Sephardic Jewish history in the Middle Ages truly reached its peak during what was called the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry, a grace period of prosperity between the Umayyad conquest of the Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain and Portugal) in the year 711 and around the 10th-12th century (where several events could be considered the end of the Sephardic renaissance.)

Our Jewish travels through this period of history explore both significant events and monumental individuals. Many of our articles have delved into the lives of many great Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula during and after this golden age, such as Samuel ibn Naghrillah (or Samuel Hanagid) and Maimonides. Among the philosophers and scholars that graced Iberia, one earned the distinction of being a prestigious poet in both the Arabic and Hebrew worlds, and is also recognized as one of Spain’s greatest poets. His name is Moses ibn Ezra, surnamed ha-sallah, “Writer of Penitential Papers.”

A Life in Literature and Exile

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Moses ibn Ezra was born in Granada in 1055-1060 (sources vary), during a tumultuous time when the Golden Age was beginning to decline. Like many great Sephardic Jews of the time, he was well learned in Arabic and Jewish education, literature and theology. He was peers with another great Jew at the time, Judah Halevi, whom he mentored in Granada.

However, in 1060, like Samuel Hanagid before him and Maimonides after him, Moses ibn Ezra had to flee his beloved city when it was captured, in his case by the Almoravides. The Jewish community of Granada was destroyed and Moses had to flee to the Christian parts of Spain. He would never be able to return to his beloved city, and died sometime after 1135.

A Mastery of Secular and Sacred Works

Moses ibn Ezra was well-versed in the arts of poetry, and was particularly interested in “poetic ornaments,” or the use of metaphorical language in art and literature. Kitāb al-Muḥāḍara wa al-Mudhākara was his treatise in Medieval Jewish poetics, which he wrote to answer his friend’s eight questions on Hebrew poetry. While his secular poems, such as the ones in his collection Tarshish, were influential, his selihot, or penitential poems, were of equal acclaim, which led to him earning the title ha-Sallah.

The Golden Age of Spanish Jewish Culture has come and gone, but that does not mean that its influence in the modern day has diminished. Our previous kosher cruises explored the legacy of the Sephardic Jews, and until we can set sail again in the future, we can always explore by reading about Iberia’s rich Jewish history.