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The positive impact of the Jews of Moslem Spain is yet another example of the fulfillment of the prophecy in Genesis: "I will bless you and make your name great. You shall be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. Genesis To quote the great Jewish historian Cecil Roth:. Some of the greatest Jewish writers and philosophers came from this time period. Three deserve special mention:. When Almohades seized southern Spain, they gave the Jews three choices: covert to Islam, leave, or die. Of the many Jews fleeing Spain at this time was none other than the famed Maimonides often known as Rambam, the acronym of his full name, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, Moses the son of Maimom.

Incidentally, you may have noticed that so many of the famous Jews were known by their acronyms. This is because Jews up until this time did not have last names. While Sephardic Jews started taking last names more than years ago most Ashkenazi Jews did not use last names until forced to by Christian authorities around the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Jews were traditionally known by their first names and their father's names, sometimes by their tribal names, such as Cohen or Levi, or places of their origin i. Toledano from Toledo in Spain , and therefore, it was easier to shorten so many words to an acronym. Maimonides was born Moses ben Maimon on the eve of Passover in in Cordoba, Spain, to a prominent rabbinical family.

His primary teacher was his father, Rabbi Maimon ben Joseph, a Jewish judge, who taught him not only the Talmud, but also the fundamentals of mathematics, astronomy and philosophy. Maimonides was only 13 when his family was forced to leave Spain.

There Maimonides continued his Torah studies, while his brother David, a dealer in gems, supported the family. When David perished in a sea voyage in , the burden fell on Maimonides. Maimonides refused to make money from his Torah knowledge, and therefore, in order to earn a living, he became a physician having begun his study of medicine years earlier while living in Fez.

Within a short time, he was so famous as a healer that he was appointed physician to the Court of Sultan Saladin in Cairo. He was also appointed the chief rabbi of Cairo. In addition to being a famous doctor and healer, Maimonides was a prolific writer. During his time some of the writings of Maimonides proved highly controversial. Some of his statements were deemed too radical, others were simply misunderstood. At one point, his works were banned, and after his death in , burned at the instigation of the rabbis.

However, when nine years later, the French king Louis IX ordered the Talmud burned, Jews interpreted this as a "measure-for-measure" punishment from God for the burning of the works of Maimonides. Indeed, the rabbi who instigated the ban and burning, Rabbi Jonah Gerondi, subsequently repented for doing so and authored the book Sha'arei Teshuva , "Gates of Repentance," as a form of atonement for his derogatory statements about Maimonides. Today the works of Maimonides are universally accepted and revered. Indeed, Maimonides is known in the Jewish world as one of most important of the Rishonim or "the First Ones.

This group of Jewish sages follows those we have previously discussed: the Tanaim or "Teachers" BCE to CE who are quoted in the Mishnah; the Amoraim or "Explainers" to , who are quoted in the Gemara; and the Gaonim or "Geniuses" to who were the masters of the post-Talmudic Babylonian academies. The Rishonim to added significantly to Jewish scholarship. A question may be asked here, how did Jews end up in France?

First of all, some Jews settled already some 1, years earlier in the far-flung outposts of the Roman Empire. But for a long time these Jewish settlements were small. The expansion came through some interesting quirks of fate. Jewish tradition has it that in the 8th century Charlemagne, the King of the Franks, seeing how helpful Jews were to the Muslims, asked the caliph to send him a few rabbis, knowing that once he had rabbis more Jews would follow.

Additionally, Jews were frequently kidnapped by pirates who knew that their fellow Jews would pay handsomely to redeem them. There is the legend of the four captives, rabbis from the Babylonian community, each of whom was ransomed by a different Jewish community. Rashi, the most famous of the French rabbis was born Solomon Ben Isaac in in France, though he was sent to study in a yeshiva in Germany.

After he completed his studies, Rashi returned to France and settled in his hometown of Troyes. Just like Maimonides, he refused to make money from his Torah knowledge, earning a living instead from several vineyards that he owned. Rashi had an absolutely encyclopedic knowledge of the Oral and Written Law. He took it upon himself to answer some of the most obvious questions that come up when reading the text of the Tanach the 24 Books of the Hebrew Bible. This is why today so many editions of the Torah include his explanations alongside the text.

Another thing that Rashi did was to write a commentary on the entire Babylonian Talmud.

The Little-known Language Spoken by Jews Across the Medieval Arab World

Today this commentary appears on the "inner" margin of virtually every Talmudic page. We find his explanations indispensable because as we move further and further away from Mount Sinai, it becomes harder and harder to understand the nuances of Jewish law. Rashi did not have sons, but he did have two very famous daughters, Miriam and Yocheved, whom he educated in the Talmud.

Rashi's daughters married great scholars and fathered great scholars. Rashi's sons-in-law, his students, and his descendants became part of a group of scholars that is known as the Ba'alei HaTosefot , meaning "Masters of Addition.

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According to Jewish tradition, he met one of the leaders of the Crusade, the Norman nobleman Godfrey de Bouillon. As Godfrey embarked on the Crusade to liberate the Holy Land from the Muslims, Rashi told him that he would succeed but that he would come back home with only two horses. In response, Godfrey vowed that if Rashi's prediction was wrong, he'd kill him upon his return.

As it happened, Godfrey came back home from the Crusade with only three horses, but as he entered the archway to the city of Troyes, the center stone of the arch fell and killed one of them. Next we will see just what role Godfrey de Bouillon played in the Crusades and how this shameful period in history came about. It is far beyond the scope of this overview to discuss the dozens of great Rabbinic personalities who lived between the 11th and 15th centuries.


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Despite this being one of the most difficult periods of time in Jewish history, the year period of the Rishonim which more of less corresponds to the late Middle Ages was one of the greatest periods of Torah scholarship. The impact of the Rishonim was monumental and, together with the Rabbis who created the Talmud, they played a pivotal role in the transmitting the Torah and shaping the law and practice of Diaspora Judaism. Many of these communities have little or no connection historically with the Jews of Spain i.

Persian Jews, Yemenite Jews etc. The more accurate term would be Edot HaMizrach or "communities of the East" which would cover all non-Ashkenazi Jewish communities. Runes ed. New York, , pp. While this actual story may not be factually accurate, it does reflect the grim reality of kidnap and ransom which was an unfortunate feature of Jewish life during this period.

I have read many articles and books on Spanish Jewry. I find it fascinating. I have always know of the Sepharidic influence in Spanish culture. I continue to research and want to find more I am of Puerto Rican birth and my dad was also a student of history and told me that he always felt we had sephardic in us Indeed, I agree with Orlando Jimenez. With our military participation in Operation Enduring Freedom, many puertorican soldiers have discovered the awesome physical and cultural similarities with jews and muslim. Our race is also mixed with Africans but our history background key lies in the heart of Sephardic ancestry.

I came across this site looking for information for a history essay on discrimination. I am looking at the discrimination and eviction of Jews in Middle-Aged Spain, and found this site very useful Thank you very much!

Medieval Literature - Jewish Studies - Oxford Bibliographies

Incredible that this topic ins't covered in depth in our history books. I am from Puerto Rico and many of us have great love for Israel and its people. I am also fascinated by the fact that many Puerto ricans have Sephardic ancestry. Also that many surnames ending in ez or es may have sephardic origins. This can explain why so many Puerto rican men are named Israel and Abraham and many carry the star of David.

I didnt know this much about Jews in Spain until I read this. I have a whole new veiw of things Thank you Rabbi for a fantastic insight into our history. The text is informative and inspiring,written in a easy to grasp syle. Everyday I read a chapterand spend a short time afterwards pondering over the period.


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This is a real gem and extremely uplifting. Thanks again. I have just discovered your site and wish to convey my appreciation. I have been looking for more accurate history of the many persecutions the Jews have suffered throughout time. I am also looking for a book published I believe two years ago? Thank you, I will refer your site to others.

I am passing on this excellent review tto my friends I've just asked all my relatives- jews and non jews to subscribe to your sight and I've already been sending them the historical articles. They all like them even the "aphikurses".

here Your quality will bring market volume and market volume success and additional capital for further improvements happy new year kol ha kavod! Thank you Rabbi for this passage. I have read it a few times and appreciate learning about the many Rabbis who have made it so wonderful to be part of a great people. I read about Rashi and his respect for his daughters. No wonder why they married scholars who added to our body of understanding.

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Even in terrible times, Jewish scholarship works to transcend ordeals and make life better. Learn how to enable JavaScript on your browser. See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books.