19 March 2014

Experiments in Teaching Medieval Jewish History, Part II: Bavel (from 750)

The Chosen Path is an ideal textbook. But our school doesn't have it, so I made my own.
Here are some sources I liked (whether or not I shared them with the girls).
NB I have no idea what sort of sites I'm linking to here or whether they follow copyright law - I found all these sources in my house; I just looked up these links so the Gentle Reader can see them too.

-There's a very enlightening passage from the Meiri's introduction to Pirkei Avos about why the gaonim didn't write much.
-The Baghdad part of the Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela.
-The first voyage of Sinbad the Sailor and what I take to be its original source – the Gemara is a powerful mashal explaining Jewish history in galus. As for its peculiar appearance in Sinbad, well, I think this is  interesting even if no one else does.
-Story about R' Achai Gaon – in The Carlebach Haggadah. Since I didn't have time to find anything in the She'iltos itself.
-Story about R' Saadia Gaon – that one about doing teshuva every day for yesterday's understanding of Hashem.
-R' Saadia Gaon's ten explanations for shofar (these are included in The Book of Our Heritage, pp. 31-33)
-I gave them a random piece of Emunos ve'Deos part 5 from the hakdama, about how knowledge works, and part 6 from same, about the relation of mesora to knowledge. I call this random because I did not go through the Emunos ve'Deos to get a sense of it before picking these out.
-I also gave them a piyut by R' Saadia Gaon and had them write the next stanza. They all read their compositions aloud in class – it was rather a magic moment.
-Letter from Yitzchak bar Dorbolo  - amusing example of the shu”tim that got sent to the gaonim in Bavel.
-R' Sherira Gaon's letter describing Torah study in Bavel and asking for people to continue sending shu”tim and financial support. I don't know if this was part of the Iggeres or some other correspondence.
-I'm still looking for something by R' Hai Gaon. All I could find in my house was a poem.
-I don't think I have sufficient excuse to give them part of Tennyson's poem about Haroun al-Raschid...
-Maxfield Parrish's painting of medieval Arab pirates. Silly, but I love the colors. [they are not quite true in the link.]
-There are a lot of great passages on the Islamic lands in Bernard Lewis' anthology A Middle East Mosaic: Fragments of Life, Letters and History. Random House, Inc., 2001. I found some poetic treatises on government (I love that the Persians, Moors, &c. cannot write about the driest of political science without putting their thoughts into rhyme or fairy tales about owls) and descriptions of the markets where pirates sold their captives.
-The Pact of Omar. Why people share this when they get to Spain, instead of back in Bavel (which was also under Muslim rule), I have not figured out.
-Tamim Ansary's Destiny Disrupted is a very clear summary of Islamic history from Mohammed to the present. I didn't give the girls any passages from it, but I did draw on what I learned from reading it.
-Here's my theory on why people became Karaites.

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