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Torah and Tradition. Medieval Sephardic Judaism. Who are the Sephardic Jews?. The otherwise unknown Sepharad (Obadiah 20) were eventually identified midrashically with Spain (owing to the slight similarity in consonants). Hence, the Sephardim are, technically speaking, Spanish Jews.

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Torah and Tradition

Medieval Sephardic Judaism


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Who are the Sephardic Jews?

  • The otherwise unknown Sepharad (Obadiah 20) were eventually identified midrashically with Spain (owing to the slight similarity in consonants).

  • Hence, the Sephardim are, technically speaking, Spanish Jews.

  • Jews expelled from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella (of Columbus fame) in 1492 after the “Reconquista.”

  • Scattered across Mediterranean world and into Netherlands

  • Used loosely to refer to Jews under Muslim domination

  • Currently represent more than half the Jews in Israel


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Middle Ages

  • According to Marcus, 315-1791 CE

  • Jews lived as second class “citizens” under both Christianity and Islam.

  • Served as the economic intermediaries between the cultures and as translators.

  • Also responsible for the transferal of knowledge.

“Synagoga” by Conrad Witz


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Under Muslim Rule

  • Conditions generally better than under Christendom.

  • Nonetheless, second class dhimmis with restricted rights.

  • “Golden Age” in Spain (10th – 12th centuries CE).

  • Allowed to be merchants, doctors, poets, scientists, and court officials.

  • Sephardic “Spanish” Jewry (more open to the world & liberal in interpretation [cf. kitniyot]).

  • Nonetheless, Judah (Yehudah) Halevi and his “My Heart Is in the East” and “Ode to Zion.”

The Israelites Encircling Jericho from a Judeo-Persian Manuscript


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Sephardic Torah Scroll

  • Local Traditions

    • cf. “Cairo Purim” in Marcus 13



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Saadiah Gaon

  • Head of academy at Sura

  • Saved Rabbanite Judaism from the threat posed by Karaism in the 10th century

    • Anan ben David the founder of Karaism

    • Related to Sadducean Judaism?

    • Cf. Marcus 47 for selections

  • SepherEmunoth we-De’oth(“The Book of Beliefs and Opinions”): the first attempt to reconcile Jewish thought with philosophy in a systematic manner since Philo


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Jewish “Systematics”

  • Maimonides: Guide for the Perplexed and Mishneh Torah (“Second Torah”)

    • From the Mishneh Torah (Marcus 75)

    • Maimonides kvetches (Marcus 62)

  • Joseph Caro/Karo: Shulkhan Arukh (“The Set Table”)

    • Cf. Marcus 42 (selections)


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The Zohar

  • Collection of mystical writings from late 13th century CE.

  • Probable author was Moses de León (died 1305)

  • Attributed to Simeon bar Yohai (2nd century CE).

  • God consists of a central mystery (Ein Sof) and ten aspects (Sefirot).

  • Study of intricate symbolism was to lead the student closer to understanding the ultimate truth  Kabbalah.

  • Influence waned with Enlightenment.

  • It has been rediscovered by ultra-orthodox, Hasidic and New Age Jews.

Man holding a tree with the ten Sefirot from a Latin translation of a Kabbalistic text, Augsburg, 1561.


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Isaac Luria (1534-1572)

  • Ari “the Lion” = Ashkenazi Rabbi Isaac (Marcus 52)

  • Lurianic Kabbalah

    • Breaking of the vessels

    • Divine sparks

    • tzimtzum

Grave of Isaac Luria in

Safed


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