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Cordoba raised her head above all of whom the venerable Castilian poet thus affectionately sings :
“ Thou flower of wisdom and of chivalry,
Its renown spread through Europe, and, according to Castro, the title of Sapientissimi was given by common consent, at this period, to the Jews of Spain.
Two of the most eminent of the Persian Jews, the Rabbis Moses and Hanoc, were, at this period, brought to the Spanish coast by pirates, and welcomed with great enthusiasm and distinguished patronage by Hakim, the caliph of Cordoba, whose ambition it was to give to the capital of his Caliphate all the renown which literary pre-eminence could confer. Next to Cordoba, Toledo became famous. Barcelona, Granada, and other schools, rose in celebrity, and, with every allowance for the exaggerations of Hebrew writers,t there can be no doubt that the number of Jewish students was immense, and the state of learning as honorable to the benevolent and tolerant spirit of the protecting Mahommedans, as to the industry, penetration, and acquirements, of the protected Jews.
A succession of eminent Hebrew scholars may be traced from the tenth to the fifteenth century. Many of them held the highest offices under the Moorish princes. Samuel Halevi was minister of state to the King of Granada. Under his sanction, the Old Testament was translated into Arabic by Joseph Ben Isaac Ben
*“O flor de saber y cabelleria,
Juan de Mena. + Milekatri, for instance, asserts, that there were twelve thousand Jewish students in the Toledo school.
Schatnez, who, being driven from Babylonia, had sought and found a refuge in Spain. Joseph Halevi, the son of Samuel, succeeded him in his high office; but his zeal for his religion, and his attempts to convert the Moors to Judaism, led to his violent death, and that of many others, at Granada, A.D. 1064.
Time and space would, indeed, fail us, were we to endeavour to enumerate the long calendar of illustrious Hebrew names which grace the literary pages of Spanish history. Of nearly seven hundred different works, some account is given by the industrious De Castro, and, no doubt, under the devastating influence of the Inquisition many besides must have perished. The Spanish Jews, when contemporary Christians were groping in the darkness of superstition and ignorance, enjoyed and improved the sunshine of intellect and knowledge. Poets, orators, philosophers, astronomers, mathematicians, historians, grammarians, and physicians—under each of these heads are recorded a long and distinguished list. It is the boast of one of the greatest of these writers, that not a Jew could be found who did not possess, and who could not read, the Pentateuch. “He is ignorant,” exclaims another, “ of that which is most notorious, who has not heard of the splendor, the glory, and the prosperity in which they lived." It is well known, that there is scarcely an illustrious family in Spain which may not be traced up to Jewish ancestry. Tradition too, faithful to her trust, and sometimes, like the good steward, handing down her "own with interest,” has still preserved, amongst their descendants, those bright recollections and associations which are connected with the Spanish history of the Jews. We have often heard them reverted to with an enthusiasm cherished from generation to generation-even when the dream seemed hopeless that the children of Abenezra, Abengiad, and Maimonides, should ever again visit the land of their fathers. Though all intercourse with Spain had ceased for ages, the language is still preserved, and to this hour employed in part of the service of one or more of our London synagogues. Spain may yet do something to wipe away the enormous stains of guilt which attach to her sons, in the ferocious outrages of which hundreds of thousands of Jews were the victims. Frightful in length, and fearful in amount, is the reckoning she owes to humanity. She has begun to recognize it—May it be paid to the uttermost farthing!
We may perhaps be allowed to say a few words of some of the most eminent of the Spanish Hebrew poets.
Of the eleventh century, R. Solomon Ben Gabriel, born in Malaga, is held to have been one of the restorers of Hebrew literature. He wrote a volume of Exhortations in Hebrew verse; and another of Hebrew hymns, entitled The Crown of the King
dom, which has been more than once reprinted in modern times. He, also, was the author of a collection of the wise sayings of Grecian and Mahommedan philosophers, in Arabic, called a Cabinet of Rubies; besides other works. At the same time, flourished R. Isaac Ben Giath, commonly known by the name of Abengiad, the son of the Joseph Halevi above referred to. On him the title of Rab Nagid was conferred—the head and judge of the Spanish Jews. He wrote, it is said, several languages, and Greek especially, with classical purity. His most renowned compositions are hymns, songs, and short poems, of which a copy of the most celebrated, the Festive Hymn, exists in the Bodleian library.
In the following century flourished Abenezra, to whose name his countrymen have attached the title of Chacam, (the Wise.) His works are voluminous and various; embracing history, philosophy, medicine, grammar, theology, and poetry. He was born at Toledo in 1119. He passed the greater part of his life in travelling for the acquisition of knowledge, and died at Rhodes in 1194. His poetical compositions are, Life to the restored Son-Song for the Soul-On the Kingdom of HeavenOn the Name (of God), and Ground of Fear. The last has been printed both at Constantinople and Venice. He also wrote a poem on the Game of Chess, of which Thomas Hyde published a Latin translation in 8vo. (with the original) at Oxford, in 1694. Moses Ben Maimon (Maimonides) was his contemporary and friend. Of the Jewish writers since the time of Josephus, probably none is so much distinguished as Maimonides. Eichorn seems disposed to give him the very first rank; and Scaliger says of him, “ Primus fuit inter Hebræos qui nugare desiit.” Hebrew, Chaldee, Greek, and Arabic, he employed with equal facility. His writings embrace a singular variety of subjects, and have given birth to some of the best productions of the best of modern Hebrew scholars. Among our countrymen, different parts of his works have been translated by Pococke, Prideaux, and Clavering. He has been eulogized by Selden, and was almost worshipped by Aboab. Justiniani thus writes of him : “Fuit auctor iste candidus, minimeque superstitiosus; plus certe veritati addictus quam næniis importunis neotericorum Judæorum.—Percipies porro illum quæ sunt religionis religiose, quæ philosophica philosophice, quæ Talmudica talmudice: ac demum quæ sunt divina divine tractare.” He died in Egypt, A.D. 70, and was buried in Galilee. The year of his death was long called by the Jews, lamentum lamentabile. Moses Gekatilah, a Jewish poet of Cordoba, living at this period, (of whose compositions in verse nothing has come down to us,) is much celebrated by contemporary writers. To this epoch belongs Benjamin of Tudela, the traveller, of whose Itinerary sixteen editions had been published between 1543 and 1745; we know not how many since. If he really existed and visited the places he speaks of, he must have been a most careless observer. Distances, dates, names, places, and events, are introduced in direst confusion; and yet he has collected together such a variety of circumstances, then hardly accessible to any but an eye-witness, that we cannot throw aside his book as wholly unauthentic.
David Kimki, the renowned Hebrew grammarian; his brother, Moses Kimki; and his father, Joseph Kimki, the poet, whose collection of sacred songs is mentioned by Wolfius; all belong to this period.
In the thirteenth century, a Jew, called Isaac Ben Said, formed the Alfonsine tables, under the patronage of Alonso the Wise. Anbonet Abraham, who was called the Jewish Cicero, lived also at this time. His Bechinad Holam (Examination of the World) is thus spoken of by Buxtorf: “ Liber insignis, tam quoad res, quam quoad verba. Agit de vanitate mundi contemnenda, et quærendo regno Dei. Id verbis tam eloquenter, politè, & doctè effert, ut eloquentissimus habeatur, quisquis stylum ejus imitatur.” Many of his other writings are distinguished for their puerilities. In his Oration, every word begins with M; other poetry there is, of which every verse forms an anagram of his name. He, as well as Abenezra, wrote a poem in praise of the game of chess, which was also translated into Latin by Hyde, though the name of the author was unknown to the Latin translator.
In the fourteenth century, R.Sem Tob de Carrion(a converted Jew) was one of the most distinguished Trobadores of his time. His Dance of Death is introduced by the following prologue:
“ Here begins the general dance, in which it is shown how Death gives advice to all, that they should take due account of the brevity of life, and not to value it more highly than it deserves: and this he orders and requires, that they see and hear attentively what wise preachers tell them and warn them from day to day, giving them good and wholesome counsel, that they labor in doing good works to obtain pardon of their sins, and showing them by experience; who, he says, calls and requires from all classes, whether they come willingly or unwillingly: and thus beginning.”
“ Lo, I am Death—with aim as sure as steady,
Who can escape me when I bend my bow?,
I pull the string-Thou liest in dust below,
Smitten by the barb my minist'ring angels bear me."* The poet goes on through several stanzas like this, and introduces a preacher who gives excellent advice to his hearers, encouraging them to reform their vicious courses, while Death gives authority and strength to his counsel, by telling them, that he shall soon cut the thread of their existence, and thus concludes the prologue:
“ Come to the dance of Death—come hither even
And handed o'er to hopeless reprobation.”+ Death is afterwards introduced, inviting an individual to his dance, who complains bitterly of being introduced into it. Death goes on summoning all ranks, beginning with popes, and descending through cardinals, patriarchs, kings, bishops, prelates, lords, monks, down to shopkeepers and laborers. One stanza is this:
“ I to my dance—my mortal dance-have brought
* « Jo so la muerte cierta a todas criaturas
+“A la dança mortal venit los nascidos