Unlocking Maimonides’ Spanish Jottings

Working through some of the fragments found in that enormous repository of discarded Jewish manuscripts known as the Cairo Genizah, José Martínez Delgado—a scholar of Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic literature—found something that caught his eye:

I had the fragment listed in my notes as a small glossary, translating some Judeo-Arabic terms into a medieval Romance language. Just as I was about to close the window and move on to the next text, two words, fustaq (pistachio) and qastal (chestnut), winked at me from the bottom corner of the fragment as if I were a friend. It was like the old Grace Jones song: “Strange, I’ve seen that face before.”

I recognized the handwriting but I couldn’t quite believe who was winking at me through the window.

The script, Delgado and his colleagues concluded, was none other than that of Moses Maimonides, who was born in southern Spain (Andalusia) but spent most of his adult life in Egypt. There are about 60 other genizah fragments in his hand, but this is the only one in a Romance language.

What was Maimonides doing in making this little vocabulary list of colors, flavors and smells, actions, and foods? The terms aren’t arranged in alphabetical order but rather with a kind of intuitive or associative logic. In listing colors, Maimonides begins with black and white, moves on to primary colors and then to derivative ones (vinous, or wine colored), before proceeding to flavors and aromas. In doing so, he moves from sight to taste to smell.

I do think that we are seeing the writing of an idle Maimonides for the first time. This is not philosophy, medicine, law, or important correspondence. He is not thinking about the nature of God or the world or the welfare of his community; he is tinkering in a language we did not think he knew—and still do not know how well he knew.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Arabic, Cairo Geniza, Jewish language, Moses Maimonides, Sephardim

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