Page 116 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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108
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
The importance of such purely literary works in the Spanish
Jewish culture may be seen from such facts as that Menahem
ha-Meiri (Provence, which was part of Spain, but he also trav­
eled in Spain proper) eagerly sought them, and utilized the
Ben
ha-melekh
in his legal writings, as did the pietist judge of Za­
ragoza, Bahya b. Asher, in his
Kad ha-qemah.
In fact, poets are
quoted in grammatical works and biblical commentaries, lines
from literary works are found in rabbinical sources, etc., all of
which is further indication that poetry and literature were very
much a part of the general Jewish culture of Spain.
There were numerous other collections of proverbs, pub­
lished and unpublished, such as the “
Mishley hakhamim
” (anon­
ymous) or the poorly-edited “
Mishley cArav
” of Isaac Ibn Crispin.
Adaptations of Indian tales, through Persian-Arabic interme­
diary versions, were to play a major role in medieval Hebrew
(and Spanish) literature. Undoubtedly the
Mishley Sendebar,
com­
posed in the rhymed verse manner so typical of Spanish Hebrew
literature, was done in Spain at an apparently early period of
time (the Hebrew style, however, leaves much to be desired).
The claims of its modern editor and translator that the Hebrew
was the
original
of this famous series of tales is, of course, non­
sense.21
MEDIEVAL MAQAMAS
The rhymed prose style of narrative fiction, called
maqama
in Arabic, originated at the end of the tenth century but became
popular in the following century. Apparently the first example
of the genre in Spanish Hebrew literature is a delightful work
by Solomon Ibn Zaqbel (mid-twelfth century), of which unfo r­
tunately only incomplete chapters survive but enough to give
a good idea of the high quality of the work, already vastly su­
perior to the extant Arabic examples.
Surprisingly, it is not in al-Andalus, or Castile, that we find
our next example, but in far-away Barcelona. The author,
Schirmann, “Les contes rimes de Jacob b. Eleazar de T o led o ,” “
Etudes
d ’orientalisme a la memoire de Levi-Procenqal
(Paris, 1962), pp. 285-97.
21.
Tales o f Sendebar,
ed. (Heb.) and tr. Morris Epstein (Philadelphia, 1967).
The errors in the introduction are so numerous as to require a complete new
study. There is also a Spanish translation,
Los cuentos de Sendebar,
by A. Navarro
Peiro (Barcelona, 1988).