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CURRENT EXHIBITION

Bibliographic exhibition





Presentation

Yosef Caro, Amsterdam, 1698

Arab invaders set foot on the Iberian Peninsula at the beginning of the 8th century AD (between 711 and 726). Little did the Spanish Jews know how upended their world would be for it: they are to extract themselves out of outright oppression and into a regime of freedom unprecedented in centuries.

Those had been times of violent bullying, scapegoating and misery for Spanish Jews. The late Wisigoth kings had stripped them of any right they might have had and coerced them into either converting or leaving the country. Muslim rule would mean the shift from victims of unbridled violence inflicted upon them daily to dhimmia, a status whereby Jews would be required to pay a special tax. The status provided that, as People of the Book, their rights would be protected, as would their freedom of religion (the right to worship their God), judiciary autonomy (the right to rule themselves under separate legal courts), economic freedom (the right to choose any trade to make a living off of), the right to travel unhindered, all within the boundaried of Muslim laws and regulations if and when Jews came to interact with the members of the Umma, a commitment not to abuse the Prophet or to wield any authority over Muslims.

In this new setting, Jews find themselves immersed in a new cultural system, the Arab system. Unquestionably, at the early stages of Muslim rule, Jews suffered the cultural violence of having to give up refrain from using their own language in certain situations and to alter the way they conducted their lives. But soon enough an amicable modus vivendi was struck as the most harmonic chord ever could be. Without ever relinquishing any of their rich cultural heritage, Spanish Jews found ways to weave together the most positive aspects of Arab culture together with their own and uhsered in a golden age of prosperity and creativity that was simply unparalleled in the history of the Jews.

The Arabs’s insistence on everyman’s obligation to master Arabic, a language they deemed holy, backlashed on the Arab masters as it quickened the Jews’ interest in carrying studies of Hebrew as a language, thus serving the dual purpose of honouring a language they deemed holy and heightening the understanding. Never before had the Hebrew language so keenly spurred the Jews’ attraction to it. Those initial studies, in Babli, evidencing significant Arab influence, quickly spawned a trend throughout Europe, much beyond the boundaries of Sefarad, but then of course, the best gramar schools in sefarad, Cordoba, Lucena, Zaragoza, spearheaded it. The schools undertook to explain God’s existence through what could be termed exegetic philosophy. Walking on Arab scholars’s footsteps, Jewish scholars learned to discover and treasure Greek and Latin philosophies which they managed to embed within their ideologogical and theological constructs, thus producing a generous sum of paradigmatical comments on the Scriptures and on rabbinical documents.

But Andalucian Jews did not settle for a mere adaptation of Arab ideology to shape and explain it. They actually absorbed it, making their own and enhancing every single Arab artform from poetry to narrative. They adopted the entire Arab ars poetica: cuantitative metrics, single rhyme poetry, styles and very many others. This new artform shared the scene with traditional biblical or secular formulas, and it gradually found its way into the synagogue. A new world was then born, in which the God of Jews and the Jewish religion at large would be honoured in the most beautiful prayer songs and hymns penned by mortals in styles derived from secular material of Arab origin.

Such good fortune couldn’t have been witnessed, had not the social and economic conditions lent themselves to it. It was extraodinary yet true that the Jews being a minority and the times offering little leeway never cast a shadow on a rich, happy and mutually beneficial coexistence of Jews and non-Jews.

When fanaticism caused socio-economic conditions to change for the worse, Andalucian Jews opted to move to other areas with acceptable living conditions in other Muslim kingdoms or to Christian kingdoms in the northern part of the Peninsula. There, the authorities would no longer view them as the People of the Book but as the murderers of Jesus, son of God. And yet, the religious opression was not so harsh there. They obviously brought along that hybrid Jewish Arab cultura that had made them so unique in the realm of Judaism at large. That culture was to blend into the Christian culture so as to generate novel expressions that were simply unprecedented in Judaîsm, expressions that wove together cultural yarns from the religions of the Book: judaism, christianity and Islam.

Names of places abound to remind us of what world one existed in Sefarad. Such prominent figures of the times as Ibn Gabirol –also known in the Christian world as Avicebrón –, Yehuda ha-Levi or Maimónides survived persecutions and expulsions and live on to this day in the Jewish Sefardic psyche. Their works were published and translated at times much earlier than those of the 19th century rediscovery of the immense worth of the Hispano- Jewish philosophy and litterature, the times when romanticism, nationalism and illustrated Mittel European rationalism bloomed, all soon to be inherited by Leoplod Zunz’s Wissenschaft des Judentums in 1818.

The Authors from Sefarad: The intellectual output of Spanish Jews in the Middle Ages exhibition features a wide selection of Sefarad’s most prominent authors, from the Andalusi area and from Christian kingdoms in the north of the Peninsula as well. Outstanding material such as that which announced a wave of gramatical studies in Sefarad includes Mahberet by Menahem ibn Saruc and the Tesubot (Replies) by his contradicter Dunás ben Labrat. Both are owed to Filipowski and come with translations into English and studies by great researchers such as Dukes and Luzzatto (London/Edinburgh 1854-1855). Those early gramatical Judeo Andalusi works are on display next to a natural complement, the edition of part of the great grammatician Yoná ibn Yanah’s Sefer hahaxua translated into Castillan Spanish, an edition carried out in Cordoba in 1929. In the field of philology, the exhibition also includes Moisés Kimchi y su obra Sekel Tob, Madrid 1920, a thesis presented by F. Javier de Ortueta y Murgoitio at the Universidad Central de Madrid.

The exhibition goes on to honour one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of all times Selomó ibn Gabirol. The books on display perfectly betoken the poet cum philosopher’s body of work with namely the Séfer mibhar hapeninim, a magnificent blend of Middle Eastern wisdom, Jewish wisdom and layman’s wisdom all filtered through the intellect of the malagueño autor, with perfect loyalty to the biblical tradition of Proverbs or the Ecclesiasticus. The edition on display is an early edition that materialized in Venice in 1546. The edition comes with two examples of varying lengths lengths but both do justice to the genius and popularity of Ibn Gabirol. The first is a religious and educative poem Azaharot (the Jewish principles in verses) the other a great hymn sung on Yom Kipur Kéter Maljut (Royal Crown). The times and locations of those editions –Livorno 1837 and Porto 1927– clue us on how popular and widespread Ibn Gabirol’s material was. That material is supplemented with the first translation into Castillan Spanish of his philosophical treatise La fuente de la vida, the trnslation is owed to Federico de Castro y Fernández and was carried out in Madrid in 1900.

Another outstandingly popular Judeo Andalusi philosopher was Bahyá ibn Pacuda, whose treatise Torat Hobat halebabot (The duties of the hearts), is hown in three different editions, carried out in Wien in 1854, Frankfurt a. M 1904/Leiden 1912 and in Warsaw in 1875, which evidences how far beyond the boudaries of Sefarad his work was in demand. The Wien edition is a translation into German, courtesy of Baumgarten, who relied on the translation of the material inot Hebrew by Yehudá ibn Tibón. The Frankfurt /Leiden edition includes the preambles to the treatise, and the Arabic edition of the text. The Warsaw edition includes a translation into Yiddish.

Yehudá Hacohén, Madrid, 1881

Yehudá Haleví, yet another great Judeo Andalusi thinker, is represented with his masterpiece Cuzary in two different versions: the first being a Latin version published in Basilea in 1660 and the latter being published in Madrid in 1910. The latter is a re-edition of the translation carried out by the Portuguese converse who headed the Jewish Spanish Portuguese community in London Jacob Abendana, Cuzary: Diálogo filosófico por Yehudá Ha-Leví (siglo XII) traducido del árabe al hebreo por Yehudá Abentibbon y del hebreo al castellano por R. Jacob Abendana published by don Adolfo Bonilla y San Martín. His vast collection of poems is sampled with a translation into Castillan Spanish by Menéndez y Pelayo: Himno de la creación para Yom Kipur, published in Palma in 1885.

Maimónides is the one autor with the largest number of books on display in this exhibition. Seven pieces of work are shown, the editions of which span four centuries, from the 17th to 20eth. The earlier publicationbs were released in Amsterdam in 1642, De idolatría liber the Tesubot Seelot of 1765 also in Amsterdam. That they were published in Amsterdam shows how influential the Cordovan autor was in the effort to draw back to judaism the community of converts in that area. A later edition is that of Venice in 1795 of the Trattato rituale – morale – toscano del Maimonide. However, even the re-edition on Lisbon in 1925 of the translation into Castillan Spanish of Da Lei Divina by David Cohen de Lara proves the huge influence of Maimónides over the members of the Nação Portuguêsa. One after the other, three different editions of the Guía, (The Guide for the Perplexed), Maimonides cardinal material. The other two versions are the classical translation into French by Munk in 1856 and another released in New York in 1935.

The great leader of Catalan communities Nahmánides is also represented with his Comentario al Pentateuco in a 1839 edition carried out in Pressburg.

Three pieces of work by the Catalan rabbi Selomó ben Adret are shown in this exhibition. The titles, places and times of publication sugget that the editions targetted both the Sefardic and the Ashkenazi communities: the Tesubot seelot were publishe in Bolonia in 1539 whereas the Séfer Torat habáyit haaruj sobre on the laws of homemaking was published in Wien in 1811, at a time when Sefardic printhouses in that city were being operated at full steam. The commentary on Maimonides’s doctrines Tesubot Harasbá ha miyuhasot lehaRamban was published in Warsaw in 1883.

By the Toledo-based Ashkenasi rabbi, Yaacob ben Aser, the exhibition shows the Second Column or Fundamentals of his major piece of work se Arbaa Turim, Tur Yoré deá im perús vehidusé together with a comment by Yosef Caro, in an edition from Berlin in 1702. By the latter, two versions of his biblical comment, one from Amsterdam in 1641 Sulhán aruj mitur Eben haézer and a Ladino version published in Constantinople/Istanbul in 1749. The exhibition also shows Sem Tob ibn Saprut ‘s commentary on biblical legends Séfer Pardés rimonim al hagadot haTalmud in an early edition carried out in Sabbioneta in 1554. Yishac Arama ‘s Séfer Hazut, is shown in two different editions Sabbioneta 1551 and Warsaw 1911.

The field of Jewish mysticism is not left unexplored with an edition of the Zohar, Amsterdam 1805 and with the Séfer Menorat hamaor by Yishac Aboab presented in this exhibition in two different Jewish languages: a Yiddish version (“Con copia en idioma asquenasí”) from 1790 and a Ladino version published by the printing house of the newspaper El Telégrafo de Estambul/Constandina in 1893. Is also featured the Séfer Dérej emuná by Meir ben Gabai, published in Padova in 1562, on the subject of Sefirot.

The exhibition also shows the Ferrara 1556 editions of Kebod Elohim by Yosef ibn Sem Tob, carried out in Abraham Usque’s famed printing house. The autor gives exposure philosophical and religious doctrines developped at a time when the Jewish vs Chrsitian controversies of his lifetime raged, ie the 15th Century.

The Abravanel family is also done justice to with its most representative authors: Yishac Abrabanel with his commentary on Prophets Perús al Nebíim aharonim (Amsterdam, 1641) and Yudá León Abrabanel, León Hebreo, with Dialoghi d'amore, Venice, 1558.

By the Catalan doctor cum translator Jafudá Bonsenyor, two editions of his popular book about moral tenets in Catalan language, the first being Sentències morals, per Jafuda, juheu de Barcelona (segle XIII), Barcelona and the second Llibre de paraules e dits de savis e filosofs: Los proverbis de Salomo, Lo llibre de Cato, Mallorca, both released in 1889. The exhibition also includes a selection of Proverbios morales by Sem Tob de Carrión.

Are also included scientific research material such as Abraham bar Hiyá’s, represented with two bodies of work. The first one is an messianic exegesis effort Meguil.lat hamegal.le (The book of revelations) and the latter Hibur haMesihá vehatisbóret (Treatise on measurements and calculations) were translated inot Catalan by Millás Vallicrosa.

The oldest document exhibited is a treaty on the astrolabe De nativitatibus by Abraham ibn Ezrá, published in Venice in 1484, a few years before the Jews were to be evicted from Sefarad. This authors material comes with his poem about the game of chess, included in Délices royales ou le jeu des échecs son histoire, ses règles et sa valeur morale de Aben-Ezra et Aben Yé’hia, rabbins du xiie siècle; Traduction de l'hébreu par Léon Hollænderski.

The exhibition includes other scientific works such as Jacob Corsuno’s, an autor from Seville, the Catalan version of the canon of astronomy that he contributed to at the completion stage, the Tractat d'astrologia ó sciencia de les steles, compost baix orde del rey en Pere III lo Ceremoniós owed to Pere Gilbert and Dalmau Planas. The Barcelona edition released in 1890 is shown in the exhibition. Another scientific contribution is that of Abraham Zacuto, in the early 20eth century Geneva edition, Almanach perpetuum celestium motuum (radix 1473), Tabulae astronomicae / Raby Abraham Zacuti ...; Canons en espagnol traduction de Joseph Vizinho. — Reproduction fac-similé de l'exemplaire appartenant a la Bibliothèque d'Evora, Édition 1496 Leiria. The translation into Romance language by Yehudá Hacohén (Yehudá Mosca) of Lapidario del Rey D. Alfonso X: Códice original in its original Madrid 1881 edition is also included in the show.

Benjamín de Tudela, Leiden, 1633

Four different versions of the popular Sefer masaot by Benjamín de Tudela are on display. The earliest is the one published in Leiden in 1633, Itinerarium D. Beniaminis cum versione & notis / Constantini l'Empereur. Two more versions were to be published in Amsterdam in 1698 and in 1734, the latter being a translation into French by de J. P. Baratier. The first translation into Castillan Spanish carried out in 1918 by Ignacio González-Llubera is also featured.

Two books of Hispano Jewish narrative are featured: the Catalan version by González-Llubera of the Séfer Saasuim (Llibre d'ensenyaments delectables, Sèfer Xaaixuïm) macama by Ibn Sabara and the early edition (1557 Mantova) of Abraham ibn Hasday’s book Ben hamélej vehanazir.

The show would have been left wanting without the famed chronicles of the expulsión. It features two editions of Selomó ibn Verga’s work. The first is the translation into Castillan Spanish by Francisco Cantera Burgos, Chébet Jehuda (La vara de Judá) de Salomón ben Verga, published in Granada in 1927. The second is one in several Ladino version of that history study Séfer Sébet Yehudá, edited in Thessaloniki in 1850. The other two chronicles are bundled together in one edition carried out under the supervisión of Abraham Torrutiel. That author’s material is presented and so is Yosef ibn Sadiq’s El libro de la Cábala de Abraham ben Salomón de Torrutiel y un fragmento histórico de José ben Zaddic de Arévalo, complete with a translation into Castillan Spanish, preamble and annotations by Francisco Cantera Burgos.

The exhibitions features three volumes of poetry, the most ancient being Treasures of Oxford: Poetical Compositions by the Ancient Jewish Aauthors in Spain, and compiled from Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford Part I/ by H. Edelman and Leopold Dukes; edited and rendered into English by M. H. Bresslau, London, 1851. A second edition in Yiddish was published in New York in 1931. The third one is a Castillan Spanish version of the volume La poesía sagrada hebraicoespañola by José Mª Millás Vallicrosa, Madrid, 1940.

Other works are also featured, namely the 1928 San Sebastian edition of La Biblia de la Casa de Alba, excerpta El Libro de Rut, with comments and annotations from Rabí Mosé Arragel de Guadalajara (1422-1433?) and Las Coplas de Yoçef: A Medieval Spanish Poem in Hebrew Characters, González Llubera, Cambridge, 1935.

This is a most comprehensive and commendable curatorial effort, showcasing the Spanish Jews intelectual output before and after the 1492 Expulsion from Spain. It is most educational on the Hispano Jewish authors survived and thrived even after the catastrophe, in the later phases of Judaism. The exhibition proves the remarkable articulateness of our authors who penned their material In Hebrew, but also in Arabic, in Aramaic and in other Latin-based languages spoke in the Iberian península, such as Catalan or Castilan Spanish. Many of those Works were translated into other Jewish languages such as Judeo Spanish or Yiddish, highlighting the pregnance and endurance of Jewish cultura birthed in Sefarad in the remotest corners and most varied circles of the Jewish world.

María-José Cano
Tenured Professor at the Universidad de Granada