son of the exilarch Hananiah (compare Exilarch). Hai Gaon, in "Sha'are Ẓedeḳ," p. 3a, seems to identify Bostanai with Haninai, and tells that he was given for wife a daughter of the Persian king Chosroes II. (died 628), by the calif Omar (died 644). (See Rapoport, in "Bikkure ha-'Ittim," x. 83; B. Goldberg, in "Ha-Maggid," xiii. 363). Abraham ibn Daud, however, in his "Sefer ha-Ḳabbalah" (Neubauer's "Medieval Jewish Chronicles," i. 64), says that it was the last Sassanid king, Yezdegerd (born 624; died 651-652; see Nöldeke, "Tabari," pp. 397 et seq.), who gave his daughter to Bostanai. But in that case it could have been only Calif Ali (656-661), and not Omar, who thus honored the exilarch (see "Ma'aseh Bet David"). It is known also that Ali gave a friendly reception to the contemporary Gaon Isaac (Sherira II.'s "Letter," ed. Neubauer, ib. p. 35; Abraham ibn Daud, ib. p. 62); and it is highly probable, therefore, that he honored the exilarch in certain ways as the official representative of the Jews. The office of the exilarch, with its duties and privileges, as it existed for some centuries under the Arabian rule, may be considered to begin with Bostanai.

The Dispute Among His Heirs.

The relation of Bostanai to the Persian princess (called "Dara" in "Ma'aseh Bet David," or "Azdad-war" (Nöldeke, "Isdundad"), according to a recently discovered genizah fragment, had an unpleasant sequel. The exilarch lived with her without having married her, and according to the rabbinical law she should previously have received her "letter of freedom," for, being a prisoner of war, she had become an Arabian slave, and as such had been presented to Bostanai. After the death of Bostanai his sons insisted that the princess, as well as her son, was still a slave, and, as such, was their property. The judges were divided in opinion, but finally decided that the legitimate sons of the exilarch should grant letters of manumission to the princess and her son in order to testify to their emancipation. This decision was based on the ground that Bostanai had probably lived in legitimate marriage with this woman, and, although there were no proofs, had presumably first emancipated and then married her. Nevertheless, the descendants of the princess were not recognized as legitimate 300 years afterward (Hai Gaon, l.c.). The statement in the genizah specimen (see bibliography below) is doubtless dictated by enmity to the exilarch; Abraham ibn Daud's statement (l.c.) is contrariwise prejudiced in favor of the exilarch; but compare genizah fragment published by Schechter In "Jew. Quart. Rev." xiv. 242-246.


The name "Bostanai" gave rise to the following legend: The last Persian king (Hormuzd), inimical to the Jews, decided to extinguish the royal house of David, no one being left of that house but a young woman whose husband had been killed shortly after his marriage, and who was about to give birth to a child. Then the king dreamed that he was in a beautiful garden ("bostan"), where he uprooted the trees and broke the branches, and, as he was lifting up his ax against a little root, an old man snatched the ax away from him and gave him a blow that almost killed him, saying: "Are you not satisfied with having destroyed the beautiful trees of my garden, that you now try to destroy also the last root? Truly, you deserve that your memory perish from the earth." The king thereupon promised to guard the last plant of the garden carefully. No one but an old Jewish sage was able to interpret the dream, and he said: "The garden represents the house of David, all of whose descendants you have destroyed except a woman with her unborn boy. The old man whom you saw was David, to whom you promised that you would take care that hishouse should be renewed by this boy." The Jewish sage, who was the father of the young woman, brought her to the king, and she was assigned to rooms fitted up with princely splendor, where she gave birth to a boy, who received the name "Bostanai," from the garden ("bostan") which the king had seen in his dream.

Bostanai at the Court of the King.

The figure of the wasp in the escutcheon of the exilarch was made the subject of another legend. The king had taken delight in the clever boy, and, spending one day with him, saw, as he stood before him, a wasp sting him on the temple. The blood trickled down the boy's face, yet he made no motion to chase the insect away. The king, upon expressing astonishment at this, was told by the youth that in the house of David, of which he had come, they were taught, since they themselves had lost their throne, neither to laugh nor to lift up the hand before a king, but to stand in motionless respect (Sanh. 93b). The king, moved thereby, showered favors upon him, made him an exilarch, and gave him the power to appoint judges of the Jews and the heads of the three academies, Nehardea, Sura, and Pumbedita. In memory of this Bostanai introduced a wasp into the escutcheon of the exilarchate. The genizah. fragment says that the incident with the wasp occurred in the presence of the calif Omar, before whom Bostanai as a youth of sixteen had brought a dispute with a sheikh, who filled his office during the exilarch's minority, and then refused to give it up. Bostanai was exilarch when Persia fell into the hands of the Arabians, and when Ali came to Babylon Bostanai went to meet him with a splendid retinue, whereby the calif was so greatly pleased that he asked for Bostanai's blessing. The calif, on learning that Bostanai was not married, gave him Dara, the daughter of the Persian king, as wife; and the exilarch was permitted to make her a Jewess and to marry her legitimately. She bore him many children, but their legitimacy was assailed after their father's death by the exilarch's other sons ("Ma'aseh Bostanai," several times printed under different titles; see "Benjacob," s.v.). This legend was made known only in the sixteenth century (compare Isaac Akrish), but the Seder 'Olam Zuṭṭa, composed in the beginning of the ninth century, drew upon the legends of the garden and the wasp (see Mar Zutra II.).

The name "Dara" for the Persian princess in Christian sources occurs also as that of Chosroes' daughter (Richter, "Arsaciden," p. 554, Leipsic, 1804). The legend glorifying Bostanai probably originated in Babylon, while the genizah fragment, branding all the descendants of Bostanai as illegitimate, being descendants of a slave and unworthy to fill high office, comes from Palestine. This latter view is of course erroneous, as may be gathered from Hai's remark, above mentioned, for the post-Bostanaite house of exilarchs was not descended from the princess. It is true, however, that the Bostanaites were hated by the scholars and the pious men, probably in part because Anan, founder of the Karaite sect, was a descendant of Bostanai (see Sherira's "Letter," ed. Neubauer, i. 33). Benjamin of Tudela says that he was shown the grave of Bostanai near Pumbedita.

  • Brüll's Jahrb. ii. 102-112;
  • Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, 3d ed., pp. 113, 114, 347, 379-384;
  • Halevi, Dorot ha-Rishonim, pp. 314, 315;
  • Jost, Gesch. der Israeliten, v. 228, 316-319;
  • Lazarus, Die Häupter der Vertriebenen, in Brüll's Jahrb. x. 24-25, 174;
  • Margoliouth, in Jew. Quart. Rev. xiv. 303-307, giving a genizah fragment concerning Bostanai;
  • Lehmann, Bostenai (fiction), in his Aus Vergangenheit und Gegenwart, ii. 1; translated into Hebrew under the same title by S. J. F. (Fuenn, Wilna, 1881);
  • Fürst, in Orient. Lit. xii. 51;
  • Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. col. 610, 1085, 1086.
G. L. G.
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