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Judah ben Isaac ibn Shabbetai


JUDAH BEN ISAAC IBN SHABBETAI (13th century), Spanish Hebrew poet. Born around 1188, presumably in Toledo (according to some scholars, in Burgos, or in a town of Aragon), he lived for some time in Toledo and Saragossa. Judah composed at the age of 20 his best-known work, the rhymed prose narrative "Minḥat Yehudah Sone ha-Nashim" ("The Gift of Judah the Misogynist"), which aroused a poetical polemic for and against women, continuing into the 16th century. Even Judah *Al-Ḥarizi's "Maqāma of Marriage" in the Tahkemoni (Gate 6) is unmistakably composed under Judah's influence. He follows the Andalusian Arabic pattern of a long narrative with different episodes. The story told in "The Misogynist" is of a young man, Zeraḥ, who had to take a vow of continence at his father's deathbed but who soon fell prey to the vengeance of the offended fair sex: after having established a celibate brotherhood that preaches dissuasion from marriage and incites to divorce, he is seduced by a fair maiden, but through some hoax finds himself married to an ugly witch. When he tries to get a divorce, he almost has to face a death sentence thanks to the intrigues of the women. The fable is not directed against women, but describes the arguments of medieval misogynist discourse and has a very ambiguous attitude in respect to marriage; it may be interpreted as having a twofold aim – to warn men of female vengeance and against rash marriages. In consonance with similar ideas expressed in Latin and Romance narratives of the time, women are presented as the cause of quarrels and troubles, who will turn cosmos back into chaos. The book is dedicated to a patron by the name of Abraham Alfakhar; the work was very popular during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, and has been preserved in many manuscripts, but the unreliable texts of both complete editions (Constantinople, 1543, and in E. Aschkenasi, Ta'am Zekenim (1854), V. 1a–12b) make it impossible to determine the precise date of composition. Halberstam and Davidson believe there must have been three versions: 1188, 1208, and 1225, but very likely the book was composed in 1208, and substantially modified and enlarged in 1225 or 1228. The two versions, plus a revised form of the first one, were edited by M. Huss in his dissertation (1991). In the epilogue Judah attacks a certain Ibn Samun who had accused him of plagiarism. A certain Isaac published around 1210 two short writings attacking the apparent misogynist attitude of Ibn Shabbetai: Ezrat ha-Nashim and Ein Mishpat.

Judah wrote around 1214 a second narrative in rhymed prose, called Milḥemet ha-Ḥokhmah ve-ha-Osher ("Strife of Wisdom and Wealth"), which apparently was dedicated to Todros b. Judah, the father of Meir *Abulafia, who acted as judge in the quarrel in question between two brothers, one of them rich and the other wise, disputing about a tiara left to them by their father (Constantinople, 1503). Judah is also the author of another rhymed prose narrative, Divrei ha-Alah ve-ha-Niddui ("The Curse and the Ban"), a parody, or a satirical work, in which he settles accounts with five respected Jews of Saragossa (published by Davidson in Ha-Eshkol, 6 (1909), 165–75). It seems that another work on history was destroyed or burned by the leaders of the community of Saragossa, and has not been preserved.


Steinschneider, in: Israelietische Letterbode, 12 (1887/88), 63–65, 69–73; idem, in: hb, 13 (1873), 137; Halberstam, in: Jeschurun (Kobak's), 7 (1871), 33ff. (Heb. pt.); idem (ed.), Ben ha-Melekh ve-ha-Nazir (rev. ed. 1952), appendix; D. Kaufmann, Gesammelte Schriften, 3 (1915), 470–7; J. Davidson, Parody in Jewish Literature (1907), 7–12; J. Schirmann, Die Hebraeischen Uebersetzungen der Maqamen des Hariri (1930), 112f., Schirmann, Sefarad, 2 (1956), 67–86, 689; N. Wieder, in: Metsudah, 2 (1943), 122–31; Baer, Spain, 1 (1961), 94f., 398; Zinberg, Sifrut, 1 (1955), 186–9. add. bibliography: T. Rosen, in: Prooftexts, 8 (1988), 67–87; idem, Unveiling Eve (2003), 103–123; T. Fishman, in: Prooftexts, 8 (1988), 89–111; M. Huss, "Minḥat Yehudah, Ezrat ha-Nashim, ve-Ein Mishpaṭ," diss. (Hebrew Univ., 1991); Schirmann-Fleischer, The History of Hebrew Poetry in Christian Spain and Southern France (1997), 129–44 (Heb.).

[Jefim (Hayyim) Schirmann /

Angel Sáenz-Badillos (2nd ed.)]

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