The Life, Work, and Wanderings of Abraham Ibn Ezra

Born in the Spanish city of Tudela in 1089, and having probably died in England in the 1160s, Abraham Ibn Ezra was a rabbi, poet, and polymath. Centuries later, Robert Browning would dedicate a poem to him. Ibn Ezra’s work, Tamar Marvin writes, is characterized by his “love of language, dark humor, penchant for astrology, personal bitterness, and dour personality.” She tells his unlikely life story, and what led him to write his biblical commentaries on the Hebrew Bible, which are today his best-remembered works:

Despite having an upper-crust education, he couldn’t quite hack it in one of the gentlemanly occupations of the day: physician, dayan (rabbinic judge), merchant, courtier. . . . In want of patronage, he wandered from Tudela in the north to Córdoba, the New York City of its day, then to Seville, where he raised his son, to Toledo, one of the earliest Muslim territories to fall to Christian forces, in 1085.

Ibn Ezra [then] went to Rome. No one needed to hire a poet in Italy (the first buds of humanism wouldn’t blossom for some time yet), so Ibn Ezra took to tutoring the sons of the wealthy, primarily in Tanakh. At their behest, he wrote down his lessons as commentaries. Ibn Ezra brought with him a generations-old Sephardi tradition of grammatical Bible commentary.

Today, it is usually in Ibn Ezra’s Bible commentaries that we encounter his philosophical and grammatical insights and his wacky ideas about brain function, numerology, and astral influence. We watch him fell his intellectual interlocuters with sardonic panache, convince us with his brilliance, and, when we’re lucky, stumble upon a great secret (sod) which, he says pointedly, he’ll merely hint to us, and if we’re smart, we’ll keep quiet about it.

These secrets for me are the distance between our postmodern subjectivity and his medieval confidence in the ability of reason to uncover truth. I have no doubt that Ibn Ezra had an actual secret in mind, and I want to know it.

Read more at Stories from Jewish History

More about: Abraham ibn Ezra, Biblical commentary, Judaism, Middle Ages, Poetry

To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gaza War 2023, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy