The Jew Who Wrote One of the Middle Ages’ Most Famous Travel Books

Historians are fortunate to have a wealth of material composed by medieval Jews that has been preserved through the centuries. But since most of these writings are rabbinic commentaries, legal analyses, and philosophy, they provide little information of the kind historians are often most eager to find out. The exception is the extraordinary 12th-century travelogue of Benjamin of Tudela, whom Tamar Marvin describes as “one of the most famed . . . of all premodern travelers,” Jewish or otherwise:

His account of his travels, known as Sefer Masa’aot (“The Book of Journeys”) or, more commonly, Masa’aot Binyamin (“Benjamin’s Journeys”), has been translated into Jewish and many European languages, and serves as a source for many other premodern historiographers and chroniclers, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. His dispassionate and factually oriented recollections are of primary importance to understanding medieval Jewish communities in Europe, especially in Provence, as well as in the East, especially Constantinople, Eretz Yisrael, and Baghdad.

Departing from his home in Navarra (Navarre), a kingdom in northern Spain, Benjamin traveled overland through the south of France (Provence, in medieval Jewish parlance), then south through Italy to Naples and other southern Italian cities. He departed by sea from Otranto, the site of an old Jewish community, setting sail for Greece and then Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). He entered the Land of Israel from the north, first visiting the ancient cities of Antioch, Sidon, and Tyre before arriving in Akko (Acre).

After visiting sites around the Land of Israel, he traveled to Damascus, Aleppo, and Baghdad. Benjamin traveled extensively through the region of Iraq and seems to have also spent time in Persia. His accounts of Persia, and even more so of India, Ceylon (today’s Sri Lanka), and China, contain legendary material; he presumably did not himself reach Southeast and/or East Asia. From Persia, Benjamin evidently traveled through Arabia, probably sailing around the peninsula, and gives an account of Egypt and his journey home by sea via Palermo, Sicily.

Read more at Stories from Jewish History

More about: Benjamin of Tudela, Jewish history, Middle Ages

Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security