Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Let's travel back in history and swing by Jewish Spain

A paper I wrote earlier this semester...

Marking Diaspora History of the Sephardic Jewry

The period from about 900 to 1200 brought forth a wealth of influential characters in the Jewish community. During this time, Christian Europe had a dark cloud over it, but civilization was flourishing in places like Muslim Spain. Two influential Jews of Muslim Spain in the 10th and 11th centuries were Hasdai ibn Shaprut and Samuel Ha-Nagid.

A wealthy and learned Jew of Jaen, Spain had a son about the year 915. That son was Hasdai. Even in his youth, he learned Hebrew, Arabic and Latin. He had a strong interest in science and medicine that would lead him to become a physician. While he did not bear the title of vizier, he worked as physician for the calif ‘Abd al-Rahman III and ministered foreign affairs, as well. He was in strong support of the Jewish communities. He sent riches to and corresponded with the heads of the dwindling Babylonian academies. Instrumental in moving Jewish scholarship to his home of Cordova, he established a school and appointed Moses ben Enoch from one of these academies, but now in Cordova, to serve as the school’s director. He was a scholar honored by other scholars of the time. As the study of poetry and grammar become more in vogue for Spanish Jewry during his time, he excelled in them. The date of his death is unclear. He seems to have died perhaps 970 or 990 in Cordova, Spain.

Shortly after Hasdai passed on, 993 Cordova saw the birth of a Jewish man who would later become one of the most influential men of Spain. A native of Merida, Samuel’s father saw to it that his son should receive a thorough education of both rabbinical and secular studies. His rabbinical studies were under Enoch, son of Moses ben Enoch, whom was appointed by Hasdai. Like Hasdai, he excelled in languages and studied Hebrew, Arabic and Latin, for certain. It is said that he wrote a letter in seven different languages at some point in his life. He was to become a grammarian, poet and Arabic calligrapher. It was for these talents that a slave of vizier, Abu al-Kasim ibn al-‘Arif employed him for writing and calligraphy. When the vizier happened upon some of these writings made for the slave, Samuel came to work as this vizier’s secretary. On Abu’s death bed, he informed the king that his Jewish secretary was his “man behind the man.” The king elevated Samuel to hold the title of vizier for himself. In 1037, this king died. Luckily for Samuel the son which succeeded him retained Samuel. In 1055, he died and Joseph ibn naghrela, his son took over his position in Spain.

Hasdai ibn Shaprut and Samuel Ha-Nagid both had fathers who ensured they would be well educated. Both learned Hebrew, Arabic and Latin. Both were grammarians and Poets who either began or concluded their life in Cordova, Spain. Both of these men rose to have a hand in the affairs of a Muslim government. Both of these Jewish men made their mark in Diaspora history of the Sephardic world. Of course, as a calligrapher, Samuel did so both literally and figuratively.

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