Mensch Madness Game 1: Gaon vs. Gaon

Welcome to Mensch Madness… Game One!

Opposing team captains Amram Gaon and Saadia Gaon (no relation) file out onto the court and shake hands. Both Babylonian natives, neither one has the home-court advantage today, and the fans are split pretty evenly. Amram and Saadia stand at attention for the ceremonial playing of the Babylonian anthem, By the Rivers of Babylon. As the last note sounds and the jump ball is tossed, the crowd goes wild.

While both are respected geniuses[1] in their own right, analysts have predicted that Amram is “gaon” to win; Saadia doesn’t have a prayer, they say, especially against a guy who literally authored the first-ever prayer-book. But Amram has yet to prove that his prayer book is also applicable as a playbook. Saadia has a definite endurance advantage over Amram; he is a devoted believer in Arabic — er, aerobic exercises,[2] and completes calisthenics morning and night for each of the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet.

Trained on the streets of Sura, Amram’s siddur of plays has a few moves that are sure to take Saadia by sura-prise. Sura-tainly, the order[3] of plays are extensive and the combinations innumerable. With a one-armed shot from the three-point line, Amram snags the first points of the game.

With a saadia-eyed glare at Amram, Saadia tips the ball back into play. He’s got no intention of letting his poor start influence the rest of his game. “Don’t be saad—ya still have time!” the fans shout from the sideline. Indeed, the fans’ words of encouragement bode well, and a Signature Saadia Swoosh nearly evens the score.

Not to be outdone, his opponent [am]rams the ball up the court, where it is quickly passed back to him. Though Amram’s prayer book is extensive, it fails to include even the most basic of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Layups, and the ball bounces off the rim.

The rebound takes Saadia by surprise and the ball hits him squarely in the garon[4], the force of which knocks him to his gneez.[5] With only three seconds left on the clock, Saadia knows this is his last chance to move the next round. A whispered chant of “haz sa’id[6] makes its way across Saadia’s side of the arena, and seems to give Saadia the last-minute jolt of energy he needs. From this most unlikely of positions at the half-court, Saadia launches a well-aimed shot that plants itself squarely through the net that secures him the win.

With a-rise-to[7] the top so late in the game, the next round is sure to be an exciting one!

[1] גָּאוֹן (ga’on, genius)

[2] Saadia Gaon wrote in Arabic.

[3] The Hebrew root of the word סִדּוּר (siddur, prayer book) is ס.ד.ר (Samech. Dalet. Resh), which means “order.”

[4] Neck

[5] Many of Saadia and Amram Gaon’s writings have been discovered in the Cairo Genizah (

[6] “Good luck,” in Arabic. The word “sa’id” shares a root with the name Saadia.

[7] Saadia Gaon famously presented a philosophical reconciliation of the Torah with the works of Aristotle (and Plato).

Jewish food, holidays, Torah, Shabbat, history, blogs and more in your inbox – sign up now!

Discover More

Mensch Madness Game 4: Serpent vs. Donkey!

The tension in the air is palpable as we prepare for today’s tip-off at the Manischewitz Arena. Mensch Madness Game ...

Mensch Madness Game 5: Ram vs. Golden Calf!

Welcome back to Mensch Madness!Today’s game has a lot of media attention. We’ve all heard the hype about these two ...

Mensch Madness Game 3: Caro vs. Luria

What an exciting match-up we have today: Joseph Caro versus Isaac Luria. Two titans of Torah commentary, taking it to ...