Ibn Abitur, Joseph ben Isaac

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IBN ABITUR, JOSEPH BEN ISAAC (10th–11th century), Spanish talmudic scholar and poet. Frequently mentioned under the name of "Ibn Shatanash," Ibn Abitur explains that this name was given to his great-grandfather "who wielded great power in Spain… including the power over life and death which none beside him ever had outside Ereẓ Israel, and because he was a scourge of evildoers he was called Shotanash" (shot-enosh, "scourge of man"); he usually signed as "Joseph ben Isaac ha-Sefaradi" (= the Spaniard), or "Meridi," after his birthplace Merda.

Ibn Abitur lived in Spain in the second half of the tenth century, and in Ereẓ Israel and neighboring countries at the beginning of the 11th century. He had studied in Cordoba under R. Moses b. Ḥanokh. After R. Moses' death, his place as rabbi and head of the yeshivah was taken by his son Ḥanokh, who was supported by the nasi, R. Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut. Upon the latter's death, Ibn Abitur claimed the position for himself; the Cordoba community was split into two camps, each trying to gain Caliph al-Ḥākim ii's (961) support. Finally, Ibn Abitur was defeated, put under ban by his opponents, and forced to flee to the East. After a while, one of his supporters, Jacob ibn Jau, rose to power in Cordoba and decided to expel Ḥanokh and appoint the exiled scholar in his place. On this occasion, however, Ibn Abitur refused the offer, stating that "from Spain to Babylonia there was no scholar so worthy of the office as R. Ḥanokh." In the course of his travels, Ibn Abitur arrived in Babylonia, where he hoped to obtain help from R. Hai Gaon; but the latter refused to see him. He also spent some time in Ereẓ Israel and Egypt, where he enjoyed the friendship of the Palestinian gaon R. Samuel ha-Kohen and R. *Shemariah b. Elhanan, the head of the Egyptian academy, who defended Ibn Abitur against his detractors. Ibn Abitur composed a threnody, in verse, on the persecutions that took place in Ereẓ Israel at the orders of the Egyptian caliph al-Ḥākim (996–1021) in 1021 (Kobez al Jad, vol. 3, 1887). According to *Ibn Daud, Ibn Abitur died in Damascus; the year of his death is not known (Ibn Daud, Tradition, 68).

He was regarded as one of the great men of his age. Some of his responsa were included in the collections of the responsa of the geonim (Teshuvot Ge'onei Mizraḥ u-Ma'arav, Ginzei Kedem contains some of the responsa he issued during his Egyptian period). He also composed a commentary on Psalms, written in a midrashic style, of which only fragments are extant. He was a leading Spanish paytan; of the vast number of piyyutim that he composed, approximately 300 are known today. A few have been published in recent times; others are found in rare prints (in prayer books of Aragon, Catalonia, Sicily, etc.); but most are dispersed over hundreds of manuscripts. Among his outstanding piyyutim are Ma'amad le-Yom ha-Kippurim, a collection of piyyutim designed for the various portions of prayers on the Day of Atonement (he was the first Sephardi who composed a ma'amad prayer); *hoshanot, for the Sukkot festival; and yoẓerot, piyyutim for the Shaḥarit prayer, which dealt with the weekly portion from the Torah. A scientific edition of Ibn Abitur's poems and a comprehensive study of them has been prepared by E. Fleischer (thesis presented to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (1968)).


Mann, Egypt, 1 (1920), 66ff.; 2 (1922), 25, 59–60, 169; S. Assaf, Mekorot u-Meḥkarim (1946), 115–8; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 399–400; Lewin, in: Ginzei Kedem, 6 (1944), 25–26; Bernstein, in: Sinai, 31 (1952), 284–309; 32 (1953), 128; Zulay, in: ks, 30 (1954/55), 243–53; Schirmann, Sefarad, 1 (19592), 53–65; 2 (1956), 677; idem, Shirim Ḥadashim min ha-Genizah (1965), 149–56; Ashtor, Korot, 1 (19662), 233ff.

[Jefim (Hayyim) Schirmann]