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Archive for November, 2017

Joseph’s journal: 41

15 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)

A simple fact accounted for the amazing amount of academic study, learning, and creative productivity accomplished by my father throughout his life. I never knew him to sleep more than five hours a night.

Even with nineteen hours a day to study, learn, plan, work, think, and write, I know of no other man who could accomplish what he did, especially with the constant strain of palace intrigue. He had to keep an often drunk and unpredictable master happy. Oh yes, he was also a successful general. He could focus and concentrate his attention better and more completely than any man I have ever known.

Because of its importance to all Jews, I must say more about his Hilkhata Gavata. I am thinking about this now because this past week I dispatched eleven more copies of the work to Father’s colleagues throughout the diaspora. More copies are being made for further distribution. In this work, Father emphasized the six principles he considered the basis of belief for all Jews. He expressed thankfulness that our God has no beginning and no end. He expressed his gratefulness that resurrection is certain, and that there is an afterlife. He was grateful that Moses gave us the Torah, and that the Torah is truth and perfection. He believed the words of our sages are just, as is their lore. The study of their works is a pleasure. He thought there are rewards in this world, and whatever comes after, for the pure and the just, and that the dead are recompensed for their sins.

After my father’s death, following his wishes and instructions, I edited three books of his poetry. I named these compilations the Son of Psalms, the Son of Proverbs and the Son of Ecclesiastes.

The Son of Psalms includes his autobiographical poems, two hundred and twenty-two of them. Many of these poems are long, over a hundred lines. I included a preface to provide the historical context for some of the poems but most, I feel, need no introduction or explanation. They tell the story of who he was and how he was thinking at the moment they were completed.

The Son of Proverbs is a collection of aphorisms. Many of these were not original creations of my father, but he often repeated and used them for effect. Frequently, he would add editorial improvements to these old sayings. All of them were commonly repeated during his days, and still are today.

The Son of Ecclesiastes includes four hundred and eleven poems. All of them original works of my father. Some of the poems I included in this volume only because they did not seem to fit into the first two volumes. There are poems about solar and lunar eclipses, and earthquakes. There are a number of poems that discuss various aspects of aging and death. Not surprisingly, these latter topics came to the forefront of his thinking after he turned sixty.

Throughout his life, Father was an active correspondent. He regularly exchanged letters with Jewish community leaders, institutions, and scholars wherever they could be found, as well as with dignitaries of other Andalusian, and a few Christian kingdoms. He frequently corresponded with Jewish scholars living in Kairouan in Tunisia. That city, founded by the Umayyads over four hundred years ago, is still flourishing and still is home to a significant Jewish population today.

He also corresponded with scholars in Babylonia, Palestine, Sicily, and in several persecuted Jewish communities throughout Christian Europe. He sent and received letters from as far away as England and India. When Rabbi Hushiel of Kairouan died, blessed be his memory, Father sent requests for a memorial service to be held in his honor in Cordoba, Jaen and other Jewish communities in Andalusia. He personally organized memorial services for this man, whom he admired greatly, in Granada and Lucena.

His Jewish identity defined him. From it, he derived his own relationship to the will of God, the history of our people as well as our prehistory. He celebrated the fact of our own special language, literature, wisdom, philosophy, laws, morals, and even our own astronomy and mathematics. Since our calendar is based on the phases of the moon, Rabbis had to be experts at mathematics and astronomy to establish the proper times and dates of our holidays and holy days. He was a master of those subjects.

***

In my father’s home and mine, our cuisine is kosher, traditionally Jewish. The Shabbat meal is usually chamin, a hot stew with beans and other vegetables, and often includes chunks of lamb. We also often have pestelas, a pastry topped with sesame seeds filled with pine nuts, a small bit of meat, and onion. Sambusak, a pastry filled with mashed chickpeas, fried onions and several spices is regularly served. Everything has to be prepared ahead. Those foods that are to be consumed hot are left on the coals of Friday’s fire. They simmer slowly until it is time for the dish to be eaten. I mention this because it is almost time for our Shabbat meal. The aroma of cooking fills house and filters into my study. My mouth is full of saliva.

***

When he was at the Palace, or on a military expedition, Father underwent a self-induced metamorphosis. It was a requirement of his position as Grand Vizier to attend, and sometimes host, both social and formal gatherings. At these functions, he became a fully acclimated Berber, and a participant in all their vices. Most of those vices were contrary to the teachings of Islam. Some of them ignored the teachings of Moses. I struggle with these same issues in my current role.

Father wrote many poems praising wine, and its effects, both in Hebrew and Arabic. However, he took special care to warn me about the dangers of overindulgence. He wrote poetry praising the beauty of both the young boys, and young girls, who were servants at the orgies of food and drink. He also wrote of the children and women who were brought to these functions to entertain the men with other favors. To ameliorate this behavior, he and I had many discussions, or rather I listened to many lectures, about the Torah’s strictures against homosexuality and sex outside of marriage. Today I am still obliged to attend functions of this nature. I struggle with my own morality. Thankfully, as King Badis ages he is less inclined to these pursuits than he was previously.

Predictably, Father’s relationship with my mother was as traditionally Jewish as the meals we ate. Father rarely demonstrated any annoyance with my mother, never anger. I never saw him argue with her. In my presence, at least, he spoke to her with respect, and on rare occasions with tenderness and love. Once or twice I saw him lay his hand gently on her shoulder, the only sign of affection I was witness to.

I clearly remember one evening, about a year after my marriage, he told me he wanted to give me advice about how to treat my wife. Without saying anything more he handed me a poem, that I included in Son of Ecclesiastes. The poem is entitled Advice to a Husband and suggests not to let your wife dominate you and rule you as a husband is supposed to, she is your woman.

He was, apparently determined to provide me with all sorts of helpful advice that night. After I finished reading this poem, for a second time, I stared at him, not knowing how to respond. Saying nothing he handed me a second poem whose advice was do not take a woman into your confidence, do nothing to harm or disgrace a friend, and to not take drugs that alter your mind.

I still struggle trying to understand the context of these two poems, and what it was he expected from me. When I was still a child, he was adamant that I was to fear and respect my mother, and to always obey her. The result of all this advice and admonitions is that I am still, and probably always will be, confused about how I should relate to women.

***

I must continue this history by writing of how Father made an ally of the Taifa of Badajoz. Badajoz is a Berber controlled city/state at least eighteen days of hard travel from Granada. It is about two and a half days directly west of Merida and over ten days, northwest of Cordoba. Most importantly to Father, and to King Badis, it’s only about a week of easy travel north and slightly west of Seville. As our ally, Badajoz provided another front from which we could attack our enemy.

The king of Badajoz, Muhammad ibn Abd Allah Al-Muzaffar, held the normal antipathy of all Berbers against the Arabs of Seville, and felt and understood the threat of Sevillian hegemony. Nevertheless, my father had to use all of his diplomatic skills, as well as buying the friendship of several highly-placed notables in Al-Muzaffar’s court, to bring him into the alliance. Despite his diplomatic skills, Ha Nagid was still ambivalent, and distrustful of allies.

The Zanhadja and Zenata Berbers were once again unified. All proudly flew the Amazigh flag. The design of this flag holds many special meanings. Its blue horizontal stripe represents the Berber tribes who originally lived by the sea, the green stripe represents those Berbers originating from the Rif and Atlas mountain ranges, and the yellow stripe recalls the desert dwellers. The red Amazigh symbol in the center of the flag represents the very human yearning for freedom of all peoples, arms open, reaching for the sky. It is sad that the trust and family the flag represents was so easily put aside when the Berber tribes, for whatever reasons, fail to remain unified.

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