07 January 2015

Experiments in Teaching Medieval Jewish History, Part III: Islamic Spain and North Africa

The Chosen Path is an ideal textbook. But our school doesn't have it, so I made my own.
Some sources I liked, some of which I shared with the girls:

-Pictures of Islamic architecture from this place and time. Walking through one of those buildings with all the arches is like turning a kaleidoscope. I have seen the architecture of the Alhambra occasionally attributed to Shmuel haNaggid; at any rate, he seems to have been responsible for the building or restoration of much of it.
-There is a nice painting which imagines the court of Abd ar-Rahman III.
-Correspondence between Chisdai ibn Shaprut and the King of Kuzar. I made a mini-unit on Jews in out-of-the-way places – Yemen, India, China, Kurdistan, Kuzar – which I'm not sure I would do again. Most people just stick Kuzar into the unit on Spain, although Chisdai ibn Shaprut accomplished a great many more important things than this correspondence.
-Picture of Kuzari coin found in Viking plunder. (If you search for "Khazar coin" you can find a clearer picture.) I saw this in the Viking museum in Stockholm. Coins from Islamic lands have printed on them, in Arabic, the Islamic declaration of faith; this one, which was minted or re-minted in the kingdom of Kuzar, has one word different, so it says, “There is no god but G-d, and Moses is His prophet.”
-Shemuel HaNaggid by R' Asher Lehmann is a fun introduction to this era. I used the chapter entitled Cordoba.
-There is a wonderful handout floating around Neve that shows the seven “binyanim” of Hebrew grammar as seven multi-story buildings on a street, with good examples.
-Zemiros – Dror Yikra is by Dunash ibn Labrat; Ki Eshmera Shabbos, Tzam'a l'cha Nafshi, and that one with all the “kor”s in it for Shabbos Chanuka are by R' Avraham Ibn Ezra; Yom Shabbason (yona matza) is by R' Yehuda haLevi.
-Other poems by R' Shmuel HaNaggid, R' Yehuda haLevi, R' Shlomo ibn Gvirol, R' Moshe ibn Ezra (Nafshi ivisicha balaila). They can't go through life without having read Tzion halo tishali, which is kinna #36 on Tisha b'Av. (They said one of their previous teachers had them recite it every day.) The general favorite of the piyutim I gave them was Shachar avakeshcha by R' Shlomo ibn Gvirol. They also liked Elokai mishknosecha and Shalom l'cha yom hashevi'i by R' Yehuda haLevi. I had them pick some to write pastiches. I thought they would appreciate a piece of R' Shlomo ibn Gvirol's Ani ha'ish, which I remember liking as a high schooler; but it didn't grab them as it did me.
-Abu Ishaq's poetic attack on R' Shmuel haNaggid. Do I want to link to this? It's extremely nasty and does not deserve to be linked to. Here it is.
-Doubles: Poem in praise of R' Shmuel haNaggid by R' Yehuda haLevi. Part of a poem to R' Moshe ibn Ezra by R' Yehuda haLevi. Poetic correspondence between R' Avraham ibn Ezra and Rabbeinu Tam.
-The Ibn Ezra also has a poem about chess.
-The Kuzari, by R' Yehuda haLevi – paragraphs 11-43 in the first section. Before I gave it to them I asked them to answer, in writing, “What is Judaism?” – the Chaver's answer is very interesting (he comes from a completely different angle than the Emunos veDeos).
-Rif and Rabbeinu Chananel – I couldn't find what I really wanted, but there are lots of mussary Rabbeinu Chananels. (Also, somewhere he discusses a recent invention called a table fork.)
-Ri Migash – according to Rabbi Geometry, the most famous Ri Migash is on Bava Basra 45a.
-Chovos HaLevavos – I couldn't pick just one piece to give them :) Rabbi Geometry says that the most famous perek is Shaar HaBechina, and that people don't learn the first one.

If I had a different sort of class I would have taped arches all over the walls and had them come in costume one day and recline around* eating oranges and reciting piyutim, both original and from the sourcebook. I didn't think it would fly with this group.

*actually, I am not sure what people, let alone the Jews, sat on in Islamic Spain.

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