Ibn Ezra, Isaac

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IBN EZRA, ISAAC (Abu Saad , ca. 1109–after 1163), Hebrew poet. Born in Spain, the son of Abraham *Ibn Ezra, he was raised in Andalusia, probably in Córdoba, Seville, and Almeria, as a member of the cultivated young Jewish elite. He was very close to *Judah Halevi, perhaps serving him as a secretary, and many scholars believe that he married his only daughter. S. Goitein published some correspondence found in the *Genizah between Isaac and *Halfon ben Nethanel (who visited Andalusia in 1127) on commercial topics; M. Gil and E. Fleischer published with commentary in 2001 various Genizah fragments that included an interesting correspondence between them; thanks to these eight documents we have much better information today about Isaac's adult years. In 1140 he accompanied Judah Halevi on his trip to Egypt, and they arrived at Alexandria in the fall. Like Halevi he sang the praises of the nagid, Samuel b. Hananiah and of other distinguished patrons. It seems that differences arose between Judah and Isaac. While Halevi continued his trip in the direction of Jerusalem (shortly before his death), Isaac stayed in Egypt. One of his poems of this time is dedicated to the death of Judah Halevi. In 1142 he left for Damascus, and a few months later, in 1143, he continued to Baghdad, where he was court poet and secretary to the philosopher-physician *Hibat Allah Abu Albarakāt (Nethanel) Ben Ali Albaghdādī b. Malka. When his patron converted to Islam in his old age, around 1163, it seems that Ibn Ezra, under his influence, also changed his faith. In one of his poems he complains that people say that he has converted; in another, he confesses that he did become a Moslem, but in his heart of hearts remained a loyal Jew and continued to keep the commandments. In Gate Three of the Taḥkemoni, Judah *al-Harizi says of him: "His son Isaac drank deep, as well, from Song's pure well, but when he came to Eastern domains loosed faith's firm reins. He pierced his father's flesh with cruel barb, for he stripped off his garments and put on different garb." Some scholars, however, deny Isaac's conversion, and explain these words in a different sense. He died in exile in the Orient, far from Spain. Among the elegies written by his father, Abraham, there are two laments on the death of a son that some scholars think were written when Isaac died; however, as E. Fleischer has shown, it is very unlikely that they represent the personal feelings of the poet on the death of his son.

Scores of his secular poems have been preserved, part of them fragments of his diwan found in the Geniza; about a dozen poems, six of them strophic poems, were published by N. Ben-Menahem in 1950. M. Schmelzer's edition (1980) includes a rhymed prose letter and 44 poems (plus 12 dubious poems) taken mostly from the Silvera manuscript (after its acquisition by the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York), a copy of the selection of Isaac's poems written in Egypt and Iraq, prepared by *Abraham ben Mazhir, head of the Damascus academy, from 1142 on. Thanks to this edition, we know that Isaac kept alive the Andalusian tradition in the Orient, writing in a style very close to Judah Halevi's, faithful to the classical language and conventions of Andalusia. Although we do not know very much about the poetry that he wrote in Andalusia, in the Orient he wrote panegyrics, songs of friendship, complaints, letters in rhymed prose, etc., in the most classical manner. He was a poet of distinction, whose works were not inferior to those of his contemporaries.


Habermann, in: Sinai, 14 (1944), 241–50; idem, in: Tarbiz, 37 (1967/68), 279–81; J.L. Fleischer, ibid., 21 (1947), 263–76; H. Schirmann, Shirim Ḥadashim min ha-Genizah (1965), 277–81; idem, Sefarad, 1 (1954), 624–6; 2 (1956), 687–8. add. bibliography: M. Schmelzer, in: pjj (1978), 369–72; M. Schmelzer, Isaac Ibn Ezra, Shirim (1980); Schirmann-Fleischer, The History of Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain (1995), 442–3 (Heb.); Schirmann-Fleischer, The History of Hebrew Poetry in Christian Spain and Southern France (1997), 71–92 (Heb.); M. Gil and E. Fleischer, Yehuda ha-Levi and His Circle (2001), 148–73 (Heb.).

[Jefim (Hayyim) Schirmann /

Angel Sáenz-Badillos (2nd ed.)]

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