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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’s Economy Thrives While the Middle East Disintegrates

Jan. 19 2018

Now that the data have come in from 2017, it is clear that the Israeli economy had another successful year, expanding at a rate higher than that of any other advanced country. Israel’s per-capita GDP also grew, placing it above those of France and Japan. Daniel Kryger notes some of the implications regarding the Jewish state’s place in the Middle East:

The contrast between first-world Israel and the surrounding third-world Arab states is larger today than ever before. Israel’s GDP per capita is almost twenty times the GDP per capita of impoverished Egypt and five times larger than semi-developed Lebanon.

Like any human project, Israel is a never-ending work in progress and much work remains to integrate ḥaredi Jews and Israeli Arabs into Israel’s knowledge economy. Properly addressing Israel’s high costs of living requires more economic and legislative reforms and breaking up inefficient oligopolies that keep the prices artificially high. However, by any standard, the reborn Jewish state is a remarkable success story. . . .

Much has changed since OPEC launched its oil embargo against the West after the failed Arab aggression against Israel in October 1973. Before the collapse of the pro-Arab Soviet empire, China and India had no official ties with Israel and many Western and Japanese companies avoided doing business with Israel. Collapsing oil prices have dramatically eroded the power of oil-producing countries. It has become obvious that the future belongs to those who innovate, not those who happen to sit on oil. Israel has today strong commercial ties with China and a thriving partnership with India. Business delegations from Jamaica to Japan are eager to do business with Israel and benefit from Israel’s expertise. . . .

[For its part], the boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) movement may bully Jewish and pro-Israel students on Western campuses. However, in real life, BDS stands no chance of succeeding against Israel. The reason is simple: reborn Israel has . . . become too valuable a player in the global economy.

Read more at Mida

More about: BDS, Israel & Zionism, Israeli economy, Middle East, OPEC