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Ibn Altabban, Levi ben Jacob


IBN ALTABBAN, LEVI BEN JACOB (Abu l-Fahm ; late 11th century in Saragossa), poet and grammarian. Little is known of his life. Though extensively praised by contemporary poets, including Moses *Ibn Ezra and *Judah Halevi, the same as by *Al-Ḥarizi, his poems were forgotten for nearly 500 years. Those of his poems which were preserved were attributed to other poets, principally to Judah Halevi, because of the signature "Levi" and the similar poetic style. Around 70 poems of Ibn Altabban were collected from manuscripts and printed works and published, together with a detailed introduction and notes by D. Pagis (1968), and some others were published after this edition. Only a few are secular poems, songs of friendship, among them an answer to Moses Ibn Ezra. All the rest are liturgical poems, distinguished by their lyricism, purity of thought, and delicate style. His hymns, supplications, penitential songs, prayers in time of drought, etc., reflect the influence of Solomon ibn *Gabirol and Judah Halevi. About half of them have a strophic structure. He expresses again and again the sorrow of the exiled people in the hands of Muslims and Christians. Some short lyrical poems take the form of a dialogue between Israel and God. His piyyutim became very popular in the synagogues of North Africa. Jacob ibn Altabban, his son, was also a poet, although none of his poems is known.

For many years Levi Ibn Altabban was remembered solely as a grammarian, the author of Ha-Mafte'aḥ ("The Key"), written in Arabic, which is mentioned in the Moznei Leshon ha-Kodesh of Abraham *Ibn Ezra; only a fragment of this treatise is extant. Saadia *Ibn Danan mentions him as one of the four great Hebrew grammarians of the 11th century. On some of the controversial topics discussed by *Samuel ha-Nagid and Jonah *Ibn Janaḥ, Ibn Altabban agrees with Samuel. Levi Ibn Altabban taught Hebrew grammar in Saragossa, having distinguished students like Ibrahim Isaac *Ibn Barun.


Schirmann, Sefarad, 1 (19592), 329f.; 2 (1956), 681f.; idem, in: ymḤsi, 4 (1938), 252–7; 6 (1945), 332; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 430, s.v. Levi ben Ya'akov; Pagis, in: Leshonenu, 27–28 (1963/64), 49–57. add. bibliography: E. Ashtor, The Jews of Moslem Spain,3 (1984), 224–27; I. Levin and A. Sáenz-Badillos, Si me olvido de ti Jerusalen… (1992), 33–39; Schirmann-Fleischer, The History of Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain (1995), 496–503 (Heb.); A. Sáenz-Badillos and J. Targarona, Gramáticos hebreos de al-Andalus (1988), 155–6.

[Abraham Meir Habermann /

Angel Sáenz-Badillos (2nd ed.)]

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