RABBI ABRAHAM BEN MEIR IBN EZRA (Hebrew : אַבְרָהָם
אִבְּן עֶזְרָא or ראב"ע, Arabic : ابن
عزرا; also known as Abenezra or Aben Ezra, 1089–1167) was
Tudela, Navarre in 1089, and died c. 1167, apparently in
Calahorra . He was one of the most distinguished Jewish biblical
commentators and philosophers of the
Middle Ages .
* 1 Biography
* 2 Works
* 3 Influence on biblical criticism and philosophy of religion
* 3.1 Biblical commentaries
* 3.2 Hebrew grammar
* 3.3 Smaller works – partly grammatical, partly exegetical
* 3.4 Religious philosophy
* 3.5 Mathematics and astronomy
* 3.7 Poetry
* 4 Legacy
* 5 See also
* 6 References
* 7 Further reading
* 8 External links
Ezra was born in Tudela , in the present-day Spanish
Navarre , when the town was under the
Muslim rule of the
Zaragoza . Later he lived in Córdoba . In
Granada , it is
said, he met his future friend (and perhaps his father-in-law) Yehuda
Halevi . He left
Spain before 1140 to escape persecution of the Jews
by the new fanatical regime of the
Almohads . He led a life of
restless wandering, which took him to
North Africa ,
Egypt (in 1109,
maybe in the company of Yehuda Halevi), the
Land of Israel , Italy
Rome in 1140–1143,
Verona ), Southern France
Béziers ), Northern France (
Rouen ), England (
Oxford in 1158), and back again to
Narbonne in 1161, until his
death on January 23 or 28, 1164, the exact location unknown: maybe at
Calahorra at the border of
Aragon , or maybe in
Rome or in
Holy Land . There is a legend that he died in England from a
fever and a sickness that came upon him after an encounter with a pack
of wild black dogs. This legend is attached to the belief that he
denied the existence of demons.
The crater Abenezra on the
Moon was named in his honor.
The Book Exodus with the commentary of Abraham ibn Ezra, Naples
At several of the above-named places, Ibn
Ezra remained for some time
and developed a rich literary activity. In his native land, he had
already gained the reputation of a distinguished poet and thinker but
apart from his poems, his works, which were all in the Hebrew language
, were written in the second period of his life. With these works,
covering the first instance the field of Hebrew philology and Biblical
exegesis, he fulfilled the great mission of making accessible to the
Jews of Christian
Europe the treasures of knowledge enshrined in the
works written in Arabic that he had brought with him from Spain.
His grammatical writings, among which Moznayim ("Scales", 1140) and
Zahot (Tzahot = "Dazzlings", 1141) are the most valuable, were the
first expositions of Hebrew grammar in the Hebrew language, in which
the system of Judah
Hayyuj and his school prevailed. He also
translated into Hebrew the two writings of
Hayyuj in which the
foundations of the system were laid down.
Of greater original value than the grammatical works of Ibn
his commentaries on most of the books of the Bible , of which,
Books of Chronicles have been lost. His reputation as an
intelligent and acute expounder of the Bible was founded on his
commentary on the
Torah , of which the great popularity is evidenced
by the numerous commentaries that were written upon it. In the
editions of this commentary (editio princeps Naples 1488. See image at
right), the commentary on the
Book of Exodus is replaced by a second,
more complete commentary of Ibn Ezra, while the first and shorter
commentary on Exodus was not printed until 1840. The great editions of
Hebrew Bible with rabbinical commentaries contained also
commentaries of Ibn Ezra's on the following books of the Bible:
Isaiah, Minor Prophets, Psalms, Job, Torah, Daniel; the commentaries
on Proverbs and
Ezra–Nehemiah bearing his name are really those of
Moses Kimhi . Ibn
Ezra wrote a second commentary on Genesis as he had
done on Exodus , but this was never finished. There are second
commentaries also by him on the
Song of Songs , Esther and Daniel .
Ezra also wrote a commentary on the book of
Uncharacteristically of either Ibn Ezra's other commentaries on
biblical works, or of Jewish exegesis of the time, the commentary on
Ecclesiastes begins with an autobiographical poem (written in the
third person ) relating his life experience to the material in
Ecclesiastes. Although the poem states that he fled "from home in
Spain/Going down to
Rome with heavy spirit", this does not resolve the
question of what intermediate journeys Ibn
Ezra may have made before
settling in Rome, possibly in the company of R' Yehudah HaLevi.
The importance of the exegesis of Ibn
Ezra consists in the fact that
it aims at arriving at the simple sense of the text, the Peshat, on
grammatical principles. It is in this that, although he takes a great
part of his exegetical material from his predecessors, the originality
of his mind is everywhere apparent, an originality that displays
itself also in the witty and lively language of his commentaries.
INFLUENCE ON BIBLICAL CRITICISM AND PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION
Ezra occupies a unique role among medieval commentators in that,
on the one hand, his commentary has historically been cited by
mainstream Orthodoxy, but on the other hand, his reluctance to
reconcile problematic Biblical passages through midrashic exegesis,
even at the expense of traditional dogma, put him in opposition to his
contemporaries such as
Rashi and provided early support for the type
of textual criticism that is now accepted by Reform and Conservative
Judaism . For example, in his commentary, Ibn
Ezra adheres to the
literal sense of the texts, avoiding
Rabbinic allegories and
Cabbalistic interpretations, though he remains faithful to the Jewish
traditions. This does not prevent him from exercising an independent
criticism that, according to some writers, exhibits a marked tendency
toward rationalism , to the extent that he judged other biblical
commentary "against his twin standards of accuracy, grammatical
precision and reliability", and in that regard "Ibn
that, aim notwithstanding,
Rashi had successfully grasped and imparted
the contextual sense 'but one time in a thousand.'"
Ezra is claimed by the proponents of the higher biblical
criticism of the
Torah as one of its earliest pioneers. Baruch Spinoza
, in concluding that Moses did not author the Torah, and that the
Torah and other protocanonical books were written or redacted by
somebody else, supposedly
Ezra , and others centuries later, found
precedent for these "heretical" views (which resulted in his cherem or
excommunication from the Amsterdam Jewish community) in Ibn Ezra's
commentary on Deuteronomy. Specifically, in discussing Deuteronomy
1:1 ("These are the words which Moshe addressed to all Israel beyond
the Jordan River"), Ibn
Ezra was troubled by the anomalous nature of
referring to Moses as being "beyond of the Jordan", as though the
writer was oriented in the land of Cana'an (west of the Jordan River),
although Moses and the Children of Israel had not yet crossed the
Jordan at that point in the Biblical narrative. Relating this
inconsistency to others in the Torah, Ibn
Ezra famously stated, "If
you can grasp the mystery behind the following problematic passages:
1) The final twelve verses of this book , 2) 'Moshe wrote ' ; 3) 'At
that time, the Canaanites dwelt in the land' ; 4) '... In the mountain
of God, He will appear' ; 5) 'behold, his bed is a bed of iron ' you
will understand the truth."
Spinoza concluded that Ibn Ezra's hints about "the truth", and other
such hints scattered through Ibn Ezra's commentary in reference to
seemingly anachronistic verses, as "a clear indication that it was
not Moses who wrote the Pentateuch but someone else who lived long
after him, and that it was a different book that Moses wrote".
Spinoza and later scholars were thus able to expand on several of Ibn
Ezra's hints and provide much stronger evidence for Non-Mosaic
Nevertheless, some Orthodox writers have recently addressed one of
Ibn Ezra's hints as being interpreted to be consistent with the
Orthodox Jewish creed that the entire
Torah was divinely dictated in a
word-perfect manner to Moses.
Ibn Ezra's commentaries, and especially some of the longer
excursuses, contain numerous contributions to the philosophy of
religion . One work in particular that belongs to this province, Yesod
Mora ("Foundation of Awe"), on the division and the reasons for the
Biblical commandments, he wrote in 1158 for a
London friend, Joseph
ben Jacob. In his philosophical thought neo-platonic ideas prevail;
and astrology also had a place in his view of the world. He also wrote
various works on mathematical and astronomical subjects, among which
"three treatises on numbers which helped to bring the Indian symbols
and ideas of decimal fractions to the attention of some of the learned
people in Europe"
In contrast his other works, the most important of which include The
Book of the Secrets of the Law, The Mystery of the Form of the
Letters, The Enigma of the Quiescent Letters, The Book of the Name,
The Book of the Balance of the Sacred Language and The Book of Purity
of the Language, demonstrate a more Cabbalistic viewpoint. They were
written during his life of travel, and they reflect the unsteadiness
of his outward circumstances.
His chief work is the commentary on the
Torah , which, like that of
Rashi , has called forth a host of super-commentaries, and which has
done more than any other work to establish his reputation. It is
extant both in numerous manuscripts and in printed editions. The
commentary on Exodus published in the printed editions is a work by
itself, which he finished in 1153 in southern France.
The complete commentary on the Torah, which, as has already been
mentioned, was finished by Ibn
Ezra shortly before his death, was
called Sefer ha-Yashar ("Book of the Straight").
In the rabbinical editions of the Bible the following commentaries of
Ezra on Biblical books are likewise printed: Isaiah; the Twelve
Minor Prophets ; Psalms; Job; the
Megillot ; Daniel. The commentaries
on Proverbs and
Ezra-Nehemiah bearing Ibn Ezra's name are by Moses
Kimhi . Another commentary on Proverbs, published in 1881 by Driver
and in 1884 by Horowitz, is also erroneously ascribed to Ibn Ezra.
Additional commentaries by Ibn
Ezra to the following books are extant:
Song of Solomon; Esther; Daniel. He also probably wrote commentaries
to a part of the remaining books, as may be concluded from his own
* Moznayim (1140), chiefly an explanation of the terms used in
Hebrew grammar; as early as 1148 it was incorporated by Judah Hadassi
in his Eshkol ha-Kofer, with no mention of Ibn
Monatsschrift, xl. 74), first ed. in 1546. The most recent edition is
Sefer Moznayim. Introducción (en castellano e inglés). Edición
crítica del texto hebreo y versión castellana de Lorenzo Jiménez
Patón, revisada, completada y reelaborada por Angel Sáenz-Badillos.
Córdoba: Ediciones el Almendro, 2002.
* Translation of the work of
Hayyuj into Hebrew (ed. Onken, 1844).
* Sefer ha-Yesod, or Yesod Diqduq, (see Bacher, Abraham ibn
Grammatiker, pp. 8–17). It has been published by N. Allony: Yesod
Diqduq. Jerusalem: Mossad Ha-rav Kook, 1984.
* Tzakhot (1145), on linguistic correctness, his best grammatical
work, which also contains a brief outline of modern Hebrew meter;
first ed. 1546. There is a critical edition by C. del Valle: Sefer
Sahot. Salamanca: Univ. Pontificia de Salamanca, 1977.
* Safah Berurah (see above), first ed. 1830. A critical edition has
been recently published: Śafah bĕrurah. La lengua escogida.
Introducción (en castellano e inglés). Edición crítica del texto
hebreo y versión castellana de Enrique Ruiz González, revisada,
completada y reelaborada por Angel Sáenz-Badillos. Córdoba:
Ediciones el Almendro, 2004.
* A short outline of grammar at the beginning of the unfinished
commentary on Genesis. The importance of Ibn Ezra's grammatical
writings has already been treated in Grammar, Hebrew.
* A defence of Saadyah Gaon against
Adonim 's criticisms: Sefer
Haganah 'al R. Sa'adyah Gaon. Ed. I. Osri, Bar-Ilan University, 1988.
SMALLER WORKS – PARTLY GRAMMATICAL, PARTLY EXEGETICAL
* Sefat Yeter, in defense of
Saadia Gaon against Dunash ben Labrat,
whose criticism of Saadia, Ibn
Ezra had brought with him from Egypt;
published by Bislichs 1838 and Lippmann 1843.
* Sefer ha-Shem, ed. Lippmann, 1834.
* Yesod Mispar, a small monograph on numerals, ed. Pinsker, 1863, at
the end of his book on the Babylonian-Hebrew system of punctuation.
* Iggeret Shabbat, a responsum on the Sabbath, dated 1158, ed.
Luzzatto, in "Kerem Hemed", iv. 158 et seq.
* Yesod Mora Vesod Hatorah (1158), on the division of and reasons
for the Biblical commandments; 1st ed. 1529.
MATHEMATICS AND ASTRONOMY
* Sefer ha-Ekhad, on the peculiarities of the numbers 1–9.
* Sefer ha-Mispar or Yesod Mispar, arithmetic.
* Luchot, astronomical tables.
* Sefer ha-'Ibbur, on the calendar (ed. Halberstam, 1874).
* Keli ha-Nechoshet, on the astrolabe (ed. Edelmann, 1845).
* Shalosh She'elot, in answer to three chronological questions of
David Narboni .
Ezra composed his first book on astrology in Italy, before his
move to France:
* Mishpetai ha-Mazzelot ("Judgments of the Zodiacal Signs"), on the
general principles of astrology
In seven books written in
Béziers in 1147–1148 Ibn
composed a systematic presentation of astrology, starting with an
introduction and a book on general principles, and then five books on
particular branches of the subject. The presentation appears to have
been planned as an integrated whole, with cross-references throughout,
including references to subsequent books in the future tense. Each of
the books is known in two versions, so it seems that at some point Ibn
Ezra also created a revised edition of the series.
* Reshit Hokhma ("The Beginning of Wisdom"), an introduction to
astrology, perhaps a revision of his earlier book (tr. 1998, M.
* Sefer ha-Te'amim ("Book of Reasons"), an overview of Arabic
astrology, giving explanations for the material in the previous book.
(tr. 1994, M. Epstein)
* Sefer ha-Moladot ("Book of Nativities"), on astrology based on the
time and place of birth
* Sefer ha-Me'orot ("Book of Luminaries" or "Book of Lights"), on
* Sefer ha-She'elot ("Book of Interrogations"), on questions about
* Sefer ha-Mivharim ("Book of Elections", also known as "Critical
Days"), on optimum days for particular activities
* Sefer ha-Olam ("Book of the World"), on the fates of countries and
wars, and other larger-scale issues
* Translation of two works by the astrologer
Mashallah ibn Athari :
"She'elot" and "Qadrut" (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." pp.
* Sela, Shlomo, ed./trans. Abraham Ibn Ezra: The Book of Reasons. A
Parallel Hebrew-English Critical Edition of the Two Versions of the
Text. Leiden: Brill, 2007.
There are a great many other poems by Ibn Ezra, some of them
religious (the editor of the "Diwan" in an appended list mentions
nearly 200 numbers) and some secular – about love, friendship, wine,
didactic or satirical. Like his friend
Yehuda Halevi , he used the
Arabic poetic form of
Muwashshah . His relative Moses ibn
also a famous poet.
Robert Browning 's poem Rabbi Ben
Ezra , beginning "Grow old along
with me/The best is yet to be", a meditation on ibn Ezra's life and
work, appeared in Browning's
Dramatis Personae , in 1864. In turn,
Ezra has been used in various ways:
Isaac Asimov 's short novel "Grow Old with Me" was expanded into
Pebble in the Sky , which quotes Rabbi Ben Ezra.
* The second line of Rabbi Ben Ezra, "The Best Is Yet to Be", is the
Motto of the Anglo-Chinese Schools in
John Lennon adapts part of Rabbi Ben
Ezra in "
Grow Old with Me ".
* Browning's poem "Rabbi Ben Ezra" is also cited in The Twilight
Zone episode "The Trade-Ins"
List of rabbis
Jewish views of astrology
Jewish commentaries on the Bible
Astrology in Judaism
* ^ Encyclopaedia Judaica, pages 1163–1164
Jewish Encyclopedia (online); Chambers Biographical Dictionary
gives the dates 1092/93 – 1167
* ^ It has been a common error to publish that he was born in
Spain ; however this is due to an incorrect reading of Hebrew
Missing or empty title= (help )
* ^ Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition
www.sacred-texts.com chapter 3, pp. 26–27
* ^ BDB Lexicon, page 850
* ^ Jewishencyclopedia.com, entry for Ibn Ezra, Abraham Ben Meir
* ^ Ben Elton, Revelation, Tradition, and Scholarship: A Response
* ^ see introduction to Yam Shel Shlomo by Rabbi Shlomo Luria
* ^ Eric Lawee, "Words Unfitly Spoken: Late Medieval Criticism of
the Role of Midrash in Rashi's Commentary on the Torah", in Between
Rashi and Maimonides: Themes in Medieval Jewish Law, Thought and
Culture (ed. Ephraim Kanarfogel) (see excerpt at
* ^ A B http://www.sacred-texts.com/phi/spinoza/treat/tpt12.htm
* ^ A B Jay F. Schachter, The Commentary of Abraham Ibn
Ezra on the
Pentateuch: Volume 5, Deuteronomy (KTAV Publishing House 2003)
E. F. Robertson. "Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra".
* ^ Shlomo Sela (2000), "Encyclopedic aspects of Ibn Ezra's
scientific corpus", in Steven Harvey (ed), The Medieval Hebrew
Encyclopedias of Science and Philosophy: Proceedings of the Bar-Ilan
University Conference, Springer. ISBN 0-7923-6242-X . See pp. 158 et
Robert Browning (1864/1969), Dramatis Personae, reprint,
* ^ "Grow Old with Me" (1947), in
Isaac Asimov (1986), The
Alternate Asimovs, Garden City, New York: Doubleday.
Isaac Asimov (1950), Pebble in the Sky, Garden City, New York:
* ^ "Grow Old with Me", on
John Lennon (1980/1984) Milk and Honey,
* This article incorporates text from a publication now in the
public domain : Singer, Isidore ; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "article
Jewish Encyclopedia . New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
* Carmi, T. (ed.), The Penguin book of Hebrew verse, Penguin
London ISBN 978-0-14-042467-6
* Charlap, Luba. 2001. Another view of Rabbi Abraham Ibn-Ezra's
contribution to medieval Hebrew grammar. Hebrew Studies 42:67-80.
* Epstein, Meira, "Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra" – An article by Meira
Epstein, detailing all of ibn Ezra's extant astrological works
* Glick, Thomas F.; Livesey, Steven John; and Wallis, Faith,
Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine: An Encyclopedia,
Routledge, 2005. ISBN 0-415-96930-1 . Cf. pp. 247–250.
* Goodman, Mordechai S. (Translator), The Sabbath Epistle of Rabbi
Abraham Ibn Ezra,('iggeret hashabbat). Ktav Publishing House, Inc.,
New Jersey (2009). ISBN 978-1-60280-111-0
* Halbronn, Jacques, Le monde juif et l'astrologie, Ed Arché,
* Halbronn, Jacques, Le livre des fondements astrologiques,
précédé du Commencement de la Sapience des Signes, Pref. G. Vajda,
Paris, ed Retz 1977
* Holden, James H., History of Horoscopic Astrology, American
Federation of Astrologers , 2006. ISBN 0-86690-463-8 . Cf. pp.
* Jewish Virtual Library, Abraham Ibn Ezra
* Johansson, Nadja, Religion and Science in Abraham Ibn Ezra\'s
Sefer Ha-Olam (Including an English Translation of the Hebrew Text)
* Langermann, Tzvi, "Abraham Ibn Ezra", Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy , 2006. Accessed June 21, 2011.
* Levine, Etan. Ed., Abraham ibn Ezra's Commentary to the
Pentateuch, Vatican Manuscript Vat. Ebr. 38. Jerusalem: Makor, 1974.
* Sela, Shlomo, "Abraham Ibn Ezra\'s Scientific Corpus Basic
Constituents and General Characterization", in Arabic Sciences and
Philosophy, (2001), 11:1:91–149 Cambridge University Press
* Sela, Shlomo, Abraham Ibn
Ezra and the Rise of Medieval Hebrew
Science, Brill, 2003. ISBN 90-04-12973-1
* Siegel, Eliezer, Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra\'s Commentary to the Torah
* skyscript.co.uk, 120 Aphorisms for Astrologers by Abraham ibn Ezra
* skyscript.co.uk, Skyscript: The Life and Work of Abraham Ibn Ezra
* Smithuis, Renate, "Abraham Ibn Ezra\'s Astrological Works in
Hebrew and Latin: New Discoveries and Exhaustive Listing", in Aleph
(Aleph: Historical Studies in Science and Judaism), 2006, No. 6, Pages
* Wacks, David. "The Poet, the Rabbi, and the Song: Abraham ibn Ezra
and the Song of Songs". Wine, Women, and Song: Hebrew and Arabic
Literature in Medieval Iberia. Eds. Michelle M. Hamilton, Sarah J.
Portnoy and David A. Wacks. Newark, Del.: Juan de la Cuesta Hispanic
Monographs, 2004. 47–58.
* Walfish, Barry, "The Two Commentaries of Abraham Ibn
Ezra on the
Book of Esther", The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 79, No.
4 (April 1989), pp. 323–343, University of Pennsylvania Press
Wikisource has original text related to this article: THE SONG OF
* Poems in