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Emet m'Tsiyon

Friday, December 30, 2005

Devastation of Jewish Communities in Israel during the Tribal Raids and Civil Wars of the Fatimid Period

The Fatimid dynasty were Shi`ites claiming descent from Muhammad's daughter Fatima. As Shi`ites, they were hated by many Sunni Muslims, and their rule [in Israel from 969 to 1099] was challenged by Badawin tribes eager for booty, plus armed sects like the Qarmatians, Turkish [Turkoman] tribes --originally mercenaries, and the Byzantine Empire, eager to recover the Holy Land, who were curiously able to form alliances with various Muslim tribes. The Byzantine army penetrated through today's Lebanon and Syria and reached northern Israel.

The Jews were often victims of the various warring forces, and it seems that the Fatimid period was one of accelerated emigration from the country, with Europe as one of the destinations of the emigrants. The Fatimids viewed their Jewish and Christian subjects with somewhat more favor than did the Sunni Arab rulers. Avraham Grossman writes: "The Fatimid Shi`ite authorities, however, considered the Jews and Christians to be loyal elements on whom they could rely and base their rule against the Sunni majority" in their empire, covering Egypt, Israel, and Syria, its capital at Cairo. Hence it is no surprise that the Jews suffered from attacks by enemies of the Fatimid state. However, the Jews also suffered at times from Fatimid troops, as we have seen in an earlier post.

The passage below from a letter written by Jerusalem Jews and found in the Cairo genizah describes the devastation of Jewish communities in Jerusalem and Ramlah, apparently at the hand of enemies of the Fatimids.

And men and women died, some from the blows and some from the terror and some who threw themselves into the pits. . . And no sustenance was left for a man. . . And those who survived wept and moaned, one man to his brother, until they stopped paying [the taxes]. . . and the persecutor once again struck and tormented. . . because on account of sins our elders died and our associates perished and our young men expired and our wealthy men have become impoverished and we remain just a few [in Jerusalem], about fifty persons. . . . and most of our sustenance came from the [Jewish community] officials of Ramlah and its merchants from whom we used to take on credit and sell and pay off the debts with interest. And because of our iniquities, the bad time has come for Ramlah, and they stopped supplying us, and the daily burden is heavy to the point where there is no rest, and no way to escape, and if it were not so, we would flee. . . And life throughout the Land of Israel is in a state of turmoil because of the troops. . . and we are plagued with many evil troubles, the like of which have not been seen in the Land of Israel [since it has been] under the dominion of Ishmael. [Moshe Gil, The Land of Israel during the First Muslim Period, vol. II (Jerusalem 1983-tashmag), pp 86-87 (Hebrew); quoted in Avraham Grossman, "The Early Muslim Period," in A. Shinan, ed., Israel: People, Land, State (Jerusalem: Ben Zvi, 2005), p 140 (English)].

Prof. Grossman writes: ". . . the harsh suffering of the Jewish population in the Land of Israel at that time. . . had led to a dwindling of their numbers" [p 141]. Note the reasons for Jewish emigration from the land: 1) frequent warfare among Muslim factions, sects, and tribes, plus Byzantine intervention, often turning against the Jews; 2) the heavy tax burden on non-Muslims, the dhimmis. Note that the letter-writer states: ". . . there is no rest, and no way to escape, and if it were not so, we would flee. . ." These are some of the major reasons explaining the Jewish emigration from the Land of Israel in the early period of Muslim rule, before the Crusades. Another reason, only hinted at here, was likely the humiliations and abasement prescribed in Muslim law for the non-Muslims.

Can we hear a response from those "politically correct" academic clowns [like Prof. Mark Cohen] who still try to depict Jewish life under Arab rule as some kind of Garden of Eden, or significantly better than under the European Christians? How does Prof. Cohen explain Jewish emigration from Israel during periods of Muslim rule?

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Coming: Poems of Zion, Jews in Jerusalem under Muslim rule

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Ibn Khaldun Refutes Some anti-Israel Claims Made by Arabs

Ibn Khaldun [d. 1406] was the last of the great Arab-Muslim intellectuals. I could add, "the last in the Middle Ages." But this would be superfluous, since he was the last one period. There has been no Arab intellectual who has made any contribution of major worldwide significance to science, whether the natural sciences or the humanities, since his death. Let me know if you find anyone.

His contribution was to formulate a sociology of historical change which could be studied with profit by historians, sociologists, and political scientists to this day. He is remarkable in the way that he foreshadowed later developments in Western historiography, sociology, economics and political science, just as Leonardo da Vinci foreshadowed later developments in technology and physics.

In the quotes below, Ibn Khaldun refutes two big lies of pro-PLO propaganda today, which are curiously finding a reception in the West as well. One oft-repeated lie is that the Jews are not a nation or people but merely a religious group, and they --Arab-Muslims-- respect other religions, blah, blah, blah, but cannot agree to Zionism which holds that the Jews are a historical people. What they really mean is that they want Jews to continue to be perpetually humiliated dhimmis in the Muslim state, as Jews were for more than a thousand years. And that Jews as dhimmis have no right to rule a state.

Ibn Khaldun's major work is considered to be his Prolegomena [forewords] to the Study of History. Charles Issawi excerpted passages from this work and I have put relevant ones below:
For although certain peoples have a common ancestry, e.g., the Arabs, the Jews, and the Persians, other peoples are distinguished by the regions they inhabit. . .
[Ibn Khaldun, An Arab Philosophy of History, ed. Charles Issawi ( London: John Murray 1950), p 50; Prolegomena, Part I, Third Foreword]

For a long time, Arab propagandists tried to minimize the length of Israelite/Jewish rule in the Land of Israel to "400 years." Now they try to totally eliminate any Israelite/Jewish rule or presence in Israel ever. Ibn Khaldun refutes this, as does the Quran.

In the East, however, crafts have established themselves since the days of ancient Persian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Israelite, Greek and Roman rule.
[Ibid., p 55; Prolegomena Part 5, chap. 21]
Arguing that the presence of tribes with a strong tribal spirit makes conquest difficult, he gives the example of the Israelite conquest of Canaan:
This made it very difficult for the Israelites to establish and secure their rule. . .
[Ibid., p 113; Part 3, chap. 9]
He also confirmed the Quranic teaching [Sura 5:12, 20-22, inter alia] that God had promised the Holy Land to the Jews. Here he sees the land promised to the Jews as all Syria, Bilad ash-Sham in Arabic, although the Bible generally specifies the Promised Land as Canaan, only a part of Syria in the broad sense used by the Greeks and later by the Arabs.

An illustration of this is provided by the Israelites when Moses, peace be upon him, urged them to conquer Syria, assuring them that God had decreed that they should be victorious.
[p 60; Part 2, chap 19]
Hence, the denials nowadays by Arab and pro-Arab spokesmen --for the PLO/PA in particular-- that the Jews had ever ruled or were ever even present in the Land of Israel before modern Zionism, are simply lies not supported either by the Quran or by traditional Arab historiography. For the Quran, see the previous essay on this blogsite.

It is of interest for those concerned with very ancient history, the history of the early Biblical period, that he identifies the Amalekites [b'ney `Amaleq] as Arabs.
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Coming: More poems of Zion, the Jews' status in Jerusalem before Zionism, etc.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Lord Byron Sings of Zion

It wasn't only the poets of Israel, ancient, medieval and modern, who wrote poems of Zion. Lord Byron too, the English poet, wrote a poem of Zion. Recall that Byron took part in the Greek War of Liberation from an Islamic empire.

Judah's Broken Shell
Oh! Weep for those that wept by Babel's stream,
Whose shrines are desolate,
Whose land a dream.
Weep for the harp of Judah's broken shell.
Mourn --where their God hath dwelt, the godless dwell!
And where shall Israel lave her bleeding feet?
And when shall Zion's songs again seem sweet?
And Judah's melody once more rejoice the hearts
that leaped before its heavenly voice?
Tribes of the wandering foot and the weary breast,
how shall ye flee away and be at rest!
The wild dove hath her rest, the fox his cave,
mankind their country
-- Israel but the grave!

This seems to be a sonnet in form. In any case, we cannot accept the last verse. It is an injustice, although Byron seems to have understood that there were those --not only in Dar al-Islam-- who wanted [and still want today] the Jews to have only the grave.
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Coming: More poems of Zion, Jewish life under Arab oppression in Israel and elsewhere, etc.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

What Did the Jews Call the Land of Israel ארץ ישראל AFTER the Bar Kokhba Revolt?

Judea [IVDAEA] was the official name of the Land of Israel during the heyday of the Roman Empire, as it had been the usual Greek name of the country after Alexander's conquest [approx. 322 BCE] of the Levant [in the form Ioudaia, in Greek letters of course] . Emperor Hadrian changed the name Provincia Iudaea to Provincia Syria Palaestina as a sign of victory over the Jews in the Bar Kokhba revolt, and as a punishment for the Jews who had destroyed at least one Roman legion in the war. Note that Hadrian's new name signified that the country was merely a part of Syria. This name change was a humiliation for the Jews, an attempt to eliminate the Jewish national identity of the country. The war lasted for four years, from 132-135 CE, and was closely followed by the name change, according to most authorities.

What did the Jews call the country after this name change? Did they accept the new name or continue to use their own name for their land? Yoram Tsafrir writes:
The Jewish sources seldom call the Land of Israel by the name "Palaestina" -- without a doubt for the very same reason that had led Hadrian to choose that name-- and they [the Jewish sources] prefer the name "Land of Israel ארץ ישראל" to it [Palaestina]. [Yoram Tsafrir, "The Provinces in the Land ofIsrael," Ts Baras, S Safrai, Y Tsafrir, M Stern, eds., The Land of Israel from the Destruction of the Second Temple until the Muslim Conquest (Jerusalem: Ben Zvi, 1982), p 353]
Tsafrir adds in a footnote to this comment:
Sometimes, when the name Palaestina is found in the [Jewish] writings, its context is clearly technical-administrative in such a way that it is impossible to change it [that is, to replace it with "Land of Israel"]. See for example, Lamentations Rabba [איכה רבה the midrash of Lamentations] 1:32.
In this example, the midrash uses the title of a Roman commander Dux Palaestinae [דוכס דפלסטיני בארמית],
which the author considered official and thus not to be changed.

Tsafrir adds further on:
The attitude of the Jews toward the Land of Israel was an attitude of holiness and settlement in the Land of Israel was considered, as we know, equivalent to all the other commandments. [p 381]

In other words, the Jews living in the Land and in the Exile after the Bar Kokhba Revolt continued to call the country the Land of Israel and to view it as their national homeland which was invested with a holy quality. The Land of Israel, moreover, is one of the names for the country used in the New Testament [see Matthew chap. 2]. The New Testament also uses Judea as a name for the country as a whole in Luke and Acts. This may confuse some readers since, when the NT uses the term "Judea and Samaria," it is clearly referring to Judea as only the southern part of the country, the former Kingdom of Judah. In other words, Judea has two meanings in the NT.

Judea as a name for the whole country is found in a quote attributed to Aristotle by his disciple, the Peripatetic philosopher Clearchos of Soli. The quote goes back to a time before Alexander's conquest. The name probably comes from the Aramaic word Yehudaya meaning "the Jews."
This is the conclusion of the late Felix Abel, the historian belonging to the Dominican order based at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem.

For further study see:
F-M Abel, Geographie de la Palestine
F-M Abel, Histoire de la Palestine
Michael Avi-Yonah, see his Historical Geography revised and translated by Anson Rainey.
Y Tsafrir, Leah di Segni, Judith Green, IUDAEA/PALAESTINA, Maps and Gazetteer (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1994). Part of the Tabula Imperii Romani series of the Union Academique Internationale.
The title of the last named work indicates the official name change which the country underwent while part of the Roman Empire.

These two links to earlier posts deal with the Bar Kokhba revolt and some of its results.
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Coming: The Jewish experience as dhimmis in Jerusalem, Poems of Zion, etc.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

An 18th Century Traveler Describes Dhimmitude in Egypt

Carsten Niebuhr, an 18th century Danish traveler in the Middle East, then called the Orient, published this account of being a dhimmi in Egypt.

In Cairo, no Christian and no Jew can show himself mounted on a horse. They only ride donkeys and must get off as soon as they encounter an Egyptian, even the least important. The Egyptians never go about except on a horse, preceded by an insolent servant who, armed with a big club, warns the man on the donkey to show the obligatory marks of respect for his master, by crying out: "Infidel, get off! . . ."

It is true that in Egypt these distinctions between Mohammedans and persons belonging to other religions are made on a grander scale than anywhere else in the Orient. Christians and Jews must get down to the ground even in front of the house of the Chief Cadi; in front of more than some twenty other houses where the judges give justice; in front of the gate of the janissaries, and in front of several mosques. It is not tolerated that they even pass in front of several mosques very venerated for their holiness or through the El-Karafe quarter where many tombs and prayer houses are located; they must make a detour in order to avoid these places, for the very ground on which they stand is so sacred in the eyes of the people that it could not tolerate being profaned by the feet of Infidels.
[M. Niebuhr, Travels through Arabia and Other Countries in the East, vol. I (Edinburgh 1792), pp 81-82. Quoted by Yahudiya Masriya, pp 29-30]

This description was confirmed not long afterwards by a member of Napoleon's scientific research staff that came to Egypt along with him. When an important personage came along in the streets of Cairo, riding on a horse, . . .

The Christians and the Jews were obliged to get off their donkeys.
[Tableau de l'Egypte pendant le sejour de l'Armee francaise, par A.G....D, membre de la Commission des Sciences et Arts, seant au Kaire, an XI, 1800, vol. I, p 14. Quoted by Yahudiya Masriya, p 30]
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Note: Yahudiya Masriya [= Egyptian Jewess in Arabic] was an early pen-name used by Bat Yeor. This latter name is also a penname and means Daughter of the Nile in Hebrew.
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Coming: poems of Zion, archeological updates, oppression and persecution of Jews in Jerusalem under Muslim rule

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Muslim Jurist on the Rights/Privileges of Dhimmis

Ibn Taymiyya is one of the most famous Muslim jurists; to be sure, he is considered stricter than others. Here is what he had to say about an order issued in Egypt to shut down the synagogues and churches in Cairo. Ibn Taymiyya lived under the Mamluks in the years1263-1328. He was born and educated in Syria, spending part of his life in Cairo, the Mamluk capital. He insisted on the duty of jihad, even against fellow Muslims perceived as not being sufficiently strict, such as against regimes governed by converts perceived as having converted hypocritically and opportunistically [i.e., the Mongols]. His writings have had had a major influence on the fanatic movements operating today, such as the Wahhabites, the Islamic sect from which Bin Laden sprang forth.

The Mamluk regime [rising to power in 1250] worsened the dhimmi condition, reaffirming the clauses of the Pact of `Umar, particularly prohibitions and humiliations. Attacks by Muslim mobs and other persecutions took place repeatedly between 1293 and 1354. Synagogues and churches were destroyed. An order to close dhimmi places of worship was issued which Ibn Taymiyya justified, as follows:

As for their assertion [of Jews and Christians] that the Muslims have committed an injustice by closing the kanay [places of worship], it is a lie which is in fact in contradiction to the universal consensus of Muslims. In fact, all Muslims of the four schools of [Muslim] law. . . as well as of the Companions of the Prophet and of their successors --may God have them in His beatitude-- are unanimous in proclaiming that, if Islam had wanted to destroy all the synagogues and churches in the land of the believers, for example in Egypt, in the Sudan, in the provinces of the Euphrates, in Syria and in similar countries, it would not be an injustice on its part, and it even must be obeyed. Whoever might oppose its efforts [Islam's efforts] would violate the covenant with God and commit the gravest sin. [quoted in Yahudiya Masriya, Les Juifs en Egypte (Geneva: Editions de l'Avenir, 1971), p 25]

Ibn Taymiyya goes on to assert that the sovereigns have the duty of demanding the head tax from the dhimmis,
of humiliating them and of oppressing them, forcing them to perform the stipulations of the Pact of `Umar; they [Muslim rulers] have the duty of removing them [dhimmis] from the fine positions [offices, functions] that they [dhimmis] occupy and of forbidding them, in a general manner, from having access to Muslim affairs. [Yahudiya Masriya, p 26]

The countries that Ibn Taymiyya lists above were part of the Mamluk empire [for the Sudan, this meant only part of northern Sudan].
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Coming: Poems of Zion, the condition of the Jews in Jerusalem, etc.

Friday, December 09, 2005

LAMENT FOR THE DEVASTATION OF THE LAND OF ISRAEL (before the Crusades) - Joseph ibn Abithur

Jews living in Israel were usual victims of the political-military turmoil so commonplace in lands under Arab/Muslim control. Here is a poem by Joseph ibn Abithur about Jewish suffering in Jerusalem before the Crusades during the long war between the Fatimids and their various rivals, the Qarmatian sect, several Bedouin tribes [such as the Jarrah], and even the Byzantine empire which succeeded in reaching the north of the country, not Jerusalem, while allying with the Banu Jarrah. The Fatimids ruled from Cairo in Egypt, a city which they had founded, over Egypt, the Land of Israel, and Syria. As Shi`ites, the Fatimids were automatically suspect in the eyes of Sunnis, while most Muslims in their domain were Sunnis. Hence, the Fatimids viewed the Jewish and Christian subject peoples in these lands as a relatively loyal part of the population. In the third decade of the 11th century [1020s], ibn Abithur visited Jerusalem and witnessed the assault and subsequent oppression and devastation perpetrated, ironically, by Fatimid troops, in this case slave troops.
Lament on the Devastation of the Land of Israel
Weep, my brothers, weep and mourn
Over Zion with great moan,
Like the lament of Hadadrimmon,
Or of Josiah, son of Amon.

Weep for the tender and delicate ones
Who barefoot now tread upon thorns,
Drawing water for barbarians,
Felling trees at their commands.

. . . . . . .

Weep for the blind who wander on
Through the land of Zion,
With the blood of pregnant women fouled,
And the blood of old men and babes.

Weep for the pure whom the polluted beat
. . . . .
To make them forget the Covenant of their Lord,
And their Land, the place of their desire.

Weep for the women pure and chaste,
Whose fidelity had never ceased . . . .

Weep for the daughters, noble
And upright as sculpted marble,
Forced to be slaves to the ignoble,
Who are themselves a servile rabble.

Weep. Weep and mourn
The synagogues forlorn,
The wild beasts have torn down,
And desert birds have made their own.

Weep for those in the enemies' grip,
Gathered together for a day without hope,
For those poor souls who have drained the cup,
Who are suffering now murder and rape.

Weep O weep for our living
And do not weep for our dead,
Because to be like them
Is our desire at all times.

And therefore, my friend,
Do not think of me as consolation
For all those torn to pieces in Zion
And there is no one to bury them.
[Two sources for this translation: Avraham Grossman, "The Early Muslim Period," in Avigdor Shinan, Israel: People, Land, State (Jerusalem: Ben Zvi Institute, 2005), p 141; and David Goldstein, The Jewish Poets of Spain (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1971), pp 39-40]

Slave armies were a common phenomenon in the Fatimid empire, and slave is the original meaning of the word mamluk. Mamluk slaves eventually took over the Fatimid empire from the Ayyubid dynasty who had usurped it from the Fatimids. The Mamluk and Ottoman empires continued the phenomenon of slave soldiers.

Joseph ibn Abithur was an outstanding sage from Spain, born in Merida in the tenth century, later living for a time in Cordova. He was living in Jerusalem at the time of the assault depicted here.

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Coming: More poems of Zion
An account of devastation in Ramlah [Israel] in the Fatimid period.
The Jews' status in Jerusalem

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Jews Persecuted in 19th Century Egypt

The apologists for Arab Judeophobia, usually calling themselves "leftists," often argue that Arab Judeophobia goes back only to Zionism. We have seen much oppression, exploitation, persecution in the Muslim/Arab world before Zionism. Here are two accounts from the 19th century. Bear in mind that Theodore Herzl did not convoke the Zionist Congress until 1897 at the very end of that century:

In the eyes of the Muslims, it is known, there is no race more contemptible than the Jewish race and a Jew cannot be admitted without transition into the lap of the Mohammedan church; he is obliged, when he wants to embrace Islam, to first make himself a Christian . . . "
[Edmond Combes, French vice-consul in Egypt (19th century), quoted in Yahudiya Masriya, Les Juifs en Egypte (Geneva 1971), p 33]
The Muslims hate no other religion as they hate that of the Jews . . . Even nowadays, when all forms of political oppression have stopped and such great tolerance is witnessed toward the Christian religion, the Arabs still demonstrate the same contemptuous hatred towards the Jews.
[Moritz Luttke, quoted in JM Landau, Jews in Nineteenth Century Egypt (London 1969), p 19; from which quoted in Yahudiya Masriya, p 33]

And here the apologists and excuse-makers for Arab Judeophobia have been telling us that it is all because of Zionism, if they at all admit that Arab Judeophobia exists. We see that the non-Jewish sources, both Europeans living in Egypt in the 19th century, confirm what the medieval Maimonides [Rambam] and Bahya ibn Pakuda [Paquda] say about Muslim-Arab persecution of Jews in general, and what Edward Lane wrote about the same matter in the 1830s after his stay in Egypt. The contemporary 19th century sources remarkably confirm each other on the main lines.

Note that forcing Jews who wanted to convert to Islam to become Christians first is also reported for the late 15th century by Francesco Suriano. It is likewise reported regarding Alawite Muslims in Syria who might want to become Sunnis. This report is found in Jean-Pierre Peroncel-Hugoz' informative book, Une Croix sur le Liban.

Note too that the tolerance toward Christians noted by Luttke above has vanished in Egypt, and the Coptic Christians, the purest descendants today of the ancient Egyptians, are very much persecuted. There aren't enough Jews around any more.
Funny, isn't it, that today, what is called the "Left," openly champions the oppressive, exploitative Islamic social system?
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Coming: more about the Jews' status under Islamic oppression
Poems of Zion
Jews in Jerusalem and the Land of Israel in the 19th century before Herzl founded the Zionist Organization

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Jewish Sages in Islamic Lands Identify the Arabs/Muslims as Israel's Worst Enemies

Moses Maimonides and Bahya ibn Pakuda, Jewish scholars and philosophers in Islamic-ruled lands both asserted that Islam or the nation of Ishmael [=Arabs or Islam] were more hostile and cruel to the Jews than any other nation or religion.

Maimonides [Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, abbreviated as Rambam; 1135-1204] was born in Spain but had to leave because of Muslim Almohad oppression. He made his way through Morocco to the Land of Israel --then fought over by Crusaders and Muslim Fatimids-- where he lived in `Akko, Jerusalem and Hebron. Because of the difficult situation in Israel, he and his family moved to Egypt where he became a physician, serving as Saladin's doctor. He divided his time between medical practice, Jewish communal affairs [he was nagid, official head of the Jews], and scholarship. Jews in Yemen addressed a query to him about how to respond to the Muslim persecution that they were then undergoing in Yemen. In his famous answer to them, Letter to the Yemenites, he wrote, among other things:

. . . God has exiled us among this fanatic nation which is so clever in increasing our sufferings, persecutes us with its hatred, and oppresses us more than any other. . .
The nation of Ishmael, which harms us and decrees laws against us . . . as never any people did which rose up against Israel, harms us, humiliates us, and hates us so much as they [Ishmael] do. [Yahudiya Masriya [= Bat Yeor], Les Juifs en Egypte (Geneva: Editions de l'Avenir, 1971), pp 24, 71]

Bahya ibn Pakuda [1050?-1120] lived in Spain where he wrote his philosophy. His important work was The Duties of the Heart, which was very widely read among the Yiddish-speaking Jews in Eastern Europe. In accord with Maimonides, he wrote:

The Sons of Ishmael are harsher than the Sons of Esau [= Christians].
[Yahudiya Masriya, p 24, quoted by A.S. Halkin in his edition of Maimonides' Epistle to the Yemenites, New York]

Contrary to what many apologists for the Arabs want us to believe, Jews who actually lived in Islamic states, under the unquestioned control of the laws of dhimma, believed that the Arabs/Muslims were crueler to the Jews and hated them more than the Christians did.

As to Ibn Pakuda's use of Sons of Esau to refer to Christians, here is the reason. Jews under Roman oppression referred to Rome by the code name of Edom, probably due to the rhyme [actually, Rome in Hebrew was Romi, which is close enough]. The Christian world grew out of the Roman empire which it took over after Constantine. Now, Esau is considered the ancestor of Edom in the book of Genesis. Hence, Christians are called sons of Esau.

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Coming: poems of Zion, the status of Jews in Muslim lands, Jews in Jerusalem under Muslim rule

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Jewish Joy in Medieval Jerusalem -- Hosha`ana Rabba on the Mount of Olives

When the Arabs first conquered Israel [640 CE] and the rest of the Fertile Crescent, they were wary of arousing too much opposition among the native populations. So they made promises here and there and played off one group against another. Following this policy, they allowed Jews to come live in Jerusalem, which had been forbidden to Jews during the Byzantine period. One of the privileges which they obtained was that in Jerusalem, Jews could openly celebrate the joyous Hosh`ana Rabba holiday on the Mount of Olives. Hosh`ana Rabba is the last day of the seven-day Sukkot holiday; immediately after Hosh`ana Rabba comes Simhat Torah, a very joyful holiday, making in effect a continuous eight-day holiday [in the Land of Israel; in the Dispersion, the holiday is somewhat different].

Jewish pilgrims came from many places to Jerusalem to celebrate. This is the poetic account of Rabbi Eliyahu ben Menahem, a Jewish sage from France, expressing his happiness on the occasion [first half of 11th century].
And I spent Hoshana Rabba on the Mount of Olives,
And Simhat Torah in Jerusalem,
The City of our God, the mountain of His Holiness...
When we stood on the Mount of Olives during Hoshana Rabba,
Even though there were people from all the communities in the world
There seemed to be only about two hundred,
Yet they were twelve thousand
From Hulda's Gate to the Priest's Gate...
[Avraham Grossman, "The Early Muslim Period," in Avigdor Shinan, Israel: People, Land, State (Jerusalem: Ben Zvi, 2005), p 149]

These open, public Jewish celebrations took place before the Crusades, and contrasted with the pecuniary exploitation and humiliation of the dhimmis going on already then. Hence, open joyful Jewish celebrations in Jerusalem were an exception, both in Jerusalem and rest of the Muslim domain. The Crusaders of course did not allow Jewish celebrations while Jerusalem was under their control, nor did the Muslim rulers in the city after the Crusades, the Mamluks and later the Ottomans, allow Jewish celebrations on the Mount of Olives to resume. Under Mamluk [and Ottoman] rule, Jews were at the bottom of the social ladder, more harshly treated than even the Christian dhimmis, as Francesco Suriano reported in an earlier post here.

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Coming: More on Jews in Jerusalem, poems of Zion, etc.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Why Arab Intellectual Decadence & Lack of Progress?

Emile Dermenghem, a French scholarly apologist for Islam, nevertheless saw that intellectually, Arab-Muslim society had become decadent in the Middle Ages, after a relatively brief period of flourishing. He saw this intellectual decadence or stultification as a cause of the social-economic backwardness of the Arabs and other Muslims. Dermenghem wrote the passages below in the 1950s, long before Islam became a political issue of major public concern.

The decadence of Muslim religious thought, practically limited to fiqh [jurisprudence, legalism], is only equalled by the devout fervor and the amazing sureness of faith. Intellectual activity is almost entirely concerned with problems of jurisprudence and casuistry; ignorance of philosophy and of classical and modern literature is nearly complete. It is not surprising that this lack of culture is reflected in religion, depriving it of the best of its forces. The great rites . . . have come to be part of a static religion. Superstition, the fruit of ignorance, was rife. . . [p 82]
If we try to see at a turning point in history how decadence has operated, it will help us to see how to correct it. In 1169 the Almohad caliph Abu Ya`qub Yusuf summoned Averroes [Ibn Rushd] to Marrakesh. . . It was at the ruler's own wish that he undertook his great commentary on Aristotle. . . Unfortunately the third Almohad, Abu Yusuf Ya`qub. . . sent Averroes into temporary exile and had his books burnt, just as the Almoravids had burnt those of al-Ghazali. The liberal free-thinking philosophers and the Sufis or mystics were likewise condemned. Now these two schools were the living forces in the Muslim civilization of the time. They balanced one another and made progress possible. Their elimination or their eclipse brought about that of authentic living culture. Philosophy emigrated to Europe, and it was Saint Thomas Aquinas who profited from Averroes' commentary on Aristotle. Sufism took refuge in the brotherhoods and sank into maraboutism in the narrow sense. [pp 85-86] Emile Dermenghem, Muhammad and the Islamic Tradition (London: Longmans, Green, 1958), tr. from French]
Besides Averroes, other notable names of Arab or other Muslim intellectuals who made a contribution to general world culture were Avicenna [Ibn Sina] and Ibn Khaldun. Avicenna, a Persian, not an Arab, was roughly close in time to Averroes, while Ibn Khaldun died in 1406. Since then there has been no Muslim that I can think of who made any notable cultural contribution of world significance.
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coming soon: Jews in Muslim society, poems of Zion