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Judeo-Arabic Literature

JUDEO-ARABIC LITERATURE, written in Arabic by Jews for Jews. It is written in an idiom which is linguistically closer to the spoken form of Arabic than is the idiom used in Muslim literature. It may plausibly be assumed that, prior to the rise of Islam in the early seventh century, the Jews who lived in the Arabian peninsula spoke Arabic and belonged to the more or less cultivated class, which may have included some writers. If this is so, almost nothing of their works has survived. The one Jewish poet whose work is extant, *Samuel ibn Adiya, can be distinguished so little from his non-Jewish colleagues in theme, imagery, and style, that only history has preserved the knowledge of his Jewish identity. The writings of *Muhammad, which contain a considerable amount of biblical and midrashic material, suggest that the Torah and the Midrash were studied during the period, but concrete testimony is wanting.

The remarkable spread of Muslim domination over vast territories in Southwest Asia, North Africa, and *Spain, and the diffusion of Arabic in these areas, did not leave the Jews unaffected. It may be surmised that Arabic gradually displaced the Aramaic vernacular, initially in the larger centers, and that the Jewish population began to use it in its everyday intercourse from about the eighth century. The more inquiring Jews also began to acquire a knowledge of Arabic literature and science, which were undergoing a tremendous growth as a result of the large number of Greek, Syriac, Pahlavi, and Hindi works that had been translated into Arabic. The language became a storehouse for much of the world's knowledge and learning, and there was an upsurge of writing in Arabic on subjects which originated in other cultures. The participation of non-Arab Muslims and of other minorities in this activity was very great, and it likewise stimulated an intensive study of the imported learning among interested Jews. From the eighth century onward, there appeared in the Jewish communities under Muslim rule men who presumably received a traditional education, but who also turned their attention to the recently developed or rediscovered areas of secular studies. They took a particular interest in medicine, mathematics, astrology and astronomy, and philosophy and theology. Of equal importance with their pursuit of these studies was the influence this acquaintance with foreign lore had on their understanding of their Jewish heritage. Not only did they introduce into Jewish culture the investigation of theology, secular Hebrew prose and poetry, Hebrew grammar and lexicography, they also subjected traditional areas to the rationalism and orderliness which they acquired from their excursions into foreign fields. In the biblical commentaries of the time, in the compilations of talmudic law and the expositions on diverse topics particularly relevant to the Jewish world, a novel organization and presentation of the material can be discerned. With the exception of certain *Karaite circles around 1000 C.E., Jews wrote Arabic in Hebrew characters. In the first millennium two methods of transcription into Hebrew characters developed, one phonetic, the other mostly imitating the Arabic spelling. At the beginning of the second millennium, this second way of transcription prevailed (see J. Blau and S. Hopkins, Zeitschrift fuer arabische Linguistik, 1984, 9–27).

The East

Just as the Muslims of Spain for a time looked to the East for learning, and for scholars and literary personalities, so in Judeo-Arabic letters it was *Babylonia, *Palestine, and *Egypt, the ancient centers of Jewish cultural activity, which were the first to flourish. Mashallah (770–820) of Egypt was an astrologer and astronomer of note who is credited with a considerable number of works on astronomical phenomena. Māsarjawayh of *Basra (late 9th cent.) was among the first to translate medical works into Arabic, among them the Pandect in Syriac of the archdeacon Ahron. Māsarjawayh probably also wrote original works, since Uṣaybiʿa, the historian of medicine, states that the quotations from "the Jew" in the encyclopedic al-Ḥāwī by the celebrated physician al-Rāzī are taken from his writings. Isaac b. Solomon *Israeli (c. 850–950), of Egypt and, later, *Kairouan, established a reputation as a philosopher and medical scholar. His writings include Kitāb al-Ḥudūd wa al-Rusūm ("The Book of Definitions and Descriptions"), an explanation of logical and philosophical terms; al-Ustuqṣāt ("The Elements"), a treatise on the components of the physical world, based on the works of Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen; a study of the nature and value of different foods (Fı Ṭabāʿī al-Aghdhiya wa-Quwāhā); a study of the knowledge of urine and its components (Fi Maʿrifat al-Bawl wa-Aqsāmuhu); an introduction to the study of medicine (al-Madkhal ilā ṣināʿat at-Ṭibb); an introduction to logic (al-Madkhal ilā-al-Manṭiq); an essay regarding philosophy (Fi Ḥikma); and commentary on the Sefer *Yeẓirah.

*Saadiah b. Joseph Gaon (882–942) left his native Egypt and traveled through Palestine to Babylonia, where he was appointed gaon of the Academy of Sura. Possessing encyclopedic knowledge and capable of enormous productivity, he wrote works which include a translation of the Bible into Arabic, a long and a short commentary on the Pentateuch, and comments on and introductions to other books of the Bible. He codified the laws relating to such topics as inheritance, trusts, and oaths. In addition, he compiled a list of *hapax legomena in the Bible, which he sought to explain with the aid of rabbinic Hebrew, a Hebrew grammar, and a rhyming dictionary. In expounding the Sefer Yeẓirah, a theosophical tract, Saadiah attempted to interpret it as a philosophical monograph. He also wrote a theological work, the Kitāb al-Amānāt wa-al-Iʿtiqādāt, made great contributions to liturgy and chronology, and composed polemics against the *Karaites and other heretics. His vigorous attack on the Karaites roused their anger, and he was designated their arch-enemy. He also encountered criticism from the Rabbanite R. Mevasser ha-Levi, who raised objections to explanations of rulings in his works, either because they did not agree with tradition or because they appeared to contradict a previous statement of the author. David ibn Marwān *Al-Mukammiṣ, a contemporary of Saadiah who converted to Christianity and subsequently returned to Judaism, wrote the theological treatise, ʿlshrūn Maqālā ("Twenty Tracts"; S. Stroumsa's edition, 1989). The work deals with the attributes of God, and, in accordance with the Mu'tazilite view, regards them as aspects of His essence.

R. Samuel b. Hophni (d. 1013), who was a gaon in the Academy of Sura, devoted all his writings to the exposition of traditional Jewish lore. However, the influence of Arabic literature and theology is very evident in his works. More verbose than Saadiah, Samuel supplied commentaries on those parts of the Torah which the former did not annotate, as well as on Ecclesiastes and on some of the Later Prophets. He did not hesitate to include an excursus on any subject related to his theme, for example, his digression on dreams in general after having dealt with the dreams of Pharaoh. He produced a refutation of the doctrine held by Muslim theologians that God would void His revelation to Moses in favor of one to be revealed later. His major work, however, was on the Talmud, to which he wrote an introduction, and he compiled monographs on various topics in Jewish law, such as ritual slaughter, benedictions, partnership, and gifts. As with Saadiah, what distinguishes Samuel's writings is his systematic organization and treatment: in each case, he provides an introduction and a table of contents, and he divides his material into chapters with headings summarizing what is to be dealt with. His son-in-law, *Hai b. Sherira Gaon (939–1038), wrote both in Hebrew and in Arabic. His well-known work Purchase and Sale is in Arabic, as is his monograph Oaths and a number of other writings. Although his responsa were generally in Hebrew, they were written in Arabic when the inquiry was written in that language. Of particular interest is his glossary of difficult words in the Bible and Talmud, al-Ḥāwī ("The Comprehender"), which works on the basis of triliteral roots. The glossary was used in Spain and was directly consulted until at least the end of the 11th century. Of the writings of Hai's father, *Sherira b. Ḥanina Gaon, only one responsum is a manifest translation from Arabic, and although it is said that he wrote halakhic works in that language, nothing has survived. But he did use Arabic in the course of his Hebrew and Aramaic writings.

*Ḥefeẓ b. Yaẓli'aḥ (late 10th or early 11th cent.) was the author of Sefer ha-Miẓvot, a work which enumerated and discussed in detail the 613 commandments of Jewish law (edited and translated by B. Halper, A Volume of the Book of Precepts by Ḥefeṣ b. Yaṣli'aḥ (Philadelphia 1915); appendices by S. Asaf, Tarbiz 15 (1954), and M. Zucker, Proceedings etc. 29 (1960–61), Ha-Do'ar, 23 (1963; reprinted by Zion, Tel Aviv, 1972). He began every elucidation with either "It is commanded" or "It is required," in the case of positive precepts, and "It is prohibited" in the case of negative commandments. First the biblical law is summarized, and then follows the rabbinic expansion and ramification. His work was used by scholars who read or wrote Arabic, among them *Maimonides; but since it was not translated into Hebrew, later citations are secondary. Moreover, only a relatively small part of what must have been a large work has so far come to light; from the table of contents of the extant section only an idea of the probable extent of the entire production can be formed.

The Karaites

Although they adopted an antagonistic stance toward rabbinic traditions and initially asserted every individual's right, nay duty, to make his own intensive study of the Holy Scriptures, the Karaites gradually restricted this prerogative to the learned, whose conclusions were then followed by the masses. Originating in the eighth century, the movement's earlier leaders – first as Ananites led by *Anan b. David, and in the middle of the ninth century as Karaites, led by Benjamin b. Moses *Al-Nahawendi, and afterwards by Daniel b. Moses *Al-Qūmisī – used Aramaic or Hebrew in their writings. But as Arabic came into wider use, Karaite writers began to adopt it as their means of communication. Among the more renowned was *David b. Boaz (c. 930), a descendant of the movement's founder, Anan, who translated the Pentateuch into Arabic and also wrote a commentary on it. *Salmon b. Jeroham, one of the most vitriolic opponents of Saadiah, wrote a polemic in Hebrew against the Gaon which, following the manner of the time, heaped abuse on him as part of the attack. His outlook was in general narrow and partisan, and he was also opposed to the pursuit of secular studies. In Arabic he composed commentaries on the Five Scrolls and also on the Psalms. Jacob *Al-Qirqisānī (c. 930) produced a large work, al-Anwār wa al-Marāqib ("The Lights and the Lookouts"), which is in the main an exposition of Karaite beliefs and laws and a somewhat polemical defense of them against criticism from the ranks of the Rabbanites and from fellow Karaites. In addition, the book contains a historical survey of the Jews and Karaites, as well as of heretical sects, which is highly esteemed by modern scholars, particularly for its information about the early divisions among the Karaites and the attitudes toward Anan of his immediate successors. Qirqisānī also wrote a commentary on the book of Genesis, which makes extensive use of Saadiah's interpretations. In the field of Bible study, *Japheth b. Eli ha-Levi holds a high place. He lived in Jerusalem, where the Karaites had established a community in 950–980. He translated the Bible into Arabic, much more literally and unidiomatically than Saadiah, and wrote extensive commentaries which contain a considerable amount of grammatical analysis. He tended toward making as much of the text as he could contemporary in application; this is particularly true of his explanation of Daniel. He made attacks upon Saadiah, Christianity, and Islam; and he is also credited with the authorship of a polemical tract directed against Jacob b. Ephraim, a disciple of Saadiah. His son, *Levi b. Japheth (Abu Saʿid), was likewise a writer. Levi's most important work, a book on the precepts called Sefer ha-Mitzvot in its Hebrew translation, was completed in 1007 and is a codification of Karaite halakhah. It deals with such topics as the calendar, the nazirite prayer, and civil law, and it is cited by many later Karaites. He may also have composed commentaries on the Early Prophets and on the Psalms.

David b. Abraham *Alfasi (second half of 10th cent.) compiled a dictionary of the Bible in 22 parts corresponding to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The various usages of a word are cited, and every entry is translated into Arabic. He refers to Onkelos and Jonathan b. Uzziel, the Aramaic versions of the Bible, and also to the Mishnah, the Talmud, the masorah, and even the Rabbanite prayerbook. He occasionally compares the vocable with Arabic, Aramaic, and mishnaic Hebrew. *Abu al-Faraj Hārūn ibn al-Faraj (c. 1000–1050), who lived in Jerusalem, wrote a grammar of Hebrew called al-Mushtamil ("The Encompasser"), which he completed in 1007. It consisted of seven parts and dealt with the manifold aspects of the language. He utilized his knowledge of Arabic and Aramaic for comparison and elucidation. Abu al-Faraj, when giving paradigms of the Hebrew verb, started from the infinitive and showed the difference in the use of this form in Hebrew and Arabic; he also discussed Hebrew particles and syntax. His work was known in Spain and is cited by Jonah *Ibn Janāḥ, and Moses and Abraham *Ibn Ezra. An epitome of the Mushtamil, which was probably intended as an appendix, also exists; this may explain why Abraham ibn Ezra speaks of the book as having eight parts. Joseph b. Abraham al-*Baṣīr (called the Seer, a euphemism for "the Blind") was a widely traveled theologian, a polyglot, and a student of Rabbanite lore. He was held in high esteem by the Karaites as a religious authority. His works include al-Muḥtawi ("The Compendium," or, in Hebrew, Sefer Ne'mot), a theological study which reveals deep Muʿtazilite influence. Consisting of 40 chapters, the book presents a Karaite adaptation of the kalām doctrines, as well as polemics against Christians and pagans. He also left an epitome of his major work, al-Tamyīz, and a book on inheritance and on ritual cleanliness, al-Istibṣār ("Investigation"). His pupil Joshua b. Judah Abu-l-Faraj Furqān ibn Asad (c. 1050–1080) is known as the teacher par excellence. He made an Arabic translation of the Torah together with a commentary on it, which were completed about 1050. His detailed commentary on the Decalogue is available only in the Hebrew translation, which covers only the first four commandments. He also produced Bereshit Rabbati, philosophic homilies on Genesis, partially translated into Hebrew. His most important work is on the precepts and is called Sefer ha-Yashar. Because of the comparative relaxation of the strict system of relationships (rikkūb) which prevailed among the Karaites, the best-known section of the book is on incestuous marriages. He defends his personal views, arguing with his Karaite predecessors and criticizing Halakhot Gedolot and the Hilkhot Re'u, compilations of Rabbanite law.

The West

The Jewish communities of North Africa and *Spain were as influenced by the Islamic-Arabic environment in which they existed as were their brethren in the East. Although the Jews in those lands (as the Muslims) were for a considerable time pupils of their coreligionists in *Iraq, Palestine, and Egypt, some of them began to write books at about the same time as the Jews in the East. Abu Sahl *Dunash ibn Tamim (10th cent.) was a grammarian, theologian, astronomer, and physician. His work on grammar, of which a small fragment may have been found, is cited by several Spanish Jewish writers. He appears to have undertaken a comparative study of the cognate Semitic languages, lexical rather than morphological; he believed Hebrew to be the mother of Semitic languages, and therefore Arabic to be only a derivative of Hebrew. In his work on astronomy he included a critique of astrology for the Fatimid Imam Manṣūr Isma'il, and in another study on the same topic he answered the inquiries of *Hisdai ibn Shaprut. There is also mention of works on philosophy and medicine. It is not clear whether his commentary on the Sefer Yeẓirah is a revision and editing of Isaac *Israeli's commentary or an entirely independent study. Judah *Ibn Quraysh of Tahert in Morocco (first half of tenth century) was the physician of the emir of Fez. He knew *Eldad ha-Dāni, the self-styled traveler from a distant Jewish land, and believed in his account. His work, called Risāla (Epistle; ed. D. Becker, 1984), or possibly Av va-Em after the first vocables, is an attempt at comparative linguistics. He states that he composed it in order to rebuke his fellow Jews for neglecting the reading of the Aramaic version of the Torah, which he believed important for the knowledge of Hebrew. In the first of the three parts of the book he compares Aramaic and biblical Hebrew words in alphabetical order; in the second he does the same with Aramaic and Hebrew words in the Mishnah and the Talmud. The final section deals with Arabic and biblical Hebrew.

Talmudic studies flourished in North Africa in the 10th and 11th centuries. One scholar writing in Arabic was *Nissim b. Jacob ben Nissim of Kairouan (c. 990–1060), who headed a school in his native city. His works (a discussion and selections in S. Abramson, Rav Nissim Ga'on; Heb., 1965) in chronological order are: Ha-Mafte'aḥ she-le-Manulei ha-Talmud ("The Keys to the Locks of the Talmud"), in Arabic, which apparently covered the entire Babylonian Talmud, although only parts of it have so far come to light; comments on the Talmud in Arabic and Hebrew, of which some portions are known and more are being discovered; Piskei Halakhot ("Legal Decisions"), in Arabic, fragments of which have been discovered; Megillat Setarim ("Scroll of Secrets"), a collection of explanations on difficult passages in the Talmud and on sundry religious topics; and al-Faraj baʿd al-Shidda ("Relief After Distress"; in Hebrew, Ḥibbur Yafeh me-ha-Yeshu'ah), a book of consolation, a genre current in classical Arabic literature, made up of stories written to bring comfort, faith, and acceptance of God's judgment. This last work has appeared both in Hebrew and in its Arabic original, but it is not yet clear what the author's form and arrangement were.

Jewish works of importance written in Arabic were far more abundant in Muslim Spain than in the East. Among the men who were primarily grammarians and only incidentally biblical exegetes, two names are distinguished. The first, Judah b. David *Ḥayyuj (10th–11th cent.), a native of Fez who died in Spain, devoted two works to the geminated verbs and the verbs with weak letters in their roots. He established the principle that all Hebrew verb-roots, regardless of what happens to them in inflection, consist of three letters; and in this manner he worked out the rules which govern the classes of weak verbs. He also compiled a book of random comments on the books of the Bible, parts of which have been found and published. The second name of importance is Ḥayyuj's outstanding disciple, Jonah *Ibn Janāḥ (first half 11th cent.), who compiled a comprehensive work, al-Tanqīḥ ("Polishing"), consisting of a grammar and a lexicon. The former, called al-Lumaʿ ("Brightness"; in Hebrew, Ha-Rikmah), is a presentation of the rules of Hebrew grammar and their exceptions. The lexicon, which consists of the Hebrew roots, gives their definition, together with examples from the Bible, to illustrate their secondary and tertiary meanings as well as their most common usage. He also composed three smaller works which examine and explain the classes of weak verbs. As a result of culling illustrations from the Bible, his writings contain considerable exegetical material.

Moses b. Samuel ha-Kohen ibn *Gikatilla (11th cent.) occupies a prominent place among biblical commentators who used Arabic. A native of Cordoba who lived in Saragossa, he produced commentaries on most of the books of the Bible, which unfortunately have been lost, with the exception of part of his commentary on the Book of Psalms. However, many of his views are known from extracts quoted in the writings of others, notably of his critic Judah b. Samuel *Ibn Bal'am, who condemned him for his "radical" views on the messianic prophecies. Ibn Gikatilla interpreted these prophecies as predictions of events to take place soon after they were uttered, and he also made efforts to explain miracles rationally. Another work, his short grammatical treatise on gender in Hebrew, is extant. Ibn Bal'am, Ibn Gikatilla's younger contemporary, whose exegetical work has survived, was an eclectic commentator who frequently made use of the works of others. True to the practice of the time, he mentions authors only when he disagrees with them. He charges both Saadiah and Ibn Gikatilla with violating Arabic usage in their translations, and occasionally finds fault even with his master, Ibn Janāḥ. In the field of grammar, he compiled a list of Hebrew particles and their uses, a list of homonyms with their different meanings, and a list of verbs derived from nouns. He is known to have had a remarkably good memory and a very sour disposition.

While many halakhic responsa by Spanish Jews were penned in Arabic, legal compilations were composed in Hebrew or hebraized Aramaic. Even Maimonides, who wrote most of his works in Arabic, turned to Hebrew for his magnum opus, the compendium of Jewish law entitled Mishneh Torah or Ha-Ḥibbur. However, as an aid to making his great compilation well-arranged and complete, he prepared in Arabic a list of the 613 commandments before embarking upon his enterprise. He provided this propaedeutic because he had his own ideas, which differed from those of his predecessors, on the nature of the laws which ought to be included in the 613. He insisted, for example, on the need to distinguish between a biblical and a rabbinic prescription and to exclude general admonitions, such as "Be ye holy." By laying down these principles of selection he hoped to establish an unchallengeable list, a hope that was not fulfilled.

Both Maimonides and his father wrote epistles in Arabic. The latter addressed a letter of comfort to the Jews in North Africa who were victims of religious persecution by the Almohads, a fanatical Muslim movement preached by Ibn Tūmart and adopted by a Berber tribe. The letter seeks to fortify the Jews with the faith that God will not forsake them and that the promises of reward to the righteous will be realized. Maimonides himself discussed the same persecution, but in a much more pragmatic fashion. His missive is in fact in response to a question asked of him by a North African crypto-Jew, who had been told by a local rabbi that his secret practice of Judaism was of no use, since he was outwardly a Muslim. Maimonides refutes the rabbi's ruling, adding, however, an analysis of the talmudic principle that certain demands made by persecutors should not be acceded to, even if the consequence is martyrdom. He exhorts Jews in the same position as the inquirer to leave the locale where the oppression exists, or, if this is too difficult, to practice Jewish law as much as possible without endangering their lives. A second letter, Iggeret Teiman, deals with the religious persecution in that country in 1172, which was complicated by the rise of a pseudo-Messiah who promised imminent salvation and the return to Zion. Maimonides offers consolation, and gives warning against the readiness to believe in the pseudo-Messiah out of despair. He also wrote the monograph Resurrection, the object of which was to refute accusations that he did not believe the dead would eventually return to life. His refutation was that, since he included this hope as one of the 13 articles of the Jewish faith, it was unnecessary to repeat it; and his failure to discuss resurrection in other appropriate places was due to the distinction between rational doctrines and those accepted on faith.

A unique volume in Arabic was composed by the celebrated poet Moses b. Jacob ibn Ezra. It is a study of the art of Hebrew, especially biblical poetry, called Kitāb al-Muḥāḍara wa al-Mudhākara, but it is in fact much more than that, for it also contains a brief history, and occasionally characterizations, of the literary figures who flourished in Spain, a disquisition on the composition of poetry in sleep, and an explanation of why the Arabs excel in poetic composition. The whole work is presented in the style of adab, a popular Arabic genre in which the author enjoyed the freedom to digress on any subject. The digression was accompanied by an occasional reminder that it was time to return to the major theme.

Religious Philosophy and Theology

These subjects were cultivated more actively in Muslim Spain than in the East; but like most other cultural activities, they flourished initially in the Levant. Ibn Mukammiṣ has been discussed above. Saadiah's Emunot ve-De'ot, though not blindly following Mu'tazilite thought, was nonetheless considerably influenced by it. In general he used reason to buttress the accepted articles of the Jewish faith. With the exception of *Baḥya b. Joseph ibn Paquda (11th cent.), who in the first chapter of his Ḥovot ha-Levavot gives a brief resume of a theological position deriving from Saadiah, the works of the other great Spanish Jewish thinkers show that they were under the influence of Plato and Aristotle, or a combination of the latter and neoplatonism. The most philosophic of the group, Solomon b. Judah ibn *Gabirol (1021–1058), was drawn to the views of the Muslim thinker Ibn Masarra (883–931), who was strongly influenced by pseudo-Empedocles and who taught the doctrine of universal matter and universal soul. Basing his philosophy on the Aristotelian principles of matter and form, Ibn Gabirol in his writings cited no passage from biblical or rabbinic sources and made no reference to the Jewish tradition. He did not treat matter and form as opposite ends of being, rather he defined matter as the substrate, common to all being, and form as the differentiating principle which gives individuality to every existent. He regarded matter and form as the universal constituent factors in every object, from the lowest species to the highest intellectual being, and he ascribed the appearance of corporeality to some quality in matter which gives it body. In Ibn Gabirol's view, since matter is the subject, it is logically prior to form, which specifies it; nevertheless, both universal matter and universal form are the sources of all being. The beginning of the world, the first cause, was God's Will, which is intermediate between Infinite God and the universe. Ibn Gabirol did not, however, define God's Will with sufficient clarity to make it plainly comprehensible, and his philosophy did not win favor among Jews. Although neglected by Jewish theologians, it was adopted by some Christian thinkers, and it subsequently exerted considerable influence on the Kabbalah.

As stated above, Baḥya ibn Paquda (11th–12th century) employed the reasoning of kalām to prove the existence and oneness of God. But these issues were not his primary concern, they were merely the first requirement of the correct attitude to be taken toward God.

Baḥya's real interest was in emphasizing the duties of the heart (the title of his book), the state of mind and of emotion prerequisite to the true performance of the practical religious precepts. He feels doubly impelled to undertake this task, first because among the community in general performance of ritual acts is the backbone of Judaism, and, secondly because concern with the approved manner of practice occupies the time and mind of the learned. Essentially, Baḥya preached the inward experience of faith: trust, humility, asceticism, repentance, and self-examination. His book, therefore, may be regarded as a guide which, though written about Judaism for Jews and replete with quotations from the Bible and the Talmud, actually belongs to the sphere of religion in general; and for this reason Baḥya does not hesitate to adduce proofs from outside sources. Of all the religious literature produced in the Islamic world, his work was probably the best known and most widely studied among Jews. The monograph Maʿanī al-Nafs ("Matters of the Soul") falsely ascribed to him, although probably dating from the same period, deals primarily with the fate and duty of the human soul from the time it separates from its source to join the body until it is once again free to return to its original home. In the course of this exposition, the author also gives his views on the emanation and creation of the world, its constituent factors, and other religious and philosophical issues.

Joseph ibn *Ẓaddik (d. 1149) wrote his Olam Katan (Microcosm) as a guide to help man gain, through introspection and self-analysis, the necessary knowledge of the world, its Maker, the human soul, and the ethical life. This short tract is not endowed with originality, following neoplatonism in its psychology, Aristotelianism in its physics, and kalām in its proof of the existence of God. A far better known poet and literary figure, Moses ibn Ezra, mentioned above, is the author of Kitāb al-Ḥadīqa fi maʿnā al-majāz wa al-ḥaqīqa ("The Garden of the Subject of Metaphor and Reality"; in Hebrew, Arugat ha-Bosem), a semiphilosophical study in which there is the usual discussion of God and His attributes, and man and his psychology, but in addition there is much attention given to metaphor in the Bible.

The well-known poet *Judah Halevi (1080–1141) was also the author of a philosophical work which was unique in its time among the books in this field. Its title, Kitāb al-Ḥujja wa al-Dalīl fi Naṣr al-Dīn al-Dhalīl ("The Book of the Argument and the Proof in Defense of the Despised Faith" (crit. ed. D.H. Banett, prepared for publication by H. Ben-Shammai, Jerusalem 1977), popularly called Sefer ha-Kuzari, indicates that it was produced in defense of the Jewish religion, which, the author says, was held in low esteem by the Gentiles. Although critical of philosophy, Judah Halevi is not, like the extremely orthodox, against it; in fact, in his discussion of ethics and of God's uniqueness, he concedes the correctness of the philosophic approach. However, he criticizes metaphysics on the grounds that it simply cannot attain to the ultimate truths, but nevertheless pretends that its conclusions are totally valid. Because their revelation is historically attested, the Jewish Scriptures and tradition are the only unimpeachable sources for the essential truths. The revealed source teaches that man's highest attainment is the gift of prophecy, a gift reserved for the people of Israel in Ereẓ Israel. The Jew receives this gift when he lives in full accord with the Law revealed to Moses. Halevi makes the interesting point that the essence of Judaism is not found in the prescriptions which are rational and apprehensible by human reason, but in the irrational precepts known to us only because they were revealed. He thus demonstrates that the Jewish tradition contains not only the basic truths but also the highest good. The book is written in the form of a dialogue between the author and the king of the Khazars, who wanted to learn about the Jewish faith. It is interesting, although not surprising, that this spokesman for Judaism concludes his discussion by announcing his decision to settle in Ereẓ Israel, which he in fact did, as we know from his poetry. Abraham *Ibn Daud (d. c. 1180), the compiler of an original history of the Jewish tradition, was the first Jewish thinker in Spain to attempt a fusion of the doctrines of the Jewish faith with Aristotelian philosophy (the latter, it must be remembered, was suffused with the neoplatonic system of emanations). Ibn Daud did not examine all theological issues, but he provided summaries of topics such as proofs of the existence of God, the Creation, the Revelation, immortality, and providence. His work, Sefer ha-Emunah ha-Ramah, was apparently disregarded in favor of Maimonides' celebrated synthesis; its Arabic original is unknown, and the two translations into Hebrew, one of them published in 1852, were both prepared in the late 14th century.

As stated above, Maimonides (1135–1204) wrote most of his works in Arabic. Of these the most celebrated is his Guide of the Perplexed (Moreh Nevukhim), a philosophical analysis of Jewish law and theology. Believing like many others that revealed truth and philosophical conclusions reach one and the same end, he proposed to establish the principles of Jewish theology according to doctrines of Aristotelian philosophy, which he accepted as the valid interpretation of the sublunar cosmic process. On this basis he discusses the person of God, the Creation, prophecy, providence, the afterlife, and the content and purpose of the revealed law. In order to anchor his philosophy in Jewish doctrine, he used proof texts from the Bible and traditional Jewish sources. The Guide became the most important philosophic work in the Jewish world. Its Hebrew translation had been eagerly awaited by admirers of his earlier works. Two Hebrew renderings, almost simultaneously produced, became available, one by Samuel ibn Tibbon, and the other by Judah b. Solomon *Al-Ḥarizi. The former has always been treated as the authentic and reliable version, although it was severely criticized by Shem Tov b. Joseph *Falaquera, one of the early commentators on the work. In modern times the work has been translated again into Hebrew, by Rabbi J. Kafih, and more recently by Prof. M. Schwartz, who produced a brilliant critical edition (Maimonides: The Guide of the Perplexed, Tel Aviv, 2002).

The Guide's popularity resulted in two contrary developments. For many it became the basic text, the authoritative reconciliation between the two sources of the one truth, so that the philosophically-minded in subsequent centuries invariably took it as their point of departure for commentary, summary, or controversy. At the same time, there were scholars who were wary of the intrusion of philosophical reflection into the religious sphere, because they sensed that reconciliation meant setting up philosophy as the judge of what in religion could be maintained, and what had to be interpreted, no matter how far the interpretation carried it from its literal meaning. Even students who were not particularly interested in philosophical speculations were compelled to confront it since Maimonides introduced a number of philosophical concepts into the first of the 14 books of his legal compendium. This alignment of admirers and antagonists led to serious conflict in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Joseph b. Judah ibn *Aknin (c. 1150–1220), a contemporary and friend of Maimonides, settled in Fez after his departure from his native Spain. By his own admission he lived there as a crypto-Jew, although his energetic literary activity seems to show that his private life did not suffer any interference. Save for his commentary on Avot, which was originally in Hebrew, his other writings were probably all in Arabic, although there is naturally uncertainty in the case of those of his writings which are no longer extant. Of his surviving works, Ṭibb al-Nufūs al-Salīma … ("Medicine for Healthy Souls…"), is an ethical treatise which includes a chapter on the soul and its needs and destiny. The book also contains chapters on friendship, speech and silence, keeping a secret, lying, food and drink, and asceticism. In every chapter there is an exposition, followed by relevant rabbinical sayings and epigrams culled from Arabic anthologies. The work is concluded by a chapter on persecutions, and Jewish behavior in relation to them, and a chapter on repentance. A threefold commentary on the Song of Songs, dealing with the plain meaning, the rabbinic elaboration, and a philosophical-psychological interpretation, which Joseph claimed to be an original contribution, has the distinction of providing an explanation of every word in the Scroll. He wrote an Introduction to the Talmud (Mevo ha-Talmud) and a tract on quantities and measurements in Jewish literature. An as yet undiscovered compilation, Ḥukkim u-Mishpatim, may have resembled the legal compendium of Maimonides, and his Risālat al-Ibāna fi Uṣūl al-Diyāna ("A Religious Clarification of Religious Fundamentals") was apparently theological in character.

From the 13th Century

In Judeo-Arabic literature, in both Spain and the Middle East, the 13th century marks a division between what preceded it and what followed. In Spain, Christendom's final victory over Islamic power in 1212 led to the gradual elimination of Arabic from Jewish life in favor of the Romance languages in daily intercourse, and of Hebrew in writing. During the 11th and 12th centuries, the continuous shift of the Jewish population from Andalusia to Christian territory, where Arabic had never been the dominant language, accelerated the abandonment of Arabic. However, knowledge of the language remained essential for the translation of texts on philosophy and logic, medicine, mathematics, and astronomy into Hebrew, Latin, and Spanish. It was at this time that the cultural heritage which originated in the East and was enriched during the period of Islamic ascendency was transmitted to the West. Among the authors who continued to write in Arabic, Judah b. Solomon ibn *Matkah (13th cent.), who corresponded with Emperor Frederick II of Sicily, compiled an encyclopedia of logic, physics, and metaphysics, which he translated into Hebrew under the title Midrash ha-Ḥokhmah. He also produced Mishpetei ha-Kokhavim, a digest of Ptolemy's astronomical Almagest. Joseph b. Isaac Israeli of Toledo (d. 1331) wrote a compendium on astronomy which was based on his father's well-known monograph, Yesod Olam. Samuel ibn Waqār, the personal physician of Alfonso XI of Castile, may have been the author of the medical work "Castilian Royal Medicine" (1376). Solomon b. Ya'īsh (d. 1345) composed a supercommentary on Abraham ibn Ezra's commentary to the Pentateuch, as well as a six-volume commentary on Avicenna's Canon, which remained the standard medical text for centuries. In the field of theology, Moses ibn Crispin Cohen, who in 1336 left his native Cordoba to settle in Toledo, composed a tract on providence and the afterlife. Joseph b. Abraham *Ibn Waqār (14th cent.), a philosopher and kabbalist, also wrote a book on theological matters, for which only a Hebrew title, Ma'amar ha-Kolel, is suggested by the name of one of the two extant translations. Judah b. Nissim *Malkah (14th cent.) of North Africa was a neoplatonist who wrote a tripartite work in the spirit of that philosophy; the first two sections were a commentary on the Sefer Yeẓirah, the former being an introduction to the theosophic booklet, Uns al-Gharīb ("Consolation of the Foreigner," i.e., man's soul on earth) and the latter was on the Midrash Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer.

The composition of works in Arabic by Jews was much more prevalent in the East, where Arabic continued to be used as the spoken language. However, the general reaction against foreign influences, which gradually eliminated from Muslim intellectual life the variety of interests that had attracted earlier generations, also affected Jewish literary productivity. There was a marked decline in the pursuit of secular subjects, with the exception of medicine; and studies in humanistic areas became confined to theological and ritual topics. Salāma b. Mevorakh (12th cent.), a physician and philosopher, and a student of Ephraim b. āl Zafāh (who was physician to the court), wrote Niẓām al-Mawjūdāt ("Arrangement of the Existents"), which was probably philosophic in character, al-Sabab al-Mūjib li-Qillat al-Maṭar fi-Miṣr ("The Reasons for the Paucity of Rain in Egypt"), and fi-al-ʿIlm al-Ilāhī ("On Theology"). Ḥibat Allah ibn al-Ḥasan b. Ephraim was possibly the head of the academy and community of Fostat, whom the traveler Benjamin of Tudela mentioned by the name of Nethanel and who wrote, among other works: Irshād li-Maṣālih Anfus al-Ajsād ("Guide to the Well-Being of Souls and Bodies"), which treats of illnesses, cures, and hygiene; and al-Taṣrīḥ fi Tanqīḥ al-Qānūn ("Revelation of the Hidden in Correcting the Canon of Avicenna"). The Karaite *David b. Solomon (1161–1240), physician to Sultan al-Malik al-ʿAdil, and possibly the teacher of Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa, wrote a celebrated history of medicine and physicians. He compiled the 12-chapter antidotary Akrabadhin or Dustūr al-Adwiya al-Murakkaba ("Register of Compound Remedies") and Risālat al-Mujarrabāt ("Epistle on Experiences"). Jacob b. Isaac (al-Asad al-Maḥallī; c. 1200) was the author of Maqāla fi Qawānīn al-Ṭibbiyya ("Treatise on the Fundamentals of Medicine") and Masāʾil Ṭibbiyya wa-Ajwibatiha ("Questions and Answers on Medicine"), addressed to the Samaritan author Ṣadaqa ibn Munajja in Damascus. Abual-Munā ibn abi Naṣr al-Kohen al-ʿAṭṭār (13th cent.) compiled a popular pharmacopoeia, Minhāj al-Dukkān wa-Dustūr al-Aʿyān ("Practice of the Shop and List of the Important"), which is a painstaking collection, arranged in alphabetical order, of pertinent material gleaned from diverse sources, both oral and written. It includes a moralizing first chapter addressed to his son, which in fact may be an addition written by someone else. Nuʿmān ibn abi al-Riḍāʾ (14th cent.) wrote a medical treatise which he considered to be a collection of glosses on the work of al-Masīḥī. There were a large number of other physicians in the Arabic-speaking Jewish communities who tended to write on religion rather than on their profession. *Abraham b. Moses b. Maimon (1186–1237), who succeeded his father as court physician and head of the Jewish community, composed a voluminous work, Kifāyat al-ʿĀbidīn ("Enough for the Worshippers"), most of which has yet to be discovered. Although he was an ardent defender and great admirer of his father, Abraham's work exhibits a piety which was independent of his father. While not minimizing the importance of learning, he stressed that worship requires humility, concentration, devotion, and other qualities characteristic of pietists such as the Sufis. He also wrote a commentary on Genesis and Exodus and composed two works in answer to his father's critics, as well as responsa (still extant) in answer to religious and legal inquiries. Attributed to one of his two sons, *David b. Abraham (1212–1300), who succeeded him as nagid, is a commentary on the Avot, which enjoyed great popularity. Also attributed to David is a collection of homilies on the weekly portion of the Torah, but the authorship of both works has been rightly disputed. Like his father, David also had occasion (1290) to rise to the defense of Maimonides. Obadiah (1228–1265), David's brother, composed a vade mecum for his son, called al-Maqāla al-Ḥuḍiyya ("The Inclusive Treatise"), in which biblical and rabbinic passages were interpreted allegorically, in order to provide moral instruction (ed. P. Fenton).

An ardent admirer of Maimonides, *Tanḥum b. Joseph Yerushalmi (d. 1291), wrote the commentary al-Ijaz wa al-Bayān ("Short and Clear"), which was probably on the entire Bible and is still largely extant, although only very few of his remarks on Ezra and Nehemiah have so far been discovered. His Commentary on the Minor Prophets has been published by H. Shay (1991). A rationalist, entirely rejecting any mystical approach to the text, he strove to explain every facet of it with the aid of medicine, realia, chronology, geography, and philosophy. Of philosophy he made use on numerous occasions, particularly where the literal meaning of the text was difficult to accept. He employed allegory and included digressions on subjects such as prophecy and the allegorical method. He occasionally disagreed with the Seder Olam, the chronological monograph which was almost undisputed during the Middle Ages, although he sometimes assumed approximate dates in the Bible in order to explain away discrepancies. He showed an appreciation for the aesthetic quality of the Bible and also a recognition that copyists' errors may have found their way into the masoretic text. In a comprehensive introduction to his vast enterprise, Tanḥum discussed grammatical and philosophical principles at length and also dwelt on the relation between exegesis and aggadah. In addition, he compiled a lexicon of the Hebrew in Maimonides' Code, al-Murshid al-Kāfi ("The Adequate Guide"). In the introduction to this work he elaborated upon the tremendous importance of the Code, especially at a time when there was a decline in the study of the Talmud. He criticized the Arukh, the lexicon of *Nathan b. Jehiel of Rome (11th cent.), because it did not include all the words in the language and operated on the basis of biliteral roots. Despite his criticisms, he was in fact extremely indebted to the lexicon. Moreover, in his own lexicon he strayed from his objective. Not all the words in the Code are listed, nor are all the vocables given there taken from the Code, since he also provided explanations of a number of mishnaic terms. His tendency to go into philosophical and theological matters emerges even in this work. His son, *Joseph b. Tanḥum ha-Yerushalmi, a gifted writer of Hebrew poetry, may also have been the author of a book in Arabic on theology and philosophy, a fragment of which is extant.

*Ibn Kammuna (Saʿd b. Manṣūr; d. 1184) lived in Baghdad; toward the end of his life he was the target of attack by orthodox Muslims, who took offense at his statements about Islam in Tanqīḥ al-Abḥāth lil-Milal al-Thalāth ("Examination of the Inquiries into the Three Faiths"), a study of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The book, interesting and enlightened, opens with a general discussion of religion and prophecy and continues with sections on each of the three religions. Ibn Kammuna's method is to present the principles of each faith in a general essay, and then to list questions and objections, followed by replies of the adherents of the particular faith. The work is outstanding for its fairmindedness and objectivity, which may be the reason for the belief, now discredited, that the author was a convert to Islam. His other writings include al-Ḥikma al-Jadīda ("The New Science"), on logic; Risāla ("Epistle"), on the immortality of the soul; and Sharḥ Talwīḥāt, a commentary on the Notes of the Muslim mystic Suhrawardi (d. 1191). He also wrote on chemistry and ophthalmology.

*Israel ha-Dayyan ha-Ma'aravi (14th cent.) lived in Cairo and was judge of the Karaite community there. His works include a legal compendium known only by its Hebrew name, Sefer Mitzvot, a compilation of the personal and ritual laws of the Karaites. His Shurūṭ al-Dhabāḥa ("Requirements of Ritual Slaughter") may have been part of his original Arabic Code. He also wrote Tartīb al-ʿAqāʾid al-Sitta ("Classification of the Six Articles of Faith: God, Moses, the Other Prophets, the Torah, Jerusalem, and the Final Judgment"), as well as a book on the calendar. *Samuel b. Moses al-Maghribi (15th cent.), a physician living in Cairo, compiled al-Murshid ("The Guide"), which was a book of laws in 12 sections; he also wrote a commentary on the Pentateuch and a history of Mount Moriah and the Temple. David b. Sa'del al-Hīti (15th cent.) composed a bibliography of Karaite scholars, which, although uncritical and sometimes unreliable, has been of service to modern scholars.

The Jews of *Yemen, who were subjected to many trials and persecutions, probably constituted the most cultivated among the Jewish communities living under Islam in the second millenium. In any case, they can boast of a larger number of literary figures than can other centers. One of the earliest, *Nethanel ibn al-Fayyūmī (d. c. 1170), was probably the head of the community and was the father of *Jacob b. Nethanel whose inquiry to Maimonides brought about the latter's Iggeret Teiman. Nethanel wrote Bustān al-ʿUqūl ("The Garden of the Intellects"), a theological study with chapters on the unity of God, man the microcosm, the worship of God, repentance, reliance on God, messianic times and the afterlife, influenced by the Isma'ilī. He quoted a good deal from extraneous sources and did not hesitate to invoke the support of the Koran and other Islamic works. *Abraham b. Solomon (1350–1400), probably of Yemen, compiled a commentary on the Prophets and probably also on the Hagiographa. His Midrash al-Ṣiyāna is eclectic, quoting copiously from a number of predecessors. Its chief value lies in the fact that it preserves material from works no longer extant. Several Yemenite compositions are midrashic in character, probably because there were frequent occasions in the community when a small sermon was preached at some religious ceremony. *Nethanel b. Yesha, a 14th-century scholar and preacher, composed the midrash Nūr al-Ẓulām ("Illumination of the Dark") in 1329. It was written in a combination of Hebrew and Arabic and made up of citations from other sources. In the 15th century *Zechariah b. Solomon ha-Rofe (Yaḥyā b. Suleiman al-Ṭabīb), a physician in Sanʿa, produced Midrash ha-Ḥefez, a commentary on the Pentateuch, Lamentations, and the Scroll of Esther. It, too, is eclectic and shows the author's preference for ethical and philosophical interpretations. Zechariah is also credited with a Sharḥ ("Commentary") to Maimonides' Guide. Another 15th-century author, Abu Manṣūr al-Daimari, composed in a philosophic tone the midrashic commentary on the Pentateuch, Sirāj al-ʿUqul ("The Light of the Intellects").

In conclusion, it is to be noted that composition of Jewish works in Arabic continued to appear until there ceased to be Jewish communities in the Arabic-speaking lands. However, it must be admitted that there is little value in these works, most of which are liturgical, exegetic, or translations of Hebrew pietistic works. The European influence, which from the end of the 19th century began to affect Arabic literature as it had affected Jewish literature in Europe a century earlier, does not seem to have played a part in the intellectual life of the Jews in the East. Nevertheless, their output of Hebrew or predominantly Hebrew poetry, rhymed prose, and religious works is of higher quality.


Steinschneider, Arab Lit; S. Poznanski, Karaite Literary Opponents of Saadiah Gaon (1908); idem, in: OLZ, 7 (1904), 257–76, 304–15, 345–59; A.S. Halkin, in: L.W. Schwarz (ed.), Great Ages and Ideas of the Jewish People (1956), 215–63; idem, in: L. Finkelstein (ed.), The Jews (19603), 1116–45.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.