IBN EZRA, ABRAHAM (1092-1167).

Hebrew poet, philosopher, and Bible commentator. Born in Toledo, Spain, he traveled widely, visiting Italy, France, England, North Africa, and the Middle East. Ibn Ezra contributed greatly to the spread of Arab-Jewish culture among Western European Jews. He suffered poverty and often complained bitterly about his situation in biting satirical poems. His Bible commentaries are distinguished by their logical and penetrating interpretation of biblical language and content. Also of considerable importance are his books on mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, and Hebrew grammar. Ibn Ezra’s grammatical works were translated into Latin. In contrast to most of the Jewish scholars in Spain, he wrote in Hebrew, not Arabic. As a poet, Abraham Ibn Ezra did not measure up to the stature of the great Hebrew masters during the “Golden Age” in Spain. Yet some of his liturgical poems possess depth of feeling. He composed remarkable hymns on creation and on the qualities of angels. His poetic darts of ridicule and wit strike at the root of human weaknesses. Ibn Ezra’s contrasting qualities are revealed in his truly moving religious poetry on the one hand, and the rhymed riddles and puzzles

IBN EZRA, MOSES (ca. 1070-1150).

Hebrew poet and contemporary of Judah Ha-Levi. He came from a famous Jewish family in Granada, Spain. At first he was fascinated by the beauty of nature and the pleasures of life. After experiencing rejection and disappointment in love, he took to wandering. He wrote so many religious poems pleading for forgiveness that he became known as Hasallach, or the penitential poet. A master of form and literary technique, Ibn Ezra made excellent use of the riches of the Hebrew language in his secular and religious poetry. His book Shirat Yisrael (The Poetry of Israel) is of great value for the study of Hebrew poetry and its Arabic influences.


Medieval Hebrew poet and philosopher. Born in Malaga, Spain, he was orphaned as a child. At 16, his genius had already become evident. The tragic experiences of his short life—poverty, illness, and loneliness—are reflected in his subtle and pessimistic poems. His outstanding creative intelligence is revealed in his philosophical works as well. Many of Ibn Gabirol’s poems, or piyyutim, became part of Jewish religious liturgy. His Keter Malkhut, a paean to the greatness of God, is recited on Yom Kippur Eve.

  As a penetrating philosopher, Ibn Gabirol in­fluenced both Christian theology and Jewish mystic thought. His philosophic work Fons Vitae (Source of Life), originally written in Arabic and later translated into Latin, was for centuries credited to “Avicebron”; it was not until the middle of the 19th century that Jewish scholar Solomon Munk discovered a fragmentary Hebrew translation by means of which he was able to prove that Avicebron was ac­tually Ibn Gabirol. Ibn Gabirol’s end is surrounded by mystery. An envious Arabic poet was said to have murdered him and buried his remains under a fig tree. To the astonishment of all, the tree bore unusually beautiful fruit. The king questioned the owner about his marvelous tree until he broke down and confessed his crime.

IBN JANNAH, JONAH (990-1050).

Scholar and Hebrew grammarian. A physician by profession, he practiced medicine first in Cordova, Spain. When the Berbers destroyed Cordova, he settled in Saragossa.

Ibn Jannah’s primary interest, however, was the study of Hebrew grammar. He wrote two important books, classics of their kind, one on grammatical construction and the other on sources of the Hebrew language. These books were translated from the Arabic into Hebrew by Judah Ibn Tibbon.


(Mid- 11th century). Philosopher and dayan (rabbinical judge) of Saragossa, Spain, Ibn Pakuda is best known for his classic book on Jewish ethics, Hovot ha-Levavot (Duties of the Heart). Little is known about his life, except that he was deeply learned and well acquainted with both Arabic and Jewish philosophical and scientific writing. In his work he urges humans to love and accept God with their hearts. Yet one must also exercise his reason in order to understand his obligations in this world. Ibn Pakuda believes that gratitude to God for His marvelous universe requires us to live ethically. Ibn Pakuda also wrote several beautiful hymns and poems; especially noteworthy is the Admonition to his soul that begins with the verse from the Psalms, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”


Jewish statesman in Spain, whose support of Jewish scholarship helped promote important Jewish scholars and writers in Spain during the “Golden Age.”


Famous family from Spain that lived mostly in Southern France during the 12th and 13th centuries. They are best known as translators of Arabic works into Hebrew. In doing so, they enriched the Hebrew language by creating new words and expressions for philosophic and scientific terms previously unknown in Hebrew. They also made available the works of outstanding Jewish philosophers and scholars to a wider public that could not read Arabic. Some noteworthy family members are:

Judah Ben Saul (1120-1190), who practiced medicine at Lunel in Southern France. Among the works he translated are Emunot Vedeot (Beliefs and Opinions) by Saadiah Gaon; Hovot haLevavot (Duties of the Heart) by Bahya Ibn Pakuda, and the Kuzari by Judah Ha-Levi.

Judah ben Samuel (1150-1230), who was the most important of all translators. He rendered into Hebrew MaimonidesMoreh Nebuchim (Guide to the Perplexed) and other works. Judah corresponded with this great scholar and philosopher, discussing various problems that arose with the translations.

Moses ben Samuel (1240-1283), who was a practicing physician in Provence. He translated Maimonides’ commentary on the Mishnah (Peirush Hamishnayot), his Sefer Hamitzvot, and Milot Hahigayon (Terms of Logic), as well as scientific and philosophic works from the Arabic.


Jewish life in Idaho started around 1860. From 1915 to 1919, Moses Alexander served as the first and, so far, only Jewish governor of the state. Today, Idaho has about 1,100 Jews, half of whom live in Boise, with only one active Jewish congregation and school.


Throughout antiquity, Jews lived in a world that worshiped visible objects, such as statues of stone and wood representing the powers ruling the world. While each idol-worshiping group or nation accepted the validity of other groups’ idols, Jews rejected all idols as false gods and considered their one invisible god as the only true ruler of the universe. Throughout the Bible there is conflict between idolatry and Jewish monotheism. With the birth of Christianity and later Islam, two religions also based on the belief in one divine power ruling the universe, idolatry became less accepted.


With a Jewish population of some 280,000, more than 265,000 live in Chicago alone, while the rest are spread in small communities of a few hundred each. Though the first Jews reached Illinois in the 18th century, Jews did not start settling throughout the state until the second half of the 19th. More than 100,000 arrived at the turn of the century, and most settled in Chicago. Henry Horner served as governor from 1932 to 1940.


Author of Ha-Tikvah, Imber was a poet and an incurable wanderer. He left his home in Galicia when quite young and roamed Europe. In 1878, he wrote Ha-Tikvah (The Hope), a poem of nine stanzas expressing the Jewish longing to return to the Land of Israel. Ha-Tikvah is now the national anthem of the State of Israel. Imber lived in Palestine from 1882 until 1887, when he went to Europe and England. Later, he came to the U.S. and traveled all over the country, writing Hebrew poems and articles for many Jewish magazines. He died in New York.


Hebrew scholar and satirical poet. Immanuel, named Ha-Romi because he was born in Rome, came from a rich and distinguished Jewish family. In his youth, he studied the Talmud as well as mathematics, astronomy, medicine and languages. He served as secretary to the Jewish community of Rome, and excelled as an orator. However, Immanuel’s biting tongue made him many enemies, and he was forced to resign his position. Shortly afterward, he lost all his possessions and took to wandering. Immanuel’s best known work, Mahberot Immanuel, is a collection of poems written in narrative sequence. The section titled “Tofet and Eden” is modeled after Dante’s Divine Comedy. He also wrote in Italian, one of the first to introduce the sonnet into Hebrew poetry. Some Talmudic scholars were critical of his writings, because of the frivolous and irreverent nature of some of the passages in his Mahberot.