Page 45 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 1

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carrying the inher i tance of Spa in ’s scholarship and me thod to
those Jewries which were now ready to appreciate it, tieing
together w i th bonds of though t and knowledge the scattered
communi t ies of Israel.
He p lanned no such task when he re luc tan t ly left his home
a round the year 1140. As a ma t te r of fact, th roughou t his life
Ab raham ibn Ezra bitter ly complained against the fate which
drove h im across lands and seas and against the poverty which
compelled h im to take to teaching as his occupation. He left
home, it is generally supposed, because of a personal tragedy.
In some d is tan t Islamic land his son had become a convert to
Mohammedan ism and Ab raham unde r took his journey in order
to prevail upon h im to re tu rn . T h e object was no t achieved,
and the failure emb i t tered the fa the r ’s life, made it impossible
for h im to go back to his home and left h im a mou rne r for the
rest of his days. T h e sorrowful tone of his later poetry and the
b i t ing sting of his tongue have been explained by this disappoint-
ment . Perhaps his restless wander ing and even the mu l t i tude of
his wr i t ing were also due to the same cause; for in these he may
have sought forgetfulness. He is heard of from Kairawan in
No r th Africa, from Rome in Italy, from Eng land and finally from
the Provence. Legend has h im visit also Egypt and the Holy
Land, bu t even w i thou t these, his journeys were arduous enough
for those days of difficult travel. Yet his wr i t ing never stopped.
Commentaries and poems, books on astrology, on g rammar and
mysticism, all tha t he had absorbed du r ing the first fifty years
of his life was set down for the ins truc t ion of the Jews in the
lands to which he came. A wander ing hum an encyclopedia of
Spanish-Jewish culture, his personal misfortune proved to be the
good for tune of the Jewish people.
Ib n Ezra’s longest stay was at Rome, perhaps because he hoped
tha t his son would find it easier to rejoin him there. He found
the I ta l ian Jews no t a l together congenial to his spirit; there was
too much narrowness of out look among the leaders and too many
superstitions among the masses. I t was a si tuat ion which cried
for a remedy, and Ibn Ezra was no t satisfied to exert his influence
upon those few who looked to h im as the ir intellectual master;
he wan ted to guide the en t ire community. Given his background,
it was n a tu ra l for h im to tu rn to the Bible, the foun ta inhead of
Judaism, as the means whereby a new spirit m ight be brea thed
in to the Jews of Italy. T h u s he began his great commentary,
based on grammar , philosophy and common sense in te rp re ta t ion
to which Spanish Jewry was accustomed.
T h e commentary has rema ined Ib n Ezra’s ou ts tand ing achieve-
ment . Nex t to tha t of Rashi, it has been the most useful and
popu la r compan ion to the Bible. I t does no t have Ra sh i ’s charm
no r his simple piety; on the o the r hand , it achieves greater
b read th and dep th . R a sh i ’s commentary became before long the
study of the Jewish child; Ibn Ezra’s never ceased being the study
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