Medieval Spain’s Great Jewish Poet, Philosopher, General, and Politician

Few figures in Jewish history both confirm and confound stereotypes as does Shmuel ibn Naghrillah (993–ca. 1056), known as ha-Nagid, “the statesman.” Shmuel was a communal leader and talmudic scholar who married his son to the daughter of one of the great rabbis of his day; he was also a cosmopolitan courtier who wrote Arabic poetry. In addition to his impressive literary career, he was a successful military commander. And his position as an adviser to a Gentile ruler would invite a familiar anti-Semitic backlash that, after his death, would turn bloody. Tamar Marvin writes:

Shmuel’s family hailed from Merida, a Spanish city, claiming Davidic descent, but he was raised in Córdoba, the New York City of Muslim Spain. His teacher was a renowned scholar of the previous generation, and his father saw to it that he received an excellent general education. From extant polemical writings, it is evident that Shmuel was thoroughly knowledgeable in the language and law of the Quran and in contemporary currents of Muslim thought. These caught the attention of the great Muslim jurist and philosopher Ibn Hazm, who wrote a fierce counter-polemic against Shmuel’s work against the Quran. Shmuel thus began making a name for himself while still a young man in Córdoba.

When, in 1038, the king of Granada, Habbus, died, his sons vied for the throne. With Shmuel ha-Nagid’s assistance, his son Badis emerged the victor, helping Shmuel rise to even greater power. In his new capacity as advisor to Badis, Shmuel was tasked with heading the Granadan forces, which were in constant battle, especially with the nearby [principality] of Seville. This unusual experience as a Jew leading a Muslim army was captured in Shmuel’s many military poems.

Twenty-one when his father died, [Shmuel’s son] Rabbi Yehosef ha-Nagid was given his father’s position in Badis’s court and proved skillful in forging alliances against Seville. However, the glittering life of the Nagids came to a halt in 1064, when Yehosef was accused of poisoning the crown prince (Badis’s brother and competitor for the throne). This accusation mushroomed into another, which claimed that Yehosef had assassinated Badis, who had stopped making public appearances. (Yehosef had not.)

Though Shmuel did not live to see it, his son was murdered and the Jews of Granada subjected to violence in the wake of these accusations. Even the mighty, even in the “Golden” Age, were subject to the vagaries of power and prejudice.

Read more at Stories from Jewish History

More about: Anti-Semitism, Jewish literature, Jews in the military, Medieval Spain, Poetry

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

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