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Rabbi Moses ben Jacob ibn Ezra, known as ha-Sallah ("writer of penitential prayers") ( , Abu Harun Musa bin Ya'acub ibn Ezra, ,) was a Jewish, Spanish philosopher, linguist, and poet. He was born at Granadamarker about 1055 – 1060, and died after 1138.

Family

He was related to Abraham ibn Ezra and a pupil of Isaac ibn Ghiyyat. Ibn Ezra belonged to one of the most prominent families of Spain. According to Isaac Israeli ("Yesod Olam"), he had three brothers, Isaac, Joseph, and Zerahiah, all of whom were distinguished scholars.

Writings

Ibn Ezra was a distinguished philosopher, an able linguist, and a powerful poet.

His "Arugat ha-Bosem" is divided into seven chapters: (i.) general remarks on God, man, and philosophy; (ii.) the unity of God; (iii.) the inadmissibility of applying attributes to God; (iv.) the impropriety of giving names to God; (v.) motion; (vi.) nature; (vii.) the intellect. The authorities quoted in this work are Hermes (identified by Ibn Ezra with Enoch), Pythagoras, Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, (pseudo-)Empedocles, Alfarabi, Saadia Gaon, and Solomon ibn Gabirol.

His rhetoric

Far more successful was the "Kitab al-Muḥaḍarah wal-Mudhakarah," a treatise on rhetoric and poetry, which was composed on the lines of the "Adab" writings of the Arabs, and is the only work of its kind in Hebrew literature. It was written at the request of a friend who had addressed to him eight questions on Hebrew poetry, and is divided into a corresponding number of chapters.

In the first four the author treats generally of prose and prose-writers, of poetry and poets, and of the natural poetic gift of the Arabs, which he attributes to the climate of Arabia. He concludes the fourth chapter with the statement that, with very rare exceptions, the poetical parts of the Bible have neither meter nor rhyme.

The fifth chapter begins with the history of the settlement of the Jews in Spain, which, according to the author, began during the Exile, the word "Sepharad" used by the prophet Obadiah (verse 20) meaning "Spain." Then, comes a description of the literary activity of the Spanish Jews, giving the most important authors and their works. In the sixth chapter the author quotes various maxims and describes the general intellectual condition of his time. He deplores the indifference shown by the public to scholars. This indifference, he declares, does not affect him personally; for he can not count himself among those who have been ill-treated by fate; he has experienced both good and bad fortune. Moreover, he possesses a virtue which permits him to renounce any pretension to public recognition—the virtue of contentment and moderation.

In the seventh chapter the author discusses the question whether it is possible to compose poetry in dreams, as some trustworthy writers claim to have done. The eighth chapter is divided into two parts, the first dealing with poetry and poems, and the second (in twenty paragraphs) with tropes, figures, and other poetic forms.

His poetry

Ibn Ezra is considered by many Jews as a masterly Hebrew poet. His secular poems are contained in two works: in the Tarshish, and in the first part of his Diwan.

The "Tarshish" is divided into ten chapters, each of which contains in order the twenty-two letters of the alphabet. It is written in the Arabic style of poetry termed "tajnis," which consists in the repetition of words in every stanza, but with a different meaning in each repetition. The first chapter is dedicated to a certain Abraham (certainly not Abraham ibn Ezra), whose merits he exalts in Oriental fashion. In the nine remaining chapters are discussed: (ch. ii.) wine, love, and song; (iii.) the beauty of country life; (iv., v.) love-sickness and the separation of lovers; (vi.) unfaithful friends; (vii.) old age; (viii.) vicissitudes of fortune, and death; (ix.) confidence in God; (x.) the glory of poetry.

Sacred Poems

The greater part of Ibn Ezra's 220 sacred compositions are found in the mahzor, the traditional Jewish prayerbooks for the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah, "the Jewish New Year", and Yom Kippur, "Day of Atonement". These penitential poems, or selichot, earned him the name HaSallach.

Their aim is to invite man to look within himself; they depict the vanity of worldly glory, the disillusion which must be experienced at last by the pleasure-seeker, and the inevitableness of divine judgment. A skillfully elaborated piece of work is the Avodah, the introduction to which is a part of the Portuguese Mahzor. Unlike his predecessors, Ibn Ezra begins his review of Biblical history not with Adam, but with the giving of the Torah.

The piyyuttim which follow the mishnaic text of the Temple service, especially the piyyut "Happy is the eye that beheld it," are considered by many to be of remarkable beauty.

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