Posts Tagged ‘Jewish influence in Andalusia’

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.

Read Full Post »

Joseph’s journal: 37

10 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)


Over the years, I have often thought about my father’s relationship with King Badis and their arch enemy, King Mutadid of Seville. I will endeavor to provide more insight into Badis’ and my father’s characters and personalities as this history progresses.

I believe the kings Badis and Mutadid had more in common than differences between them. Both had the ultimate goal of making their kingdom pre-eminent. Both enjoyed the support of their citizens in their efforts to achieve that goal. Neither would ever acknowledge that any constraints could be imposed on their whims, or indeed any aspect of their behavior. Both were both free to exercise any desire or passion. There was no one who could, or would, dare to prevent them from doing anything they wanted to do.

Both Badis and Mutadid faced the constant threat of assassination. The most significant danger often came from people closest to them. Their courtiers were suspicious of everything and everyone, particularly their colleagues. The same courtiers were fearful for their own safety, while much occupied with intrigue. All were insecure about their position at court, and constantly worrying about their influence, or lack thereof, with their king. Both kings knew that if they failed to completely humiliate and kill their enemies, often in the most gruesome way possible, they would be seen as weak and unable to act with decisiveness. Indecisiveness is a fatal flaw for a king, in any time. I think this knowledge was instinctive in both of them.

Both kings were isolated, alone even while amongst many. All governments require an organization of people capable and willing to effectively implement the decisions made by higher-ranking officials. This is especially necessary when, as it is in most cases, those making decisions are unable or incapable of performing the tasks and completing the work necessary themselves. Other hands are required to assume the workload in order to reach the desired policy outcome. Worker bees make the honey. No King can rule without a cadre of people willing to make certain the king’s desires and decisions are carried out.

My father, may he rest in peace, had many extraordinary skills. Perhaps the most important was his ability to convince King Badis to modify a contemplated action, or decision, that might be harmful to the kingdom. Another of my father’s great strengths was his ability to discover where, along the chain of command, a problem existed and either repair or remove the weak link. He also had a well-developed intuition that enabled him to identify and appoint men of intelligence and skill. Men who understood how to make things happen. Under his administration things got done.

So far, I have been fortunate. For the most part I am able to match Father’s administrative abilities, although I clearly lack many other of his skills.

Because of his long service and constant loyalty my father was, without question, the most trusted man in King Badis’ court. Never-the-less both he, and now I, have had to be constantly on guard against any offense, real or imagined. We have had to contend with the tribal chiefs, cronies, and hangers-on of the king, who all resent the fact that a Jew has more power than they do. I face these challenges on a daily basis.

King Badis, aside from his drunkenness, frequently displays signs of paranoia and inexplicable behavior, sometimes just for effect. These paranoid-induced, or calculated decisions, as well as decisions made without apparent thought or consideration, seem to have increased since my father died. Despite this, I believe Badis trusts me. I continue to do my best to serve him, and the best interests of the kingdom. By doing so I also protect the Jewish community.

Mutadid’s paranoia, on the other hand, is clearly a manifestation of mental illness. I recently learned from a man, a former member of Mutadid’s court, a troubling story. Mutadid’s own son feared his father was going to have him killed, so he hatched a plot to kill Mutadid first. Unfortunately for the son, Mutadid learned of the plot. He slit the son’s throat himself. But he didn’t stop with that horrific act. He proceeded to kill all of his son’s friends, his son’s servants, all four of his daughters-in-law, and all of their children, including two infants. When some of his viziers, including the man who told me of these events, fearfully entered the palace room full of slaughtered family members, they found Mutadid standing with a knife still held in his right hand, drops of blood sliding off the blade and splashing on the tile floor. Their Ruler stared at them from red-rimmed eyes, his pupils wide, dark, holes in his head. His clothing, his arms, and both hands were covered with the blood of his victims. The room shuddered in oppressive silence.

Mutadid screamed at the men huddled at the doorway.

“Wretches! Wherefore are you silent? You gloat in your hearts over my misfortune! Be gone from my sight!”

My father now realized that Granada would never be at peace unless it achieved dominance throughout all of Andalusia. This fit exactly with King Badis’ ambitions. The Zanhadja had no argument with the Zenata king of Ronda, prior to his attempt on my father. Now it was clear to both Badis and to my father that Mutadid was the instigator of the Rondan act of aggression.

During the winter of 4794 (1045 and 1046) the Zenata rulers of Carmona and Moron joined forces and began initiating raids on Granadian holdings. Father was convinced Mutadid had a hand in this as well. Father’s response was two-fold. He organized and conducted counter raids into the territories of Carmona and Moron. His troops took plunder, annexed territory, and exacted tribute from the inhabitants of those areas ruled by the Zenata Berber al-Birzali and Dammon families, who ruled Carmona and Moron respectively. At the same time, Father raised the funds to recruit a whole regiment, a thousand, Mamluk mercenaries.

Only purchased slaves could become members of the Mamluk. An extremely wealthy Berber family from Jaen owned the particular regiment Father hired. All physical needs of these men were taken care of by their owners, who provided exceptionally good living conditions and a reward system so generous it enticed many freeborn, but poor youngsters, to volunteer themselves for sale in order to gain membership to the elite organization. Forty-man units were divided into four, ten man platoons. Five units formed a company and five companies a regiment. The same organizational system was used by almost all Andalusian armies.

The Mamluks spend all of their time together. They are indoctrinated into the dictates of the code of fursiyya. That code emphasizes courage, generosity, fraternity, and obedience. Every new recruit is trained with extreme vigor and intensity in; cavalry tactics, horsemanship, archery, hand-to-hand combat, swordsmanship, and in the treatment of wounds. Only after they are proficient in all of these skills are they formally initiated into a unit, and assigned to a platoon. They continue to train daily for the rest of their careers.

They are cared for, even if they are wounded severely enough to no longer be fit for service. They are retired from active duty at the age of fifty-five. After retirement, many stay on and continue to be cared for. If they have saved enough, from the shares of loot they received as rewards, if they have family, and if they want to live with that family, they are provided with a modest stipend, and allowed to live independently. However, most retirees continue to live with their platoon, where they train the next generation of Mamluks. The Mamluks are the most elite and feared fighters today, but few regimes are wealthy enough to hire, and keep them on the payroll for prolonged periods of time.

Father also recruited a regiment of Almoravids. The Almoravids, also fanatical mercenary fighters, are organized and under the command of the Jazula Berber, Abd Allah ibn Yassin. This entrepreneur was able to convert whole captured North African Berber and Negro tribes into his warrior Islamic culture.

The two hired regiments bolstered Granada’s regular army. We had a full regiment of infantry that included six-hundred Nubians, bolstered by four-hundred conscripts. Our regular army also included three regiments of light and heavy cavalry, and another regiment of mounted archers and slingers. These last four regiments were tribal Zanhadja Berbers, actually militia, commanded by their own chiefs, and called upon whenever Badis needed them. When not in service to King Badis, these tribal warriors often occupied themselves by stealing sheep and horses from neighboring tribes or conducting raids on the holdings of their Arab or Zenata Berber neighbors.

The Zanhadja are masterful horsemen. They breed and raise Andalusian horses originally bred from Arabian stock, and renowned for their speed and endurance. When mobilized, each regiment was commanded by a general, who reported directly to my father. My father, as General-in-Chief of the army, reported only to King Badis. At the peak of his power and influence, my father commanded six thousand fighters. All were well-trained, well-equipped, well-supplied and well-paid. He was formidable.

Early in 4795 (1046) the weak and ineffective King Indris II of Malaga ceded more portions of his kingdom to both Granada and to her slippery, and fickle ally, Ronda. Abu Nun, encouraged again by the bribes of Mutadid of Seville, renounced his treaty with Granada, and initiated raids into Granadian territory. My father responded to these incursions with only minimal retaliatory efforts. He was not yet ready for an all-encompassing war with Seville. But, he understood that Mutadid was working to build his army and his resources, while encouraging the small-scale irritants by Ronda and other Taifa. All through 4795, Abu Nun continued his scattered raiding, but he was careful to avoid any significant battles with the forces my father deployed to retaliate. The inevitable result was that the only people to suffer were those occupants of the towns, villages, and farms plundered by the respective sides.

In 4796 (1047), Abu Nun opened a second front of attack. This time from his southern holdings, new territories acquired from Malaga. This was made possible because of the unstable situation in Malaga when King Idris II was overthrown and sent into exile. King Badis responded by personally taking a regiment of Zanhadja to Malaga with the intention of returning Idris II to the throne.

My father was in the north with his Mamluk and Almoravid regiments, retaliating against the raiding Rondans. Badis was on his own facing Abu Nun, managing without the wisdom, tactics, and strategies of my father. Abu Nun was able to outmaneuver Badis. He mounted a superior force to meet Badis in the type of mounted fighting the Berbers loved. The resulting battle was indecisive. Both sides lost many fighters, but neither could be said to be victorious. Badis lost heart for the endeavor. He returned to Granada, and his jug of wine.

The newly crowned King of Malaga, who took the name Idris III, was as cruel and aggressive as Abu Nun could hope for. He resented Badis’ effort to remove him, and recognized the advantages of being an ally of Ronda, and thereby Seville. Mutadid was now finally ready to act directly. He formalized alliances with both Ronda and Moron. He sent emissaries to several other Taifa states seeking an even stronger coalition against Granada.

Granada was facing a multi-front defensive war. Its enemies were able to pick the time and place of attack. My father recognized Seville was the real enemy, but a direct attack on Seville was not a viable option. Seville was now too strong, and too far away. If he did move against it he would be vulnerable to an attack from the rear by Ronda, Malaga and other states that would quickly recognize his vulnerability.

Father explained his predicament to me. If he attacked Malaga, his army would be isolated from home by the snow-capped Sierra Nevada, leaving Ronda and Seville an easy route into Granada itself.

Ronda was a formidable fortress perched on a sheer cliff, but the route to this fortress was not difficult. Leaving a single regiment to protect Granada, Father led the Zanhadja regulars and his mercenaries into Rondan territory. When he learned the magnitude of the threat, Abu Nun dispatched an urgent request for support to Seville. Mutadid made the decision to finally confront Granada directly. He responded to the Rondan plea by ordering General Muhktar, with two regiments of cavalry, to join forces with the armies of Moron, Carmona, and Ronda. He anticipated these combined armies would be able to crush the Granadans.

Read Full Post »

Joseph’s journal: 36

4 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)


After his escape from the ambush by Abu Nun Father, returned to Granada. He was obsessed with finding out how Abu Nun learned his route of travel. More importantly he needed to understand how Abu Nun decided on the timing and planning of the attack. Father vowed he would never again be caught in that sort of trap, or any other, for want of knowing his enemy. I have always been thankful he sent me home when he did. The distraction of having to make certain of my safety could have proved fatal for him.

King Badis paid an assassin handsomely and it wasn’t long before the rebellious governor of Baeza was no more. With Badis’ blessing Father organized a massive invasion of Ronda to extract vengeance against Abu Nun. Grenada could not allow his treachery to go unpunished. Grenada’s army was much larger, stronger, and better equipped than Ronda’s. The instigator, Mutadid, was not in a position to offer significant help to his puppet. Abu Nun was left to his own devices.

The campaign was short and Ronda was soon under siege. Abu Nun’s pleas for help from Seville were ignored. It would take a long time to starve Ronda into submission but without viable options and defeat inevitable, Abu Nun agreed to a treaty with Grenada, giving up some territory. Father never had anything good to say about Abu Nun. However, he explained to me that turning an enemy into someone useful, even if he could never be trusted, was a necessary expedient, as well as a useful strategy.

It took me two days to make copies of the epic poem Father wrote to remind himself of his escape from Abu Nun’s ambush, and of all God’s blessings he enjoyed. I never tire of this poem, a part of it reads thus:

Samuel, approach the One seated upon the cherubs with free-will

            Offerings of your lips like rain upon the grass

And may the acclaim of the Rock your redeemer within your

            Mouth and heart be beloved.

When you go upon the way, remember what He has done for you

            Upon the thoroughfares

And praise God who favored you and say: “Blessed are You who

            Rewards the righteous!”

Remember the signs which He showed you here, like the miracles

            For his pure ones close to him.

On the day that kings gave chase to kill you upon horses thick as clouds

And went about in devious ways designed to ambush you from all sides,

You fled and fell into the river whose banks overflowed like a

            Philanthropist’s generosity,

But they were disappointed in their hopes as they returned

            Frustrated with bitter sadness.

The poem goes on to praise God for my father’s birth, childhood, and his parents. He offers thanks to God for his education, knowledge, wisdom, eloquence, and fame. He gives God all the credit for his high position, accumulated wealth, and the ability to manage and control the Berber court he served.

Will you remember this only? Will you not recall when He stood

            Up for you in time of trouble and redeemed you speedily,

And sated your sword with blood like water drawn from wells of Rejoicing

On the day when distress and fear were hot like an oven giving off

            Flames from all sides.

And all were gloomy and each heart like wax and every face was pale.

And arrows and spears sent down like rain mingled in the air,

Even upon the chiefs and horsemen and nobles swords opened

            Their mouth wide.

He saved you from the approaching disaster though none among

            Your dear ones could help.

His deeds multiplied defying count or telling nor could they be

            Contained in a book.

The poem continues to praise God and thank Him, promising to glorify His name and all His accomplishments in poetry.  Father asks Him to erase his guilt and hear his prayers, hoping that his prayers will be agreeable, and then he goes on to chide God:

Does it profit You that you remember the transgressions of your

            Familiars and the debts of your loved ones?

The next line asks that the angels defend him and then he devotes the following stanza of this long poem to belittling his detractors. He ends the poem with this:

O God destroy not your creation, and do not transfer healing for pain.

And may my loved ones not be ashamed of me nor the dogs laugh

            At me in the day of calamity.

Cover me with your pinions and your shade, according to my

            Desire and not that of my foes

And sweeten my years until death and dulcify the clods of earth in my grave.

God bless his memory, my father never had less than a high opinion of himself, and of his place on earth.

Read Full Post »

Ha Nagid’s journal: 35

20 Siven, 4793 (May, 1044)


Two evenings after sending Joseph home, I stopped my army in an idyllic canyon in the Sierra Magina, and made camp for the night. The clear waters of the Guadiara River, fresh with spring runoff, wound its way through the canyon. The evening was fragrant with the aroma of pine trees. The swift water passed over rocks, forming eddies, rushed through narrows, fell four feet over a small cliff, then spread out, widening and slowing. The sound created by the tumbling water reassured the men of the tranquility of the spot. I was completely lulled by the charm and serenity of the place. Colonel ibn Hakim consulted with me but I told him I didn’t think it was necessary to post guards. All the men should get a full night’s rest. My forces were more than adequate to deal with the insurrection. This was just a routine policing expedition and I had no premonition of danger, a mistake I will never make again.

I was not aware that Abu Nun, the king of Ronda, had encouraged the governor of Baeza to perpetrate the raids and looting.  That Berber governor needed very little encouragement to raid and loot. Abu Nun knew I would be forced to respond to this breach of discipline and order. Nun’s scouts were monitoring the progress of my troops, and that wily devil prepared an ambush. He hid the four hundred men he commanded close to where we were camped, anticipating I would halt there for the night. Abu Nun’s objective was singular, to kill or capture me. To accomplish this would be to achieve his long-term goal, the weakening of King Badis.

I suspect Abu Nun did not arrive at this strategy himself. I have reason to believe he was encouraged to undertake the operation by Mutadid, the king of Seville. Mutadid had the most to gain by eliminating me.

Later that evening the skies grew cloudy, threatening rain. The officers and I were in our tents, the soldiers rolled up in their cloaks. The camp was quiet. The occasional snore, or stamping of a horse’s hoof, were the only sounds penetrating the black night.

Abu Nun attacked first with his heavily armored cavalry. They were ordered to rush through our camp, strike as many of my men as possible on the way, then turn and sweep through again. The initial surprise attack was to be followed by archers and infantry to mop up.

Fortunately for me the surprise attack plan proved to be ill-conceived. The night was extremely dark because of the cloud cover. There was only a quarter moon, and it was hidden behind the heavy clouds. The darkness made communication among the attacking forces difficult, in some cases impossible. The obscure night also prevented the attackers from identifying their main target.

Colonel ibn Hakim reacted to the attack in a calm and efficient manner. He had not neglected to drill his troops on how to respond to this type of situation. A special platoon of Nubian infantry quickly formed a perimeter of locked shields around my tent. The rest of the Nubians positioned themselves with their shields and spears to confront the charging horses. The archers, crossbows, and slingers split and ran to opposite sides of the camp, concentrating their fire on the enemy. All this time the enemy commanders were shouting to their men:

“Abu Nun commands you identify Ha Nagid’s tent. He must be captured or killed at all costs.”

Colonel Hakim and his soldiers fought valiantly. The colonel deployed a tight circle of archers, crossbows, and slingers to the Nubians protecting me. Our cavalry rushed to bridle and saddle their horses, not bothering with their armor. I, and a contingent of cavalry, were able to lead our horses to the river, and into the current. The river was still deep and we had to swim to the far side where we mounted our horses, and made our way upstream. Hakim’s rear guard protected access to the river, and more men with their mounts managed to escape. Because of the darkness, the enemy archers were unable to pick specific targets. They resorted to firing one volley after another. Arrows coming from the dark sky careened off the raised shields forming a roof over the heads of the soldiers, who crouched down when they heard the whoosh of incoming missiles. The small round shields of the archers, crossbows, and slingers were not as effective. Many arrows, and other missals, found targets. The enemy soldiers screamed with pain when wounded by our defenders. My soldiers were stoic, professional, proudly brave. They endured their wounds silently.

A shout went up from the enemy as we made our way across the river. The heavy armor worn by Abu Nun’s cavalry, both horses and riders, made it impossible for them to follow. Some tried to respond to Abu Nun’s screamed orders, but their horses sank into the mud at the river’s edge. One man urged his horse into the faster current in the center of the river. Both disappeared under the water, never to reappear. The fate of that horse and rider was soon communicated. None of the other riders were willing to venture into the current encumbered, as they were, with their heavy armor. The complete darkness also prevented Abu Nun’s archers from being able to identify me, or those with me, as targets. Our highly trained, and brave, Nubian infantry were able to hold off the heavy cavalry of Abu Nun long enough for most of our cavalry, archers, slingers and crossbow soldiers to escape via the river. With discipline and order, small units of Nubians, their brothers protecting their retreat, were the last to plunge into the water and swim to safety. I lost over fifty men, including Colonel Hakim, who stayed to command and encourage those most loyal and brave soldiers who covered our retreat into the river. We lost some horses and arms, armor, wagons, and supplies, but I escaped to fight another day. I will gain revenge.

Read Full Post »

Joseph’s Journal: 31

15 Marchehvan 4808 (October, 1059)

It was 4791 (1042) when Mohammed ibn Abbad, King of Seville died, and was no longer able to create difficulties for my father. His son, Mutadid, was only twenty-six years old. My father and Badis, along with all the Zanhadja chiefs, considered Mutadid too young and inexperienced to be a serious threat. The Sevillian army was a collection of mercenaries, and my father had defeated them in every encounter. Seville also began to pay tribute to an adjoining Christian state. All the Berbers considered this a significant sign of weakness. These factors indicated to the Zanhadja, as well as to several smaller Taifa states with leaders craving expansion, that Seville was no longer a force to be reckoned with.

Two years later, Mutadid emerged as a viable threat. During the first two years of his rule he worked diligently to acquire allies. He rebuilt his army into a cohesive force. Whenever smaller Taifa states launched an attack to acquire Sevillian resources, his reaction was immediate, aggressive, and brutal. He also began to collect the heads of his enemies. He ordered that all the heads of leaders killed in battle be brought to him. He beheaded captured leaders with his own sword, and added their heads to his collection. Mutadid delighted in recounting to his court how he kept the pickled heads of his enemies in containers in his bedroom, and how he took the heads out of their containers, holding them up by the hair. He would then line the heads up on the floor facing him, and shout at them, recounting all the transgressions of their previous persons.

His cruelty and madness didn’t end with severed heads. Anyone who did something to displease him, or that he suspected of considering a course of action that might displease him, was strung up in the courtyard of his palace to slowly strangle.

Seville was again ruled by a strong and ruthless Arab, and took its place, next to Granada, as one of the big two Islamic powers. The Christian states to the north remained a threat to encroach on Islamic territories. The conglomeration of smaller independent Taifa ringing the borders of the big two were constantly mounting raids to obtain loot and to grab land. Various Berber, Arab or Slav tribes ruled each of the small states that surround Seville and Granada. There was a constantly shifting loss or gain of power, and of allegiance among them.

Let me record a little about the Slavs, another interesting story. Most of the people we identify as Slavs originally arrived in Andalusia as child slaves. Children captured in raids or wars, from Christian Europe or kingdoms to the east, were brought to Andalusia to be sold. Some of these waifs were even sold to traders by their parents. I am sorry and ashamed to admit that many of the slave traders were, and still are, Jews. They justify their participation by saying trade is trade. A man must provide for his family the best way he can. These men are well-versed in all the Torah passages which describe the acceptable manner in which slaves are to be treated. Thus, they justify acquiring, keeping, and trading slaves.

No matter how they are acquired, most of the female children brought to Andalusia are trained as servants. Male children, deemed to have potential, are often trained as mercenaries. Their brothers-in-arms become their only family. There are many such Slavs who are trained with severe discipline. They become fiercely loyal only to each other. The cream inevitably rises to the top, and those individuals with greater intellect and bravery, or with innate wisdom, or special skills, become courtiers, generals, provincial rulers, and some even rulers of states. Most of these overachievers convert to Islam and practice the religion as a convenience, but they maintain strong connection, and loyalty, to their origins.

With time, the numbers, influence, and power of the Slavs grew and they became as ruthless as the Berbers and Arabs by whom they were schooled. Today Slavs rule almost all of eastern Andalusia.

To this day the Moslem states seem to be most interested in raiding, plundering, and looting each other. They justify this behavior because it is necessary to keep their standing armies, and mercenaries, happy and paid. They are not particularly anxious to wage prolonged wars, or pitched battles, or even to expend their resources to limit the slow advance of the Christian states. This last weakness will be problematic in the future.

As Mutadid gained strength, he realized that a successful strategy against Granada relied on gaining the support of four key small states, Carmona, Ronda, Moron, and Arcos. All of these states are ruled by Berbers, natural enemies of the Arabs, but all four rulers are Zenata, and they have long-held grievance against the Zanhadja as well. Because of these consuming hatreds they can and do align themselves with either Granada or Seville with enthusiasm, when it suits their purpose.

The Birzali tribe of Zenata rules Carmona. They are known to be ambitious and full of natural energy but are not overly thoughtful. Carmona changes sides often, depending on the direction of the winds of war. Moron was founded and is still ruled by the Dammon tribe. Their leader, in father’s time, was Muhammad ben Nun. The Dammons always strived to achieve the same intellectual level as the Birzali, but lacked the energy of those rulers of Carmona. Moron is important because it occupies a territory critical to the welfare of Seville.

Ronda is situated geographically between Moron and Malaga. This independent Taifa is, to this day, ruled from an Alcazaba built on a natural fortress, almost immune to seizure. It is the strongest of the four small states, and is ruled by the Yenfreni tribe. Ronda has a long history of aligning itself with Seville, and is an ideal location from which to launch raids in any direction while maintaining a secure retreat. It is located about a hundred kilometers directly west of Malaga. It is positioned to attack the rear of any Sevillian army invading Granada, or vice versa.

Arcos is located about eighty-five kilometers directly west of Ronda. It is the least significant of the four Taifa but is somewhat protected by the Sierra de Grazalema. It is ruled by the Krizun tribe. It is also critical to any meaningful strategy involving the two super powers.

Mutadid plotted and garnered strength in Seville. My father’s concerns about that growing threat caused him to spend significant time and energy planning counter moves, and trying to anticipate how the almost inevitable attack would come about. During this critical time, a family tragedy distracted him. My sister and I both became very ill with smallpox. My sister, whom I loved dearly, died.

Father mourned her passing while doing his best to encourage me to fight off the disease. Four physicians visited our home daily. After they finished their various treatments Father always questioned them closely. It was not uncommon for one or two to disagree about what constituted an effective treatment or prognosis, but the diagnosis was unanimous. When the physicians disagreed, Father would gather them all together in my bedroom, and question the basis of their opinions. He was seeking more than anecdotal evidence for the proper course of action. He also prayed with them for God’s guidance.

Eventually, ever so slowly, I recovered. Father rewarded all four physicians equally, and handsomely. He was never certain who had been the most instrumental in my recovery. I remember what he told me shortly after I regained my health.

“We must give thanks to God, Joseph. The treatment was successful because God inspired the physicians, or listened to their prayers and mine, or perhaps you recovered despite the treatments because God willed it. Regardless we must thank God.”

After my recovery, Father took me with him on an excursion to demonstrate to the people that I had recovered, and he was no longer distracted. First, we went to the Synagogue and prayed for over an hour. Then came my reward. We went to the market.

I had been to the market many times with my mother when I was a young child. I had also accompanied various servants on errands, and with my friends from the Yeshiva, but this day was special. I was with my father. After many long weeks in a bed it was thought I would never get up. He held my hand as we strolled through the tunnel formed by three-story houses leaning into the street on both sides. Ahead, the tunnel opened to Market Square, shielded from the sun and occasional rain, by almost overlapping canvas awnings. The sound of vendors shouting as they touted their wares rolled up the narrow street to engulf us, like waves from the Mediterranean breaking over the feet of waders walking into the sea. The day was wonderful, full of sunshine, and mild temperature. The sky was devoid of clouds, an effervescent blue.

As we entered the square, we were constantly stopped by lines of people who wanted a word with Father, or to thank him for a favor he had done, or to ask for a favor, or to just touch his hand and receive a blessing. We were pressed by the crowd of people, inundated by the sounds of many voices speaking many languages, Arabic, Berber, Hebrew, Ladino, the tongue of the native Andalusians, and sprinkles of various Slav tongues.

A bewildering array of objects, people, colors and sounds assailed me, all accompanied by mingled smells, not unpleasant but impossible to ignore. Baskets and mounds of seasonal vegetables, butcher stalls with hanging carcasses of lamb, veal, beef, goat, chickens, game birds, ducks, venison, and rabbits. There were seafood stalls displaying tuna, shad, and sardines along with many other fish I did not recognize.

As we wandered through the market, I remembered the opening lines of another of my father’s Hebrew poems:

Passing a butcher’s market once I watched

The sheep and oxen standing side by side.

Cattle too many to count, like schools of fish,

And flocks of fowl were all awaiting death.

Blood was congealing over clotted blood,

While butchers, rank on rank, were spilling more.

Nearby was the fisher’s market, filled with fish,

            And crowds of fishermen with hook and net;

Next was the baker’s market, where the ovens

            Burn all day and get no rest at night.


There were many stalls selling both fresh and dried fruits, and spice stalls too numerous to count. There were thousands of aromatic herbs and spices. Many of them unfamiliar to me, but I did recognize the aroma of cumin, aniseed, mint, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, coriander, parsley, mustard, and the golden, pungent, but delicate saffron. All of these, especially the saffron, were standard for any Andalusian kitchen. Some recipes, my mother explained, called for nearly three grams of saffron, that most expensive of spices, tiny threads plucked by hand from the blossoms of a fall flowering crocus.

Our wandering through the narrow pathways, lined by stalls, took us past the bakers to the drink vendors. Father gave one of the vendors a coin for two cups of steaming hot, sweet tea, perfumed with fresh mint. We sat at a rickety table outside the stall, and sipped our tea while a line formed to pay homage to my father.

Later, we walked past the prepared food stalls where we were assaulted by the fragrance of spiced meatballs of many different flavors, mirgas, a spiced sausage, fried fish, churros, a type of fried fritter dipped in boiling honey, and almojabana, a sweet cake made with cheese. We finally arrived at the destination I had been hoping for, stall after stall of sweet treats made with sugar, honey, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, eggs, candied fruits, cinnamon, and other spices. The possibilities were without number and Father, pleased with my appetite, allowed me to choose three.

I remember shoving the first of my treats into my mouth. The flavors exploded on my tongue. Slivers of almonds crunched under my teeth as the sweet taste of honey followed. Another bite and I felt the resistance of a piece of candied cherry just before it broke apart inundating the other flavors with its sugariness.

Next were the stalls selling vinegar, too many different flavors and types to name. The Andalusian kitchen uses vinegar in most recipes especially vegetable dishes. Next were the olive oil stalls, different varieties of olives, different stages of pressing, again too many differences to account for.

The day turned hot. The sun traversed the sky from high in the east, to mid-way to the west. I was tiring.

“Papa, I am thirsty.”

“Of course, Joseph, as am I. Let us find another drink vendor and sample something cool.”

Father had a word with one of the men who had been following us. He had been trying, not very successfully, to engage Ha Nagid in a conversation. He beckoned, and we followed him to the stall of an Arab selling jugs of fresh spring water kept cool sitting in snow from the Sierra. The vendor explained that the icy snow was delivered to him early each morning. He kept his drinks always in the shade in a box insulated with straw. His water was infused with rose or orange blossoms. He poured each of us a glass after giving us a choice of flavoring. I had the orange-blossom, Father chose the rose-blossom, but he let me taste his. Then I noticed another jug of flavoring.

“What is in that jug, sir?” I asked.

“That is Rubb,” he answered.

Rubb, what is Rubb?”

“It is a syrup I make from the corinto grape and sugar. It is also used to flavor the water. Do you want to taste it?”

I looked at my father, who nodded.

“Yes, please.”

The vendor poured a generous amount of the thick syrup into a glass, added cold water, stirred it with a silver spoon and handed it to me.

It tasted of fresh sweet grapes, the flavor soothing, and long lasting. I smacked my lips. Both my father and the vendor laughed as I polished off the remarkably refreshing drink. I still crave, and acquire, that refreshment when the day is hot.

After we returned home, I was in the kitchen describing all we had seen and done to my mother. She continued to make a pumpkin sweet I am, to this day, extremely fond of. She measured flour, water, a dash of vinegar, salt, and butter then kneaded it, gradually adding cold water until she decided it was the consistency she wanted. She rolled out the dough then spread butter over the top, folded it and rolled it out again, spread more butter, and repeated this process six times. Then she divided the dough into several equal amounts, and rolled each out into a thin round. She covered one of the rounds with grated candied pumpkin then put the second round on top of the first. She painted the edges with a beaten egg then pinched the dough to connect the two layers. The completed pastry fit exactly in my hand.  Mother put it into the oven, with the temperature low. It cooked while I continued my recounting of the day. Before the treat was done, she removed it from the oven, dabbed the crust with another beaten egg, and sprinkled the top with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. She put it back in the oven, checking it frequently before removing it when the crust was golden.

“Do not look at it and me with those sad eyes, Joseph. I spoiled you when you were ill, but now you are cured. A small taste of this will be for a treat, but only after you eat your entire dinner tonight, including all your vegetables.”

Read Full Post »

Joseph’s Journal: 30

14 Marchehvan 4808 (October, 1059)

During my father’s administration, the state of Granada grew and prospered. The realm spread south to the sea and to the east all the way to Baza. To the north our lands went north of Jaen, almost to the Christian territories, then west to Ecija. All of the people who inhabited the cities, villages, mountains, hills, valleys, and lands within these borders paid tribute to King Badis, and answered to his administrator, my father.

Concurrently, Jewish communities prospered, spread, and expanded throughout Andalusia, especially in the cities and towns. There were Jewish agriculturalists, many of them. They brought their skills, ethics, morals, devotion, and love of the land with them from wherever they had lived previously. Jaen’s Jewish community was large, second in size only to that of Granada. Jews engaged in all types of agriculture and trade in Jaen but controlled the tanning and leather producing industries.

Those products were considered to be of the highest quality throughout Andalusia and beyond. I overheard in the Synagogue, that two families from Jaen are moving to Palestine to start a leather products importation business. Due to my father’s influence, and protection, Jews were free to migrate to places of opportunity throughout Andalusia and beyond.

I am thinking back to when I was ten or eleven, maybe twelve years old. My father and I were once again in his study. He quickly scanned the most recent copy I made of one of his long poems.

“This is a good job, Joseph. Your calligraphy has improved significantly in the last two months. Are you beginning to understand more of the references to Torah passages?”

“I think so, Papa, but I’m certain I don’t find or understand all of them.”

“Well, let’s do this. If you think a phrase may be a reference to Torah or Talmud passages, but aren’t certain, you must ask me. If it is, we will find the passage, discuss it and see if we can arrive at an interpretation of the passage that we are both satisfied with.”

“Thank you, Papa. May I ask you about something else?”

“Of course, anything.”

“I know you have had problems with the Hammudite tribe of Malaga but I don’t know the history.”

His eyes squinted and furrows deepened on his forehead making his Semitic nose even more prominent. The smile he produced was more of a half-grimace, involving only the lower third of his face.

“That is a long and complicated history, Joseph, but it will be good for you to learn it.  Perhaps you will obtain a better idea of the kind of people I must deal with almost daily.

It was about fifty years ago when Ali, a former general in the army of Caliph Suleiman who was, incidentally just a puppet Caliph, was given Malaga as a reward for his service to the Caliphate. Ali was a member of the Berber Hammudite tribe of North Africa. The Hammudites were related to the Umayyads who you should remember originally established the Caliphate. Because of that relationship, Ali believed he had the right to claim the Caliphate of Cordoba, so he did. He was a cruel and unpredictable ruler. He managed to alienate almost everyone living in Cordoba. He was assassinated about three years into his rule. His brother Kasim succeeded him as Caliph, but the Caliph of Cordoba, prior to Ali’s arrival, had a son, Yahya. This Yahya, of course, enjoyed a more legitimate claim to the crown than Kasim did. The inevitable result was a civil war. Remember, in those days the Caliph of Cordoba ruled all of Andalusia?”

“That all happened when you were still young didn’t it, Papa?”

“Yes. I was in my early twenties when it happened. Those were very troubling times.”

For a long moment he was lost to me, remembering. Then he shook his head.

“Anyhow, Kasim lost the civil war and fled to Seville, but the governor of Seville turned him and all of his followers out. Seville was rewarded for turning Kasim away by obtaining near total independence from Cordoba. Yahya’s forces fought a few more major battles, but mostly just skirmishes with the very depleted army led by Kasim. Those times were very difficult. There were two forces, mostly consisted of small bands of robbers and thieves, running amok throughout the countryside. Finally, Kasim was captured. Yahya imprisoned Kasim and kept him in prison for thirteen years. When he learned that Kasim was planning an escape he had him strangled.”

“The civil war and the level of independence granted to Seville caused many other cities to strive for equal or even complete independence from the Cordoban Caliphate. Eventually, those desires resulted in the Taifa, the multiple city/states we now have. Yahya tried to retain and maintain the Caliphate, in its entirety, but these efforts required constant warfare. In 1035 he made a pact with the Zenata tribe that controlled the province of Carmona. He brought them back into Cordoba’s sphere of influence as an almost equal ally. Next Yahya invaded Seville, but the Carmona Zenata betrayed him. He died in battle while fighting the army of Seville.”

“My old enemy, Ismail ben Abbad was in command of that victorious Sevillian army. The treacherous Slav, ibn Bakunna, the same evil man who conspired with Zuhair and ibn Abbas of Almeria to destroy the Zanhadja and me, installed Yahya’s brother Idris as Caliph.  But Idris lacked any real power, he was just another puppet of ibn Bakunna.”

“Idris died not long after he became Caliph. Ibn Bakunna tried to engineer the crowning of Idris’ young son, who was also named Yahya. This was all done so he, ibn Bakunna, could continue to rule through a puppet Caliph.”

“Another Slav vizier of Malaga, Naja, supported a cousin of the young Yahya to be a Caliph. This cousin was Hasan. He and Naja moved too quickly for ibn Bakunna. They sent a large fleet into Malaga’s bay. Ibn Bakunna panicked and fled to hide in one of the ancient hill towns northeast of Malaga. Hassan sent a messenger to him promising sanctuary and ibn Bakunna, feeling much relieved, returned to Malaga. He was immediately arrested and brought to his knees to beg for his life at Hassan’s feet. Hassan looked on as ibn Bakunna was slowly strangled to death.”

“Hassan knew that the unpredictable loyalties of the Berber tribes might result in them uniting under Yahya, so he had the boy murdered. One of Hassan’s wives happened to be the older sister of that same Yahya. This wife decided her husband was acting with considered malice and treacherousness against her family, so she poisoned him.”

“That family sounds crazy, Papa.”

“I think so too, Joseph, but wait, the story is not over. After Hassan was murdered by his wife, Naja continued scheming to regain power. He was running out of male Hammudites. Hassan’s young son and Hassan’s younger brother were still in Malaga. Naja made a bold move. He killed Hassan’s young, and threw his brother, a studious, and anything but ambitious, young man, into prison. Subsequently, he convinced the various Berber clans in the Province of Malaga to swear allegiance to him as the new king. They agreed to this but not with great enthusiasm.”

“Naja still had one more Hammudite to deal with, the ruler of the small Taifa of Algecira. So, he mobilized an army to attack Algecira, and eliminate that potential threat. He encircled the Alcazaba at Algecira, but the various Berber Chiefs with him began to disappear with their men. Because of his murderous behavior, and obvious lack of respect for them, they no longer believed Naja was the best possible choice for King. Having lost much of his army Naja assessed the situation and decided to return to Malaga. The road he chose to go back went through a narrow gorge. The Berbers still with him, and some of those who had previously deserted, organized an ambush. Naja’s carcass, as far as we know, is still rotting in that canyon.”

“The Berber Chiefs of Malaga freed Hassan’s brother, and he was crowned ruler, renamed Idris II. This poor fellow was a good man, very pious and reverent. He instituted policies to help the poor and unfortunate, supported artists, musicians, and poets, but he lacked the fortitude and ruthlessness necessary to rule Berbers. He also failed to recognize and counter the ambitions of our King Badis. Badis began by demanding Idris II concede a specific tract of land. This demand was based on a trumped-up claim that it had always been part of Granada. Idris II conceded. So, Badis invented other stories to claim one small village, then another, then towns and fortresses as he expanded Granada to the south. Eventually, Badis took control of Casabermeja only twenty-four kilometers from Malaga itself.”

“Idris II’s Chief Vizier had a large extended family who owned property in and around Casabermeja. This vizier made a crucial mistake. He encouraged his brethren to obstruct the decrees of the Governor Badis appointed to administer the newly annexed territories. The most devastating thing he did was suggest his relatives remit their taxes directly to Idris II in Malaga instead of Granada. Badis demanded the vizier be sent to Granada to answer for his sins. Idris II, afraid to confront Badis, dispatched the poor man into Badis’ clutches.”

“The vizier arrived at our court with his hands bound at his back. I had to avert my eyes and focus on our Master’s smiling face as he watched the poor soul be strangled. After the fellow slumped to the floor dead, Badis turned his gaze on me. With my heart pounding in my ears, like the surf in a storm, I managed to force a smile, and nodded my head to show my agreement with his action. May God have mercy on me for this, and for the many other sins I have committed to appease Badis, and to maintain my authority.”

I went to my father and hugged him, then tried to climb onto his lap in a childish attempt to comfort him. He pulled me off and patted my shoulder.

“You are too old for me to hold you in my lap, Joseph. You must grow up fast and learn even faster. Do you want to know what happened next?”

I took two steps back and sat again on his footstool.

“Yes, Papa.”

“Well, the Berber chiefs of Malaga could no longer countenance such a weak ruler. They sent him into exile with his books and replaced him with a distant cousin, Mohammed. Mohammed is now the ruler of Malaga and he is mean spirited, ambitious, cruel, and foolhardy, a perfect Berber ruler. I doubt he will last long.”

After that evening, I had a different perspective and appreciation for the problems my father faced maintaining his position so he could protect our people. I began to realize the difficulties he had reconciling his actions that were contrary to the teachings of morality and fairness of our religion.

I am writing these accounts thirteen years after the events I describe, but I have my father’s notes and letters and poems to fill in any details that I have forgotten. Much of what happened my father shared with me during our evening “talks” as he called his monologues. I’m not certain if I am blessed or cursed to have almost total recall of those talks.

Read Full Post »

Joseph’s journal: 29

14 Marchevan 4808 (October, 1059)


The winter of 4788-89 (1039-40), my father had to deal with more than the usual number of disputes between tribal chiefs and the other viziers. One of the King’s viziers was involved in a plot to bring back Prince Boluggin. Father had to defuse that situation. All of the intrigue, and palace politics brought additional stress. The result was that Father was uncommonly curt with my mother. One day I witnessed him barking at her for no real reason.

That same evening I was called to his study. I listened while he vented his frustration about another stressful situation at the palace. I must have been visibly upset so he stopped. He assured me that just talking aloud about a problem helped him decide a course of action. He told me he appreciated what a good listener I was.

“Thank you, Papa, but why are you being unkind to my mother?”

“Am I? I’m sorry, Joseph. I promise I will make amends to her. This has been a particularly difficult few weeks for me.”

Then he changed the subject. He explained that he was obligated to mingle and interact with all of the chiefs of the tribes of the Zanhadja, as well as Badis’ several sons from different mothers. There were also a large number of nephews, and a host of other Berber dignitaries. Although it was onerous to him, he told me, he was forced to join with them when they drank to excess, gorged on rich foods, and comported with the young girls and boys who served at their parties.

“The leaders of the Zanhadja are Berbers, with a warrior background, and they are amazingly unsophisticated. They are Moslem only for convenience. They are, for the most part, not interested in literature, or science, or any intellectual pursuit. Because they are uneducated they are uncomfortable around intellectuals, writers, and poets. Because they feel, but would never admit to, being envious of learning, they are especially hostile to Arabs of learning.”

My father had to be able to demonstrate to these men that although he was well educated and could hold his own in any kind of intellectual debate, he was nothing more than their servant.

I now find myself in the same situation. When they invite me to their functions, I cannot refuse. I must participate in their favorite pastimes with enthusiasm. Since I hold a high position, with great authority, I cannot do, or neglect to do, anything that might cause Badis to think less of me, or for his nobles to get the impression that I feel myself superior to them in any way. This requires that I constantly act against my nature, even more so against my religious principles. I am particularly resentful of having to deceive my wife Sarah, although I suspect she knows what transpires at the Berber orgies. The situation was just as dangerous and stressful for my father as it is now for me.

That evening Father went on to give a specific example. He told me that the night previous a well-known and learned Arab writer attended a party by Badis’ invitation. Badis is still clever enough to know that men of this ilk want to convince him that they have exceptional talents and learning, and they are willing to provide their exceptional skills for the good of the kingdom, if offered employment.

“You must remember to never underestimate Badis’ brain. He is uneducated but extremely intelligent and intuitive. He is also quite clever, especially when he feels threatened in any way. He expects me to provide entertainment for his friends by demonstrating the limitations of these interlopers’ learning and abilities. The one last night, as have all such men previous and future, displayed his extensive knowledge of Arabic literature by replying to the unsmiling questions of Badis, and the other nobles at the gathering, using quotations from the Qur’an, and/or famous Arabic poetry. Of course the Berber courtiers understood practically nothing of what the man was expounding, but were eagerly waiting for Badis to introduce my father as his Jew chief advisor. This particular scholar, as have all others, immediately turned the conversation to religion, wanting to initiate a debate. Badis and his minions leaned back in their cushions to enjoy the show. They expected my father to not only respond but to soundly defeat the man. Father confessed he was able to do so on this occasion, but he knew eventually he would meet his match. When that happened he expected Badis and the others would turn against him. I share those same concerns, but also lack the level of debating skills my father achieved.

I asked him why he continued? Why he subjected himself to such situations?

“I must, Joseph. When you are older, I hope you will understand, and agree, that by occupying this position of great responsibility and power I, and I hope and pray that you, do what we do to protect our people. Nobody in all of Granada dares to raise a hand against any Jew for fear of my retribution.”

“I’m so very sorry you have all these worries, Papa. Maybe if you think back to a happier time you will find relief.”

“What happier time are you thinking of, Joseph?”

I reminded him of the party he hosted in our home the night of the Mahradjan, the longest day of the year.

“Your guests started to arrive as the sun turned the sky the color pomegranate and orange. After walking up the hill to our house, they paused at our gate, then crossed the road to stand at the low stonewall, tarrying to enjoy the view of the Sierra. That evening the Vega was painted with the greens, blues, and purples of the vineyards. The verdant ordered rows of the growing crops contrasted with the black-green of the olive groves extending up the foothills. The peaks of the Sierra formed a backdrop capped by the ever-present snow. I watched as some of the guests looked to their left at the steep hill topped by the Alcazaba and its tower with the top of the king’s palace just visible above where the walls come to a point at the tip of the long mesa. They could see the king’s terraced and manicured gardens interspersed with the forest of trees and shrubs covering the steep slope up to the Alcazaba.”

“I watched them from our roof top terrace hidden from their view. Although I knew that all of them received a personal note from you inviting them to the party they seemed apprehensive. They were reluctant, perhaps shy, to knock at the gate to be admitted. Then you called to me to run fast, to let the guests into the courtyard, and lead them to the salon, your large meeting room.”

“I remember that the tile floor of the salon was completely covered with thick red Armenian carpets. You waited until all were in the house, before you came out of your study. I thought you were the most imposing figure in your elegant cloak, standing half a head taller than the next tallest man in the room. You greeted each man by name and embraced him. Most of the men clasped your right hand in both of their hands and bowed. After greeting everyone you faced east and cleared your throat. Everyone turned to face the east and recited the evening prayer.”

That night I counted nineteen guests, including some young men from my father’s Talmudic Yeshiva. I also noticed two of the Rabbis from the Yeshiva, and several elders of the community, whose hair was graying, as was my father’s. His guests sat on cushions, at low tables covered with soft leather squares draping over all four sides. Father spoke briefly to three of the younger guests, and they went to one of the three tall serving tables, picked up jugs and poured wine into glasses. They then passed around the room serving all the guests. As the wine was distributed, our servants arrived with large bowels of fresh and dried fruits, and sweet cakes stuffed with almond and pistachio nuts, and with slivers of cinnamon and sugar running through them. I am still very fond of those particular sweet cakes. There were also other pastries stuffed with fruit.

All the guests conversed quietly, in small groups. Occasionally one person would leave one group and migrate to another. One of the students from the Yeshiva, stood and recited one of Father’s Hebrew poems, much to everyone’s delight. Shortly after that a servant escorted a man, almost as tall as my father, to the salon. Father stood and embraced him then bade him sit at his table. He offered him food and fruit juice, not wine. Father did not introduce the man by name, but explained to everyone that he was from Cordoba, and a friend of long standing. The man then stood and recited a long poem in Arabic. Everyone voiced their appreciation, and admiration. I also thought the poem wonderful. Then the stranger gathered his large cloak around himself, and said goodbye to all in the room. As he went out he patted me on the head. After he was gone father told everyone that the stranger was the famous Arabic poet Abu Ahmad al’aziz ibn Khira al-Munfatil.

Shortly after the poet left a group of musicians all wearing identical scarlet and yellow tunics arrived. They made themselves comfortable, after rearranging some cushions, then started playing first slowly and quietly, then progressing into more animated melodies. One of them sang poems set to music. I remember that one of the musicians used, what he told me afterwards was the feather from an eagle, to coax music from a strangely shaped harp of only five strings. Other musicians strummed guitars and sang, others played flutes of various sizes and tones. After the musicians departed some of the guests went to stroll in the courtyard.  A few continued their quiet conversation inside. Most just walked around the fountain inspecting the plants, while a few sat on the stone benches, taking in the calm night air and tranquility. Father joined those in the courtyard. When one of the men noticed Father’s eyes in long blinks, and his head nodding, the man circled around, murmuring to each group. One at a time the men came to take Father’s hand again, and thank him for the evening.

The next morning, at breakfast, Father told me that most of the men were Jewish government officials. He had personally appointed those in the highest positions. Others were given their positions because of his recommendation. Some were appointed by the directors of various agencies who wanted to gain Father’s goodwill by giving positions to his Jewish friends.

During those years, many Jews came to Granada because of my father. They came to take advantage of the opportunities, safety, and lack of persecution. Other Berber rulers were aware of the loyal service my father provided for King Badis, and they gave positions to Jews, especially as managers of their finances and estates. Many Jews, because of the security my father provided, and his influence throughout Andalusia, became wealthy, acquiring land and estates. Jewish families immigrated to Granada from Arab ruled Andalusian states, as well as from other places in North Africa and the Mediterranean, including the Middle East.

The Jews in Andalusia and beyond, once my father’s accomplishments were known, referred to him only by his title Ha Nagid. In addition to being chief vizier to King Badis he was also the chief rabbi of the Jewish community of Granada, a position he had the utmost respect for. He didn’t tolerate quarrels or disputes within the Jewish community. He knew those disputes would undermine his position, and the goodwill the Berbers had for the Jews. Every important lawsuit in the Jewish community was brought to him. Many legal questions were directed, by correspondence, to him from communities beyond Granada. He always responded to these questions. I was often tasked to make copies of his responses.

He found time to teach, not only his chosen scholars who came to our house. He also taught Torah at the Talmudic Academy of Granada. He supported needy scholars with regular stipends, gave generously to the Yeshiva, and paid his students and other scribes to make copies of the Torah and Talmud. He gave those copied volumes to poor students and scholars, and distributed them to Yeshivas in Morocco, Tunisia, and the Middle East.

He maintained correspondence with Talmudic scholars throughout Andalusia, North Africa, and the Middle East, and considered them his equals in learning and accomplishment. These scholars shared their various interpretations of sacred law, the books they wrote, and other writings, as well as news of what they were currently studying, and preparing to write about in the future.

When he was out on military campaigns, Father maintained his correspondence, as well as writing scholarly opinions and poems. When he returned he ordered copies made of everything he had written. He distributed the copies, using convenient traders on their way to the destinations where he wanted to share his insight and poetry. He also used messengers to send his writings to favored scholars throughout the diaspora.

He communicated regularly with the gaon, or leader of the Talmudic academy in Tunisia, Rabbi Hai, whom he held in high esteem and respect. He also corresponded with Rabbi Hezekiah the recognized Head Rabbi, called the Exilarch, of all Jews. Rabbi Hezekiah was also the head of the Yeshiva of Pumbedita, the Babylonian community responsible for the Babylonian Talmud. Just before my Bar Mitzvah, my father was awarded the title of Head Rabbi of Andalusia. This gave him considerable influence over all the Jewish communities.

I also want to record here some thoughts about the influence my father had on the economy of Andalusia. Concurrent with the increasing importance and stability of the various Jewish communities in Andalusia, was significant growth of the economy. Sugar, cotton, and grain were cash crops grown on irrigated Vegas and exported. Olive oil and wine produced wealth. Gold, silver, copper iron and marble were extracted from the hills and mountains especially in the provinces of Elvira, just northwest of Granada.

The mined gold and silver were used by goldsmiths and silversmiths. Iron and copper provided raw materials for tools, weapons, and other trade goods. Jews participated in these industries as both artisans and merchants. They marketed all the products of Andalusia. Some were especially successful as traders, even into the surrounding Christian kingdoms. Wherever they traded they were respected for their honesty and integrity. Ha Nagid did all that he could to foster this positive reputation of the Jews. He encouraged them to honor all deals made, no matter the consequences or cost, and to make real the perception of integrity he considered to be the true strength of his people. The disdain, displeasure, and disappointment he displayed for those who did not adhere to these high principles was enough to make compliance certain.

By some estimates, the Jews of Granada accounted for at least forty percent of the total population. Besides artisans, merchants, royal officials, and tax collectors, Jews were also physicians who took care of all citizens, scholars and teachers, and scientists who discovered and disseminated their new knowledge. All the people of Andalusia benefited directly or indirectly from my father’s activities.

Oh yes, while I’m describing my father’s world, I should mention another aspect of his achievements. I may have mentioned previously in these journals that he was a student of the renowned Rabbi Hanokh when he was a youth in Cordoba. Father wrote extensively on the subject of halakha or Jewish law. He spent many hours studying, and thinking about, the ideas and arguments presented in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. As a youth, after his exodus from Cordoba, he wrote commentary, in Arabic, regarding some rarely discussed and relatively unstudied chapters in the Gemara. The work was designed to counter the ideas of the Babylonian academies while enhancing the reputation of Andalusian scholars especially the work of Rabbi Hanokh.

While out fighting yet another war, he began an extensive Talmudic review, in Hebrew, using the style of the Talmudists. He entitled this work Hilkh ‘ta g’bharadta.  His purpose was to write a more complete, more precise, and better-organized argument than any existing works of that nature. He organized the work by citing a specific law as discussed in the Babylonian Gemara and juxtapose the Jerusalem Talmud interpretation of that law. He then cited the writings of the various leaders of the scattered yeshivas and scholarly academies throughout the Diaspora. Finally, he added his own interpretation and thoughts. I am still in awe of all my father accomplished during his long life.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »