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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works

 

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Moses ben Jacob ibn Ezra
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Hebrew Name(s): משה בן יעקב הסלח אבן עזרא
Other Names: Moses ben Jacob HaSallah, Moses ibn Ezra, HaSallah, Moses ben Ezra, Moses Ben Jacob Ha-Sallaḥ Ibn Ezra, Abu Harun Musa bin Ya'acub ibn Ezra
Period: Rishonim — 11th–12th Century
Location: Spain
Dates: c. 1060–1138

Biography:
Moses ibn Ezra, often called Ha-Sallah (writer of pentitential prayers) was a philosopher, linguist and poet.  He studied under Isaac ibn Ghiyyat, was a friend of Judah Halevi and a relative of Abraham ibn Ezra. After the conquest of Granada by the Muslim, Almoravides, Moses ibn Ezra fled to Christian Spain but relamined a wanderer all his life.
 
Moses ibn Ezra was a master of sacred and secular poetry. He is credited with 220 liturgical poems (piyyutim) and excelled in Selichot (Penitential poems) in which he expresses his longing for his Maker. He is consequently called Ha-Salaḥ (writer of seliḥot). Many of his poems are recited in the High Holidays service in Sephardi congregations and in other rites. Moses ibn Ezra's secular poetry is largely collected in his Sefer ha-Anak (Necklace): themes being mainly love, wine, and nature.
 
Moses ibn Ezra wrote a treatise in Arabic on rhetoric, translated into Hebrew under the title Shirat Yisrael. He also wrote a philosophical work in Arabic, known in its Hebrew translation as Arugat ha-Bosem, a work which is divided into seven chapters, dealing with the relationship between God and the universe.  

Works:
Arugat ha-Bosem (The Bed of Spices); Kitab al-Muḥadarah; Diwan; Shirat Yisrael; Sefer ha-Anak hu Tarshish (The Necklace); Fi Faḍa'il Ahl al-Adab

Comments:
Arugat ha-Bosem is a Hebrew translation of a small part of Moses ibn Ezra’s Arabic work al-Maqāla bi al-adīqa fi Maʿnā al-Majāz wa al-aqīqa, a philosophic work on Divine attributes, creation, the position of humankind in the universe, the unknowability of God, and the intellect. The work shows a neoplatonic orientation and the influence of Solomon ibn Gabriol’s Mekor Ḥayyim.
 
Kitab al-Muḥaḍarah wal-Mudhakarah is a treatise on rhetoric and poetry written in response to the request of a friend who asked him eight questions on Hebrew poetry. The work is divided into a corresponding number of chapters. Kitab al-Muḥaḍarah wal-Mudhakarah is unique in Hebrew being composed on the lines of the "Adab" writings of Arabs.
Structure of Kitab al-Muḥaḍarah wal-Mudhakarah:
The first four chapters treat prose and prose-writers, poetry and poets, and the natural poetic gift of the Arabs, which he attributes to the climate of Arabia. The fourth chapter concludes with the statement that (with rare exceptions) the poetical parts of the Bible have neither meter nor rime. The fifth chapter begins with the history of the settlement of the Jews in Spain, which, according to the author, began during the Exile, the word "Sepharad" used by the prophet Obadiah (v. 20) meaning "Spain" and is followed by a full description of the literary activity of the Spanish Jews, giving the most important authors and their works. The sixth chapter contains quotes of various maxims and describes the general intellectual condition of his time, which seems not to have been very brilliant. Moses ibn Ezra deplores the indifference shown by the public to scholars. The seventh chapter discusses the question whether it is possible to compose poetry in dreams, as some trustworthy writers claim to have done. The eighth chapter is divided into two parts, the first dealing with poetry and poems, and the second (in twenty paragraphs) with tropes, figures, and other poetic forms. (Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906)
Moses ibn Ezra's Diwan, still extant in manuscript, contains three hundred secular poems, consisting in part of praises of friends and elegies on the death of scholars.
Moses ibn Ezra wrote a treatise in Arabic on rhetoric, translated into Hebrew under the title Shirat Yisrael.
Sefer ha-Anak (Sefer Ha-Anak hu Ha-Tarshish) sometimes called Tashish is a collection of homonym poems. Tarshish is a secular poetic work divided into ten chapters each of which contains, in order, the twenty two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The name Tarshish is derived on account of the 1,210 lines it comprised—the letters [תרשיש] stand for the numerical value of 1210. It is written in the Arabic poetic style termed "tajnīs,"—the repetition of words in every stanza, but with a different meaning in each repetition. Moses ibn Ezra’s Sefer ha-Anak influenced many poets who following his lead produced collections of homonym poems. These poets included Ibn Ezra’s friend, Abu-al-Hasan ben Eleazer, Judah al-Ḥarizi (1170–1235, one volume also called, Sefer ha-Anak, is a collection of 257 short poems on moral and pious themes, mainly composed in two stanzas with rhyming puns), Eleazer ben Ya’akov ha-Bavli and Todros ben Judah halevi Abulafia (1247–c.1300 Spain, Gan HaMeshalim veHaHidot (The Garden of Parables and Riddles)).
Fi Faḍa'il Ahl al-Adab, cited by Moses ibn Ezra in his Kitab al-Muḥaḍarah, is no longer in existence.

 

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