In the centuries after the life of Muhammad, Muslim armies poured out into all surrounding areas, bringing the lands from India to Spain under their control. With this huge amount of land under their control, the Umayyad (and later, the Abbasid) Caliphates allowed merchants and scholars to travel easily through western Eurasia, bringing goods and knowledge which the Muslims greatly expanded upon through the Caliphate and outward to less advanced regions, such as Western Europe. In 751, papermaking from China made its way to the West through Muslims. Trade introduced Islam to the Africans. In the Middle East, the success of Islam meant that culture would be changed forever. Even after the decline of the Abassid Caliphate, Islam would remain as one of the base institutions of the region. Future states of the region, such as the Safavid, Seljuk, and Ottoman and Mughal Empires, were all "Islamic Empires".)
One of the characteristic features of the early history of Spain is the successive waves of different people who spread across the Iberian Peninsula. Phoenicians, Greeks, Vandals, Visigoths, Muslims, Jews, and Christians all occupied Spain at one point or another. History records communities of Jews living on the Iberian Peninsula from as early as the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem (Diaz-Mas 1). But it was during the realm of the Moors in Al-Andalus (land of the vandals) which the Jews thrived the greatest. Though this was a time of artistic, educational, and cultural enlightenment, it was not completely serene or without persecution for the Jewish people.
As historians look back before the first millennium at the Jewish populations of Iberia, we see Jews living in convergence with both Muslims and Christians. However, Muslims were undoubtedly the principal subjects of the kingdom, not Jews, nor Christians. The Muslims had greater rights and responsibilities than non-Muslims, thus Moorish toleration was not exactly Moorish equality. History demonstrates a long history of persecutions against the Jewish people. And the Jews living in Muslim Spain were not excluded from such inequity.
The first of many discriminatory laws against the Jews was passed even before the Moorish invasion in 305 C.E. in the Roman province of Hispania (Spain); soon after the Council of Toledo passed a canon forbidding Jews from blessing the crops of non-Jews, as well as prohibited Christians from sharing meals with Jews. When the Visigoths (Aryan Christians) invaded Hispania in 409 C.E., more laws were instituted further restricting the Jews. One hundred and eighty years later in 589 C.E., Visigoth King Recared relinquished the Aryan sect and accepted the orthodox Catholic faith, thereby paving the way for the religious unity in the country.
Subsequently the Church was to exert powerful influence on all aspects of social life. Almost immediately a canon was passed forbidding the marriage between Christian and Jews; and in 612 C.E., the Council of Gundemar of Toledo ordered that all Jews submit to baptism within the year, or undergo "scourging, mutilation, banishment, and confiscation of goods" (Meyrick 170). However, the years of late Aryan and early orthodox Christian rule were both coming to a close. In 709 C.E., internal unrest destabilized the peninsula. This strife originated between the Trinitarian Christians--who accepted the Trinity, and Aryan Christians, who saw jesus not as their god but as a prophet inspired by their god (Charafi 2).
Two years later in 711 C.E., Moorish soldiers (a mixed Arab and Berber army) crossed over from Africa to the Iberian Peninsula. They were led by General Tariq ibn Ziyad, Governor of Tangiers (Sachar 3). He advanced his army of near ten thousand men across the strait, and landed at a location, which from that day since has sustained his name--Jabal Tarik (Mount Tarik), or Gibraltar. The Moors engaged in battle with Visigothic soldiers, eventually killing their monarch, King Roderick. The Muslim invasion, and subsequent administration of Iberia, freed the major Spanish population of Jews from Visigothic oppression. It was said that immediately after the invasion, the Jewish population of Toledo "opened the gates" of the city, welcoming the North African Muslims (Wexler 218). Though ruthless fighters, the Moors were very just. They gave the Goth Spaniards an opportunity to surrender each of their provinces, to which most capitulated.
It is a common misapprehension that the holy war meant that the Muslims gave their opponents a choice between Islam and the sword'. This was sometimes the case, but only when the opponents were polytheist and idol-worshippers. For Jews, Christians, and other 'People of the Book'. there was a third possibility, they might become a ‘protected group', paying a tax or tribute to the Muslims but enjoying internal autonomy" (Watt 144).
Even in those early days, the Moors knew and practiced the principles of chivalry. They had already won the title to Knightliness which many centuries later compelled the victorious Spaniards to addressed them as "Knights of Granada, Gentleman, albeit Moors" (Lane-Poole 26).
Later, after advancing to Cordoba, the Muslims found that the Goth nobles of the kingdom had fled over the Pyrenees Mountains, all but abandoning their land to them (Lane-Poole 27). The occupation of the Moors set the stage for beginning the work of building an Islamic empire similar to the one flourishing in Damascus. Within a century of their activity, the Moors, with assistance of the Jews, had developed a civilization based in Cordoba that surpassed that of any in Europe; it was known as Al-Andalus. At the end of the eighth century, Al-Andalus was the most populous, cultured, and industrious land of all Europe, remaining so for centuries. During this prosperous period, trade with the outside world was unrivaled. It was during this time of economic expansion, the Jews, who had been virtually eliminated from the peninsula in the seventh century by the Christians, grew once more in numbers and flourished. Hume wrote in his book "Spanish People": "Side by side with the new rulers lived the Christians and Jews in peace. The latter rich with commerce and industry were content to let the memory of their oppression by the priest-ridden Goths sleep" (Hume 23).
The occupation of Iberia by the Moors was a welcome occurrence for a well pummeled and remaining Jewish population. Of course the Muslims were not completely tolerant, but they were more tolerant than the rulers of the previous administration. Under the ruling Caliph (the descendant of Mohammed--the prophet of G-d on earth), the Jews were able to preserve their rites and traditions. Peaceful coexistence led to their economic and social expansion. Their status was that of Dhimmis, non-Muslims living in a land governed by Muslims. The Jews had limited autonomy, but full rights to practice their religion, as well as full protection by their Muslim rulers; but this did not occur for free. There was a specific tax called the jizya that Dhimmis had to pay to receive these benefits. Having its origin in the Qur'an, it states Dhimmis who did not pay this tax, should either convert to Islam, or face the death penalty (Qur'an 9, 29). This tax, higher than the tax Muslims had to pay, was in several occasions one of the most important sources of income for the kingdom. The jizya was not only a tax, but also a symbolic expression of subordination (Lewis 14).
From the second half of the eighth century to the end of the eleventh century Jewish life flourished while contributing greatly to scholarship. A translating program was established in Toledo, using Jews as interpreters. There they translated the Arabic books into romance languages, as well as Greek and Hebrew texts into Arabic. This included many major works of Greek science and philosophy. Jews studied and contributed to mathematics, medicine, botany, geography, poetry, and philosophy. It was at this time that the study of Medicine expanded to produce a large number of exceptional Jewish physicians. Islam had its sway over Jewish cultural life too. In literature, and the arts, the Muslim influence on the Jews is enormous. Though written in non-Islamic language and script, medieval Hebrew poetry, and much of the prose literature, belong to the same cultural world as Arabic and other literatures of Islam (Lewis 81). In the Caliphate of Cordoba [the geographical zenith of Islamic life in Al-Andalus], the Jewish element became increasingly important, reaching its peak in the tenth century (Diaz-Mas 3). Jews lived among themselves in a walled area known as the aljama (Jewish quarter). There they lived among their own administration, and managed their own communal affairs (Epstein 1). There the Jewish community had their own legal court known as the Beit Din. This court, with Rabbis as Judges, would render both religious and civil legal opinions pertaining to Jewish affairs inside the aljama. In the Beit Din the Jews were allowed to settle their own disputes. This of course was positive for the them; but it was also positive for the Muslims to, as it decreased the work load of the Islamic courts.
The influence Islamic culture injected into Jewish life was significant. Jews accepted many customs and traditions of the Moors and interweaved them into their daily life. The Arabic language, instead of Spanish and Hebrew, was used for prayers. Ceremoniously washing of the hands and feet, which is an Islamic custom, became adopted by Jews before entering Synagogues. Moreover, Jewish music was sung to the tune of old Arabic melodies. Jews adopted the clothing style of their Moorish neighbors; however, they were restricted from wearing fine clothing such as furs and silk. Most wore the universal long robe and belt, however they were prohibited from wearing a green or white one, which were the traditional colors of Islam.
For almost four hundred years the Jews lived in Al-Andalus amid the moderate Islamic rule based in Cordoba. Later came the insurgence of the Muslim fundamentalist Almoravides in 1055, and not long after their enemies, the Almohades in 1147. Both groups brought with them radically stricter controls over the infidels (non-Muslims). During this time Jews continued to work as moneylenders, jewellers, cobblers, tailors, and tanners. Soon however, they would be mandated to wear distinctive clothing, including of the wearing of a yellow turban to distinguish them from Muslims. These changes were a foreshadowing of the stricter controls that would soon be put in place.
Thus Islamic rule continued, but quickly the peninsular realm was cleaved up into numerous small Muslim kingdoms, each with its own ruler. In a way not different then that of a civil war, they started fighting among each other. Once the Muslims divided, the armies of Christendom gained a foothold on the peninsula. It was this subsequent warring of Islamic administrations that led to collapse of Moorish supremacy on the peninsula, allowing the Christians to rise to power during the subsequent reconquista. When the Caliphate disintegrated in the eleventh century as the result of civil war, many influential Jews remained in the Moorish kingdoms (Diaz-Mas 3). The Jews perpetuated their way of life under the subsequent Christian monarchs of Spain, until anti-Semitism caught up with them, and they were expelled three hundred years later. The golden age of Spain was golden, but for the Jews, it was always a bit tarnished.
This coincided with the Middle Ages in Europe, a period of Muslim rule throughout much of the Iberian Peninsula. During intermittent periods of time, Jews were generally accepted in society and Jewish religious, cultural, and economic life blossomed.
The nature and length of this "Golden Age" has been a subject of much debate, as there were at least three Golden Ages interrupted by periods of oppression of Jews and non-Jews. A few scholars give the start of the Golden Age as 711–718, the Muslim conquest of Iberia. Others date it from 912, under the rule of Abd-ar-Rahman III. The end of the age is variously given as 1031, when the Caliphate of Cordoba ended, 1066, the date of the Granada massacre, 1090, when the Almoravides invaded, or the mid-12th century, when the Almohades invaded.
THE NATURE OF THE GOLDEN AGE
Having invaded the areas throughout Southern Spain, and coming to rule in a matter of seven years, Islamic rulers were confronted with many questions relating to the implementation of Islamic Rule on a non-Islamic society. The coexistence of Muslims, Jews, and Christians during this time is revered by many writers. Al-Andalus was a key center of Jewish life during the early Middle Ages, producing important scholars and one of the most stable and wealthy Jewish communities and a relatively educated society for the Muslim occupiers and their Jewish collaborators, as well as some Christians who openly collaborated with the Muslims and Jews.
María Rosa Menocal, a specialist in Iberian literature at Yale University claims that "Tolerance was an inherent aspect of Andalusian society". Menocal's 2003 book, ‘The Ornament of the World’, argues that the Jewish dhimmis living under the Caliphate, while allowed fewer rights than Muslims, were still better off than in the Christian parts of Europe. Jews from other parts of Europe made their way to al-Andalus, where in parallel to Christian sects regarded as heretical by Catholic Europe, they were not just tolerated, but where opportunities to practise faith and trade were open without restriction save for the prohibitions on proselytisation.
Bernard Lewis takes issue with this view, calling it ahistorical and exaggerated. He argues that Islam traditionally did not offer equality nor even pretend that it did, arguing that it would have been both a "theological as well as a logical absurdity." However, also Lewis states:
Generally, the Jewish people were allowed to practice their religion and live according to the laws and scriptures of their community. Furthermore, the restrictions to which they were subject were social and symbolic rather than tangible and practical in character. That is to say, these regulations served to define the relationship between the two communities, and not to oppress the Jewish population.
Jews were allowed certain freedoms but, like their Christian counterparts, were prohibited from having administrative authority over Muslims except in a few cases.
Mark Cohen, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, in his ‘Under Crescent and Cross’, calls the idealized interfaith utopia a "myth" that was first promulgated by Jewish historians such as Heinrich Graetz in the 19th century as a rebuke to Christian countries for their treatment of Jews. This myth was met with the "counter-myth" of the "neo-lachrymose conception of Jewish-Arab history" by Bat Yeor and others, which also "cannot be maintained in the light of historical reality".
BIRTH OF THE GOLDEN AGE
Prior to 581, the Jews experienced a Golden Age under the Arian Visigoth occupiers of Spain. The Visigoths were mainly indifferent towards Jews and allowed them to grow and prosper. After the Visigoths joined the Catholic Church, they placed ever greater economic burdens on the Jewish population, and later persecuted them severely. It is possible that Jews welcomed the MuslimArab and mainly Berber conquerors in the 8th century.
A period of tolerance dawned for the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula, whose number was considerably augmented by immigration from North Africa in the wake of the Muslim conquest. North African Jewish immigrants and immigrants from the Middle East bolstered the Jewish population, and made Muslim Spain probably the biggest center of contemporary Jews. Especially after 912, during the reign of Abd-ar-Rahman III and his son, Al-Hakam II, the Jews prospered culturally, and some notable figures held high posts in the Caliphate of Cordoba. Jewish philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers, poets, and rabbinical scholars, composed highly rich cultural and scientific work. Many devoted themselves to the study of the sciences and philosophy, composing many of the most valuable texts of Jewish Philosophy. Jews took part in the overall prosperity of Muslim Al-Andalus. Jewish economic expansion was unparalleled. In Toledo after the Christian reconquest in 1085, Jews were involved in translating Arabic texts to the romance languages in the so-called Toledo School of Translators, as they had been previously in translating Greek and Hebrew texts into Arabic. Jews also contributed to botany, geography, medicine, mathematics, poetry and philosophy.
'Abd al-Rahman's court physician and minister was Hasdai ibn Shaprut, the patron of Menahem ben Saruq, Dunash ben Labrat, and other Jewish scholars and poets. In following centuries, Jewish thought flourished under famous figures such as Samuel Ha-Nagid, Moses ibn Ezra, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Judah Halevi and Moses Maimonides. During 'Abd al-Rahman's term of power, the scholar Moses ben Enoch was appointed rabbi of Córdoba, and as a consequence al-Andalus became the center of Talmudic study, and Córdoba the meeting-place of Jewish savants.
This was a time of partial Jewish autonomy. As "dhimmis", or "protected non-Muslims", Jews in the Islamic world paid the jizya, which was administered separately from the zakat paid by Muslims. The jizya has been viewed variously as a head tax, as payment for non-conscription in the military (as non-Muslims were normally prohibited from bearing arms or receiving martial training), or as a tribute. Jews had their own legal system and social services. Monotheist religions of the people of the book were tolerated but conspicuous displays of faith, such as bells and processions, were discouraged.
Comparing the treatment of Jews in the medieval Islamic world and medieval Christian Europe, the Jews were far more integrated in the political and economic life of Islamic society, and usually faced far less violence from Muslims, though there were some instances of persecution in the Islamic world as well from the 11th century. The Islamic world classified Jews (and Christians) as dhimmi and allowed them to practice their religion more freely than they could do in Christian Europe.
Other authors criticize the modern notion of Al-Andalus being a tolerant society of equal opportunities for all religious groups as a "myth". Jews were living in an uneasy coexistence with Muslims and Catholics, and the relationship between these groups was more often than not marked by segregation and mutual hostility. In the 1066 Granada massacre of the entire Jewish population of the city, the Jewish death toll was higher than in the much publicized Christian pogromes in the Rhineland slightly later.The notable Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides (1135–1204) was forced to flee from Al-Andalus to avoid conversion by the Almohads. In Letter to Yemen, Maimonides wrote:
Dear brothers, because of our many sins Hashem has cast us among this nation, the Arabs, who are treating us badly. They pass laws designed to cause us distress and make us despised. ... Never has there been a nation that hated, humiliated and loathed us as much as this one.
END OF THE GOLDEN AGE
With the death of Al-Hakam II Ibn Abd-ar-Rahman in 976, the Caliphate began to dissolve, and the position of the Jews became more precarious under the various smaller Kingdoms. The first major persecution was the 1066 Granada massacre, which occurred on 30 December, when a Muslim mob stormed the royal palace in Granada, crucifiedJewishvizierJoseph ibn Naghrela and massacred most of the Jewish population of the city. "More than 1,500 Jewish families, numbering 4,000 persons, fell in one day." This was the first persecution of Jews on the Peninsula under Islamic rule.
Beginning in 1090 the situation deteriorated further with the invasion of the Almoravids, a puritan Muslim sect from Morocco. Even under the Almoravids, some Jews prospered (although far more so under Ali III, than under his father Yusuf ibn Tashfin). Among those who held the title of "vizier" or "nasi" in Almoravid times were the poet and physician Abu Ayyub Solomon ibn al-Mu'allam, Abraham ibn Meïr ibn Kamnial, Abu Isaac ibn Muhajar, and Solomon ibn Farusal. The Almoravids, were ousted from the peninsula in 1148; however, the peninsula was again invaded, by the even more puritanical Almohades.
During the reign of these Berber dynasties, many Jewish and even Muslim scholars left the Muslim-controlled portion of Iberia for the city of Toledo, which had been reconquered in 1085 by Christian forces.
The major Jewish presence in Iberia continued until the Jews were forcibly expelled en masse due to the edict of expulsion by Christian Spain in 1492 and a similar decree by Christian Portugal in 1496.
SO, WHAT DID THE MUSLIMS DO FOR THE JEWS? The JC Essay, David J Wasserstein May 24, 2012 David J Wasserstein is the Eugene Greener Jr Professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University. This article is adapted from last week's Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
Islam saved Jewry. This is an unpopular, discomforting claim in the modern world. But it is a historical truth. The argument for it is double. First, in 570 CE, when the Prophet Mohammad was born, the Jews and Judaism were on the way to oblivion. And second, the coming of Islam saved them, providing a new context in which they not only survived, but flourished, laying foundations for subsequent Jewish cultural prosperity - also in Christendom - through the medieval period into the modern world.
By the fourth century, Christianity had become the dominant religion in the Roman empire. One aspect of this success was opposition to rival faiths, including Judaism, along with massive conversion of members of such faiths, sometimes by force, to Christianity. Much of our testimony about Jewish existence in the Roman empire from this time on consists of accounts of conversions.
Great and permanent reductions in numbers through conversion, between the fourth and the seventh centuries, brought with them a gradual but relentless whittling away of the status, rights, social and economic existence, and religious and cultural life of Jews all over the Roman empire.
A long series of enactments deprived Jewish people of their rights as citizens, prevented them from fulfilling their religious obligations, and excluded them from the society of their fellows.
This went along with the centuries-long military and political struggle with Persia. As a tiny element in the Christian world, the Jews should not have been affected much by this broad, political issue. Yet it affected them critically, because the Persian empire at this time included Babylon - now Iraq - at the time home to the world's greatest concentration of Jews.
Had Islam not come along, Jewry in the west would have declined to disappearance and Jewry in the east would have become just another oriental cult
Here also were the greatest centres of Jewish intellectual life. The most important single work of Jewish cultural creativity in over 3,000 years, apart from the Bible itself - the Talmud - came into being in Babylon. The struggle between Persia and Byzantium, in our period, led increasingly to a separation between Jews under Byzantine, Christian rule and Jews under Persian rule.
Beyond all this, the Jews who lived under Christian rule seemed to have lost the knowledge of their own culturally specific languages - Hebrew and Aramaic - and to have taken on the use of Latin or Greek or other non-Jewish, local, languages. This in turn must have meant that they also lost access to the central literary works of Jewish culture - the Torah, Mishnah, poetry, midrash, even liturgy.
The loss of the unifying force represented by language - and of the associated literature - was a major step towards assimilation and disappearance. In these circumstances, with contact with the one place where Jewish cultural life continued to prosper - Babylon - cut off by conflict with Persia, Jewish life in the Christian world of late antiquity was not simply a pale shadow of what it had been three or four centuries earlier. It was doomed.
Had Islam not come along, the conflict with Persia would have continued. The separation between western Judaism, that of Christendom, and Babylonian Judaism, that of Mesopotamia, would have intensified. Jewry in the west would have declined to disappearance in many areas. And Jewry in the east would have become just another oriental cult.
But this was all prevented by the rise of Islam. The Islamic conquests of the seventh century changed the world, and did so with dramatic, wide-ranging and permanent effect for the Jews.
Within a century of the death of Mohammad, in 632, Muslim armies had conquered almost the whole of the world where Jews lived, from Spain eastward across North Africa and the Middle East as far as the eastern frontier of Iran and beyond. Almost all the Jews in the world were now ruled by Islam. This new situation transformed Jewish existence. Their fortunes changed in legal, demographic, social, religious, political, geographical, economic, linguistic and cultural terms - all for the better.
First, things improved politically. Almost everywhere in Christendom where Jews had lived now formed part of the same political space as Babylon - Cordoba and Basra lay in the same political world. The old frontier between the vital centre in Babylonia and the Jews of the Mediterranean basin was swept away, forever.
Political change was partnered by change in the legal status of the Jewish population: although it is not always clear what happened during the Muslim conquests, one thing is certain. The result of the conquests was, by and large, to make the Jews second-class citizens.
This should not be misunderstood: to be a second-class citizen was a far better thing to be than not to be a citizen at all. For most of these Jews, second-class citizenship represented a major advance. In Visigothic Spain, for example, shortly before the Muslim conquest in 711, the Jews had seen their children removed from them and forcibly converted to Christianity and had themselves been enslaved.
In the developing Islamic societies of the classical and medieval periods, being a Jew meant belonging to a category defined under law, enjoying certain rights and protections, alongside various obligations. These rights and protections were not as extensive or as generous as those enjoyed by Muslims, and the obligations were greater but, for the first few centuries, the Muslims themselves were a minority, and the practical differences were not all that great.
Along with legal near-equality came social and economic equality. Jews were not confined to ghettos, either literally or in terms of economic activity. The societies of Islam were, in effect, open societies. In religious terms, too, Jews enjoyed virtually full freedom. They might not build many new synagogues - in theory - and they might not make too public their profession of their faith, but there was no really significant restriction on the practice of their religion. Along with internal legal autonomy, they also enjoyed formal representation, through leaders of their own, before the authorities of the state. Imperfect and often not quite as rosy as this might sound, it was at least the broad norm.
The political unity brought by the new Islamic world-empire did not last, but it created a vast Islamic world civilisation, similar to the older Christian civilisation that it replaced. Within this huge area, Jews lived and enjoyed broadly similar status and rights everywhere. They could move around, maintain contacts, and develop their identity as Jews. A great new expansion of trade from the ninth century onwards brought the Spanish Jews - like the Muslims - into touch with the Jews and the Muslims even of India.
A ll this was encouraged by a further, critical development. Huge numbers of people in the new world of Islam adopted the language of the Muslim Arabs. Arabic gradually became the principal language of this vast area, excluding almost all the rest: Greek and Syriac, Aramaic and Coptic and Latin all died out, replaced by Arabic. Persian, too, went into a long retreat, to reappear later heavily influenced by Arabic.
The Jews moved over to Arabic very rapidly. By the early 10th century, only 300 years after the conquests, Sa'adya Gaon was translating the Bible into Arabic. Bible translation is a massive task - it is not undertaken unless there is a need for it. By about the year 900, the Jews had largely abandoned other languages and taken on Arabic.
The change of language in its turn brought the Jews into direct contact with broader cultural developments. The result from the 10th century on was a striking pairing of two cultures. The Jews of the Islamic world developed an entirely new culture, which differed from their culture before Islam in terms of language, cultural forms, influences, and uses. Instead of being concerned primarily with religion, the new Jewish culture of the Islamic world, like that of its neighbours, mixed the religious and the secular to a high degree. The contrast, both with the past and with medieval Christian Europe, was enormous.
Like their neighbours, these Jews wrote in Arabic in part, and in a Jewish form of that language. The use of Arabic brought them close to the Arabs. But the use of a specific Jewish form of that language maintained the barriers between Jew and Muslim. The subjects that Jews wrote about, and the literary forms in which they wrote about them, were largely new ones, borrowed from the Muslims and developed in tandem with developments in Arabic Islam.
Also at this time, Hebrew was revived as a language of high literature, parallel to the use among the Muslims of a high form of Arabic for similar purposes. Along with its use for poetry and artistic prose, secular writing of all forms in Hebrew and in (Judeo-)Arabic came into being, some of it of high quality.
Much of the greatest poetry in Hebrew written since the Bible comes from this period. Sa'adya Gaon, Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Ibn Ezra (Moses and Abraham), Maimonides, Yehuda Halevi, Yehudah al-Harizi, Samuel ha-Nagid, and many more - all of these names, well known today, belong in the first rank of Jewish literary and cultural endeavour.
W here did these Jews produce all this? When did they and their neighbours achieve this symbiosis, this mode of living together? The Jews did it in a number of centres of excellence. The most outstanding of these was Islamic Spain, where there was a true Jewish Golden Age, alongside a wave of cultural achievement among the Muslim population. The Spanish case illustrates a more general pattern, too.
What happened in Islamic Spain - waves of Jewish cultural prosperity paralleling waves of cultural prosperity among the Muslims - exemplifies a larger pattern in Arab Islam. In Baghdad, between the ninth and the twelfth centuries; in Qayrawan (in north Africa), between the ninth and the 11th centuries; in Cairo, between the 10th and the 12th centuries, and elsewhere, the rise and fall of cultural centres of Islam tended to be reflected in the rise and fall of Jewish cultural activity in the same places.
This was not coincidence, and nor was it the product of particularly enlightened liberal patronage by Muslim rulers. It was the product of a number of deeper features of these societies, social and cultural, legal and economic, linguistic and political, which together enabled and indeed encouraged the Jews of the Islamic world to create a novel sub-culture within the high civilisation of the time.
This did not last for ever; the period of culturally successful symbiosis between Jew and Arab Muslim in the middle ages came to a close by about 1300. In reality, it had reached this point even earlier, with the overall relative decline in the importance and vitality of Arabic culture, both in relation to western European cultures and in relation to other cultural forms within Islam itself; Persian and Turkish.
Jewish cultural prosperity in the middle ages operated in large part as a function of Muslim, Arabic cultural (and to some degree political) prosperity: when Muslim Arabic culture thrived, so did that of the Jews; when Muslim Arabic culture declined, so did that of the Jews.
In the case of the Jews, however, the cultural capital thus created also served as the seed-bed of further growth elsewhere - in Christian Spain and in the Christian world more generally.
The Islamic world was not the only source of inspiration for the Jewish cultural revival that came later in Christian Europe, but it certainly was a major contributor to that development. Its significance cannot be overestimated.