(c. 1092 - c. 1167) Jewish Hebrew poet, grammarian, biblical commentator, philosopher, astronomer, mathematician, and physician. Born in Tudela, Spain, his life falls into two distinct periods. During the first he lived in Spain, (first in Toleda, and later in Córdoba), though it is possible that he traveled to North Africa. Wherever he lived or traveled, he could always be found in the company of other scholars. He established a close relationship with Judah HaLevi, who like him was born in Tudela and also lived in Córdoba. According to legend ibn Ezra married Judah HaLevi's daughter, who agreed to marry him despite his straitened circumstances. Little is known about his family life beyond that, except that in one of his poems he mentions five of his sons. Only one of them, Isaac ibn Ezra, is known by name, and it is believed that the other four died in their youth.

The second period of his life starts in 1140, when he leaves Spain 'in a troubled spirit', and it is probable that this 'troubled spirit' and the restless wandering that resulted from it, came about as a consequence of the conversion (real or alleged) to Islam of his only surviving son.

From that point on ibn Ezra lived the life of a wandering scholar, and it is during this period that most of his works were written. We learn the extent of his wanderings from his writings, as he mentions in each book the place of its composition. In Rome he wrote his work on Hebrew grammer, Moznei Leshon HaKodesh (Scales of the Holy Tongue), a short commentary on Job and Daniel, and translated Judah ben David Hayuj's three books on Hebrew grammer from Arabic to Hebrew. It appears that ibn Ezra's ideas were not popular in the Jewish community of Rome, and he expressed his bitterness towards it in several of his poems.

In 1145 he was in Lucca, where he wrote a short commentary on the Torah, and a commentary on the early prophets (not extant), and another one on Isaiah, as well as several theological books (some of which are not extant). He then moved to Mantua and later Verona. In 1147 he left Italy for Provence, visiting Narbonne and Beziers, and then proceeded to Rouen and Dreux in northern France. In France he wrote an extensive exegesis on the Torah called Sefer HaShem (The Book of the Lord) which survives only in parts, long commentaries on Daniel, Psalms, the Minor Prophets, Esther, and Song of Songs, additional theological and philosophical works, and astrological works. Ibn Ezra left a huge impact on the Jewish community in France, and greatly influenced works of later French Jews. Ibn Ezra also became friendly with Rabbi Jacob Tam, and some of the poems they exchanged are extant. In 1158 he proceeded to London, where he wrote two major Halachic works, but in 1161 he was back in Narbonne. It is believed that in his old age he made his way to Eretz Israel.

In popular legend and folk tradition ibn Ezra is described as a man of few needs who refused to accept favours from others, who laughed at his own poverty, and helped many through his wisdom. Many wise sayings and witty epigrams are attributed to him.

As a result of his wanderings ibn Ezra's works are not methodically arranged. According to one statement he is said to have written no less than 108 works, but the extant works are considerably fewer. He also, through his travels, played a crucial role in disseminating the prosody and poetics of the Spanish school in Western Europe. His own poetry reveals some of the trends that began to emerge in the secular poetry of Christian Spain which, after the Almohad conquest of Andalucía, became the new centre of Hebrew creativity. He was versatile in both secular and religious poetry, and his works include occasional poems, encomia, and satires, as well as poems on friendship, love, nature, and wine. His sacred poetry, both religious and philosphical, expresses a profound yearning for knowledge of God and union with the Godhead.


Carmi T. (ed.), "The Peguin Book of Hebrew Verse", Penguin, London, 1982, p. 109
Encyclopaedia Judaica, 1972, Vol 8, pp. 1163-1170

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