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Emet m'Tsiyon

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.

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


  • I'm still sitting here unable to come up with a line that expresses how I feel reading your posts. I have to move along.

    Yeah, I have to go or I'll be here all night.

    No, I can't write anything that works properly.



    You know.

    By Blogger Dag, at 3:13 AM  

  • thanks again, Dag

    By Blogger Eliyahu m'Tsiyon, at 1:14 AM  

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