(993-1055 or 1056, also referred by his Arabic
name Ismail ibn Nagrela
) Jewish Hebrew poet
, military commander
, and vizier
. The meteoric rise and political and military creer of Samuel HaNagid marks the highest achievement of a Jew
in Muslim Spain
. He is also considered the first major poet of 'the Golden Age
' of the Jews
Samuel was born in Córdoba to a prominent family. He received an excellent Jewish and general education, including training in Arabic and the Koran, and studied Halacha under Hanokh ben Moses of Córdoba. While a young man he made his first allusion to his descent from the House of David, a belief which inspired his confidence in his rise to power and his career. In 1013 he was among those who had to flee the capital of Granada when the Berber hordes destroyed it. According to the historian Abraham ibn Daud he opened a spice-shop in Málaga, but shortly afterwards was approached by a maidservant of Ibn al-Arif, secretary to the vizier of Granada, who asked him to write letters to her master. The vizier was so impressed by the Samuel's Arabic style, that he advised King Habbus, the Berber ruler of Granada, to appoint Samuel to his staff. After the death of Ibn al-Arif in 1020, Samuel advanced from the rank of tax collector to that of secretary to the vizier Abu al-Abbas. In 1027 he became the first to be conferred upon the title of Nagid (prince) of Spanish Jewry, by the Jews themselves. In 1038, after the death of Habbus, a struggle for succession broke between the late king's two sons, Badis and Bullugin. With Samuel's help Badis eventually won the throne, and a result of his steadfast loyalty Samuel was appointed vizier, and remained the leading influence on Badis for the rest of his life.
In his capacity as vizier, Samuel led the armies of Granada (a remarkable thing for a Jew in Muslim Spain) in a series of victorious campaigns against Arab Seville and her allies, which lasted throughout the remainder of his life, with a respite of but two years. A major source of Samuel's camaigns is his poetry, some of which he addressed to his son Jehoseph HaNagid. Samuel HaNagid is credited as having introduced poetry of war and battle into Hebrew literature.
Samuel's poetry has come down in three works: Ben Tehilim (Descended of Psalms), Ben Mishlei (Descended of Proverbs), and Ben Kohelet (Descended of Ecclesiastes), thought to have been compiled by his son. The poems are refined and reflect profound worldly wisdom, as well as the many facets of his being a Jew, father, intellectual, Nagid, vizier, and military commander. Samuel's poetry is more developed and diversified than that of any of his contemporaries, the first generation of Hebrew poets in Spain. A literary artist of the highest order, his sure command of language can easily be demonstrated by his remarkable fusion between the epic and the lyrical, and by the wide varitey of his topics: war poems, which are unique in Hebrew poetry, poems of love, wine and other pleasures and vanities of life, poems of praise and glory, friendship and polemic, mourning and holiness, wisdom, morality, and meditaion, and just as he wrote of victory, he wrote on the illness of his children and the death of his brother Isaac. Despite his many successes, his poems show he was prone to melancholy. Even his poems of wine and love sound a note of pessimism. He saw in the suffering of the Jews in exile his own personal suffering, and his poems reveal a yearning for Zion.
In addition to being a poet, Samuel was also a Halachic scholar and a communal leader. His major work on Halacha, Sefer Hilkheta Gavrata (Book of the Halacha of Man), is a compilation and explanation of Halacha, based on both Talmuds, the decisions of the gaonim (sometimes criticized), Midrash and the Questions of Ahai of Shabha. The surviving fragmants indicate it was written in Aramaic and Hebrew with possible sections in Arabic as well. The book was apparently completed in 1049, though parts appeared earlier, and directly influenced almost all later Spanish Halachists. Its appearance was viewed by some, including the poet Solomon ibn Gabirol, as the victory of the Spanish grandee over Hai Gaon of Pumbedita. Accused of insulting the gaonate, Samuel wrote a poetic apology, acknowledging its supremecy. However, later Halachic historians mark Samuel's book as the end of the gaonic supremecy in Talmudic and Halachic scholarship. Samuel was also the author of a criticism of the Koran, which was cited by contemporary Muslim authors. The Arab historian-philosopher Ibn Hazam, after reading a source citing Samuel HaNagid's book, wrote a bitter polemic against it.
As leader of Spanish Jewery, Samuel corresponded with all the important contemporary scholars, including the the Babylonian gaonate. He also maintained firendly relations with the Jewish communities in Eretz Israel, supplying the synagogues in Jerusalem with olive oil. Samuel was one of the patrons of Solomon ibn Gabirol, who addressed him as "my father, my rider, my chariot" and dedicated several poems to him.
After his death Samuel was succeeded as vizier and commander by his son, Jehoseph HaNagid. Ten years later Jehoseph was assassinated, and the Jewish community of Granada was massacred by the Muslims.