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Iberian Jewish Literature

Between al-Andalus and Christian Europe

Jonathan P. Decter

Publication Year: 2007

This stimulating and graceful book explores Iberian Jewish attitudes toward cultural transition during the 12th and 13th centuries, when growing intolerance toward Jews in Islamic al-Andalus and the southward expansion of the Christian Reconquista led to the relocation of Jews from Islamic to Christian domains. By engaging literary topics such as imagery, structure, voice, landscape, and geography, Jonathan P. Decter traces attitudes toward transition that range from tenacious longing for the Islamic past to comfort in the Christian environment. Through comparison with Arabic and European vernacular literatures, Decter elucidates a medieval Hebrew poetics of estrangement and nostalgia, poetic responses to catastrophe, and the refraction of social issues in fictional narratives.

Published with the generous support of the Koret Foundation.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

I first had the idea for writing this book while I was traveling by train from Boston to New York. I was fortunate enough to have two books as my traveling companions: Bernard Septimus’s Hispano-Jewish Culture in Transition and Jacob Ben El ͑azar’s Sefer ha-meshalim (The Book of Stories). Septimus’s book, which detailed the intellectual profile of Rabbi Meir...

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pp. xiii-xiv

This project could not have been completed without essential collegial, institutional, and personal support. I have enjoyed the kindness of all my colleagues in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. In particular, I wish to thank those who have shown a special interest in the development of this project or offered advice on navigating...

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pp. 1-16

Al-tagharrub and al-ightirab—emigration and estrangement. Like the English pair “travel” and “travail,” these Arabic words share a common root (ghrb) that underscores the intimate relation between moving from one place to another and resigning oneself to the burden of alienation. Al-tagharrub...


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pp. 17

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1. Space: Landscape and Transition

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pp. 19-38

Had Don Quixote been set in eleventh-century al-Andalus rather than the united Spain of the sixteenth century, the delusional knight-errant’s niece would have feared that her uncle, upon reading books of poetry, would think himself a courtier sipping wine in palace gardens rather than a shepherd...

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2. Form: Varieties of Lamentation and Estrangement

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pp. 39-71

The three major Jewish poets who left al-Andalus permanently between1090 and 1142—Moses Ibn Ezra, Judah Halevi, and Abraham Ibn Ezra—all wrote poems about the decline following changes in political regimes. Moses Ibn Ezra composed several personal complaints concerning the abandonment of Granada by Jewish intellectuals after the Almoravid conquest and...

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3. Imagery: The Protean Garden

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pp. 72-95

It is generally recognized that the gardens described in Hebrew Andalusian garden poems are idealized. The poems always describe similar garden beds, flowers, trees, watercourses, fountains, couches for reclining, entertainers, wine goblets, and wine. Throughout the corpus, the poems seem to...


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pp. 97

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4. Context: Imagining Hebrew Fiction between Arabic and European Sources

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pp. 99-124

The opening scene of the French film Ridicule is set six years before the French Revolution, “when Louis XVI still ruled . . . but wit was king.” 1 Wit—the practice of acerbic raillery grounded in learning and wordplay—was the key to opening all doors in government. With wit, one could display intellectual prowess before court and king and publicly ridicule one’s...

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5. Structure: Literature in Transition

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pp. 125-156

The twentieth century produced a welter of ideas concerning narrative. Once excluded from the serious study of literature, which occupied itself with poetry only, narrative became a central topic of inquiry. The novel, which had been viewed as a light literary diversion, became recognized as a sophisticated form wherein genres mixed and competing social voices...

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6. Voice: Maqama and Morality

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pp. 157-174

In the previous chapter, voice was introduced as a topic within the framework of narrative structure. It was shown that voice is not centered within the speech of any one character of the Tahkemoni, whereas it is more concentrated in the speech of the narrator in Sefer ha-meshalim. Also, the Tahkemoni utilizes ...

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7. Space: Landscape, Geography, and Transition

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pp. 175-206

In chapter 1, it was shown that the Andalusian Hebrew poetics of estrangement and nostalgia was grounded in a lingering memory of the garden landscape and its counterpoints in the desert and forest. The first part of this chapter continues this discussion by considering aspects of landscape in Hebrew narrative fiction by focusing on the role of idyllic landscapes in...

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Conclusion: Out of the Garden

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pp. 207-213

One title that I considered for this book was Out of the Garden: Cultural Transition in Iberian Jewish Literature. The provocative phrase before the colon would have alluded to the nostalgia-laden associations of expulsion from paradise and also the discursive practice of figuring al-Andalus as a lost garden in Hebrew and Arabic letters. The title would have also...


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pp. 215-273


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pp. 275-296


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pp. 297-303

E-ISBN-13: 9780253116956
E-ISBN-10: 0253116953
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253349132

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2007