Generic Enemies

There is a 2007 edition of the ethical will of Judah ibn Tibbon that was made within more of a religious publishing framework than an academic one. It’s useful because it has the poetry fully vocalized, but it makes its point of view clear at the expense of scholarship in certain places. (For example, it changes a reference to Samuel’s study in the secular subjects to set him to studying religious law; although the manuscript is clear, the change can be made with one single letter in the Hebrew.)

I discovered today that there is a second edition of this redaction of the text that was produced in Monsey, reprinting the Hebrew edition and adding an English introduction and a translation of parts of the text.

Judah took himself into exile circa 1148 following the rise of the unfairly-maligned Almohad dynasty in Spain. The Hebrew introduction to the volume explains his flight as his reaction to “pressure from Muslim zealots in Spain.”


Yet somehow, by the time we get to the English introduction, Judah has been driven out of twelfth-century Granada by a recent invasion of Visigoths.


There is literary precedent in the Middle Ages for the conflation of national enemies and their incarnation in a single form or group or race or tribe, as when Samuel ibn Naghrila uses the names of biblical tribes to refer to the enemies of Zirid Granada, thereby making the political enemies of the state the religious enemies of its Jewish citizens and residents. There are also texts that have a tendency to run to litanies of national enemies with the ultimate outcome being Jewish victory, as well as the literary-religious trope of the Amalekites standing in as any all-purpose enemy.

So the idea of conflating Visigoths with Almohads just to signal both as enemies of Jews certainly comes from somewhere, but there is something very jarring about it all the same.

2 thoughts on “Generic Enemies

  1. they are not even Visigoths- just plain old Goths! so the almohads got a bad rap? they did give us the pillow- or the word for pillow- but they were on the more intolerant end of the spectrum- no?

    what is the title of these frum editions?

    • Yah — I wasn’t even sure whether that was a mistake on their part or just further genericizing of the enemy. I wonder, too, the extent to which this fits into wanting to move yehudei sefarad into a “European” cultural framework and out of the Islamic world, claiming them for Europe by giving them a European enemy (which is a little perverse, but there you go…) The publisher is in Modi’in Illit, so… If you remind me I can send you a PDF of the whole thing when I get home.

      There’s a lot of new work being done on the Almohads now, and a lot of it is reassessing their reputation as extremists (although even in the 70s there was an article in Hebrew suggesting that they weren’t as religiously intolerant as people have come to think).

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