Hebrew Language #15 Hebrew Literature #12 High level of literature in Spain in the 12th and 13th century

In the 12th and 13th centuries literature maintained a high level in Spain.

Abraham bar Ḥiyya, known to Christian scholars as Abraham Judaeus (d. about 1136), was a mathematician, astronomer and philosopher much studied in the middle ages. Moses ben Ezra, of Granada (d. about 1140), wrote in Arabic a philosophical work based on Greek and Arabic as well as Jewish authorities, known by the name of the Hebrew translation as ʽArūgath ha-bosem, and the Kitāb al-Maḥaḍarah, of great value for literary history. He is even better known as a poet, for his Dīwān and the ʽAnaq, and as a hymn-writer. His relative Abraham ben Ezra, generally called simply Ibn Ezra,[See M. Friedländer in Publications of the Society of Hebrew Lit., 1st ser. vol. i., and 2nd ser. vol. iv.] was still more distinguished. He was born at Toledo, spent most of his life in travel, wandering even to England and to the East, and died in 1167. Yet he contrived to write his great commentary on the Pentateuch and other books of the Bible, treatises on philosophy (as the Yesōdh mōra), astronomy, mathematics, grammar (translation of Ḥayyūj), besides a Dīwān.

The man, however, who shares with Ibn Gabirol the first place in Jewish poetry is Judah Ha-levi, of Toledo, who died in Jerusalem about 1140. His poems, both secular and religious, contained in his Dīwān and scattered in the liturgy, are all in Hebrew, though he employed Arabic metres. In Arabic he wrote his philosophical work, called in the Hebrew translation Sepher ha-Kūzarī, a defence of revelation as against non-Jewish philosophy and Qaraite doctrine. It shows considerable knowledge of Greek and Arabic thought (Avicenna). Joseph ibn Mīgāsh (d. 1141 at Lucena), a friend of Judah Ha-levi and of Moses ben Ezra, wrote Responsa and Ḥiddūshīn (annotations) on parts of the Talmud.

In another sphere mention must be made of the travellers Benjamin of Tudela (d. after 1173), whose Massa’ōth are of great value for the history and geography of his time, and (though not belonging to Spain) Pethahiah, of Regensburg (d. about 1190), who wrote short notes of his journeys. Abraham ben David, of Toledo (d. about 1180), in philosophy an Aristotelian (through Avicenna) and the precursor of Maimonides, is chiefly known for his Sepher ha-qabbalah, written as a polemic against Karaism, but valuable for the history of tradition.

Hebrew Literature by Arthur Ernest Cowley


Abraham bar Ḥiyya = Abraham Bar Hiyya Ha-nasi = Abraham the Prince = Abraham Savasorda = Abraham Albargeloni = Abraham Judaeus: A celebrated Spanish, Catalan Jewish philosopher, astronomer, astrologer, and mathematician of the twelfth century, whose writings were among the first scientific and philosophical works to be written in Hebrew. He is sometimes known as Savasorda, a corruption of an Arabic term indicating that he held some civic office in the Muslim administration of Barcelona.
Bar Ḥiyya was active in translating the works of Islamic science into Latin, and was likely the earliest to introduce Arabic algebra into Christian Europe.
Some scholars think that the Magister Abraham who dictated “De Astrolabio” (probably at Toulouse) to the Flemish translator from Arabic into Latin active in the twelfth century who worked at the Toledo School of Translators, Rudolph de Bruges (a work that the latter finished in 1143) was identical with Abraham bar Ḥiyya. As the title “Sephardi” (Spaniard) is always appended to his name, it is certain that he was Spanish. Nevertheless, he must have passed several years in southern France, as he composed some works for the Provençal Jews, in which he complains of their ignorance of mathematics.
Abraham bar Ḥiyya, together with Abraham ibn Ezra, occupies an important place in the history of Jewish science. He was, indeed, one of the most important figures in the scientific movement which made the Jews of Provence, Spain, and Italy the intermediaries between Mohammedan science and the Christian world. He aided this movement not only by original works, but also by translations and by acting as interpreter for another great translator, the celebrated Plato Tiburtinus or Plato of Tivoli, who also provided a Latin translation of Abraham bar Ḥiyya’s work about 1136. Steinschneider has also shown that his original works were written in Hebrew and not, as some have thought, in Arabic.

Moses ben Ezra of Granada = Moshe ben Ya’aqov ha-Sallaḥ ibn ‘Ezra = Moses ibn Ezra = Moses ben Jacob Ha-Sallaḥ = Ha-Sallaḥ = Ibn Ezra: a Jewish, Spanish philosopher, linguist, and poet. Ibn Ezra belonged to one of the most prominent families of Spain. According to Isaac Israeli (“Yesod ‘Olam,” part iv., ch. xviii., end), he had three brothers, Isaac, Joseph, and Zerahiah, all of whom were distinguished scholars.
To the domain of philosophy belongs Ibn Ezra’s “Al-Ḥadiḳah fi Ma’ani al-Mujaz wal-Ḥaḳiḳah,” anonymously translated into Hebrew under the title “‘Arugat ha-Bosem.”
Ibn Ezra was an unrivaled master of the Hebrew language. His poetical productions, both sacred and secular, are distinguished by their beauty of form and style, and were, according to Al-Ḥarizi (“Taḥkemoni,” iii.), preferred by poets even to those of Judah ha-Levi and Abraham ibn Ezra. Ibn Ezra’s secular poems are contained in two works: in the “Tarshish” (so called on account of the 1,210 lines it comprised), or “‘Anaḳ.” (Arabic title “Zahr al-Riyaḍ”),and in the first part of his “Diwan.” The “Tarshish” is divided into ten chapters, each of which contains in order the twenty-two letters of the alphabet. It is written in the Arabic style of poetry termed “tajnis,” which consists in the repetition of words in every stanza, but with a different meaning in each repetition.
The greater part of Ibn Ezra’s 220 sacred compositions, which are scattered in nearly all the Maḥzorim (that of the Ashkenazim excepted) and in the “Diwan,” are penitential poems (“seliḥot”) for the New-Year and the Day of Atonement. Their aim is to invite man to look within himself; they depict the emptiness of life, the vanity of worldly glory, the bitter disillusion which must be experienced at last by the pleasure-seeker, and the inevitableness of divine judgment.
The impact of Ibn Ezra’s philosophical works was minor compared to his impact on poetry, but they address his concept of the relationship between God and man.[Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA Berenbaum, Michael; Fred Skolnik (2007). “Ibn Ezra, Moses ben Jacob”. Encyclopaedia Judaica. 9: 673–675.]

Judah Ha-levi of Toledo = Yehuda Ben Shemuel ha-Levi = Yehuda Halevi = Judah ben Shmuel Halevi  = Yahuḏa al-Lāwī = Abu al-Ḥasan al-Lawi: Spanish Jewish physician, poet and philosopher, born about the time of the eventful conquest of Toledo, in the Kingdom of Pamplona [Navarre]. The Reconquista (English Reconquest), the Christian sovereigns’ struggle to regain the territories lost to the Muslims (Moors), who had occupied most of the Iberian Peninsula in the early 8th century, was already under way.
Judah ha-Levi, whose poetic gifts manifested themselves unusually early, spent his childhood in the Christian part of the country, but even as a boy he felt himself drawn to Muslim Spain, then one of the principal cultural centres of Europe. He went to Andalusia in southern Spain some time before 1090, where he established contact with local Hebrew poets and intellectuals, and justly attracted considerable attention by his impressive talent. The most famous Hebrew poet of the time, Moses ibn Ezra from Granada, invited Judah ha-Levi to visit him, and accorded him enthusiastic praise. The two sealed a bond of lifelong friendship. It was probably in Lucena, too, that Judah won the friendship of Alfasi’s most prominent pupils, Joseph ibn Migas, for whom he even wrote letters and Baruch Albalia.
After completing his studies, which he, being in easy circumstances, had been able to pursue deliberately, Judah returned to Toledo, where he soon acquired so large a practise.
Ha-levi’s works were the culmination of the development of Hebrew poetry within the Arabic cultural sphere. Among his major works are the poems collected in Dīwān, the “Zionide” poems celebrating Zion, and the Sefer ha-Kuzari (“Book of the Khazar”), presenting his philosophy of Judaism in dialogue form.
Though personally Ha-levi occupied an honoured position as a physician, he felt the intolerance of the Almoravid fanatics toward his coreligionists. He had long yearned for a new, or rather for the old, home — for the Holy Land. This yearning was deepened by his intense application to his religiophilosophical work and by his resulting clearer insight into Judaism; and at length he decided to set out on a journey to Palestine. For himself at least, he wished “to do away with the contradiction of daily confessing a longing and of never attempting to realise it” (Kaufmann, “Jehuda Halevi”); and therefore, on the death of his wife, he bade farewell to daughter, grandson, pupils, friends, rank, and affluence. There was only one image in his heart — Jerusalem.
After a stormy passage he arrived in Alexandria, where he was enthusiastically greeted by friends and admirers, who asked him to remain in Egypt, which also was Jewish soil and free from intolerant oppression. From Tyre and Damascus he came near Jerusalem, overpowered by the sight of the Holy City, he sang his most beautiful elegy, the celebrated “Zionide,” “Zion ha-lo Tish’ali.” At that instant he was ridden down and killed by an Arab, who dashed forth from a gate (Gedaliah ibn Yaḥya, “Shalshelet ha-Ḳabbalah,” ed. Venice, p. 40b).
Judah was recognized by his contemporaries as the great Jewish national poet, and in succeeding generations by all the great scholars and writers in Israel (see, e.g., Al-Ḥarizi, “Taḥkemoni, “maḳamahs iii., xviii.).

Benjamin of Tudela in the Sahara (Author : Dumouza, 19th-century engraving)

Benjamin of Tudela = Binyamin al-Tutayli: medieval Jewish traveller, coming from Tudela in Navarre, who visited Europe, Asia, and Africa in the 12th century. He is the first known European traveller to approach the frontiers of China and whose account of his journey, Massaʿot (The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, 1907), illuminates the situation of Jews in Europe and Asia in the 12th century.
Benjamin, who probably travelled as a merchant, evinced a keen interest in all things and possessed a clear insight into the conditions and history of the countries he traversed. His journey occupied thirteen years: setting out from Saragossa in 1160, journeying through Italy, Greece, Palestine, Persia, and the western borders of China, and returning by way of Egypt and Sicily (1159–73). arriving back again in Spain in 1173. He made long stays everywhere, taking plenty of time to collect his information and to verify or disprove accounts given him. Being an intelligent Spanish Jew, he took an appreciative interest not only in Jewish affairs in the lands he visited but also in the general conditions prevailing and in the various historical and educational facts related to him. His account contains numerous valuable details of the political history and internal development of countries and nations; and the history of commerce must always count Benjamin’s itinerary as one of its earliest and most valued sources.
His visit to the ruins outside Mosul is one of the earliest accurate descriptions of the site of ancient Nineveh. He also describes Baghdad with great enthusiasm, making particular note of the virtuosity of the Caliph.
Uri Shulevitz wrote and illustrated “The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela. Through three continents in the twelfth century” in 2005.

Pethahiah of Regensburg = Petachiah of Regensburg = Pethahiah ben Jacob Ha-Laban: a Jewish traveller; born at Prague; flourished between 1175 and 1190. He journeyed from Ratisbon (Regensburg) to the East, travelling through Poland, southern Russia, Armenia, Persia, Babylon, and Palestine.
His notes of the journey, part of which he had mislaid in Bohemia, were collected by his compatriot the Jewish mystic and semi-legendary pietist, Judah b. Samuel he-Ḥasid, and were first published, under the abbreviated title “Sibbub,” at Prague in 1595; then by Wagenseil, with a Latin version, in “Exercitationes Sex” (pp. 160-203, Strassburg, 1687); by Carmoly, in Hebrew and French under the title “Sibbub ha-‘Olam,” at Paris in 1831; and finally by A. Benish, in Hebrew and English, as “The Travels of Rabbi Petaḥyah,” at London in 1856. The latest edition of Pethahiah’s work appeared at Lemberg in 1859.

Judah ben Samuel he-Ḥasid = Yehuda HeHasid = Yehuda The Ḥasid = Yehuda HeHasidor = Judah the Ḥasid of Regensburg = Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg = Judah the Pious: Jewish mystic and semilegendary pietist, a founder of the fervent, ultrapious movement of German Ḥasidism, that combined austerity with overtones of mysticism. Being leader of the Jewish mystical, ascetic social movement in the German Rhineland during the 12th and 13th centuries Chassidei Ashkenaz, considered different from the 18th-century Hasidic movement founded by the Baal Shem Tov.
Son of Samuel ben Kalonymos, the Ḥasid, member of the eminent Kalonymos family that had migrated from Italy, which included also Eleazar ben Judah of Worms, pupil of Judah ben Samuel the Ḥasid of Regensburg, and which gave medieval Germany many of its spiritual leaders and mystics.
Judah ben Samuel he-Ḥasid founded in  Regensburg a yeshiva (academy) and gathered such disciples as the mystic Eleazar of Worms; and the codifiers Isaac ben Moses of Vienna (byname Isaac Or Zaruʿa) and Baruch ben Samuel of Mainz. Most of Judah’s life, however, is clothed in legend; e.g., it is stated that he was ignorant of Jewish law until, at 18, sudden enlightenment enabled him to work such miracles as reviving the dead and visiting the prophet Elijah.

Isaac ben Moses of Vienna = Isaac Or Zaruʿa = the Riaz: medieval Bohemian and German halakist, codifier of Jewish law (Halakha) who embarked upon a nomadic life that brought him into contact with the most respected Jewish scholars of Bohemia, France, Germany, and Italy and whose vast compilation, Or Zaruʿa (“Light Is Sown”), composed toward the end of his life, about 1260, was widely quoted in later Halakhic works. Or Zaruʿa is also valued by historians for its descriptions of Jewish life in those medieval countries.
He mentions as his teachers two Bohemian scholars, Jacob ha-Laban and Isaac ben Jacob ha-Laban (author of “‘Arugat ha-Bosem”).
At Würzburg, where Meïr Rothenburg was his pupil (c. 1230), he became “rosh yeshibah.” Later on Isaac returned to Ratisbon, and then settled for some time in Vienna, where he held the position of “ab bet din” and rosh yeshibah. Finally, he went to Saxony and Bohemia, where he lived a long but unsteady and troubled life, the facts of which are gathered from his “Or Zarua’,” the only source of information. The “Or Zarua'” is at the same time a ritual code and a Talmudic commentary. As it contains, in addition, explanations of some passages in the Bible, the author is also quoted as a Bible commentator.



Hebrew Language #2 The name “Hebrew” and Speech of Canaan

Hebrew Language #3 Among Christian scholars

Hebrew Language #4 Hebrew Literature #1 Old Testament

Hebrew Language #5 Hebrew Literature #2 Torah, Apocryphal literature and Targum

Hebrew Language #6 Hebrew Literature #3 Halakhah

Hebrew Language #7 Hebrew Literature #4 Mishnah and Midrash

Hebrew Language #8 Hebrew Literature #5 Talmud and Masorah

Hebrew Language #9 Hebrew Literature #6 Hebrew Liturgy

Hebrew Language #10 Hebrew Literature #7 The Geōnīm

Hebrew Language #11 Hebrew Literature #8 The Qaraites or Karaites

Hebrew Language #12 Hebrew Literature #9 Medieval scholarship

Hebrew Language #13 Hebrew Literature #10 Exegesis

Hebrew Language #14 Hebrew Literature #11 French school of the 11th century



  1. The Astrological Works of Abraham Ibn Ezra: A literary and linguistic study with special reference to the Old French translation of Hagin by Raphael Levy (1927)
  2. Ancient Jewish Views on Astrology
  3. Abraham Ibn Ezra s Introductions to Astrology: A Parallel Hebrew-English Critical Edition of the Book of the Beginning of Wisdom and the Book of the Judgments of the Zodiacal Signs (Etudes Sur Le Judaisme Medieval) (Editing and Translation by Shlomo Sela) Volume 5
  4. Abraham Ibn Ezra the Book of Reasons: A Parallel Hebrew-English Critical Edition of the Two Versions of the Text: 35 (Etudes sur le Judaisme Medieval) (Editing and Translation by Shlomo Sela)

6 thoughts on “Hebrew Language #15 Hebrew Literature #12 High level of literature in Spain in the 12th and 13th century

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  5. Pingback: Hebrew Language #20 Hebrew Literature #17 Later writers – From the 18th Century into 19th century and Modernizing tendencies | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  6. Pingback: Hebrew Language #20 Hebrew Literature #18 The re-creation of Hebrew as a literary language | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

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