Bonafed, Solomon ben Reuben

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BONAFED, SOLOMON BEN REUBEN (end of the 14th–mid-15th century), Spanish poet and thinker; the last important poet of Sefarad. Solomon ben Reuben Bonafed was born between 1370 and 1380, and resided in different places in the Kingdom of Aragon in today's provinces of Lleida and Saragossa. He was linked to the members of the poetry circle headed by Solomon ben Meshullam de Piera (who was considerably older) and Vidal ben Benvenist ibn Lavi de la Cavalleria. He was present at the Disputation of Tortosa and was distressed by the numerous conversions, but he tried not to lose ties to the *New Christians. He was already quite old in 1445, when he wrote poems and letters from Belchite after having been forced to leave Saragossa due to disputes with community leaders. Only a relatively small part of his dīwān, including poems and literary epistles, has been published; the rest is still in manuscript. We know his poetry from the manuscripts and partial editions by A. Kaminka in Mi-Mizraḥ umi-Ma'arav (1, 2 (1895), 107–27, and 1926–28), Y. Patay (1926), and H. Schirmann (1946). The Hebrew text of the first part of the dīwān has been edited and studied by A. Bejarano (Ph. D. dissertation, 1989). The largest and most important manuscript of the dīwān is ms. 1984 (Mich. 155) of the Neubauer Cat. at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, but other minor manuscripts have also been preserved.

As was usual in his time, most of Bonafed's literary activity was in the form of poetic correspondence with other Jewish intellectuals, often including prose as well as verse sections, though the copyists of his manuscripts did not always understand this circumstance. Both poetry and prose are written in biblical Hebrew, and in the prose sections (both rhymed and unrhymed) biblical quotations are particularly numerous.

For Bonafed, Hebrew poetry had a very old tradition with roots in the ancient poets of the Bible and in the classical poets of Andalusia. He felt that his vocation was to continue the Hebrew traditions of Andalusian poetry. He admired especially *Judah Halevi, and identified in many aspects with Solomon ibn *Gabirol, who suffered similar rejection by the Sarogossa community. He also had deep respect for the great poets of his time, Solomon de Piera, Vidal ben Benvenist ibn Lavi, and Vidal Benveniste. He saw himself as the last Hebrew poet of Sefarad, and was convinced that Hebrew poetry would disappear with him.

He cultivated most of the classical genres – panegyrics, dirges, wedding poems, didactic compositions, etc. – imitating Arabic or Hebrew models; his love poems and his satirical verse are a good example of the merging of such elements with others employed in the Romance (Catalan) lyric of the epoch. He also wrote a few liturgical poems. Among his piyyutim are recorded Shekhunah bi-Neshamah, a reshut for Passover, included in the Montpellier prayer book. Bonafed is also the author of some of the last muwaššahāt of clear Andalusian tradition written in the Iberian Peninsula, even if they have a rather modified structure. Novelties of the incipient Renaissance, like an Italian influence, are not yet clear in his work. As was usual in Christian Spain, where the bourgeoisie was becoming more and more important, Bonafed's poetry was realistic and full of life.

Although Bonafed mocked the excessively severe rabbinical rulings and many superstitious customs prevalent in contemporary circles, he remained strictly religious and zealous for the Jewish faith. He was in *Tortosa during the disputation in 1413–14, and wrote there several poems dedicated to friends who had gathered with him in that city. Bonafed's poems are an invaluable historical source for this event, and illuminate the psychological stresses of the period which resulted in masses of Jews adopting Christianity. An outstanding defection was that of Vidal de la *Cavalleria, who took a leading part in the disputation. Immediately after his conversion he was appointed to an important official post. Bonafed expressed his distress at Vidal's apostasy: "A precious sun has set in our West – why has it not risen on our horizon?" Many of those who had left Judaism were his former friends, "Scholars who were precious beyond words, who girded themselves with valor… How, now that they are gone, shall I erase those pleasant names from my doorposts?"

The numerous conversions of those years left a deep mark on the poetry of Bonafed.

His vision was pessimistic: the circle of Saragossa, which had had brought about a revival of Hebrew poetry after the disappearance of the great masters of the past, had been irretrievably shattered with the conversion of the two Ibn Lavis (Vidal and Bonafos) and their old tutor, De Piera. Bonafed saw these conversions as representing a betrayal of Hebrew language, culture, and poetry, but even after their conversion these poets of the circle of Saragossa, and especially Solomon ben Meshullam de Piera and Vidal Ibn Lavi remained for him the authors of his time whom he admired the most. He tried to re-establish the old friendship and to continue his poetical correspondence in Hebrew, thinking that for these Conversos, Hebrew poetry might be the strongest link with their old faith. When several years later, in 1445, Bonafed suffered serious personal problems with members of the Jewish community, he wrote to Vidal Ibn Lavi, who for decades had gone under the Christian name of Don Gonzalo de la Cavallería.

Bonafed addressed a satirical polemic in rhyming prose and verse to the apostate Astruc *Rimoch (Francesch de Sant Jordi), who was attempting to persuade a young acquaintance to follow his example (edited with commentary by F. Talmage, 1979, 341). In it Bonafed raised the anomalies in Christian doctrine, and deduced evidence of their irrationality and untenability. Rimoch's original letter and Bonafed's reply were published by Isaac Akrish as an appendix to the well-known epistle of Profiat *Duran, Al Tehi ka-Avoteikha (Constantinople, 1577).

Bonafed wrote many satirical verses. Perhaps because of his satirical bent, Bonafed had many enemies with whom he settled his account in his poems and biting epigrams, including other poets and community leaders, and he also criticized the social order and public affairs. A direct object of his fury was the Sicilian Rabbi Yeshua, whom he considered mainly responsible for his forced exit from Saragossa. Bonafed's verses contain accusations of irregularities in community administration, dishonesty, theft, disregard of the rights of community members, fraudulent practices in commerce and accounts, acceptance of bribes, usury, etc.

As a Jewish intellectual, Bonafed was aware of the tensions in his generation regarding the relationship between faith and reason, theory and practice, and attributed the confusion to a mistaken interpretation of Maimonides. Leaving aside his great respect for the Master, Bonafed was surely not an enthusiastic Aristotelian or a rationalist. Although Christian theology met with his total rejection, he had great respect for the scientific and philosophical knowledge of his Christian neighbors. Among his unpublished letters and poems there is a long discussion in Hebrew with a young philosopher, a student of Isaac Arondi of Huesca, in which Bonafed maintained that the logic taught in his time by Christian masters was superior to the logic of Arabic-Jewish tradition. He was familiar with the subject, as he had studied logic, in Latin, with a Christian teacher. Bonafed emphasized that the Christian study of Aristotelian logic, based on Boethius' translation, was more faithful to Aristotle than the accepted Jewish tradition that followed Averroes' interpretation. He distanced himself in this way from the most renowned Jewish logicians, such as Maimonides and or Gersonides. His critical attitude in this field was somewhat new in medieval Jewish thought, a proof of Bonafed's independence of mind and strong personality. However, in spite of his unequivocal dissent in the field of logic, Bonafed should in no way be included among the anti-Maimonidean thinkers of the century.


Zunz, Poesie, 518; Steinschneider, in: hb, 14 (1874), 95–97; Steinschneider, Cat Bod, no. 6904; Neubauer, Cat, 916, 11, 1984a; A.Z. Schwarz, Die hebraeischen Handschriften in der Nationalbibliothek in Wien (1925), no. 120, 2; Baer, Spain, index; Schirmann, Sefarad, 2 (1961), 620–43, 699–700. add. bibliography: A. Kaminka, in: Ha-Ẓofeh le-Ḥokhmat Yisrael, 10 (1926), 288–95; 12 (1928) 33–42; J. Patai, in Ha-Ẓofeh le-Ḥokhmat Yisrael, 10 (1926), 220–23. H.J. Schirmann, in: Koveẓ al-Yad, 4 (1946), 8–64. A.M. Bejarano, "Šĕlomoh Bonafed, poema y polemista hebreo (siglo xiv–xv)," Diss. 1989, in: Anuari de Filologia, 14, E (1991), 87–101; Gross, in: The Frank Talmage Memorial Volume, i (Heb. sect., 1993), 35–61; Gutwirth, in: Sefarad, 45 (1985), 23–53; A. Sáenz-Badillos, in: C. Carrete et al. (eds.), Encuentros & Desencuentros. Spanish-Jewish Cultural Interaction Throughout History (2000), 343–80; A. Sáenz-Badillos and Prats, in: Revista española de Filosofía Medieval. Miscellanea Mediaevalia en honor de Joaquín Lomba Fuentes, 10 (2003), 15–27; A. Sáenz-Badillos and J. Targarona, in: Te'udah 19 (2003), 21*–46*; Talmage, in: I. Twersky (ed.), Studies in Mediaeval Jewish History and Literature (1979), 337ff.; Vardi, in: Jerusalem Studies in Hebrew Literature 14 (1993), 169–96.

[Bernard Suler /

Angel Sáenz-Badillos (2nd ed.)]