Bedersi, Abraham ben Isaac

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BEDERSI, ABRAHAM BEN ISAAC (c. 1230–c. 1300), Hebrew poet in southern France. The designation "Bedersi" indicates that he originated from Béziers (Heb., בדריש). He may be identical with the Abraham Mosse de Montepessulano (Montpellier; otherwise Abram de Sala) mentioned in secular documents. Abraham settled as a youth in Perpignan where he was a pupil of Joseph Ezobi. He stayed for some time in Arles and once took refuge in Narbonne, but apparently lived most of his life in Perpignan, then under Aragonese sovereignty. The Jewish community there had been granted a charter of privileges by James i to protect them from molestation. Abraham is the conjectured author of a letter from the community to the Jews of Barcelona, appealing to them to persuade the king through the medium of the bishop of Huesca to uphold the rights granted under the charter and reduce the communal tax obligations. Letters of recommendation written by Abraham in the name of the Perpignan community on behalf of petitioners and fund-raising emissaries have also been preserved. In 1275 Todros b. Joseph ha-Levi *Abulafia, who had accompanied the Castilian monarchs to France, spent some time in Perpignan and the two exchanged verses. A well-known poem of Bedersi on the pen and the sword, inspired by Arabic verses, was written in his honor and sent to him on the occasion of this visit. Abraham also composed for Todros a poem in the style of the Passover Haggadah, the first attempt to parody it. He gave some financial assistance to the poet Isaac Gorni, although deriding his literary talents. Abraham wrote numerous poems and satires, apparently collected by his son *Jedaiah ha-Penini (mostly still in manuscript; the most complete manuscript is in the British Museum (Add. Ms. 27, 168); others are in Vienna, Amsterdam, and Leningrad). Despite his bombastic style, Abraham's works contain interesting historical details and provide an insight into the contemporary cultural scene. Between 1290 and 1295 he wrote Ha-Ḥerev ha-Mithappekhet ("The Revolving Sword"), a lengthy poem of 210 verses (according to the numerical value of the Hebrew letters in ḥerev). In it, Abraham mentions his birthplace and his father, and comments on the Hebrew poets who preceded him in Provence and Spain. He considered himself their inferior. He did, however, contend that he was the best poet of his generation and challenged his contemporaries to a competition for which he proposed judges. Abraham also composed Ḥotam Tokhnit, the first dictionary of Hebrew synonyms in the Bible. Both works were published in 1865, the latter with a commentary by Samuel David Luzzatto. There is some doubt whether Abraham or his son Jedaiah composed the prayer Elef Alfin (so called because its thousand (Heb. elef) words all begin with the letter alef; published in Kerem Ḥemed, 4 (1839), 57–65) and Shir ha-Lamedin (Frankfurt on the Oder, 1812), a bakkashah for the Day of Atonement, in which each word contains the letter lamed, and all subsequent letters of the alphabet are excluded.


Baer, in: Devir, 2 (1924), 313–6; Baer, Spain, 1 (1961), 119, 142, 162; Schirmann, Sefarad, 2 (1956), 466–71, 695; idem, in Sefer… Y. Baer (1961), 154–73; Bergmann, in: mgwj, 42 (1898), 507–17; I. Davidson, Parody in Jewish Literature (1907), 16ff.; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 352; Regné, in: rej, 62 (1911), 59ff.; Gross, Gal Jud, s.v.Béziers; Renan, Rabbins, 707–19; Doniach, in: jqr, 23 (1932/33), 63–69, cf. 349–56. add. bibliography: M. Thama, Mashkiyot Kesef (1765), 23b–26a; Schirmann-Fleischer, The History of Hebrew Poetry in Christian Spain and Southern France (1997), 469–90.

[Jefim (Hayyim) Schirmann /

Zvi Avneri]

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Bedersi, Abraham ben Isaac

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