Page 107 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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NORMAN ROTH
Jewish Literature in Medieval Spain
J
e w i s h
c i v i l i z a t i o n
of medieval Spain was characterized by
uniqueness in many ways, and it is appropriate in the wake of
the 1992 commemorative year to consider one of the perhaps
lesser known aspects of that civilization, its secular literature.
From the time of the Muslim conquest of Spain (711), Jews
were completely integrated into the Muslim culture. Most were
immigrants from Muslim lands, where Arabic was already their
native tongue and where Jews already had a tradition of cen­
turies of contribution to Arabic culture (science, medicine,
mathematics, etc.). The innovative movement of a “revolution­
ary” group of poets, among the Muslims in the ninth century,
which gave rise to what was known as
cArabiyya,
an affirmation
of the new break with traditional “classic” forms of Arabic po­
etry, soon aroused an echoing response among the Jews of
Muslim Spain. This manifested itself in a renewal of interest
in the Hebrew language, which led to the initiation of scientific
research into grammar and comparative linguistics and to the
creation for the First time of secular Hebrew poetry.1
It has become a commonplace to assert that this Hebrew po­
etry was an “imitation” of Arabic. Nothing could be further
from the truth. While, indeed, the first efforts in Hebrew verse
did utilize both the meter and some of the themes and motifs
of Arabic verse, already in the poetry of the first known Hebrew
secular poet (Dunash Ibn Labrat, tenth century) there is con­
siderable creativity and divergence from both “classical” and
“modern” motifs of Arabic poetry. Linguistically, too, Dunash
already employed a remarkable diversity and introduced nu­
merous new verb and noun forms.2
1. See Roth, “Jewish Reactions to the
cArabiyya
and the Renaissance o f Hebrew
in Spain,”
Journal o f Semitic Studies
28 (1983): 63-84.
2. See, for instance, Angel Saenz-Badillos, “Linguistical Components in Dunas
Ben Labrat’s Teshubot” (which also discusses his poetry), in 8th World Congress
99