Joseph’s journal;

12 Marchehvan 4814 (November, 1064)

 Today was a good day. I thank God for it. I spent the morning with the students in my Yeshiva. Our discussion of Talmud was up-lifting. Most of the students were actively involved and thinking, thinking in innovative and creative ways, about both the obvious as well as the hidden meanings of the words. My heart soared and my brain smiled.

Granada has been calm the last few months. The incidents of Jews being attacked on the streets has diminished. The army has been deployed only to answer occasional raids by Arab and Berber tribes with no hope or thought of conquest. We have been able to reduce the numbers of employed mercenaries, since the threat of war with our neighbors has lessened. The economy is in the process of recovering and tax revenues are up as a result. I cope on a daily basis with the details of keeping our complex government and economy operating smoothly but I have been fortunate in recruiting bright, intelligent assistants who are willing to take on responsibilities and reduce my workload.

Lately I meet with the king only once a week, unless there is something that specifically requires his approval or attention. He is content with this arrangement. I am told his drinking has slacked and although he partakes every day he is less often incapacitated.

Prince Abdallah has finished his apprenticeship in my offices, but still shows up on a regular basis to inhabit the library and pour over documents relating to our history. Lately he is requesting access to current documents dealing with ongoing negotiations and intrigues. Occasionally he will come to me with specific questions or background information. I do my best to give him what he asks for and more, when possible.

Abdallah is also spending considerable time honing his warrior and command skills, serving as an aid to General Abu ibn Mohammad. I invited the General to my home this week and over a leisurely dinner extracted the information that he was pleased with Abdallah’s progress and grasp of military tactics and strategy. General Abu was one of my father’s favorites. He understood and put into practice all my father taught him. He told me he feels he is honoring Ha Nagid by being frank and honest with me. He explained that he believed Abdallah should be named successor to Badis. Then cautioned me. His opinion on this must be limited to himself and now me. For obvious political reasons he could not afford to promote any one prince over another. I told him I fully understood. I have the same issues.

General Abu did share that on the last excursion he made to put down a minor insurrection, in a small town near Jaen, Abdallah conducted himself with considerable bravery and skill. Abu told me Abdallah clearly won the admiration and loyalty of the troops he was commanding.

Whenever the opportunity presents I mention Abdallah’s progress and aptitude to King Badis. He takes the information in, but does not indicate interest or pleasure. I never press the issue.

Abu Ishak of Elvira has become more and more a pest. Badis refuses to grant him an audience after asking for my frank opinion of the man. When I told him he nodded. Abu Ishak has taken up what seems to be permanent residence in the city. He is being supported by several wealthy Arabs, as an intellectual and teacher. He also serves as tutor to the children of several of the Berber tribal chiefs who have never been thrilled with the fact that my father, and now I, have greater power than they do. Abu Ishak speaks out against me whenever the opportunity arises. Based on the reports of these activities that I receive I must admit he is eloquent as well as insidious.

Joseph’s journal;

 23 Tishrei, 4811 (October, 1061)

There were three attacks on Jews in the streets this month. The frequency is increasing but, so far, no persons have been arrested. I tried this morning, during my meeting with the king, to suggest he appoint someone else to lead the investigation. The Zanhadja tribal chief in charge of the investigations had yet to identify any perpetrators.

“Don’t try my patience Vizier. Concentrate on the duties for which you are responsible. None of your people have been killed, have they?”

“Does an innocent need to be killed before we put a stop to these attacks, Majesty?”

“Never mind. The people are angry. I rely on you, as I did on your father. You have my full support. You need to know, however, more and more people plea for me to rid myself and the kingdom of you. I ignore these strident voices. We both pay a price for this loyalty. It seems a significant number of our population need a scapegoat to blame for their problems, especially now with the economy struggling. The Jews have always been scapegoats. Why should it change now? In any case it is impossible for me to put a stop to it. Those that lend money at interest must know they will be resented, do you not agree? I know your father did not allow that practice.”

“I am powerless to stop it Majesty.”

“I realize that Joseph. For now, we must live with these attacks as best we can and pray nobody dies as a result. How goes the collection of taxes this month? The salaries of the mercenaries will be due in nine days. Will we have the funds?”

“Yes Majesty, there is enough in the treasury to cover those expenses for the next three months.”

“Good. Anything else we need to discuss?”

“No your Highness.”

I bowed my way out and retreated through the courtyard of an adjoining building to the rooms that house my official offices. I passed through the waiting room ignoring the three supplicants hoping to gain my attention that day. I entered my outer office and closed the door behind me. Three clerks were busy writing. They all glanced up, saw it was me, and resumed their tasks. The fourth person in the room jumped to his feet. He was a full two inches taller than me, of light complexion, light brown hair and inquisitive eyes, an unusual shade of blue-green. The young man was in his early twenties, Prince Abdallah. He was currently spending time in my offices learning, I hoped, the intricacies of managing the King’s finances and the twists and turns of diplomacy.

“Good morning Vizier. May I have some time this morning to speak with you?”

“Of course Prince Abdallah, please come in and have a seat.”

He followed me into my office and closed the door. I held out my arm to the chair across from my desk and stood until he was seated.

“What can I help you with,” I asked.

“I was wondering about the background of the large stack of documents relating to our current relationships with the king of Carmona. You gave them to me to read two days ago. I know some of the history we have with that Taifa but if I am to understand the realities of our relationship I need more information.”

I smiled inwardly. This young fellow actually showed some promise. He was interested in history, more than I could say about any of the other Princes King Badis  sent to me to be educated. Most of them lacked curiosity and initiative. They just performed the tasks I set for them, usually without enthusiasm or interest. They all had been fundamentally uninterested in the details and importance of financial record keeping.

“Good your Majesty. I am pleased you are interested in the history of our relationships with the other Taifas. They have been and are complicated, depending a great deal on the personalities and aspirations of the rulers and their families. I will instruct my secretary Yacob to give you full access to all our documents relating to any of the Taifas you have an interest in. After you read the written records please come to me and we will discuss your impressions and conclusions. I will be happy to address any questions you may have. I encourage you to write down questions as you go through the materials and I will do my best to answer them. As you know I have, since I was quite young, been privy to my father’s dealings with other countries and I am happy to share with you any insights I may have.”

“Thank you Vizier. I also have some questions about the rationale for the methods of collecting of taxes and the reasoning behind such meticulous record keeping. Why is it necessary to know who paid what amount, when, and the method of payment? But that can wait I suppose.”

“Yes, let us defer the economics discussion until you have satisfied your curiosity about historical issues. Do you resent the bookkeeping tasks I have assigned or do you understand my rationale for insisting you do that rather boring job?”

“The record keeping is quite tedious Vizier, but I know if I am to understand the system you use I must involve myself in the actual chores of keeping the records. I see there is no other way to learn the system. So no, I don’t resent the work.”

“Good, I am extremely pleased you see the benefits of learning the system by working with it.” I stood. “Come I will accompany you to the library and have Yacob show you the system we use so you can find the documents either by the Taifa with whom the events took place or the date when the records were made.”

This one, at least, showed some promise. I would keep close watch on his progress in the office and his activities away from the office, when he was on his own.

I spent the rest of the day reviewing documents relating to ongoing negotiations with three other Taifas. I also talked to several men with information about various ongoing investigations and projects. I checked the current status of our state resources and the logistics of delivering payment to our troops. Finally, I gave instructions to bring in the three petitioners, one at a time in the order of their arrival. They had been breathing the air of my waiting room long enough. The first two voiced heartfelt pleas to reduce their taxes. The first man made a good case for the downturn in his situation and I granted him a reprieve. The second lacked any convincing arguments and was denied. Another enemy made.

The third man was Abu Ishak, an Arab from Elvira, who was hoping, because of his learning and recognition as a scholar and intellectual, to obtain a position at court. He had made a direct appeal to King Badis, in writing, but had not received a response, not even an acknowledgement of the request. His goal was to gain me as an advocate. He tried to impress me with his intellectual credits and accomplishments. I found him to be overbearing and strident. After a half hour or so I managed to get rid of him with a vague promise to mention him to the king at my first opportunity.

Joseph’s journal;

16 Sivan 4810 (June, 1061)

I spent the first days of my assignment interviewing the tutors and former tutors of six of Badis’ seven legal sons. The seventh is only four years old. Three of his sons are now in their twenties. I have filtered the reports of their tutors for the realities of life. Their intellectual achievements seem to be average, at best. All three are currently appointed as aides to different generals. All three Generals are laudatory about the achievements and character of their charges but, as I evaluated their expressions and body language, I was certain they were hiding their true opinions. Not at all surprising.

All of the teachers and generals were summoned to meet with me in my formal office in the palace. This was not a good choice. All palaces have many ears and nothing said in confidence is ever held secret. I decided to invite each of the generals, individually, to dinner in my home. The results of these private conversations armed me with a much improved idea about each of the three sons. None of the three were without serious flaws in their character, but neither is King Badis.

Today I was summoned again into the King’s presence for the results of my inquiries. He had not forgotten my assignment.

“So Vizier, what have you discovered? Who do you want to be your next King?”

“As I am certain you are aware, Majesty, since nothing escapes your notice, I have limited serious consideration to your three eldest; Abu, Mohammad, and Abdallah. If you wish I can investigate the qualifications of your younger sons and perhaps you also have nephews who could be contenders. I believe it unwise to rush into anything, as you well know. My suggestions would be to assign each of your sons, and possibly some of your nephews, to work in the offices of your various Viziers on a rotating basis. That will give us all the opportunity to make an evaluation of their relative merits and suitability to be rulers.”

“You prevaricate as much as me, Joseph. However, I like this idea. I plan to live at least another ten or twelve years, so we have time. I will order it.”

I returned to my official office greatly relieved. Another crisis at least temporarily averted.

Warrior Rabbi: 53

Joseph’s journal;

16 Iyar 4810 (May, 1061)


My young brother Elyasaf is making good progress in his studies. The whole family is looking forward to his Bar Mitzvah next year. For his age he is already a Talmudic scholar of some accomplishment. He expresses much more interest in the Torah and Talmud than in government service. My son Azeriah is still too young to start grooming for anything. I’m far from certain I want Elyasaf to take on the life’s work my father chose for me.

My mother’s health is still good, although she is now showing her age. I did not realize until recently how close she was to her brother, ben Judah. I also long for his calm and steady personality and the efficiency with which he managed the family’s wealth. This year we are in a drought and the three farm properties we still own are all going to show a loss. I remember my father discussing the uncertainty of agriculture. This year there was a general downturn in the economy and the losses from the farms is more problematic because our other sources of income are also down. I am told that although the harvest will be much less than usual the grape crop will likely result in a very high quality wine, but that will not be realized for at least two to four years.

King Badis seems more and more remote. Following the example set by his father, King Haddus, he has refused to name a successor from among his seven legal sons, or untold numbers of the sons of concubines. The tribal chiefs are beginning to align themselves with the pretenders and it seems clear that a civil war is in the offing when he dies, unless I can do something to prevent it. I have gone to Badis and told him of my concerns. I can repeat his responses verbatim:

“So Vizier, tell me which of my sons you are certain will make the best king and once he is named what will prevent him from getting rid of me to hasten his rise to power?”

“I’m afraid I haven’t had the opportunity to get to know them well enough to make a choice, Sire.”

“Well their mothers are always nagging me to make a choice, inevitably each’s eldest. I don’t know any of them well enough to choose and prefer the company of two or three of my concubines to any of my wives. I consider the lot of them, mothers and sons, a pain in the ass. All the sons are spoiled by their mothers and ignorant of what a king’s responsibilities and duties are.”

“Do you think it might be wise to separate a few of them from their mothers and start grooming them for responsibility? Perhaps that would be a way you can identify those with the necessary level of ability. Have you talked with their teachers about their progress?”

“I have not. That would be an excellent task for you Joseph. I authorize you to hold discussions with their teachers and make an assessment of their learning, willingness to learn and aptitude. Perhaps you can even develop an opinion. You can tell me about which of the worthies you would be willing to serve after I’m gone. Good idea. You do that Vizier, and report back to me in a month. Dismissed.”

So now I have maneuvered myself into another task, to make recommendations about the successor to my king. The only possible way for this to turn out well is that one of the Princes will be so far superior to his brothers that the choice will be obvious. That is most unlikely to happen but it’s the only scenario I can think of likely to gain the support of the tribal chiefs, not to mention the king’s. I have, I fear, made the overall situation worse, especially for myself. My father would never have allowed himself to be trapped into this position.

Letter from Badis, King of Granada         

20 Ramadan, 447 (1056)

My Dear Joseph ben Ishma’il ibn Nagrela,

Allow me again to offer condolences for the death of your beloved father. I believe I feel his loss as much as you. However, life goes on and I require your services.

You will report to the palace tomorrow morning three hours after dawn to receive your official appointment as Chief Vizier and Finance Vizier.  I know you have been fulfilling the duties of these offices for some time now, while under the supervision of your father.

Be prompt. You may bring along members of your immediate family to witness the ceremony, if you wish.



Joseph’s journal;

8 Adar 4809 (February, 1060)

It is hard to believe my father has been dead for four years. Last year we also lost my Uncle, my mother’s brother, Rabbi ben Judah. It was he who managed the family properties for many years. His heart, weak for some time, stopped while he was sleeping. This has put additional family responsibilities on me and forced me to consider a serious consolidation of the family’s resources. My brother Elyasaf, only eleven years old and eighteen years my junior, is too young to assume the daily oversight of the family’s holdings so I have that additional responsibility.

Many of our most distant properties have been sold, the capital invested in various business opportunities here in Granada. I offered David ben Abraham ownership of the two Ecija farms at a fair price with no down payment and no interest loans, to be paid off over time. He was very pleased. Three of the other properties were sold to the same managers who worked them profitably for many years, on equally generous terms.

My relationship with King Badis is considerably more formal than the one my father had with him. Officially I am still his Chief Vizier, and he does listen when I have something he considers significant to contribute. However, I have not been able to maintain the numbers nor reliability of the spy network my father constructed. The information I have access to regarding the actions and intentions of potential enemies is still significant. Some rivals for the King’s ear are making inroads. I still have a strong hold on the finances of the kingdom and Badis seems pleased with all I continue to accomplish in that regard. The economy continues to grow, the treasury is adequate to meet all needs and whims, and we maintain a strong military capable of responding to all threats.

I am happy to not be involved in the military adventures of the kingdom. Badis has at his disposal capable Generals, of proven ability, who were educated and trained by my father. They conduct his military adventures for him. My father made it clear to Badis I had no talent nor inclination to be a warrior. The king no longer takes the field himself. He is much addicted to his cup.

Although I have considerable influence in the Jewish community of Granada I am not able to exert the level of control over the ethical attitudes and practices that my father was. During the last three years the economic situation here continued to improve and the number of people moving into Granada has multiplied. Many Jews have also arrived, looking for opportunity to invest capital in a more robust economy than existed where they previously lived. Some of these individuals have been loaning money at interest, growing their capital. There has also been a large increase in the Arab and Berber populations and this has attracted Imams of less tolerant beliefs.

The inevitable happened. Borrowers defaulted and lenders look for legal, and sometimes extralegal, activities to recoup their capital. The result has been hard feelings, hard words, and an increase in anti-Jewish rhetoric and incidents. Gangs of men beat up two Jews in the streets, in broad daylight, last month. Both those attacked were money lenders. I appealed to Badis and he appointed one of his Zanhadja tribal chiefs to investigate, but there doesn’t seem to have been a serious attempt to identify the perpetrators or bring them to justice. If this situation persists I will be hard pressed to suggest a solution.

This morning I had a conversation with Amar, an Arab with whom I have been friends since we were children.

“My friend, I think something is happening that you need to be aware of.”

“Yes, what is it?”

“Last week I attended services at the new mosque built two streets away from my house, you know it?”


“The Imam preached a sermon with the same old arguments about Infidels having power over True Believers. He did not name you but it was clear, from what he said, he is not happy that any of his followers are paying taxes to a Jew, or that one particular Jew has great power and influence in this Taifa, as well as being very wealthy himself.”

“This is a problem my father had to face all his life. I cannot respond to this Imam’s words but perhaps we can make it known if his words incite his followers to action there will be consequences.”

“What kind of consequences, and how would you prove he was responsible?”

“Ah, that is the problem I wrestle with, Amar. Thank you for telling me. I have always been thankful you are my friend.”


Joseph’s journal;

4 Tevelt 4808 (December 1059) 

It seems that early each spring, we receive intelligence of an uprising, an invasion, raiding, or some sort of incident that demands a military response. These crises seem to require that Ha Nagid put on his armor and depart on a campaign. Sometimes circumstances dictate a large army, sometimes just a token force. In the spring of 1056, word arrived that in Linares, a town north of Jaen, one of Father’s tax collectors had been murdered. One of the Zenata Berber tribes was responsible for the murder and the same tribe was raiding the nearby villages of Carboneros and La Carolina. This was not a new scenario it was often repeated in different places by different perpetrators, but it was not something that could be tolerated.

“You are fully capable of dealing with things here in Granada, Joseph. I will take a small force, maybe two companies of light cavalry, one of heavy, two units of mounted archers and slingers, and two units of infantry and go deal with these rebels. Take care to keep the king happy while I’m gone.”

“Of course, Papa, but there is no need for you to lead the force in person. You have more than one general capable of accomplishing the task.”

“No, I must do this myself. The man who was murdered was a friend of long-standing, Shlomo ben Yitzhak. Everyone knew he was my man, so this was meant to be a challenge to my authority. I will deal with it.”

Colonel Samuel ben Yehuda, a Jew commanded a company of heavy cavalry. He was one of my childhood friends. Ben Yehuda is a full two meters tall, heavily muscled and has proven to be very brave and resourceful in battle. His men know he is always solicitous of their wellbeing but determined to do whatever is necessary to be victorious. He is destined to be a general. I called on him in his home.

“I am worried about Ha Nagid,” I told him. “He is acting more and more like an old man, but he insists this latest policing action is personal for him. I’m afraid he is planning to do something foolish. I think he intends to personally fight if the opportunity presents itself. Last night, I watched as he sharpened the blades of his sword and knives. He was reciting some of King David’s poems as he sharpened his weapons. He has also inspected his own armor, and that of his horse. He ordered the repair of some very minor weaknesses in the chaining. He is too old to be engaging in combat.”

“Do not worry, Joseph. I will glue myself to his side. If there is any fighting, I will protect him. I know this Zenata Chief. He is a blowhard. If and when he sees our forces he will either run to the mountains or surrender. In either case he will beg your father for forgiveness with some lame excuse for what he has done.”

“Thank you, Samuel. I will count on you to keep Ha Nagid safe. Also, please watch to make certain he does not tire himself and become ill again. He is not nearly so strong as he once was.”

“Of course. Please do not worry. I will make certain he is returned home in better shape than when we leave. Time in the field, in the open air, will rejuvenate him.”

They were gone for a little over two months and returned to Granada with only two wounded. Father looked stronger and healthier than I had seen him for four years.

Colonel ben Yehuda and I were strolling along my favorite path next to the river the day after they returned home. The day was clear, a few white clouds scuttling across the late morning sky. On that stretch of river, the water flows gently and I watched as a leaf got trapped in an eddy next to the bank.

“My father appears to be in much better health than when you left on your camping trip. He told me last night everything went well.”

“Yes, being outside in the fresh air, and the healthy exercise, agreed with him. I don’t know how he does it. After travelling all day, he stayed up almost all night studying his books or writing. Every day he sent a messenger loaded with documents to deliver back here to you, or to the palace, or to send on their way to the diaspora. One or two messengers caught up with us with their dispatches every day. How many Rabbis and officials do you think he communicates with?”

“I can’t keep a count. The last time I tried to make a list, it was well over two dozen.”

“He’s a remarkable man, but I must tell you he gave me a huge scare.”

I stopped short and took hold of his arm. “What did he do?”

“After two weeks, our scouts located their camp. We managed to get within a kilometer before they knew we were coming. They reacted quickly, grabbed what they could, armed themselves, and scrambled to saddle their horses and flee. Your father ordered me to attack immediately, then spurred his stallion, drawing his sword as he galloped towards the camp. I shouted to my captains to attack and gave chase, just managing to catch up to him as he encountered one of the rebels.”

“I thought you were going to keep him out of danger.”

“I’m sorry. I never expected him to rush in as he did. He was possessed. He was smiling and shouting a prayer to God. I couldn’t understand all of what he was shouting. He crashed into the first man he encountered, knocking him off his horse and slashing the man’s sword arm. Then he jerked his horse to the side, attempting to engage a group of three. I managed to get between him and them, joined by six of my men. We wounded and captured ten and killed three before they scattered into the mountains. This happened in the foothills north of Navas de Tolosa. I split up our forces and we pursued their small bands, but only managed to find and capture another dozen before the rest of them crossed over into Castile-La Mancha. Ha Nagid didn’t want to invade the Christian territory with an armed force, so we turned back and spent time in La Carolina, Carbones, El Altico, and Guarromain before going to Linares.”

“In each of those places, your father held council with my officers and me. We selected two, sometime three platoons, with a lieutenant in charge. They were left as a garrison to prevent further raids. He also met with the leaders of each community and appointed new administrators to replace those killed by the rebels.”

We continued walking then reached a bench under an overhanging weeping willow tree. I nodded at the bench and we sat. I needed to find out more about my father’s actions.

“We left two companies to garrison Linares and your father made certain there was a fast response system in place with remount stations. He ordered that messengers must be able to get a fresh horse every ten-kilometers, or less. He insists that we be able to respond quickly to any attacks or raiding parties. He summoned my brother David to bring his family to Linares and assume the positions of tax collector and sub-governor of the northern territories. He will report to the governor of Jaen province. All of this took the better part of a month in Linares alone.”

“Do you think your brother will do well there?”

“He seemed quite happy with the opportunity, although I think he will miss the interaction with family and the Jewish community here. Time will tell.”

“His financial situation will certainly improve.”


Late that same fall, my father was again ill and depressed. He rarely left his bed, even to go to his study. He seemed content to lay propped up with many cushions while he read, disinclined to occupy his time with writing. One morning, as I sat at his bedside going over the tasks for the day, he handed me two folded sheets of paper.

“Joseph, keep these but do not open them until I am gone. I doubt I will last through this winter.”

His complexion was pasty, his breathing labored. His right hand was shaking slightly and he grabbed it with his left hand to hold it steady. He started coughing and was unable to speak for some minutes before he coughed up phlegm into a square of soft cotton cloth. I took the fabric from him and handed him a clean cloth from a stack on the table next to his bed.

“This is not good, Papa. I am sending for your physicians. There must be something they can do.”

“All three of them will be here this afternoon, Joseph, we agreed to that when they were here two days ago. They are giving me treatments for the congestion in my chest, but they tell me much of the pus is accumulating in my lungs. There is nothing to be done more than inhaling the steam with eucalyptus oil that they treat me with.”

“I will bring in some other physicians. They will have other treatments to try.”

“No, Joseph, they will want to bleed me and do other invasive things to my old body. I am tired and you are ready to take over. No more physicians, no more treatments. I have lived a long life, more years than I deserved. God has been my protector and my champion. It’s enough.”

Three weeks after that conversation, he died in his sleep. The entire Jewish population of Granada and representatives from all of the communities capable of arriving within twenty-four hours of the news of his death attended his burial. King Badis came, as did his entire family. All of the government officials and administrators, all of the generals and colonels of the army attended. We buried him in a plain, white cotton shroud in the Jewish cemetery just outside the Elvira gate to the city. Memorial services honoring him were conducted in every town with an organized Jewish community throughout Andalusia and in many other communities throughout the diaspora.

All of the Jews who attended his burial wore white cotton cloaks, which they tore during the keriah. The family and visitors to our home crowded the meeting room and jammed the courtyard for each of the mandated seven days of the daily shiva service. On the eighth day, alone and lonely in the study, I unfolded the two sheets of paper he gave me just before dying.

The first said; “I have not always been faithful to the one with whom you were conceived. King Badis gave me a young Jewish maiden whom I loved in a way completely different from the way I loved your mother. For ten years I loved her and then she died from the same pox that took your sister from us. This is a poem I wrote for her:”

The poem brought tears to my eyes and is too personal to share with anyone.

The second sheet of paper held his final instructions to me.

“When you deal with the King, you must use all of the wisdom and experience that the two of us together brought to him. You must convince him that all the ideas he embraces were in actuality his own. The largest threat to our Jewish community is disunity. I charge you with the responsibility and obligation to do everything necessary to protect our people. When I am gone dear Joseph, my son, you must take extraordinary care to avoid any action that can or might corrode your relationship with the King or with the Jewish community.”


Joseph’s journal:

28 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059) 

The winter of 4794 (1056) found Ha Nagid tired. He was tired of living, tired of campaigning, tired of being responsible for correcting King Badis’ poor judgment and failings, tired of the responsibility of protecting and advancing the lives of the Jewish people and our community. It was fortunate that he no longer had to deal with the machinations and plotting of many of his historic enemies. Yaddair was dead as were Boluggin, Zuhair, Ibn Abbas, and the kings of Carmona and Ronda. Mutadid was ineffective, behaving more and more erratically, more and more crazy. He was also in failing physical health.

Father focused his thinking, and his poetry, on the physical afflictions of advancing age. His own health was unquestionably a major preoccupation. The inevitability of death occupied much of his thinking and was reflected in his poetry. He was also ready to leave the corridors of power. Each day he turned over to me additional duties, responsibilities, and tasks. He insisted that I assume the role he had chosen for me.

One good thing did happen that winter. Yacob ben Rabbihi came to our front gate and begged to talk to Ha Nagid. Rabbihi had been one of Father’s favorite students, but he plagiarized an obscure piece of commentary in an analysis he wrote as an assignment from my father. Father, of course, recognized that passage on first reading. His response was predictable and final. He immediately expelled ben Rabbihi from the Yeshiva. I went to the gate to ascertain what the man wanted.

“Joseph, thank you for speaking to me.”

“Yacob, what is it that you want to talk to Ha Nagid about? He has no wish to see you.”

“I understand Joseph, but I have been wandering Andalusia since I did that one unforgivable deed. Now I have accomplished something I pray will allow Ha Nagid to forgive me.”


“Before I fell from grace, I was privileged to copy small sections of Ha Nagid’s work he titled Minor Kobelet.”

“Yes, that manuscript was lost in the ambush by Abu Nun of Ronda when Father had to escape into the river.”

“I know, but a year ago I met the man who recovered the manuscript. He represented it to me as his own work. I told him I was very interested in the subject and begged him to allow me to study it. He agreed, but would only allow me to access it in his presence. Each day I would memorize a section of the text then I would write down what I had memorized when alone in the evening. It took me over a month to transcribe the entire manuscript.”

He reached inside a pouch attached to the belt around his waist and extracted a book. He held it out to me. I took it, examined it, and immediately recognized Father’s phrasing and Yacob’s calligraphy.

“Your calligraphy skills are still intact, Yacob.”

“It was for those skills that Ha Nagid first accepted me as a student.”

“Well I’m certain he will want to examine this. Follow me.”

I took him to the study, but instructed him to wait outside the doorway while I told Father the story and showed him the book. Father looked at me for several moments then nodded, and extended his hand. I gave him the book and he started leafing through it, then more slowly, reading each line while alternating smiling, nodding, and frowning. I could see he was conflicted.

“Yes, Joseph, this is it. So the prodigal has returned and offers this gift in hopes of forgiveness?”

“Yes, he told me as much.”

“All right, bring him in.”

As Yacob entered the study Father stood up from his desk and took two steps forward, extending his hand.

“Yacob, you have returned to me a work I thought was lost forever. If you will forgive my harsh response to your mistake, I will accept you back into my Yeshiva. Your first assignment will be the task of making ten copies of this work.”

“Thank you, Nagid, it is more than what I dreamed or hoped for. You will never have cause to doubt me or regret this decision.”

I was very surprised at Father’s reaction. The father I knew was quick to anger, unforgiving, vengeful, and held grudges sometimes beyond reason. Perhaps his advanced age caused him to mellow. His joy at being reunited with a work he had thought lost forever was obvious. It induced him to give Yacob ben Rabbihi a second chance. This was the first time I ever knew him to grant even the most remorseful person a second chance.

As I said previously, most of the enemies of Granada, and thereby my father, were no longer a factor in his life nor cause for concern. They had been removed from the scene either by the natural course of events or as a result of his machinations. Even Mutadid, the rumors and spy reports told us, was on his deathbed. We would have to await his successor to see what new threat, if any, would come from Seville.

Father’s friends were secure. The Jewish communities of Granada and all of its territories were protected and thriving economically. He protected them and also gave a significant portion of his wealth to the Jewish communities. He considered the Jews a community of people chosen by God to demonstrate to the world how to live a moral, honest, caring, and useful life. Over many years he had also encouraged and supported many poets and philosophers, both Jews and Gentiles, and most of them were thriving. His literary, philological, and religious books were read and held in highest esteem by people he respected and honored. He resented those that disliked his work and made their feelings public in their writings. At least he claimed to resent them. In the case of his long dispute with Jonah ibn Janah, however, I sensed an undercurrent of mutual respect and camaraderie. I think my father actually enjoyed his on-going war of words with ibn Janah, even the vitriol between them.

Father and ibn Janah both grew up in Cordoba. They shared some of the same teachers, but not all. As youths they both loved to debate and specially to debate each other. But the outcome of their debates rarely resulted in a clear winner. They both fled Cordoba about the same time and for the same reasons, but ibn Janah wandered through Andalusia for several years before finally settling in Saragossa in the north. He made his living as a physician and was, by all accounts, a very good one.

Unlike Father, ibn Janah had no talent for poetry and did not publish any. The major thrust of his published works were concerned with philology. He felt strongly that; “… Scripture can only be understood by the aid of philology. …”  He repeated that statement many times in his various writings.

One of ibn Janah’s earliest books was titled The Book of Criticism. In this book, he made a vicious, and my father felt, disrespectful, attack on one of Father’s most beloved teachers Rabbi Judah ben David Hayyui.

After the publication of his critique of Rabbi Hayyui, ibn Janah welcomed into his home a man who happened to be a mutual friend of his and my father’s. This common friend delivered a manuscript, written by my father, that criticized Janah’s critique of Rabbi Hayyui. Janah replied to this by authoring another book, The Book of Repute. Father countered with The Epistles of the Companions. I know that book well since I had the responsibility of overseeing the making of several copies. The publication of The Epistles resulted in two more responses from ibn Janah; The Book of Sharing and The Book of Minute Research. This last book was one of the earliest books written about Hebrew philology. In these works, Janah slanderously identified Father as an oaf, a freak, an idiot, and even a stammerer. During his career, ibn Janah published six major works, a third of them were direct attacks on my father.

Some of my father’s responses to these attacks were published, but most were just delivered to ibn Janah as written rebuttal. I think both men were spurred on by the other to think and write more creatively and each drew some measure of pleasure from the war of words. As a result of these exchanges, ibn Janah will no doubt be remembered as one of the greatest Hebrew philologists of all time. Father once said to me, “Joseph, ibn Janah is now and will be long remembered for his knowledge and exposition of Hebrew grammar, usage and the complex meaning of Hebrew words.”

One of Father’s protégés became well known in my lifetime. I believe the fame his poetry achieved will live on through many generations. Solomon ben Yehudah ibn Gabirol was born in 1021 in Malaga. Ibn Gabirol was writing accomplished poetry by the time he was sixteen years old. He wrote and published some very important poems when he was only nineteen.

Unfortunately, ibn Gabirol was short, rotund, somewhat misshapen. He was unhappily afflicted with dermal tuberculosis. That disease resulted in boils and an ugly, scarred face, arms, legs, and body. He actually mentions some of these deformities in his poetry. His mother died in 1045 and ibn Gabirol subsequently moved to Granada. My father was familiar with his work and recognized his genius so he sponsored and supported him for a time.

For two years ibn Gabirol lived in our household writing secular verse that frequently revealed his anger and his thwarted ambition. His stay with us ended after he insulted my father. I don’t know what he did or said, and Father never told me. He was asked to leave and did so. While he was with us he also wrote several piyyutim, liturgical poems. Many of those piyyutim, and ones he authored after leaving our household, are included in siddurim, the prayer books used during services. He also started work on a philosophical book that became a masterpiece titled; The Fountain of Life.

After he left our house, ibn Gabirol claimed, in one of his poems, to have written twenty books on philosophical, linguistic, scientific, and religious topics. There is no doubt in my mind that his liturgical poetry will survive in our prayer books for centuries. They are brilliant. He died in 1060, before he reached forty years of age.