Rabbi Paul Golomb Teaches About the Golden Age of Spain

Rabbi Paul Golomb Teaching at Vassar Temple

Rabbi Paul Golomb Teaching at Vassar Temple

Continuing his course on Jewish History, Rabbi Paul Golomb addressed a large and eager group of adult learners as he explained how the Golden Age of Spain fits into the larger picture of the Jewish story.

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  1. I always have trouble with evening lectures, but even with my eyes starting to close the Rabbi reaches into your brain with interesting insights and information. I also loved bringing my niece! I’m 52 and as much as I like feeling like the “kid” in the room, we could really use some young blood – and it’s up to us “ak’s” to bring them out to events like this. Thanks Rabbi! Bob Ritter

  2. llewis1124

     /  April 21, 2012

    Thank you Rabbi! Some of you may have noticed that I was taking notes during the second lecture on Medieval Jewish History – The Golden Age of Spain. The following are those notes. Corrections and comments are welcome..

    Medieval Jewish History – Rabbi Paul Golomb
    April 18, 2012
    The Golden Age of Spain is a staple in religious schools. It is a period roughly from 850 to 1150 in Muslim Spain – a time of extraordinary output within the Moorish emirate. Last week we talked about the Jews of Baghdad and the Gaonate. See: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/307197/Judaism/35204/The-age-of-the-geonim-c-640-1038
    which developed many of the fundamental attitudes and practices that became Judaism. The Jews were living under Sassanian (Zoroastrians in Persia)) rule which were overtaken by Muslim expansion. But this did not mean a radical change for the Jews. They had reasonably good relationship with the Zoroastrians as believers in the duality of God and now the Muslims as monotheists made it even easier. However, Jews in the rest of the world were living in either pagan or Christian societies. This was a much more problematic relationship. From the death of Mohammed in 632 to the battle of Tours in 732 there was an enormous expansion of Muslim rule. There was great tension between the deposed Christian and Pagan leaders and the Muslims – not so the Jews. The Jews knew that they must learn to breathe underwater. They adapt. In the year 1000 most Jews – 70 to 80 percent – were living in Muslim lands. But at no point do they represent more than one or two percent of any community.
    The original concept of Mohammed as to how Islam would work anticipated a homogeneous community. That was not to be with the conversion of former Christians and pagans. For the most part the Jewish community did not convert to Islam – nor were they required to do so. The Jews themselves viewed their presence in foreign lands as only temporary – until they would be restored to Israel. Islam was comprised of the five pillars: declare one god, charity, the hajj to Mecca, pray five times a day and fast during Ramadan. (The last meant not eating in public during that month.) So rather than creating a unified Muslim community from India to Spain there was a polyglot of practices. Contrary to the traditional Muslim view some western scholars believe that The Koran was not actually reduced to writing until the 900s. (The oldest existing copy dates from that period.) The Muslim hegemony over a broad range created a free trade zone – the like of which had not existed since Rome. This trade created wealth that first flowed into Baghdad and later into Spain. Wealth and comfort permitted tolerance of heterodox thinking. Eventually, as the wealth became depleted, attitudes changed and the power of Baghdad weakened. Around 850 Spain discovered it could go its own way – Abdul Rahman III (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abd-ar-Rahman_III ) chose not to challenge the caliphate but instead established an emirate in Spain.
    Prior to the rise of industrialization in the 19th C. production was in one’s hands. A trade or skill was required. The leadership structure only had to organize these various trades and skills. Movement into that leadership structure was rare and slow. This was the nature of preindustrial society. In the areas controlled by the Moors and particularly in Muslim Spain the Jews began to specialize in finance and medicine. These were positions from which they were unable to assert authority but which put them shoulder to shoulder with the authorities. Abdul Rahman’s personal physician was a Jew who became the vizier of Muslim Spain. For about 200 years the Jews were a protected class within Moorish society – this resulted in an outburst of literary and scientific activity. Consider the accomplishments of Samuel Nagrela or Nagid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_ibn_Naghrela) (Rabbi Judah Nasi was the compiler of the Mishnah in Palestine – a hereditary position going back to Hillel. The “Nagid” was an administrator and usually a scholar.)
    See the works of Solomon Schechter on the history of Jews in the Muslim world. He drew heavily on the Cairo Geniza. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cairo_Geniza
    The Jews at this time were not living in Ghettos but were almost exclusively urban. They were prohibited from owning land. Many Jews became adept at speaking and writing in Arabic. Consider the work of the poet Soloman ibn Gabirol. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_ibn_Gabirol. Gabriol was a Jewish philosopher who wrote the Fountain of Life – which was assimilated and copied in the Christian world, generally without attribution to him.
    Maimonides (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/maimonides/) , who is so often identified with the Golden Age of Spain, never actually lived there.
    Once the development that accrued from expansion began to dry up in about 1140 the Almoravids ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almoravides) – a severe sect of Islam – started to require conversion of Jews. Maimonides wrote the code of Jewish Law and what it meant – starting with philosophical assumptions. He drew upon a system of philosophy that was initiated by a Muslim school. This was what made the Age golden – and in many respect like ours – it drew upon the dominant culture for its creativity.


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