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The Jews of Moslem Spain, Eliyahu Ashtor

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The Jews of Muslim Spain, Volumes 1 – 3

By Eliyahu Ashtor

Volume 1, Chapter 5 – Hasdai Ibn Shaprut

Abdarrahman III was the most tolerant of all the Omayyads who ruled in Cordova. He was known for his tolerance regarding other faiths. He was certain to follow the practices of his own religion, but was far from being a zealot. During his reign there were no incidents of harm reported against non-Moslem communities, which is somewhat surprising as neighboring, both Islamic and Christian, treated their Jewish inhabitants much differently. For example, Jews and Christians in the 9th century under the Abbasid caliphate were forced to mark their clothing with distinct symbols to set them apart. This practice was reenacted in a number of other locations. Caliph al-Muktadir had also dismissed all non-Moslem officials from government service. Unlike Abdarrahman III, the rules of Islamic countries in the East found many ways to oppress the religious minorities in their midst. (157)

The Omayyad rules and gradually won the loyalty of the non-Moslem populace, and many were grateful for the security they enjoyed under his rule. The Jews benefited even more so than Christians from Abdmarrahman’s policies. “In a state that comprised varied ethnic and religious elements and whose rule was enlightened and far from fanatical, which sought to bring together the different elements in the population without forcing the smaller groups to assimilate with the larger ones – in such a state the Jews of the Diaspora found their place and their communities flourished.” Under such circumstances their lives were very enjoyable, and soon a Jew would even rise to a high seat in the royal court.  (158)

The Jew who would one day be considered the caliph’s favorite courtier came from the family of Ibn Shaprut. He was the member of a Jewish family from Jaen, a city in eastern Andalusia. His father, Isaac Ibn Shaprut, was wealthy as well as devoted to the Jewish faith. When Isaac moved his family to Cordova, he established a synagogue near his new residence. He was also known to give large monetary gifts to those who devoted their lives to the Torah and to literature. In the year 910, Isaac had a son, of whom he named Hasdai. (159) (upbringing discussed on 160)

Hasdai Ibn Shaprut had become famous in Cordova for his exceptional practice in medicine. He was skilled in finding cures for various ailments, and this won him praise from many people. (161) There was once a miracle drug that was known to cure several ailments. However, throughout the years its exact recipe was loss. It was said that Hasdai rediscovered the secret mixture and because of this success was invited to serve as a physician in the royal court. (162) At the time Hasdai was thirty years old, and was considered well accomplished for his age. Abdarrahman III had recognized his great intelligence, thus appointing him, along with other physicians, to administrative posts. Hasdai found himself managing the department of customs, as he collected payments from ships docking in Spain and those departing. This post brought in a considerable amount of wealth to the Moslem Kingdom of Spain, which suggests Hasdai was trusted enough to hold just a significant post. However, he was never raised to the level of finance minister. “The only explanation can be that the practical ruler was careful not to elevate a Jew too high so as not to provoke the wrath of other Moslems.” (162)

While his position in the finance field stalled, Hasdai flourished in the other roles Abdarrahman assigned him. He was put at the head of the Jewish settlement in his kingdom and gave him the authority it settle the affairs of the communities as he saw fit. “By virtue of the authority and status of his office he was able to defend individuals or whole communities against harm when enemies arose to trouble them.” (163) It was the view of the Jews of Spain that Hasdai’s designation and success were not necessarily because of his merits, but an act of Providence. This is what enabled him to “exercise a protective care over the Jews even under the yoke of gentile nations in alien lands.” This notion became a widely held view, and was even put into poetical expression by a Hebrew poet of Spain.

Nearing the end of the 940s, Hasdai played a critical role in negotiations between the Byzantine Empire and the Omayyad kingdom of Spain.  During this time their diplomatic ties were renewed. (165) Similarly, Hasdai had an active part in negotiations when tensions usurped with German royalty. (172) At the height of their contentions a letter from the German king arrived in Cordova. It was rumored that its contents spoke ill of Islam, and the consequences of having sent such a defamatory letter would be brutal. (172) Faced with such contents the caliph would be forced to retaliate on behalf of his faith, which he would prefer not to do against the powerful Otto I.  Fortunately, before the missive could reach him he had Hasdai intervene. It was thus Hasdai’s responsibility to negotiate with the emissaries of the German king, and to obtain a clear understanding of what was the purpose of the communication.

Hasdai sought the trust of Johannes of Gorze, who was in possession of the letter. He soothed Johanne’s anxiety by assuring him no harm would come upon him, and that the emissaries could soon return home with their honor. (173) “The conversations between the Jewish courtier and the fanatical monk went on for a long while before Hasdai touched upon the subject proper: he asked Johannes for the contents of the missive. When Johannes vacillated about replying, Hasdai assured him that he would keep the answer a secret and would even give him counsel.” (173) With this, Johannes told Hasdai of its contents, and was then instructed by Hasdai to return home without delivering their missive. Clearly, no good could come of the letters delivery, so Hasdai made sure this would not happen.  After many months, a new missive was sent on behalf of the German king, and the caliph was able to receive his guests and begin official negotiations regarding the larger issues at hand. Thanks to Hasdai, Johannes was able to return safely to his monastery to eventually reach the position of abbot. (176)

On yet another occasion, Hasdai served a great purpose by going to Pamplona with an odd request.  He asked Queen Toda and her obese grandson to come to Spain, in order to remedy their current predicament: the fact that her overweight grandson was looked upon as a joke, which would put his ascendancy to the crown in danger.  Hasdai was sent because of his great negotiating skills and because of his reputation as a great physician. Surprisingly, she accepted the caliph’s proposal which could have easily been construed as an insult. Together in 958, the Queen and her grandson went to reside in Spain until he was fit to rule, and the caliph also sent an army to Leon per her request. (179) Thanks to Hasdai diplomatic skills a strong new alliance was formed.  Such a visit of royalty to Cordova was unheard of and the caliph received much praise for it. “But the Jews of Cordova and all through Andalusia also exulted no little, for in their eyes this visit was first and foremost the personal achievement of Hasdai Ibn Shaprut.” (180) Once again, their joy found expression through many Jewish poets of that era.

Despite success after success Hasdai’s ability to obtain great levels of honor in public were stunted. Already, the caliph had met resistance by the masses who felt a Jew should not have “exalted a Jew from the dust heap and bestowed upon him so many honors. Neither the caliph not Hasdai could disregard the feelings of the masses. The caliph refrained from granting his Jewish courtier the title or official status that he merited in terms of his functions; and Hasdai, for his part, never forgot that his status depended on the caliph’s favor in greater measure than did the status of the other courtiers.” (182) However, it was said that “within the walls of his palace the caliph continued to bestow upon Hasdai signs of esteem and affection, and to demonstrate to him that he did not share these hostile sentiments. Not only did he assign him important tasks, but Hasdai actually became an intimate and one of his favorites.” (182)

One of Hasdai’s great interests was in corresponding with Jews of other regions. “Hasdai was not content merely to have Jews in various countries get in touch with him and transmit reports on their condition by correspondence. He also sent emissaries to the communities in lands near and far.” (183) In one such transmission, Jews writing from southern Italy apologized for the long delay in returning a response to his letter. At the time, the government of Italy had banned the sacred books and prohibited scholars from occupying themselves with the study of them. (184) “Government troops search for the rabbis to force conversion upon them and wanted to destroy the sacred books. Scholars were arrested, severely tortured, and the sacred books were burned.” (184) The Jews of the Byzantine sector of southern Italy made no requests of Hasdai, but simply recounted their persecutions (188). Hasdai was concerned for his colleagues’ well being, and searched for ways to assist them. A few years later, in 948 the opportunity presented itself when he had the chance to send letters to Constantinople as one of the caliph’s envoys went forth to Emperor Constantine VII. (188) So that these letters would not be attributed to the caliph, Hasdai had them written in Hebrew.

Hasdai addressed one of his letters to a noblewoman. He asks the recipient to “take the Jews under her aegis and appoint one of her subordinates to deal with their affairs. To give added weight to his words, Hasdai mentions that he can do good for the Christians living in Spain and that he is in fact already doing so.” (189) The second letter was directed to the emperor himself. Having taken this action on behalf of the Jews under Byzantine rule, Hasdai now endeavored to do what he could to help the Jews in the south of France. (191) It seems Hasdai’s high position in Spain enabled him to assist his Jewish brothers throughout Europe, whom he never hesitated to assist.

With Hasdai’s interest in communicating with Jews around the world also came an obsession with contacting the Khazar kingdom. A place rumored to be inhabited by Jews of which are “free from the yoke of the gentiles.” (210) In fact, many of the communications Hasdai sent worldwide would include inquiries as to the exact whereabouts and details of this Jewish kingdom. Hasdai receives confirmation that Khazar exists from the Russians, who are said to have traded fish and hides with them, and also enjoy relations with Khazar king, Joseph.  In a missive to Joseph, Hasdai admits to his willingness to drop everything in Spain to come live in the Khazar kingdom, if only the king could confirm all that has been rumored about their kingdom.  (see 210-217 for more on Kharusan)

Hasdai’s high status in Spain also had a “great influence on the most important phenomenon in the history of Spanish Jews in the tenth century, namely, the migrations which flowed in from other lands, near and far, resulting in the considerable growth of its communities. It was because of his great influence, and a thriving economy, that many Jews were drawn to Andalusia. (218) (217-225 tells of other Jewish migrations, such as to Iraq, Kairawan and Egypt)

Ch.6 The Efflorescence of Jewish Culture

The Hebrew authors of the Middle Ages unanimously affirm that the efflorescence of Judeo-Spanish culture originated with Hasdai Ibn Shaprut. “After the manner of enlightened Moslem nobles, he acted with great generosity in behalf of the intellectuals in the fields of literature and science. In giving assistance, Hasdai did not limit himself to one class of intellectual, but gave encouragement to all of them in various ways.” (228) His envoys roamed throughout the East and West acquiring texts for study and research by the Jews of Spain. “They did not limit their search to texts alone; they also looked for scholars with a knowledge of the Torah who could serve as teachers and were prepared to come to Spain. ” (230) These efforts were very successful as one Judeo-Spanish poet said: “he strengthened the pillars of wisdom and gathered unto him men of knowledge from Palestine to Babylonia.” (230)

Through these efforts Hasdai had hoped for Andalusian Jewry to be completely independent of the Babylonian center. At its peak, the Jewish scholars of Babylonia received monetary stipends from Jews throughout the world. These payments were accompanied by questions of scholarly consequence, of which the Babylonians would answer through their expertise. Hasdai had supported the Babylonians in this manner for several years, but now that the Andalusian Jews were becoming their own center of scholarly works, there was no longer a need to write to his Babylonian brothers. (236) “Thus it came to pass that in the days of Hasdai Ibn Shaprut, the cultural ties between Spanish and Babylonian Jewry, which for many generations had been the very foundation of their religious and spiritual life, were broken.” (237)

One of the scholars Hasdai employed was Rabbi Moses b. Hanokh. “He was first and foremost a teacher of halakha, and after his fame had spread throughout all the provinces of Spain, students from all the communities flocked to him to acquire knowledge of Jewish law from him. His school in Cordova became a center of Torah in the highest degree. He also headed the Jewish court in the capital of the Omayyad kingdom and responded in writing to questions directed to him by other communities.” (237)

In the mid tenth century the “Jews of Moslem Spain emerged from their cultural seclusion; they ceased being one-sided in their cultural interests and began to take part energetically in the flourishing culture of the Omayyad kingdom in Spain.” (241) This was in part due to Abdarrahman III whose policy it was to “bring together the various religious and ethnic groups within the borders of his kingdom, destroy the walls that separated them, and bring about a resulting collaboration.” (242) As a faithful servant of the caliph, Hasdai also “adopted the manners of the Arab nobles and modeled his way of life on theirs.”

“Among the Arabs there was a strong link between the cultivation of the poetic muse and the study of the Arabic language, and many were both poets and Arabic linguists…The Jews who lived in Spain among the Arabs were influenced by this state of mind, and several of them began to delve deeply into the study of the Hebrew language. Hasdai’s home became a gathering place for the first writers among the Jews of Spain….and he supported them materially and encouraged them to persist in their work.” (243)

A result of the strong support for such scholarly research was the composition of a Hebrew lexicon by M’nahem, a pioneer of Hebrew philology. “His book greatly impressed his generation, and even later generations of Jewish scholars used it extensively, particularly in the countries of Christian Europe, where the grammars and lexicons that were written later in Arabic did not encroach upon his.” (249) Despite his reputation and famous lexicon, M’nahem did not sit well in the eyes of Hasdai, and even lived in poverty and degradation. Some year’s later Dunush b. Labrat ha-levi, another Jew devoted to the knowledge of written and oral Jewish law, began collecting M’nahem’s original writings (252).

Dunush had first received fame for his poetry and thorough knowledge of Hebrew literature. In his poems, Dunush “imitated not only the form of Arabic verse but also its content. He introduced to Hebrew poetry the subjects and motifs of the Arabic poets.” (154) His poem’s themes were also similar to that of Arabic poets. As time went on, Dunush continued to collect original copies of M’nahem’s lexicon. Eventually, he publicly criticized this famed lexicon at a level that would shock his colleagues. (258) At this time, M’nahem was already imprisoned for various libel set forth by his enemies. M’nahem heard these criticisms but chose not to respond. Instead, M’nahem’s disciples argued on his behalf in the form of poems. “Thus the literary dispute continued and aroused emotions in Jewish intellectual circles in Spain. Some took one side and some the other; and as each side searched for arguments and evidence to contradict its opponents, the field of knowledge was broadened.”(260) Dunush would emerge as the winner of this literary dispute, because unlike M’nahem, he did not take insults in silence.

“It is the age old problem of how to fit Judaism into general secular society. Spanish Jewry found a solution – naturally, a medieval one. They joined in the secular life of their Moslem neighbors with all their hearts and souls, taking part in their cultural life also.” (262)

Volume 2

Chapter 1: The Disruption of the Spanish Caliphate

  • Shortly after the disintegration of the Hispano-Omayyad caliphate (around 1040), Jews began to occupy a prominent role in the courts of the rulers. Jews of ability obtained various posts in the service of the Moslem kings, both in the seat of government and elsewhere. (24)
  • The period of Jews in Moslem Spain has been termed the “Golden Age” by historians. It lasted three generations – “long enough to allow the large Jewish community on the Iberian peninsula to reinforce its economic and social position and to reach cultural achievements unlike any other in the annals of the Jews.” (27)
  • Large migrations of Jews took place during the eleventh century, especially between Moslem areas of the Iberian peninsula to Christian principalities in the north. The growth in Jewish communities was seen especially in Castile and Navarre (Town of Najera, west of Logrono). By this time, Jews had already made up a considerable portion of the economic life of these kingdoms, as well as filled positions in the royal service. (31)
  • “A decree by King Fernando I points toward the occupations and the origin of the Jewish community of Puente del Castro, which because of the great number of Jewish in habitants was also called the Fortress of the Jews (Castrum Judaeorum); it obligates the Jews to pay five hundred solidi and three well-tanned hides annually to the cathedral of Leon. (33) Clearly, tanning was a characteristic occupation of the Jews of this city, which also happened to be a famous export industry of Andalusia.
  • The total number of Jews in all of eleventh-century Spain was still low; no more than fifty or sixty thousand. (34) Such low numbers in large cities meant that “Jews had more constant contact with the non-Jews…and these new circumstances forced them into a greater degree of adaptability, which resulted, for many, in assimilation.” (34) Although others reacted to this greater contact with an intensification of faith.
  • Their influence in shaping Spanish culture as a whole continued to grow. Through steady contact with non-Jews of diverse origins, they passed on perceptions and concepts, tenets and approaches that were enduring characteristics of the Jewish people.
  • The Jews of Spain remained in contact with Babylonia as well as the Academy of Sura in Bagdad. They would send their questions regarding their faith to these academic centers, along with monetary gifts. (38-39) It was Rabbi Hai of Babylonia with whom they often communicated. Their grief upon his death can be measured by the large number of elegies and poems composed soon after.

Chapter 2: Samuel the Nagid and his Son

  • In the city of Malaga, there was a street called Santiago, which was also known as Barrio Nuevo. It was on this street that the Jews predominantly lived during Moslem rule. (45) Their houses also stood on the other side of Alcazabilla Street. The community here only numbered around 30 families. (46)
  • Samuel halevi was born in 993. He grew to be a skilled writer and poet, and spent most of his time in the study of other languages and science. (49) It was said that he mastered Arabic as well as Latin.
  • “This young Jew read the Koran and the works of Moslem theologians and obtained the commentaries if the Church fathers on the Bible, seeking to learn from them whatever he could.” (50)
  • “Berber and Slav princes achieved greatness” because of their abilities as rulers and soldiers. They had no special devotion to religious principals – in their ethic the ends justified all means. Therefore they had no hesitation in awarding high offices to non-Moslems; and indeed the Berber king ultimately did appoint Samuel halevi as minister of finance, giving him the title of vizier.” (65)

“Throughout generations, Moslems believed that the Jews and Christians living among them must be humbled. While it is true that in Moslem Spain not all of the debasing laws enacted by zealous theologians in the Near East were implemented, even here it was recognized and accepted that a non-Moslem must not be given an office having any measure of authority; even as enlightened a caliph as Abdarrahman had to take this view into consideration. Now a Moslem ruler had disregarded Arab sentiments and he principles laid down by theologians: He had designated a Jew as a vizier.”(71)

“The vizier of the kingdom of Almeria addressed a missive to the king of Granada asking him to dismiss his vizier, the Jew. At the same time he sent letters to some of the Sinhadja chiefs, indicating to them that it was a great sin to let the Jew retain his post since this was a contrary to the laws of the Koran. Although he stressed that he was not only referring to the vizier but to other Jews who held posts in the service of the Berber kingdom, he was particularly vehement in his accusations against Samuel halevi, who he regarded as the root of the evil.” (71). Habbus and the Sinhadja had to choose between their own interests and theological considerations. In the end, they retained the Jewish vizier because he was more diligent and loyal than others.

After Habbus’ death, Ahmad b. Abbas renewed his attempts to overthrow Samuel. He hoped that he would be able to convince the new king (Badis) and the Sinhadja kingdom to remove the “infidel vizier.” He sent letters pointing out the sin involved in giving high office to a Jew and demanded that Samuel be purged. “If the king would dismiss Samuel Ibn Nagrila, he wrote, peace would obtain between his kingdom and that of Almeria.

Eventually, Ahmad b. Abbas met his death due to his scheming ways. Badis, his brother, and another vizier stabbed Ahmad to death.  Samuel was overjoyed with the king’s choice and wrote a lengthy poem, of which he sent to the Jewish communities of the Near East, Egypt and Tunisia. He also requested that this day be remembered each year, and to establish it as the Purim of Granada (79)

  • Samuel proved his loyalty time and again in war after war. “Not only did Badis appreciate and trust him all the more now that his loyalty had been fully demonstrated, but also, because of Samuel’s deftness during the crises between Badis and the other rulers in southern Spain, the king recognized Samuel’s political sagacity.” (92)

Samuel’s position was strong. “Nobody in the kingdom of Granada disputed his policy; no Berber and no Jew dared say a word against him. Samuel halevi consolidated- into his own hand- all contacts with the princes of southern and eastern Spain, held talks with emissaries from other governments, and directed ambassadors going on special missions. At the same time he retained control of financial matters, which was his major responsibility. ” (95)

  • “More than once a learned a learned writer, one of those who circulated among the capitals of Moslem Spain offering their services, would turn up at the royal court. When these scribes met the Jewish vizier, no matter what they started to discuss, they would bring up religion. Samuel halevi had to respond, although such discussions in the presence of the Berber chiefs were distasteful to him. But he always won the debate, and the Moslem writers unanimously conceded that there was none to compare with him in defending his religion.” (96-97)
  • “As Samuel halevi reached his prime the glory of the king waned. Now, as he reached middle age, the king shut himself within his palace and relied upon his faithful Jewish vizier. As Badis more and more neglected the affairs of government, Samuel’s responsibility became a heavy burden. ” (99)

“Al-Mutadid, the king of Seville, was fully cognizant of Samuel’s primacy in directing the policy of Granada; he therefore exploited Samuel’s Jewishness to denigrate him before Arabs and Berbers alike. His court poets worked mightily, composing verse in which they depicted the Sinhadja as Moslems outwardly but Jews at heart. (107)

“Notwithstanding that he was a Jew, the Berbers properly appreciated his worth; their praise and esteem was known everywhere. No other Jew was ever the first minister of the government and commander of the army of a Moslem kingdom. (114)

  • Samuel continued to go out in battle and would usually commemorate his victories with poems. (106) After one such triumph, Samuel wrote official correspondence in pure Moslem style (even including the blessings accorded to Allah and his Prophet Mohammed in their traditional form.) (107)

“Samuel halevi, who was himself wealthy and prominent, did not create verse on commission but, rather, when moved by his own spirit; he left behind a sort of poetical diary. He wrote of being parted from friends, praised the character of his companions, and mocked those who did not sympathize with him. In some of the traditional branches of poetry he is superior to other Hebrew poets in Spain – both those who preceded and those who followed him. ” (117)

“From his earliest years he had displayed a marked proclivity for epic verse. His long descriptions of armed combat are his most characteristic creations and gave him a special place in the history of Jewish literature.” (118) “With the aid of his sons Samuel arranged his poetry in three collections, giving them the names of biblical books which are related to them in content: Ben T’hillim (Son of Psalms), Ben Mishele  (Son of Proverbs) and Ben Kohelet (Son of Ecclesiastes). (120)

  • “His most amazing achievement surely was the writing of a treatise against the Koran. To be sure, during the Middle Ages there were many Jewish scholars who dared advance arguments against the Islamic faith and even give them circulation by committing them to writing. But these treatises were usually written in Hebrew and rarely found their way into Moslem hands. Moreover, the writers were generally scholars whom the Moslem masses did not know, nor were they prominent in communal life” (121)

“When this treatise came to the attention of the Moslems it provoked out right anger.  The very appointment of an infidel to the office of vizier in a Moslem state constituted a violation of the laws of Islam, which forbade giving a non-Moslem dominance over those who are devotees of the religion of Mohammed. Now this particular Jew exacerbated the fury by profaning their sacred book.” (122)

  • “There were a considerable number of Jews in the service of King Badis. Those who held the higher posters were appointed directly by Samuel, and the rest received their positions through his recommendation or were engaged because the directors of bureaus wished to find favor with the Jewish vizier. ..Most served in the treasury, particularly those bureaus dealing with tax collections-officer where Jews were in the majority.” (129)

“The highest post among the Jewish officials was held by the nagid’s (Samuel) brother in law, Abr r-Rabi Ibn al-Matuni. He was appointed overall tax collector and was named the minister of finance after Samuel halevi became chief vizier. Granadan Jews could, without fear, register complaint with or make a request of the government – they were sure of the desire for justice and the righting of wrongs. Many became wealthy, acquiring land and estates, engaging in their livelihoods undisturbed, enjoying peace and security.” (129)

  • Samuel was also known to support Jewish scholars of many regions. “Samuel paid scribes well to make copies of the holy texts, which he gave to penniless scholars and to Talmudic schools. A number of scribes worked for him regularly, and they produced books renowned for their accuracy. Besides his gifts to the students at the schools of Granada, he supported scholars in other countries: Morocco and Tunisia and the Near East – Egypt, Palestine and Babylonia.” (130-131, also see 134)
  • “Though Samuel was interested in the welfare of Jewish communities in other lands and tried to do good for them, his first concern was for the Jews in the Kingdom of Granada, where he had the greatest authority. Under his aegis the Jews in this state became exceptionally powerful, but of course the flourishing of the Jewish communities in Granada was tied to the growth of its economy too.” (136)

“Most metal served as the raw material for various industries in Spain itself where jewelry and a variety of other articles were made. The Jews produced and marketed all these products. Many of them were artisans, and certain occupations were so-called Jewish occupations: dying, tanning and goldsmithery. The artisans and merchants prospered and many became wealthy. The status of Jews in this province of southern Spain was never so good and its numbers never as large as in the middle of the eleventh century.” (137) “The Jews of Granada also marketed the rich agricultural products of the Vega plain, engaging especially in the export of an exceptionally fine sugar.” (141)

  • “Within the city of Granada there was a large Jewish community numbering more than five thousand, and it continued to grow as the city itself expanded when it became the capital of the kingdom. (137) “The Jewish area within the walled city was large compared to Jewish quarters in other Spanish cities. It was not merely a neighborhood, it was a true city. Jews made up a large portion of the inhabitants both north and south of the Darro River.” (140) (details street names of Jewish neighborhood)
  • “Besides Granada, the largest Jewish community in the Sinhadja kingdom was that of Lucena. As it had been earlier, this city was a city of Jews, where they could live undisturbed in freedom. Therefore it had an attraction for Jews elsewhere, and from time to time even Jews from northern Spain, which was under Christian rule and whose atmosphere was pervaded by religious fanaticism, came to Lucena to live among their own people. (143)

“The foremost of the scholars of Lucena at that time was r. Isaac B. Judah Ibn Gayyat. He was a member of an old esteemed family in Lucena, as his Arabic name indicate-which he himself sometimes translated into Hebrew, calling himself Ben Moshia. (144) He was also a talented, skilled poet – he wrote very little secular poetry, but his religious poems alone number four hundred, at least. (147)

  • “In the northern province of the kingdom of Granada the largest Jewish community was that of Jaen, which had long been home of one of the important Jewries in the southeast part of the Iberian Peninsula.” (149)
  • “In the time of Samuel halevi there was a Jewish community in the city f Baza. The Jews of Spain, with their special link to the making and merchandising of silk, naturally were to be found in such a silk center. In this small, out-of-the-way city there remains a vestige of the Jewish quarter, located opposite what is now the Santiago Church.” (151)
  • Samuel’s most demanding role was that of the commander of the army. “Even in his sixties he was compelled to go to war, leading the armies of the kingdom, despite the debilitating physical effort that entailed.” (152) Samuel’s last military venture was in Seville. “Some months after his return he became fatally ill. His body was too weak to endure the rigors of war and he had no resistance against disease. He did in the spring of 1056, with his two sons and other members of his family at his bedside.” The thousands of Jews in Spain wailed as they mourned his death. (157)
  • During the Middle Ages, it was custom in both European and Arab countries for sons to inherit their father’s occupation. Despite his youth, Badis appointed Samuel’s eldest son, Joseph, to the position of vizier. “Joseph immediately began to fulfill his duties with devotion and energy; within a short time the king was convinced that he had not made a mistake in his choice.(159)

“Joseph had inherited from his father not only the office of chief vizier of the kingdom of Granada but also the function of the nagid; this made him the secular and spiritual leader of the Jewish communities in the Sinhadja kingdom. “(162) Joseph, like his father would collect taxes, act as rabbi and as teacher. Similarly, Joseph also “extended his aegis to Jewish scholars everywhere, encouraging them to produce literary works and giving them aid. He established contact with the heads of the Talmud schools in North Africa, the Near East, Babylonia, and other countries, and corresponded with the exilarch in Bagdad. (163)

However, Joseph differed from his father in temperament. He was dissatisfied with his home life and bitterness began to take hold in his work life as well. “Joseph’s pride and dissatisfaction impelled him to live like the rich noble who flaunts his wealth and his lofty status – but the splendor merely camouflaged his shaky position at the mercy of a tyrannical ruler and somewhat compensated for his ungratifying home life. Whereas Samuel halevi had lived among his own people in the Jewish section of Granada, Joseph’s residence was on the high hill where the palaces of the Nasrid kings were later erected, the hill of al-hamra.” (165)

Joseph accumulated many enemies and few friends.  One night when Joseph had invited guests over to drink vintage wines, which of course could not be found in Moslem parts of the cities. One guest became so drunk turned to Joseph and asked whether the king was still alive, saying that according to reports Joseph had killed him. All the guests were astounded and openly rebuked him. Running out of Joseph’s home the man then yelled into the streets that the king had been killed by the vizier and that the army of Almeria stood at the gates of the city. (Not all of this was a lie, as Joseph had been planning to overthrow the king with the help of his fellow Jews in several cities. Unfortunately, the rumors about this overthrow were enough to upset Joseph’s guest) The yelling quickly got the attention of neighbors and soon Joseph was fighting for his life. Joseph managed to reach the king and begged him to show himself to the people so that they would know he was alive. The king did so, but the crowds rage quickly turned to curses. Joseph ran and tried to hide from the mob, but in the end he was killed. (188)

When it came to light that Joseph had indeed been planning an overthrow the Jews in many quarters perished. The mob crossed the Darro River and broke in to the Jewish quarters. “The Berbers had their swords; the Andalusians were armed with hammers and axes. A massacre was at hand. (details of atrocities on 189) It seems that Samuel’s efforts to raise the Jewish community up and secure their place in the kingdom was all for naught. His son had managed to undue all the progress obtained in his father’s life time (189).