Posts Tagged ‘the diaspora’

Ha Nagid’s journal:13

5 Iyar, 4788 (May, 1039)

After the rejection of his overtures by Almeria, King Badis instituted regular meetings with his generals. He also spent considerable time drilling his army. It is good that he is personally involved, preparing our defenses. Today we received intelligence that Zuhair was on his way to Granada, with a thousand elite troops.

Why only a thousand troops? We have at least four thousand soldiers. Why would Zuhair invade with only a thousand? I can only speculate that Zuhair’s ego has made him reckless. I suggested that King Badis send out scouting patrols in all directions from Granada. Perhaps Zuhair’s plan is to distract us in one direction, and attack with force from another. Maybe the whole thing is just an attempt at intimidation, overconfidence, and hubris. In any case, my advice to the King is to wait. He should act surprised when Zuhair appears. Time will reveal his intentions. Is it possible Zuhair is so deluded he thinks Badis will become his vassal without a fight?


Ha Nagid’s journal: 14

9 Iyar, 4788 (May, 1039)

Zuhair and his army arrived late this afternoon. He made camp on a hill just south of the Jewish section of Granada. His arrival at the head of so many soldiers, without prior announcement, was rude and provocative. King Badis rode out to greet him with only his personal guard, myself, and three tribal chiefs. When Badis asked the reason for this breech of manners Zuhair’s explanation was that he had come to pay his respects at the grave of his great ally and friend King Habbus. This was, of course, bogus since he had never offered condolences to Badis when Habbus died.

We returned to the Alcazaba where King Badis followed my advice. Contrary to the advice of the majority of his tribal chiefs, he restrained his outrage. He waited to see what Zuhair would do next.

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Joseph’s Journal:11

Shevat 4807 (January, 1058)

Yesterday I read my father’s journal entry written on 20 Tishrei, 4733. This evening I asked my mother if she regretted not being married to her cousin.

“Was he always still your first love?”

She shrugged and replied, “I never was allowed a choice or an opinion. The decisions were made by my father then my Uncles.”


Joseph’s journal:12

25 Tishrei 4808 (September, 1059)

I think I was about ten years old when I showed my father my most recent copy of one of his poems. This one was written in Arabic. I correctly identified it as acrostic, in the tawil meter. The first letter of the first word in each stanza spelled out Nagrela. I clenched my new gold coin in my left hand ready to leave his presence and add the coin to my growing hoard.

He leaned forward and patted the seat of one of his guest chairs. I will do my best to recreate the conversation we had.

“Wait, Joseph…sit,” he instructed.

I sat.

“First I want you to remember something very critical. Those who occupy important positions, as I plan you will someday, always have enemies. You must work hard to make certain you have at least twice as many friends as you do enemies. Do you know what is necessary for you to do to make and keep friends?”

“I’m not certain. I don’t have many friends other than Samuel ben Yehuda.”

“I know his father, it is a good family. Samuel is a big strong boy, no?”

“Yes, he has been here in the house, we study sometimes together.”

“Anyhow, the first rule for making and keeping friends is to follow the words of Rabbi Akiba: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’  The second rule is to always be humble, do not act as though you are better in any way than those you want as friends. The third rule is to care, really care, about their health, and wellbeing, and that of their family members. If they are in need of anything, and you have the ability to take care of that need, you must do so. That includes emotional support as well as material support. The fourth rule is to maintain contact. It is hard work to maintain friendships, but if you have not heard from a friend recently you must initiate contact, let them know you are thinking of them. Ask if there is anything you can do for them. At the minimum, you must arrange some sort of meeting, or a study session, or invite them to a party. You need to be with them in an informal setting.

The fifth rule is to do nothing to create bad feeling. This is especially true of your relationships with the Muslims or Christians. You must have friends amongst those peoples. Adapt yourself to their culture and beliefs. You know our Berber masters are fond of wine, good rich foods, and women, as well as young girls and boys. Are you old enough to understand this last bit of what I am telling you, Joseph?”

“Yes, Papa, I know of this from your poetry. But you don’t do those things do you? You just imagine them and write poems?”

“Because it is essential for me to not give cause for King Badis and the Berber chiefs to no longer be my friends, I do participate, but with restraint. I never take wine or food in excess. I sometimes dally with the women and children, but I do not consummate. Do you know what I mean by consummate?”

“No, Papa.”

“When you are older I will explain it. Just always remember that I love your mother and all you children. Enough of this. This evening I want to tell you more of my history. Perhaps this will help you understand all I have had to do to achieve my present position. Speaking of these matters aloud also reminds me of events and helps me maintain constancy and clear thinking.”

“You know that early one morning in Menachem Av, 4796, when you were just two years old, King Habbus died. The next few days were crucial for our family. It was very possible I would be arrested. If that happened, your mother had to be prepared to flee the city with you and your uncle. I arranged for horses and a carriage for all of you at the Cogollos Vega farm. I also purchased a house in Jaen, in the Jewish section. If I was taken, your mother would make her way there. I instructed your mother and uncle not to speak of these arrangements to anyone, but to be prepared to depart immediately. Your uncle was given the responsibility to see to it that you and your mother were safe.”

Father told me that over the next several days he had meetings with Prince Boluggin. He knew that many of the Zanhadja tribal chiefs preferred to have Boluggin, rather than Badis, as the new king. Father repeated his previous arguments to Boluggin, in even greater detail. He again described the responsibilities of the king and the restrictions that would be placed upon him, both by the position and by people’s expectations. Father asked him to consider what he knew about the personality and character of his older brother. He asked him what he thought Badis would do if he, Boluggin, accepted the handshake of fealty and allegiance when offered by those tribal chiefs who were most likely to support him. While he spoke to him, Father could see that Boluggin understood that Badis would not give up the throne quietly. Father went on to point out that a civil war between brothers was a terrible price to pay for power. Father spoke of his own nightmares, inspired by his conversations with the one God, who Jews do not name but the Muslims know as Allah, about the horrors that would come to Granada from a civil war.

Later, my Father learned from his spies that same afternoon some of the chiefs did meet with Boluggin. He did not know what Boluggin’s response to them was. Father had spoken to Prince Badis on several occasions during the King’s final illness and pledged his support, along with that of the great majority of the Jewish community.

Three days after his conversation with Prince Boluggin, Father was called to King Haddus’ bedside. Haddus told him he knew about his nephew Yaddair’s efforts to have my father removed as Vizier. He asked my father, which of his sons he considered to be the best to rule the kingdom after his death. Father was frank. He told the king he considered Badis to be better prepared and better suited by temperament and personality to be a strong ruler. He was most likely to follow the example set by his father. He told Habbus that although there was strong support for Yaddair he couldn’t understand why he might consider choosing a nephew over one of his own sons since both were qualified. Father told me Habbus agreed then asked him to take writing up materials. He dictated an order for his nephew, instructing him to forgo trying to usurp the throne. Yaddair was further instructed to provide his loyalty, support, and counsel to the new king. While seated at the King’s bedside, my father composed the document. When it was finished, Haddus read it, nodded his head, and held out his hand for the pen. After signing, he called for a messenger and gave instructions to deliver the document into Prince Yaddair’s hands.

Within hours of Habbus’ death, one of our servants knocked on the doorjamb of my father’s study, where I sat with him reciting a passage from the Torah.

“There is a messenger from the palace at the front gate sir,” the servant said.

“Well, Joseph, I expect this is the news I have been waiting for. At least it is a messenger, not soldiers to take me away.”

He told the servant to bring the messenger to us. When the messenger entered the study, Father looked at him and lifted his chin. The messenger looked at me and raised his eyebrows.

“He is my son; he does not speak of anything said in this room. Please tell me what has transpired.”

The messenger told us that Prince Boluggin refused to shake the hands of those that came to him offering fealty. Prince Badis promised to make Boluggin commander of all the mercenaries, including the Negro infantry from Nubia. He also promised him the choice of several large estates. Prince Boluggin accepted all of these honors and pledged his loyalty to Badis.

“Who sent you with this message?” asked Father.

“Prince Badis sent me. He also told me you are invited to attend the ceremony that will crown him King.

“When is the ceremony to take place?” asked Father.

“The ceremony is scheduled to begin at ten tomorrow morning.”

Father thanked the messenger and asked him to tell King Badis he will be honored and very pleased to attend him.

After the messenger left my father allowed himself a smile of satisfaction.

“Well, the first obstacle had been overcome, Joseph, but Badis has an unstable and volatile personality. He could prove to be less easy to influence than was his father. We are entering some interesting and dangerous times. That’s enough for this evening, Joseph. I see you listen very intently to what is said in this room. Do you remember?”

“Yes, Papa, I remember everything.”

Several evenings later, I was back in father’s study. He glanced at my copy of the poem he had assigned and smiled.

“Yes, good, Joseph,” and he handed me the gold coin he was holding between thumb and first finger.

“Sit. Tonight I want to talk about what has happened in the short time since Badis became king. Within days after he was crowned, Badis appointed two brothers as new Viziers, Ali and Abdallah ibn al-Karawi. The brothers were classmates of Badis at the school for chief’s sons. They have remained close friends and spend much time in diversion with the king. Their father’s family was originally Christian. The grandfather, converted to Islam and the whole family subsequently converted. The family has supplied aides to various Zanhadja chiefs since the grandfather’s conversion. The two new Viziers have the ear of Badis. I had to make certain I knew what advice they gave so I could adapt mine to theirs.”

“King Badis also increased the functionaries of his court to include native Andalusians, those decedents of the original people who inhabited Andalusia. The native Andalusians willingly adopted the trappings of any religion they needed to survive. They accepted the different Paganisms and Gods of the Romans, then the Visigoth beliefs, then Christianity. When the Muslims invaded, many of them found Islam, although today there are still a few who observe the Pagan practices of their ancestors. Some few Andalusians even converted to Judaism, but most converted to Islam. It made life significantly easier for them. So now I am dealing with Andalusians, Arabs, Berbers and Slavs, all of whom have envied and hated each other for generations, and are now struggling for influence at the court. Of course they all hate Jews, especially Jews who occupy higher positions of power than they enjoy.”

Now I am now forced to make friends of all these natural enemies so I can maintain my position. My fate, inherited from my father, is always to strive to retain enough influence so I can protect our people.

My father continued:

“To further complicate matters the Vizier of Almeria renewed his efforts to oust me. He did his best with King Habbus. After Habbus died, he sent a strong letter to Badis reiterating his charge that giving a Jew high office is forbidden in the Qur’an. He suggested that I was the only obstacle to peace between Almeria and Granada. Without comment, King Badis handed me that letter and waited for my response. I read it quickly, then read it again, with considerable thought and concentration before looking up.”

“I decided to ignore the first part of the letter and focused my attention to ibn Abbas’ reference to a recent pact between his King Zuhair and the Prince of Carmona. I reminded King Badis that Carmona’s territory abutted Granada’s, western borders. I reminded him that the rulers of Carmona were Zenaga and closely related to other Zenaga, and those tribes were chronically attempting to unite to destroy the Zanhadja. I then spoke about the advisability of maintaining a good relationship with Almeria to protect the rear of the kingdom from attack. This was essential if he was to deal with the generations-long conflict with the Kingdom of Seville to the east.”

“I suggested King Badis send a respected Arab theologian, such as my friend Abu l’Hassan, as his emissary to hold meetings with ibn Abbas. He might be more inclined to listen to an Arab emissary who enjoyed strong theological credentials. I suggested that the charge for Abu l’Hassan should be to remind ibn Abbas, and Zuhair, of how quickly and forcibly Granada came to the aid of Almeria in their recent conflict with Seville, and how mutually beneficial it would be to renew the alliance.”

Badis accepted my father’s advice. He sent the noted scholar, also a sharia judge, to conduct talks with the leaders of Almeria. Badis further instructed the emissary to inform the leaders he considered the Jew too valuable to be dismissed. Abu l’Hassan returned dejected. He reported that ibn Abbas told him under no circumstances would he advise Zuhair to accept Badis’ arguments. He hinted that with his strong army of Slavs, Arabs, Negroes, and Christian mercenaries, along with his ability to hire additional Catalan troops, Zuhair would not have much difficulty if he decided to annex Granada to his kingdom.

After receiving this report, my father’s advice to Badis was to start an immediate buildup of his own army, but to wait until Zuhair made the first move. He explained that the longer we could delay, the more time we had to gain strength.

Badis followed Father’s advice. This was also the time that Father embarked on an exhaustive study of treatises on military strategies, techniques, armaments, and descriptions of how historically decisive battles had been won.  He had agents from throughout the Diaspora purchase books on these subjects, many delivered by messengers on fast horses. Most of these books were written in Latin or Greek. When my own in studies in Latin and Greek were advanced enough, I asked my father if I could borrow some of his books. He was happy that I showed interest. I took the time to read several of them and discovered they were all published by successful Generals and Father had made copious notes to himself in the margins.

During that same time, my father, even at his advanced age, hired experts to come to the house to teach him the use of the sword, spear, bow and arrow, shield, sling, and all the other weapons in common use. He also purchased three well-bred stallions and took time, at least three times a week, to practice horseback riding along with his training for battle.

My father became thin, fit and muscular. He could hold his own with the various swordsmen he brought to the courtyard of our house for practice and exercise.

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Ha Nagid’s journal:10

20 Tishrei, 4733 (October, 1024)

I was born in Cordoba in the year 4654 (993). My brother Isaac is slightly over a year older than me. We were both keen students. Isaac still has a quick, retentive mind, and superior powers of reasoning. I was marginally slower than he. My father was not extremely wealthy but he was a successful businessman, and he made certain his sons studied with the best teachers available. We both studied with the renowned scholar Rabbi Hanokh and his son Rabbi Moses ben Hanokh, both highly respected for their learning. We also studied with the leading Hebrew grammarian of his generation, Judah Hayyudi. There were other teachers for Latin and Greek, Arabic, Aramaic and Berber. The language of the streets, Ladino, we learned on the streets.

Our father did not neglect to teach his sons business affairs. We both became practical and self-sufficient, as well as well-educated. In those days students met at previously set times in the homes of their teachers, sometimes in the synagogue, and sometimes even in shops where books were sold. Most wealthy homes, both Islamic and Jewish, had extensive libraries. The teachers would lead and direct long discussions of various literary topics, and all the scholars present were expected to participate sharing their insights and opinions. Significant amounts of time were set aside for the reading and analysis of all the various meters of Arabic and Hebrew poetry. Readings were followed by an in-depth discussion about the form, texture and meaning of the poems.

At an early age I enjoyed recognition for my understanding of both Arabic and Hebrew poetry, even approbation by Arab scholars who appreciated my writings. I have always been excited to learn something new every day and feel if I haven’t the day has been wasted. I have even made an extensive study of the Qur’an, and of the writings of many Muslim theologians. Of course, I have studied Torah, and both editions of the Talmud, extensively and in great detail. Neither have I neglected the writings of Christian scholars and the New Testament.

Leaders of the large Jewish community of Cordoba often spoke of the accomplishments of the physician Hasdai ibn Shaprut. Ibn Shaprut achieved preeminence as Foreign Minister to the illustrious court of the Caliph of all Andalusia. As a youth, I often daydreamed about matching or even surpassing the accomplishments of ibn Shaprut, hero of all the Jews of Andalusia.

It was in the month of Siven, 4674 (1013) when the Berbers took final control of Cordoba from the Umayyads, after three years of strife. The result was the breakup of the Umayyad Empire into many city/states now known as the Taifa. During those three years of conflict the Jews and other citizens of Cordoba were under continuous stress as well as physical danger. I was twenty years old and decided to leave Cordoba to escape the turmoil. My father and the rest of my family stayed behind in hopes of retaining the home and business.

I joined a small group of immigrants. We were all intent on braving the roving bands of Berbers and effecting an escape. Berber raiders were continuing to create havoc in the countryside and on the highways, robbing, raping, pillaging and murdering those they encountered. Our small group’s plan was to reach Malaga, where the ruler of that Taifa had an agreement with the Berbers. They accepted tribute from him and in return agreed to leave him, his holdings, and his people alone.

There was then, and still is, a highway that follows the course of a thousand-plus-year-old Roman road from Cordoba to Malaga. That road runs south and slightly east from Cordoba and is less than two hundred kilometers in length. Under normal circumstances it is a relatively easy eight-day trip on foot. Our small group of emigrants inquired of everyone we met along the way with the intent of finding the easiest road and avoiding contact with Berbers. We first headed in the opposite direction, northeast out of Cordoba then took the road to Montoro. We then followed a little traveled road south and west crossing the Guadajoz River then east to Baena. From Baena we made our way east then south again skirting the eastern slopes of the Subbetica Mountains and continuing south to Archidona. From Archidona we learned the roads were safe from Antequera to Malaga. We finally arrived in Malaga after twenty days of walking.

Several times during the journey we were forced to hide from roving Berber bands. During those twenty hectic days, I formed a special relationship with the donkey that carried my most valued books, and the supplies and gear I needed for the trip. The donkey followed me closely, keeping the rope from my hand to his halter slack. Whenever we were forced to hide, my hand on the donkey’s nose was enough to prevent him braying. I kept that donkey for many years.

After I was settled in Malaga I opened a small shop and started a business selling spices. I had sewn a dozen gold coins into the hem of my cloak. Those coins were all I had as capital to start my business. The business acumen I learned from my father proved valuable. Over the next several years my business expanded enough for me to purchase the building that housed the shop. The business provided an adequate, albeit not extravagant, lifestyle.

The Jewish community of Malaga was small, about forty families. Almost all the heads of households were either craftsmen or merchants. There were no young scholars or writers with whom I could interact. I did manage to find some intellectual stimulation in the home of Rabbi Judah, the leader of the small Malagan Jewish community. But there was no extensive circle of intellectuals to provide the back and forth discourse I was accustomed to when living in Cordoba. I felt isolated and depressed, except when I was able to interact with the new friend I made during my first year in Malaga.

Ali ben Ahmad ibn Hazm became one of the most renowned Muslim intellectuals of our generation. He was the son of a high-ranking member of the recently deposed government of Cordoba. Although he and I were both born and raised in Cordoba, we did not meet until after both of us moved to Malaga. After the takeover by the Berbers, ibn Hazam’s father was ousted by the new Berber rulers, then imprisoned and was forced to forfeit a significant portion of his property to obtain his freedom. Despite these family setbacks, Ali ibn Hazm continued his studies and acquired a deep understanding of Arabic literature, philology, and the theory of logic. He also composed beautiful poetry, but his overriding passion was the study of theology.

After we met, as two refugees from Cordoba, there was an immediate connection. Then, and for the rest of his life, ibn Hazm was a controversial man. He particularly enjoyed arguing with anyone who held religious views that differed from his, not excluding other Muslim theologians. He also enjoyed debating literary subjects. He and I spent many hours engaged in good spirited argument.

Ibn Hazm particularly enjoyed arranging public debates. He loved to demonstrate his knowledge and debating skills to an audience. He challenged me to a series of debates about the veracity of certain sections of the Torah. My friend eventually published a book detailing those debates, his arguments and my responses. In that book, he voiced the opinion that I was the most accomplished debater he ever knew. We maintained a respectful friendship while we both resided in Malaga, but once I attained a position of authority and success, ibn Hazm, who never achieved a similar level of recognition, became increasingly vindictive and eventually turned against me.

Within the small Jewish community of Malaga, and increasingly within the entire population of the city, my reputation as a scholar was increasing. There was also considerable interest in my ability to write grammatically correct Arabic, free of error and in the flowery style much appreciated by the Andalusians. It wasn’t long until those skills were put to use. I was happy, and pleased, to compose letters for people I knew.

By this time, I had all but given up on my youthful dreams of living up to the standards set by my hero Hasdai ibn Shaprut. My spirits reached a new low as I approached thirty years of age. I was unmarried as well as frustrated with the lack of an intellectually challenging life. Then something totally unexpected happened.

The house next to mine was owned by the Finance Vizier of Granada, Abu l-Abbas. The house and nearby estates of this worthy man were maintained and managed by one of his stewards. The steward made my acquaintance and frequently asked me to write letters to the Vizier. I answered the Vizier’s questions about his affairs in Malaga and provided updates on his properties. Abu l-Abbas was apparently impressed by the level of skill and learning apparent in that correspondence and asked the steward about the scribe responsible. On one of his visits to Malaga, Abu l-Abbas insisted the steward introduce him to me. After a short conversation, the Vizier recruited me to return with him to Granada to become his aide.

A legend is often repeated in Jewish community of Granada that I was responsible for the growth in influence and the wise advice of the Vizier l-Abbas. According that legend, the Vizier, on his deathbed, admitted to King Habbus that the writings and wise council he provided for the king were all my work thus securing for me the position of Vizier. This legend is pure fabrication, but it seems to have developed a life independent of reality. It will, no doubt, persist.

Even after moving to Granada, my life did not progress smoothly. As my reputation grew and I became more successful I was appointed Ha Nagid, responsible for the good behavior of the Jewish community as well as tax collector for that community. This, inevitably, resulted in my acquisition of enemies. Tax collectors are never popular and the way the system works, throughout Andalusia, is that the rulers tell those responsible for collecting taxes how much the government expects from their assigned district. These so-called “tax farmers” collect as much as they think they can, and kept the difference. I became successful in this endeavor and thus managed to alienate several wealthy, and influential, heads of old Jewish families in Granada. When I arrived, the Jewish community comprised at least forty percent of the inhabitants of Granada and was destined to grow in numbers under my nurturing.

I wanted to help my friend from Malaga, Rabbi Judah. It also was true that Rabbi Judah’s daughter Rebecca was young, beautiful, and of marriageable age. I secured a tax territory for Rabbi Judah and the Rabbi moved his family to Granada. I made no secret of my interest in Rebecca, but she was already spoken for. A second cousin, who was the Rabbi’s disciple, had been promised her.

The fact that I brought in an outsider to assume the lucrative tax farmer duties rankled, and further alienated those same, already out of sorts, old Jewish establishment families. The situation was worse because Rabbi Judah was an even more recent arrival than I was. The Jewish men who felt slighted turned to the Muslim officials with whom they had long-standing relationships. They managed to convince those officials that I was collecting significantly more than I should in taxes and was keeping enough to become overly wealthy. I was arrested and put into prison. Later I discovered the same malcontents also hired thugs who attacked and killed Rabbi Judah and his disciple, the fiancé of Rebecca, while I was in jail and they were out collecting taxes.

My many friends in the Jewish community, along with the Finance Vizier l-Abbas, managed to obtain my release from prison, but it was too late to save Rabbi Judah. I suggested I should marry Rebecca and assume the responsibility and honor of caring for the Rabbi’s family. Despite having to pay a huge fine to help secure my release, I still had considerable financial resources. Rabbi Judah’s family agreed to the arrangement but insisted the marriage be delayed for a full year of mourning. Eventually the katuba was signed and Rebecca and I were married.

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Chapter 5: Letter from Habbus, King of Granada:

12 Safar, 420 (May, 1030)

I am well aware that the recently departed Abut l-Abbas was your mentor. He spoke highly of your skills and intelligence. As you know I followed l-Abbas’ recommendation and appointed his son Vizier of Finance after the old man’s passing. The young man is intelligent enough but his father was negligent teaching him all he needed to know to be effective.

This morning when he was summoned to me you appeared in his stead and explained he was unavailable due to a sudden and severe illness. You did an outstanding job of presenting the information I required, and you answered all my questions regarding the financial status of the Kingdom with concise and accurate data.

I appreciate your loyalty to your mentor and to his son, but I have learned the young man is dedicated to the pleasures of life. This morning he was still under the influence of too much wine and food taken the previous evening. This is not the first time this has happened and in each case, you have filled in for him while presenting the information you have compiled, as if he had done the work. I am well aware that my Vizier of Finance suffers from a weakness of understanding of the finance ministry and its duties.

I have had you investigated thoroughly. I learned that you are the person responsible for the excellent management of our Finance Ministry.

I have this day given the son of Abu l-Abbas a large estate near Jaen to which he is ordered to repair. I have appointed you, Samuel ibn Nagrela, Vizier of Finance. You will come to the palace tomorrow morning to be invested with your office and recognized by the court.

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