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Arabic Literature of the Jews

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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From the time that the Arabs commenced to develop a culture of their own, Jews lived among them and spoke their language. Gradually they also employed the latter in the pursuit of their studies, so that Jewish literature in Arabic extends over all the branches in which Jews took an interest. Indeed, the material is so vast that it is impossible to give a comprehensive survey of it in small compass; and it is owing to this circumstance that there is no work on the subject, although one by Steinschneider has been in preparation for many years (see "Z. D. M. G." 53:418).

1. Early Literature:

First Poem Is by a Woman.

The earliest literary productions are not of a specifically Jewish character, but are similar to those of the Arabs. They consist of poems composed in celebration of public or private events, and date from the second half of the fifth century of the present era. The first was composed by a poetess of Medina named Sarah, who bewailed the slaughter of a number of her people by an Arab chief. The same event is alluded to in some other verses by an unknown poet. About the middle of the sixth century there flourished in North Arabia Samau'al (see SAMUEL (3)) ibn 'Adiya, whose name is often mentioned and whose verses are to be found in the most notable compilations of ancient Arabic poetry. At thetime of Mohammed there lived in Medina the poets Al-Rabi ibn Abi al-Ḥuḳaiḳ, Ka'ab ibn Asad, Asma (a woman), Ka'ab ibn al-Ashraf (assassinated by order of Mohammed), Al-Sammak, Aus of Kuraiza, Abu al-Diyal, ShuraiḦ, Jabal ibn Jauwal, and finally MarḦab of Khaibar. Toward the end of Mohammed's career the convert Al-Ḥusain, who assumed the name Abd Allah ibn Salam, wrote homilies and sacred legends drawn from Jewish sources, thus furnishing the first elements of the "Ḥadith" (Moslem tradition). He was followed by Yamin ibn Yamin (Benjamin), Ka'ab ibn AḦbar, and Wahb ibn Munabbikh (the last two hailing from Yemen), all of them converts to Islam. Of other literary productions by Arab Jews in this early epoch there is no record, except of the so-called "Kitab al-Ashma'at," mentioned by an anonymous author of the ninth century. This work, which Sprenger ("Leben und Lehre Mohammed," 1:49) believes to have been an ancient book of revelation, was not an Arabic work, but was probably only a compendium of rabbinical discussions, which its author naturally styled "Shema'ata." Abd Allah ibn Saba, who is supposed to have been a Jew, was the first to ascribe divine honors to the calif Ali. He founded the Shiite sect of the Sabaiyya. This ends the first period, a special feature of which is that all its literary productions have been transmitted through Mohammedan channels (see Delitzsch, "Jüd. Arabische Poesien aus Mohamm. Zeit," 1874; Nöldeke, "Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Poesie der Alten Araber," pp. 52-86; Hirschfeld, "Essai sur l'Histoire des Juifs de Medine," in "Revue Etudes Juives," 7:167-193, 10:10-31).

2. Karaites:

It was in the second period that Arabic began to be used as a scientific language. The first to employ it for theological works were the Karaites. The founder and oldest teacher of this sect, indeed, still employed the rabbinic dialect; but later on, when the gulf between the Karaites and the Rabbinites widened, the former employed Arabic, not merely on account of the spread of that language, but apparently out of spite to the Rabbinites, whom they wished to prevent from reading their books. It was evidently for the same reason that the Karaites afterward employed Arabic characters for Hebrew quotations and translations.

There is not much variety in the Arabic writings of the Karaites, as they nearly all have the same tendency, and were composed in defense of narrow religious views. The branches chiefly dealt with are Biblical Exegesis, Halakah and Theology, Polemics against Rabbinites, and Linguistics. There is, however, still so much uncertainty as to many details, that final results can not in many cases be obtained till further researches shall have been made among the manuscripts in the various public libraries.

Apogee of Karaite Literature.

With the beginning of the tenth century Karaite literature enters its fullest period. The struggle was reciprocal, and is no doubt largely responsible for the growth of Arabic works among Rabbinite Jews. There was hardly one prominent Karaite writer of this period who did not attack Saadia. The first claiming mention is Sulaiman ibn RuḦaim (Salomon b. Jeroham), who wrote commentaries on the Psalms, Lamentations, and Ecclesiastes (MSS. British Museum, 2515-17, 2520; Hirschfeld, "Arab. Chrestom." pp. 103-109). Next to him must be mentioned Yusuf Ḳirḳisani, whose "Kitab al-Anwar we al-Manaḳib" () forms an introduction to his commentary on the Pentateuch (Bacher, "Jew. Quart. Rev." 7:687-710; Harkavy, "Mém. Russ. Arch. Soc. Sect. Orient." 8:247-321; Poznanski, in Steinschneider, "Festschrift," pp. 195-218; idem, "Semitic Studies in Memory of A. Kohut," pp. 435-456; Hirschfeld, ib. pp. 116-121). The most fertile of all, however, is Jefeth ibn 'Ali ha-Levi (Ḥasan al-Baṣri) (Commentary on Daniel, ed. D. S. Margoliouth, Oxford, 1891). Besides his "Sefer ha-Miẓwot," he wrote commentaries on all the Biblical books, and paid more attention to linguistic questions than his contemporaries. His son Levi (Abu Sa'id) commented on the Pentateuch and on Joshua, and composed a compendium of the "Agron" (dictionary) by David ben Abraham of Fez. David b. Boaz (993) wrote commentaries on the Pentateuch and on Ecclesiastes, and also a "Kitab al-Uṣul."

Karaite Literature in Egypt.

The beginning of the eleventh century is marked by Yusuf al-Baṣir (Ha-Ro'eh), who wrote several works on theology and halakah: for example, "Al MuḦtawi" (The Comprehensive One), several responsa, the "Kitab al-Istibṣar," on the law of inheritance, of which some fragments are still extant, and the "Kitab al-Isti'ána," of philosophic character (see P. F. Frankl, "Ein Mu'tazilit. Kalām," in "Sitzungsber. der Wiener Acad." 1872, pp. 169 et seq.). About 1026 Abu al-Faraj Harun ibn al-Faraj completed his grammatical work "Al-Mushtamil" (Poznanski, "Rev. Et. Juives," 33:24-39). He was also the author of a commentary on the Pentateuch. Ali b. Sulaiman, of the twelfth century, left, besides an exegetical work on the Pentateuch, an igron based on that of the above-named David ben Abraham. Karaite literature, after its decay in Asia, found a new home, in the thirteenth century, in Egypt; but its productions were inferior to those of the preceding epoch. Israel b. Samuel ha-Dayyan of Maghreb composed a treatise on "Six Articles of Creed," another on the ritual slaughter of animals, and, finally, a "Sefer ha-Miẓwot." A work similar to the last-named was written by his pupil, the physician Jefeth ibn Saghir (Al-Ḥakim al-Ṣafi); and another is known as the "Siddur of Al-Fadhil" (Isaiah Cohen ben Uzziyahu) (Steinschneider, "Cat. Berlin," 2:48; other ritual works, MSS. Brit. Mus. Or., 2531-32, 2536). Judah ben Meïr (also called Al-Ḥakim al-Ṭhafi) wrote a commentary on Esther. Among commentators on the Pentateuch mention should be made of AlMu'allim Abu Ali (Sahl ben MaẓliaḦ al-Imam), Abu al Sari, Abu al-Faraj-Furḳan, and Al-Muḳaddasi.

The most important author of the fourteenth century is the physician Samuel of Maghreb, whose chief work was "Al-Murshid" (The Guide). Besides this, he wrote prolegomena to the Pentateuch. In 1415 Elijah ha-Dayyan wrote a work on the calendar rules, of which a Hebrew translation exists in St. Petersburg. An important "Chronicle of KaraiteDoctors" was compiled at the beginning of the fifteenth century by Ibn al-Hiti (G. Margoliouth, "Jew. Quart. Rev.," 9:429-443). As late as the seventeenth century David b. Moses Fairuz composed a treatise in imitation of BaḦyah ibn Paḳudah's "Guide to the Duties of the Heart." Even at the present day, Arabic is used, although not largely, by Karaites in Egypt: in that language they read the Passover Haggadah (ed. Presburg, 1868).

3. Saadia:

The development of Arabic literature among Rabbinites is indirectly due to the Karaites. Saadia of Fayum (see Saadia Gaon) was the first to enter the lists against the latter with various polemical treatises, of which various fragments have lately come to light. His works not only extend over every branch of Jewish learning then in existence, but he even created a new one; namely, religious philosophy. It was evidently his intention to prevent Rabbinite Jews from making use of Karaite writings of any kind. His translation and commentaries on nearly the whole Bible earned for him the name of "The Commentator"; and his version of the Pentateuch in particular obtained such popularity that it was looked upon in the light of a Targum, and is still so considered in Arabic-speaking countries. It is found in Yemen MSS. side by side with the Targum Onkelos. Under the title "Agron," he also produced a philological work, the only existing fragment of which has recently been published by Harkavy, together with the remains of his "Sefer ha-Galuy" ("Studien und Mittheilungen aus der Kaiserl. Bibl. zu St. Petersburg," ). He also wrote a treatise on "Ninety [seventy] Unique or Rare Words in the Bible" (the original is lost, but the Hebrew version has been edited by A. Jellinek) and a large grammatical work. For liturgical purposes he provided a prayer-book, which he enriched with many compositions of his own, whilst the directions were written in Arabic. He also wrote a chronological treatise, and another on the law of inheritance (H. Derenbourg and Mayer Lambert, , "Traité des Successions," etc., Paris, 1897). (For Saadia's philosophical writings see below.) To the number of pseudonymous writings under his name, belong a Midrash on the Decalogue (ed. Eisenstädter, Vienna, 1868; Joseph Shabbethai Farkhi, 1849)—which is, however, nothing but a paraphrase made for liturgical purposes—and a description of man (Steinschneider, "Cat. Berlin," 1:48).

4. Bible:


Having thus briefly sketched the manner in which Jewish-Arabic literature was brought into existence among Rabbinites, it will be best to outline its further development according to subject-matter. Next to Saadia, Gaon Samuel b. Ḥofni of Bagdad (died 1034) wrote commentaries on various Biblical books, but only part of them survive (Samuel b. Ḥofni, "Trium Sectionum Posteriorum Libri Genesis Versio Arabica," 1886). The decline of Jewish learning in Iraḳ was followed by its rise in Spain; and Arabic appears as the favorite language for Jewish writings. Ḥafẓ al-ḳuṭi, the Goth (1000-1050), composed a metrical paraphrase of the Psalms (A. Neubauer, "Revue Etudes Juives," 30:65-69). Moses ha-Kohen Giḳatilla of Cordova (1050-1080), stimulated by Abu al-Walid's grammatical and lexical writings, composed commentaries on the Pentateuch, the Prophets, Psalms, Job, Canticles, and Daniel; but only fragments of them have been preserved, in the form of quotations in the works of later authors (S. Poznanski, "Ibn Jiqatilla Nebst den Fragmenten Seiner Schriften," Leipsic, 1895). To the same period probably belong two anonymous translations of Ruth. Isaac ben Judah ben Ghayat (1039) left a version of Ecclesiastes (ed. J. Loewy, Leyden, 1884). A younger contemporary but very bitter opponent of Moses Giḳatilla was Judah b. Balaam of Toledo (1070-1090). His commentaries on the Bible have likewise been but incompletely handed down (see Neubauer, "The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah," pp. 384-385; Bacher, Stade's "Zeitschrift,' 13:129-155). Fragments of an anonymous commentary on the Psalms, dating from the twelfth century, are preserved in the library of St. Petersburg. In 1142 the physician Ḥibat Allah (Nathanael) commented on Ecclesiastes. He subsequently embraced Islam. At the beginning of the thirteenth century Joseph b. Aḳnin, Maimonides' renowned pupil, is supposed to have written a commentary on Canticles and a treatise on Biblical measures (Munk, "Notice sur Joseph b. Jehoudah," in "Journal Asiatique," 1842,; Steinschneider and Neubauer, in "Magazin," 1888). A commentary of his on the Pentateuch is mentioned by Al-Muwaḳḳit (MS. Brit. Mus. Add. 27294, p. 166). Somewhat later TanḦum of Jerusalem composed commentaries on the Pentateuch and on many other parts of the Bible ("Commentary on Joshua," ed. Th. Haarbrücker, Berlin, 1862; "Comm. on Judges," ed. Goldziher). Isaac b. Samuel ha-Sefardi (end of the fourteenth century), who commented on the Prophets, likewise lived in Palestine (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Bibl.," 19:135, 20:10). A commentary on the second book of Samuel was written by Isaac b. Samuel (Margoliouth, "Jew. Quart. Rev.," 10:385-403). Part of this commentary is to be found in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. In the fifteenth century there flourished in Yemen Abraham b. Solomon, who compiled notes on the Prophets (Poznanski, c. p. 68). A commentary on Esther, regarded as a pseudonymous work of Maimonides, was edited (Leghorn, 1759) by Abraham b. Daniel Lumbroso. It probably dates from the sixteenth century, and is written in the dialect of Maghreb. The last century has witnessed a new awakening of literary interest among the Jews of Asia and Africa; and the printing-presses of Leghorn, Cairo, Algiers, Oran, Jerusalem, Bombay, Poona, and Calcutta are busy with translations, chiefly of those books of the Bible that are used in the liturgy, viz., Pentateuch, Haftarot, Psalms, the Five Scrolls, and Job ("Hebr. Bibl." 13:49). A translation of the whole Bible by Ezekiel Shem-Ṭob David was printed in Bombay in 1889, and one of the Apocrypha by Joseph David in 1895.

Midrashim and Homilies.

Following in the wake of exegesis there sprang up a literature of Midrashic and homiletic explanation of the Bible. The British Museum possesses manuscripts (Or. 66-70) of discourses on the Pentateuch, which are attributed to David b. Abraham, Maimonides' grandson. The bulk of the homileticliterature belongs to Yemen. In the middle of the fourteenth century Nathanael ben Isaiah compiled a kind of Midrash under the title "Nur al Ṭhulm," specimens of which are still extant (idem, 12:59; Alexander Kohut, "Light of Shade and Lamp of Wisdom," New York, 1894; Hirschfeld, "Arab. Chrestom." pp. 11-14). The physician YaḦya b. Sulaiman (Zakariyya, about 1430) was the author of the Midrash Ḥefeẓ, written in a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic (Steinschneider, "Cat. Berlin," 1:64,71), a commentary on which exists under the title "Al-Durrah al-Muntakhaba" (MS. Brit. Mus. Or. 2746). A few decades later Sa'id b. Da'ud al-Adani wrote homilies on the Pentateuch under the title "Kitab najat al-ghariḳin" (ib. 2785). Abu Manṣur al-Dhamari was the author of the "Siraj al-'Uḳul" (see Kohut, "Aboo Manzur al-Dhamâri," New York, 1892); and, finally, David al-Lawani composed a Midrashic work, "Al-Wajiz al-Mughni." Glosses on the Decalogue were written by Moses b. Joseph al-Balidah (MS. Brit. Mus. Or. 2746). Various anonymous compilations, belonging to the same class and written in vulgar dialect, also exist (Hirschfeld, c. pp. 14-19).

5. Linguistics:


Jewish philologists modeled their works on those of the Arabs. It is, therefore, not surprising that many of them were written in Arabic. The earliest Jewish grammarian is Judah b. Ḳoraish, of Tahort, in North Africa (ed. Bargès, Paris, 1859). His "Risalah" (Epistle), exhorting the community of Fez not to neglect the study of the Targum, embodies the first attempt at a comparative study of Semitic languages. He is, however, far outranked by Saadia, who was the first to make philological studies a special science. Saadia's first work, styled "Agron," of which only some fragments have been preserved, was partly lexicographical, partly grammatical. More details on the latter subject were to be found in his chief work, "Book on the [Hebrew] Language," in twelve parts; but unfortunately this is not now in existence. The only two works of his that have been preserved are his etymological essay on "Ninety [seventy] Unique or Rare Words in the Bible," and his commentary on the "Sefer Yeẓirah," which contains grammatical paragraphs. In the middle of the tenth century there flourished in Kairwan Dunash ben Tamim. Soon after Saadia, Abu al-Faraj Harun of Jerusalem, the Karaite, composed a work on grammar and lexicography under the title "Al Mushtamil" (Poznanski, "Rev. Et. Juives," 30:24-39,197-218).

The oldest linguistic studies in Spain were not written in Arabic, but in Hebrew; and there is none of real importance till Judah Ḥayyuj (of Fez), who, at the beginning of the eleventh century, witnessed the famous struggle between the pupils of MenaḦem and Dunash ben Labrat. Ḥayyuj was followed by Abu al-Walid Merwan (Jonah) ibn JanaḦ, whose writings are of a more comprehensive nature. The latter not only criticized and supplemented Ḥayyuj, but wrote important grammatical works and a dictionary ("The Book of Hebrew Roots," ed. A. Neubauer, Oxford, 1875; Hebrew version, ed. W. Bacher, Berlin, 1894). Judah b. Bal'am wrote on the accents of the first three books of the Hagiographa, on homonyms ("Kitab al-Tajnis"), and several smaller treatises. Prominent alike as commentator of the Bible and grammarian was Moses Giḳatilla, who wrote on the "Masculine and Feminine"; but this work is lost. To the same century belongs Isaac b. Jashush, who was the author of a work on Inflections ("Kitab al-Taṣarif"). The twelfth century shows further development. Abu Ibrahim b. Barun wrote "Kitab al-Muwazana," a treatise on comparative Hebrew and Arabic philosophy (ed. with a Russian introduction and annotations, by P. Kokovzow, St. Petersburg, 1893). Judah ha-Levi's "Alkhazari" has a grammatical chapter with interesting features (ed. Hirschfeld, pp. 128-138). After this period Hebrew preponderated over Arabic for philological pursuits. In the fourteenth century there is only TanḦum of Jerusalem, who wrote a dictionary on the Mishnah ("Al Murshid") in connection with Maimonides' commentary on the same. In the fifteenth century the African, Saadia ben Danan, composed a grammatical work and a Hebrew-Arabic dictionary. Another glossary on Maimonides' Mishnah commentary was compiled by David ben Yesha ha-Lewi of Aden (Steinschneider, "Cat. Berlin," No. 113). Of anonymous writings mention may be made of a grammatical compendium attached to a Karaite prayer-book (MS. Brit. Mus. Or. 25-36), an Arabic-Persian vocabulary (MS. Brit. Mus. Add. 7701), a treatise on difficult words in Bible and Mishnah (Hirschfeld, "Arab. Chrestom.," pp. 31-34), and a chapter on Biblical Aramaic (ib. pp. 54-60).

6. Talmud and Halakah:

It was but natural that in the Talmud and Halakah Arabic did not become so popular as in other branches of Jewish literature. The rabbinic dialect for discussions on Halakah was too firmly established to suffer the intrusion of Arabic; and much that has been written on such subjects in Arabic has either perished, or has been chiefly studied in Hebrew versions. There is no sufficient evidence to prove that an Arabic version of the Mishnah by Saadia was ever written, since the short notice given by Pethahiah of Regensburg is too scant to admit of any definite conclusions. Some of his Arabic responsa have been preserved. The translation made by Saadia's Spanish contemporary, Joseph ben Abi Thaur, was not made to supply a want felt by Jews, but at the request of a bibliophile ruler. It is therefore not surprising that it should have been lost, as probably not more than one copy of it ever existed.


Joseph b. Abraham b. Sheth and Isaac al-Faz wrote responsa in Arabic. Maimonides, while writing his commentary on the Mishnah in Arabic, left the text untranslated; and it was the Hebrew version of this commentary which became popular, although the original was also frequently copied. Many portions of the same exist in print; and its study is of the utmost importance in the verification of the version attached to present-day editions of the Talmud. Maimonides also wrote a "Sefer ha-Miẓwot" in Arabic, to serve as a kind of introduction to his Mishnah Torah (introduction and the first three paragraphs edited, with German translation,by M. Peritz, Breslau, 1882; the whole edited, with French translation, by M. Bloch, Paris, 1888). Lastly, he used Arabic for numerous responsa; and the autographs of a few of these are fortunately still in existence (Margoliouth, "Responsa of Maimonides in the Original Arabic," in "Jew. Quart. Rev." 11:553; Simonsen, "Arabic Responsa," ib. 12:134-137; "Hebr. Bibl." 19:113). His son Abraham, though not inheriting his father's genius, possessed much Talmudic learning, and endeavored to supplement the latter's writings by a work wherein religious observance was discussed in a semi-philosophical manner ("Kitab alKifayah"). In a correspondence with David b. Ḥisdai of Bagdad ("Maasē Nissim," edited by B. Goldberg, Paris, 1867), he defends the theories of his father. There also exists a collection of Arabic responsa by him under the title "Megillat Setarim" (MS. Montefiore [Halberstam], p. 56). Among the fragments brought from the Genizah in Egypt, there are a host of smaller Arabic essays and letters on matters of Halakah. Ritual commentaries in Arabic are attached to many prayer-books now in use in Asiatic and African communities. Samuel b. Jam' wrote on the slaughter of animals ("Karmel," 3:215; Geiger's "Jüd. Zeit." 1862). A volume on the laws to be observed by women was published by Jacob Anḳawa (Algiers, 1855), who translated the "Sefer Dat Yehudit" (published Leghorn, 1827) from Spanish into Arabic.

7. Liturgy:


The employment of Arabic for liturgical purposes commenced with the translation of such portions of the Bible as held a place in public worship. It has been stated above that Saadia supplemented his prayer-book with an Arabic text containing ritual regulations—a practise imitated in the Yemen prayer-books, the oldest of which date from the fifteenth century ("Hebr. Bibl." 21:54; "Cat. Berlin," 1:69,117-130, W. H. Greenburg, "The Haggadah According to the Rite of Yemen," London, 1896). Although in the prayer itself Hebrew was adhered to, Arabic began to encroach upon the piyyuṭim in the sixteenth century, and was subsequently very largely employed. Some of these piyyuṭim enjoy great popularity as, for example, the Habdalah "Song of Elijah" (Hirschfeld, "Journal Royal Asiatic Society," 1891, pp. 293-310), the tale of Hannah (idem, "Jewish-Arabic Liturgies," in "Jew. Quart. Rev." 6:119-135, 7:418-427), other "ḳinot," the Arabic version of Bar YoḦai, etc. The prayer-books printed for use in Oriental and African communities have many Arabic piyyuṭim appended; and a survey of this neglected field of Jewish literature would well reward the labor bestowed on it, because it offers interesting linguistic problems besides. A special feature of these prayer-books is the (vulgar) Arabic version of the Aramaic Targums of some portions of the Pentateuch, such as the blessing of Jacob, the Song of Moses, and the Decalogue; also prominent Hafṭarot, as that of the last day of Passover and the Ninth Day of Ab; finally, of the Five Scrolls, and the Megillat Antiochus (idem, "Arab. Chrestom." pp. 1-6). Favorite subjects for translation are Ibn Gabirol's "Azharot," Judah ha-Levi's famous piyyuṭ, (Alexandria, 1879), for the Sabbath before Purim, and a legendary paraphrase of Abot, 5:9 (, Leghorn, 1846). Besides the last-named, the whole of the Pirḳe Abot ( , ed. Joseph Shabbethai FarḦi, Leghorn, 1849) has in many prayer-books its Arabic version side by side with the original. The Passover Haggadah has often been edited with Arabic translation and commentaries. Karaite prayer-books show similar features. Arabic directions are already to be found in Fadhil's (Isaiah Cohen b. Uzziyahu) "Siddur" (see above, par. 2), not to speak of later compilations. Isaac b. Solomon gave an Arabic version of "Ten Articles of Creed" (, Eupatoria, 1840).

8. Philosophy and Theology:

The employment of Arabic for philosophical discussion grew out of conditions that differed from those which affected most of the preceding branches. Jews would probably never have written on philosophy, had they not been impelled to do so by the Arabs, whose works formed their sole sources of information on this subject. These latter provided them with a terminology, for which the Hebrew language offered no facilities; and their influence is so apparent that the Hebrew translations from Arabic, as well as works written originally in Hebrew, bear a thoroughly Arabic stamp. All Jewish philosophical works that were epoch-making are written in Arabic, and most of them are evidently meant for Arab readers also.

Development of Jewish Thought.

Although not exactly the oldest philosophical author, Saadia was the first to form his ideas on Jewish theology into a system. He was therefore the father of Jewish philosophy. His method is that of the class of Mohammedan philosophers known as Motazilites. Somewhat earlier than Saadia was Abu Ya'aḳub IsḦaḳ b. Sulaiman (Isaac Israeli the elder, died about 950), physician to Abu MuḦammed 'Ubaid Allah al-Mahdi in Kairwan. He was the author of a "Book of Definitions" —probably the oldest of its kind—preserved in a Hebrew version only (ed. H. Hirschfeld, pp. 233, 234; Steinschneider, "Festschrift," pp. 131-141). The first period also includes BaḦya b. Josef b. Paḳodah (lived in Spain 1040), the author of "Duties of the Heart" and "Reflections of the Soul." His contemporary, Solomon b. Gabirol, was the first to introduce Neoplatonic ideas into Jewish philosophy. His Arabic works are "The Source of Life," "Improvement of Morals," and the ethical treatise "Choice of Pearls" (Munk, "Mélanges de Philosophie Juive et Arabe," Paris, 1859). Judah ha-Levi (1140) treats Jewish theology from quite a different point of view. In his famous "Kitab Alkhazari" (ed. H. Hirschfeld, with the revised Hebrew version, Leipsic, 1887) he discards the method of the Kalâm as well as Aristotelianism in general, and takes his stand on tradition. He also vigorously attacks the doctrines of the Karaites. Joseph b. Ẓaddiḳ of Cordova (died 1149), in his "Microcosm," discussed ideas fostered by Ibn Gabirol. Abraham ibn Daud (died 1180) paved the way toward absolute Aristotelianism in his "Emunah Ramah"


Jewish philosophy reached its apogee in Moses Maimonides. Maimun (the father) himself was the author of the "Letter of Consolation" (ed. L. M.Simmons, "Jew. Quart. Rev." 2:335), in which he warned Jews not to forget their belief, although compelled to appear outwardly as Moslems. His son Moses, the greatest of Jewish thinkers, composed, when still young, a compendium of logic, and a treatise on the "Unity [of God]," in Arabic. The introduction to his commentary on Abot is also of philosophical character, and is known under the separate title, "Eight Chapters" (Pocock, "Porta Mosis," pp. 181 et seq., ed. M. Wolff, with German translation, Leipsic, 1863). The commentary on "Heleḳ," the tenth chapter of Sanhedrin (ib. pp. 133 et seq.), contains the "Thirteen Articles of Creed" formulated by him. A system of his theology is laid down in his chief work, "Guide of the Perplexed" (ed. S. Munk, with French translation, Paris, 1856-66; compare H. Hirschfeld, "Kritische Bemerkungen zu Munk's Ausgabe des Dalälat alḤairin," in "Monatsschrift," 39:404-413,460-473). Another work of his is the "Consolatory Epistle," sent to the Jews of Yemen. Maimonides was so exhaustive that after him not much was composed that could claim originality. Of those who followed in his steps, mention must first be made of his son Abraham, whose chief theological work has already been mentioned. His co-disciple, Joseph b. Judah b. Aknin (Abu al-Ḥajjaj Joseph b. YaḦyah al Sabti al Maghrabi), to whom the "Guide" was dedicated, was himself the author of a work "Medicine of the Soul," and of another discovered by Munk. A kind of imitation of the "Moreh" is to be found in the anonymous work "Pearls of the Secrets." An abstract of Aristotelian philosophy in the style of Maimonides is given by Musa b. Tubi in his poem "Al-Sab'iniyyah," consisting of seventy verses (the original, with the Hebrew version and a commentary by Solomon b. Immanuel da Piera, edited and translated by H. Hirschfeld, Ramsgate, 1894).

With the decline of Jewish philosophy the employment of Arabic also diminishes. A commentary on Maimonides' "Sefer ha-Madda'" was written by 'Ala al-Din al-Muwaḳḳit (MS. Brit. Mus. Add. 27294). There still remains to be mentioned Judah b. Nissim b. Malka, whose work "Anas al-Gharib" contains a commentary on the "Sefer Yeẓirah" and the "Chapters on R. Eliezer" (Hirschfeld, "Arab. Chrestom." pp. 19-31), and several anonymous treatises on "Macrocosm and Microcosm" ("Cat. Berlin," 2:105), which Steinschneider believes to be an abstract from Joseph Kirkisani's work mentioned above. An ethical treatise exists in manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS.," No. 1422).

9. Polemics:

Here may be recorded some works of a polemical character, because they are theological as well. These comprise not only the conflicts between Rabbinites and Karaites, but also treatises written to repel the encroachments of philosophy and the dogmas of other creeds. Among these writers is David al-Meḳammeẓ, to whom is attributed a work entitled "Twenty Treatises" (Steinschneider, "Cat. Bodl." col. 880). The writings of Sulaiman b. RuḦaim and Jefeth (see above)abound in attacks upon the Rabbinites; but these were completely defeated by Saadia. Further attacks were made by Samuel b. Ḥofni (ib. col. 1034; "Z. D. M. G." 8:551, 9:838), by Samuel ha-Nagid (who also criticized the Koran), and especially by Judah haLevi. Affiliated to the "Alkhazari" of the lastnamed, and written in defense of Judaism, was Sa'ad b. Manṣur's (1280) "TankiḦ al-AbḦath" (L. Hirschfeld, "Sa'ad b. Manṣuribn Kammūna, "Leipsic, 1893; Goldziher, in "Steinschneider Festschrift," pp. 110-114). Pseudonymously attributed to Sa'ad is a work dealing with the "Differences Between the Rabbinites and the Karaites" (H. Hirschfeld, "Arab. Chrestom." pp. 69-103). Another anonymous work is the "Report of the Discussion with a Bishop." Finally, mention must not be omitted of two Jewish renegades, viz., Ibn Ḳusin, a physician in Mosul, and an anonymous writer who pretended to prove the truth of Mohammed's prophethood.

10. Cabala:

Arabic commentaries on the "Sefer Yeẓirah" were written by Isaac Israeli (Steinschneider, "Cat. Berlin," 1:55), Saadia (ed. with French translation by M. Lambert, Paris, 1891), and Judah b. Nissim b. Malkah (see above). Greater activity has been displayed in the present age. An Arabic translation of the "Sefer Yeẓirah" was made by Abraham David Ezekiel, in Bombay (Poona, 1888). He also translated into Arabic portions of the Zohar ("Idra Zuṭṭa") (ib. 1887; Algiers, 1853), "Joseph Ergas" (Bombay, 1888), "Shomer Emunim," and the sermons of Isaac Lopez of Aleppo (Bombay, 1888).

11. Poetry and Tales:

Many productions that come under this heading have already been noticed at the commencement of this article and in the paragraph on Liturgy. Several poems by Karaite authors have been published by Pinsker. Single Arabic verses are to be found in many of Ibn Ezra's Hebrew poems (Rosin, "Reime und Gedichte des Abraham ben Ezra," Breslau, 1888); and in one of Al-Ḥarizi's Makamas (No. ) a poem is inserted in which each verse is divided into Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic portions. The Makamas are preceded by an Arabic preface (Steinschneider, "La Prefazione Arabica delle Makamat di Giuda Al-Harizi," etc., Florence, 1879). Abraham b. Sahl, although born a Jew, ranks among Mohammedan poets. The philosophical poem of Musa ben Tubi has already been mentioned. In the eighteenth century there flourished in Aden, Shalom b. Joseph Shabbezi (, MS. Brit. Mus. Or. 4114), who compiled a diwan of Arabic poems, many of which are of his own composition. Of more recent works mention may be made of the interesting collection of epigrams, quatrains, and ditties, styled "Safinah Ma'luf," by Solomon b. Ḥayyim Bunan (Leghorn, 1877). For prose works on the subject of belles-lettres the chief place belongs to Moses ibn Ezra's "Kitab al-MuḦadharah wal-MudaḦarah" (Schreiner, "Rev. Et. Juives," 31:98-117, 32:62-81,236-249; R. K. Kokowzow, "Kitab al-MuḦadharah," St. Petersburg, 1895: portions of Arabic text with Russian introduction; H. Hirschfeld, "Arab. Chrestom." pp. 61-63). A collection of proverbs was printed in Bombay in 1889. Isaac Crispin's ethical treatise was translated by Joseph b. Ḥasn. A translation of , by Abu Yusuf Ḥabib, was printed at Oran in 1889. There alsoexists a rich literature of tales, mostly of sacred character, both originals and translations, namely, legendary biographies of the Patriarchs, of Joseph, of Moses, and of Solomon (Bombay, 1886). Of more secular character is a volume entitled (Leghorn, 1868), which contains a version of Sindabad's travels. An anonymous historical work was edited by Ad. Neubauer ("Medieval Jewish Chronicles," 2:89 et seq.).

12. Medicine:

Jews distinguished themselves early in medicine, partly by translating from Greek and Syriac, partly by independent works. The oldest is Meserjawaih (883), to whom Steinschneider has devoted a special article ("Z. D. M. G." 53:428-434). The most prominent Jewish physician of the tenth century was Isaac Israeli (Wüstenfeld, "Gesch. d. Arab. Aerzte," p. 51; Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 761) of Kairwan, mentioned above, who made himself famous by his treatise on "Fevers." Moses b. Eleazer al Israili ("Ibn Abi Osaibia," ed. A. Müller, 2:87), as well as his sons Isaac and Ishmael, and Jacob the son of the last-named, were physicians to the Vizier Muizz al-Din (end of the century). At the beginning of the twelfth century Jewish physicians in Spain also began to write in Arabic. Abu Ja'far Joseph AḦmad b. Ḥisdai (a friend of the philosopher Ibn Baja) (ib. p. 51) translated the works of Hippocrates for Al-Ma'mun, vizier to the Egyptian calif, Amir bi aḦkam Allah. Likewise in Cairo flourished (1161) the Karaite, Sadid b. Abi al-Bayyan (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Bibl." 13:61-63). Maimonides was distinguished as a medical author: among other works on medicine he wrote a commentary on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates (idem, "Z. D. M. G." 48:218-234; idem, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 769). His son Abraham (Wüstenfeld, ib. p. 111), also, was a medical authority, and so was Joseph b. Judah (Munk, "Notice sur Joseph b. Jehouda," p. 58). In the middle of the twelfth century flourished Amram al-Israili ("Ibn Abi Oseibia," p. 213; Steinschneider, "Zwei Jüd. Aerzte Imran b. Sadaga und Muwaffak b. Sebua," in "Z. D. M. G." 1871), born in 1165 at Damascus; died 1239 at Emesa (Ḥimṣ). Samuel b. Judah b. Abbas (ABBAS) wrote a work styled "Kitab al-Mufid" (ib. p. 31). Abu al-Ḥayyaj Jusuf of Fez (ib. p. 213) studied under Maimonides. He lived later on in Aleppo and composed a commentary on Hippocrates, as well as a work on pharmacy. To the twelfth century belongs also Al-Asad al-Mahalli (b. Jacob ben Isaac), who lived in Egypt and afterward in Damascus (ib. p. 118). In the thirteenth century Ibn Abi al-Ḥasan al-Barkamani wrote on hygiene. A medical encyclopedia was compiled by Abu Mansur al-Haruni (end of the fourteenth century; Steinschneider, "Cat. Berlin," 2:98,102; see "Z. D. M. G." 47:374) under the title "Al-Muntaḳib."

13. Mathematics:

The oldest Jewish mathematician was Mashallah. (Steinschneider, "Z. D. M. G." 48:434-440), who was a prolific writer. An anonymous work on astronomy by a Yemen Jew is described by Steinschneider ("Cat. Berlin," p. 80).

  • Steinschneider, Hebr. Uebers. Berlin, 1893;
  • idem, An Introduction to the Arabic Literature of the Jews, in Jewish Quarterly Review, -
H. Hir.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Arabic Literature of the Jews'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​a/arabic-literature-of-the-jews.html. 1901.
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