Solomon ibn Gabirol’s Poetic Genius

Dec. 29 2016

Having lived in Muslim Spain from roughly 1021 to 1058, Solomon ibn Gabirol had the benefits of an extensive Jewish education, exposure to Arabic poetry, and knowledge of ancient philosophy and science, mostly through Arabic translations of Greek works. Although he was not the first great Hebrew poet to adapt the forms and styles Arabic verse, he was among the most skillful; he was also a sophisticated philosopher and theologian, although many of his prose works have not survived. Raymond Scheindlin writes:

Ibn Gabirol came along about 80 years after the introduction of the new Hebrew poetry, at a time when it was no longer in the experimental stage but had a significant body of tradition behind it. Samuel the Nagid (993–1056), about 30 years older than Ibn Gabirol, became one of the most memorable figures of medieval Jewish Spain through his voluminous and very personal body of poetry, in which he publicized his own brilliant public career, propagandized for his points of view, complimented friends, lamented deaths, and celebrated the pleasures enjoyed by himself and his aristocratic friends. It is this personal voice that was taken up by Ibn Gabirol and developed in a more somber, sometimes even bitter, key. . . .

Myriads of poets had written that love or sorrow had kept them up all night watching the stars, but only Ibn Gabirol would write, “but when I gaze at them all through the night, /
it seems as if my eyes are loops and they are hooks,” translating the emotional discomfort that keeps him awake into an almost unbearably concrete physical image. . . .

Other poets of the age wrote poetry in which they boast about their accomplishments and complain about their troubles, but, except when writing in a humorous vein, they never present themselves in a negative light. Ibn Gabirol’s personal poetry overturns this convention of positive self-presentation. He presents himself as a sickly, lonely, misunderstood, and miserable outsider; as a man of intellect and ambition that have not brought him due recognition; as a man seething with contempt for his fellow poets and his countrymen. He boasts of his vituperative powers, “My tongue is sharp as any court scribe’s pen / to praise a friend, to crush an enemy.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hebrew literature, Hebrew poetry, History & Ideas, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Spain

Israel Has Survived Eight Years of Barack Obama’s False Friendship

Jan. 20 2017

In his speech justifying America’s decision to allow passage of the UN Security Council resolution declaring it a violation of international law for Jews to live in east Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Golan Heights, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that “friends need to tell each other the hard truths.” John Podhoretz comments:

The decision in December by President Obama to abstain on the UN Security Council vote . . . marked the moment he crossed the finish line in the course he had charted from 2008 onward. The turn against Israel was complete. And, as he had when he began it, in farewell interview after farewell interview he characterized his assault on the legitimacy of the Jewish presence in the Holy Land as an act of tough love. . . .

Which raises the key question: why [only] abstain [from the resolution]? If “hard truths” define friendship, then by all means they should have made the truths as hard as possible. If Barack Obama and John Kerry truly believe the Jewish presence in east Jerusalem is illicit, then they should have voted for the resolution. Instead, they took the coward’s way out. They opened the vault to the criminals and placed the jewels in their hands while wearing white gloves so there would be no residual trace of their fingerprints. The abstention was in some weird sense the mark of their bad conscience. They wanted something to happen while maintaining some historical deniability about their involvement in it.

In the eight years of the Obama presidency, war broke out twice between the Palestinians and the Israelis and nearly broke out a third time. In each case, the issue was not the West Bank, or east Jerusalem, or anything near. . . . The idea that the settlements and the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem are the main barrier to peace between Israel and the Palestinians was proved to be a lie right before Obama’s eyes in 2009, and 2012, and 2014. And he didn’t care to see it, because he is blinded by an antipathy he wishes to ascribe to Israeli action when honesty would compel him to find it in his own misguided leftist ideology—or within his own soul.

Israel has survived the horrendous blessing of Barack Obama’s false friendship.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Barack Obama, Israel & Zionism, John Kerry, U.S. Foreign policy, US-Israel relations