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  • Daniel Santacruz

Sefardic scholars ‘live’ on street signs of Jerusalem neighborhood

Text and photos by Daniel Santacruz

The Rechavia neighborhood of Jerusalem, established in 1921, is the only one in the city that has streets named after Sefardic poets, rabbis and scholars, most of them from the Golden Era of Spain.

Yehuda Halevy, born in the northern Spanish city of Tudela and author of The Kuzari and some 800 poems, had a street named after him too, but in 1933 its name was changed to Ussishkin Street in a controversial move.

Following is a gallery of pictures of the 14 street signs with a short biography of each of the scholars.

Mitudela Street

Named after the famous traveler, who was born in Tudela, in 1130. Little is know about his life before he set on a trip that took him all over the known world and that lasted many years. 

A result of that journey was his book The Travels of Benjamin, which chronicles his experiences through Europe, Asia and  North Africa, and offers a glimpse of life in several Jewish communities. The book has been translated into several languages. It is not known when he left Spain, but came back in 1172 or 1173 via Sicily.

Ha-Ari Street

Named after Rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi, known as Ha-Ari. (“The Lion”). Born in Jerusalem's Old City in 1534 of an Ashkenazi father and a Sefardic mother, he is the creator of the Lurianic Kabbalah.

His customs and style of prayer, and that of his circle of Sefardic rabbis in the city of Safed, is known as Nusach Sefard, which has been adopted by some Hasidic Jews. A variation of that nusach is called Nusach Ari. 

Although his connections to Spain are apparently non-existent, the city of Jerusalem considered him influential enough among Sefardim and Oriental, or Mizrahi, Jews to honor him with a street. 

Samuel Hanagid Street

Named after Samuel Hanagid, known also as Samuel ibn Nagrela. Born in Cordova, Spain, in 993, he died in Granada in 1055.

He served as visir of Granada, where he established a synagogue, and wrote religious poetry and commentaries on the Talmud.

Dunash ben Labrat Street

Named after the grammarian and poet, believed to have been born in Fez, Morocco, in 920. He worked as a rabbi in Cordoba, where he possibly died. 

His attacks against a Hebrew grammarian born in Spain, Menahem ben Saruk, make fascinating reading, if one is into the fine points of the grammar of the Holy Tongue. 

Along with the latter and Joseph and David Kimchi, ben Labrat is considered one of the founders of Hebrew linguistics and the father of Spanish-Hebrew verse. He is the author of the liturgical hymn "Dror Yikra." 

Rashba Street

Rashba is the acronym of Rabbi Shlomo ben Adret.

Born in Barcelona in 1235, he was a banker and a rabbi, and author of several commentaries on the Kabala as well as responsa. He was a pupil of rabbis Moses ben Naḥman Girondi, known also as Ramban, and Yona, both born in Gerona, Catalonia. He served as rabbi of Barcelona for more than four decades.

Ramban Street

Named after Ramban, the acronym of Rabbi Moses ben Naḥman Girondi. Born in Girona in 1194, he was a physician, philosopher and kabalist. He was also known as Nachmanides and Bonastruc ca Porta.

He participated in the Barcelona Disputation in 1263, a theological debate between representatives of Christianity and Judaism regarding the divinity of Jesus.

Four years later, at the age of 72, he left Spain and settled in Jerusalem's Old City, where he established a synagogue that still exists. Ramban Street is located next to that of another Catalonian rabbi, Rashba.

Ibn Gevirol Street

Named after Salomon Ibn Gevirol, or Gabirol, who was born in Malaga, possibly in 1021 or 1022. Author of a philosophical work, Fons Vitae (The Fountain of Life), and author of several poems, both in Hebrew and Arabic. The well-known liturgical song “Adon Olam” has been attributed to him. Known also as Avicebron.

Abarvanel Street

Named after Isaac Abarvanel, or Abravanel, who was born in Lisbon in 1437. He served as adviser and financier to kings in Spain, Portugal and Naples, and wrote several Biblical commentaries. The Abarvanel family originated in Seville, Spain, where Isaac's father, Don Judah, was born in 1310 and was the financier of Prince Fernando, son of Joao I, king of Portugal. Isaac Abarvanel's grandfather, Don Samuel, served three Castilian kings. The Abarvanels claimed descent from the biblical King David. Isaac Abarvanel died in Venice, but the date of his death is a matter of controversy among scholars. Some believed it was in November 1508, others January 1509.

Alfasi Street

Named after Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi ha-Cohen, who was born in Al Qal’a, Algeria, in 1013. He spent most of his life in Fez, Morocco (hence his name), but in 1089 was forced to move to Lucena, in southern Spain, where he established a yeshiva.

Author of several books on Jewish law. Some of his pupils were Ibn Gabirol and Yehuda Halevi.

Ibn Ezra Street

Named after Abraham Ibn Ezra, Biblical commentator, philosopher, poet and grammarian, who was born in Tudela in 1089. He lived in poverty most of his life.

His commentaries appear in several editions of the Pentateuch, next to those of Rashi and Ramban. Ironically, the street is also located next to Ramban's.

Radak Street

Radak is the acronym of Rabbi David Kimchi, biblical commentator, grammarian and philosopher, born in Provence, southern France, in 1160, where he died 75 years later.

Radak's grammar lexicon, Sefer Michlol, is considered a classic, although it had its detractors. His father, Joseph, born in Spain, and his brother Moshe were also grammarians. Along with Dunash ben Labrat, the former is considered one of the founders of Hebrew linguistics.

Ibn Shaprut Street

Named after Hasdai ben Isaac Shaprut. Born in 915 in Jaen, in the province of Andalucia, in southern Spain, he was a physician, a botanist and a diplomat. He's called Jaen's "favorite son."

He was minister of Abderrahman III in Cordoba, where he died.

With great fanfare, a sculpture of him was inaugurated in the city’s Plaza Rostro in 2016, in the heart of the judería. It is the fourth that a Spanish city has erected in a public space to honor a medieval Jewish scholar.

Ben-Maimon Harambam Street

Named after the biblical commentator, physician and astronomer, known also as Maimonides. Born in 1135 in Cordoba, Spain, he died in Egypt 69 years later. He is also the author of several medical treatises.

The street sign is the only of the ones mentioned here that includes his name and acronym, and that is "sponsored" by a realtor that caters to English speakers. The street is equal in length to Ramban's, four blocks long, and features benches and shady trees. 

Yehuda Al-Harizi Street

Named after Yehuda Al-Harizi, who was born in 1165, possibly in Toledo. His most famous work is Tahkemoni (The Wise One), a book of poetry.

Fluent in several languages, he wrote long poems in both Arabic and Hebrew, and translated and traveled extensively.

He translated three of Rambam's works, Moreh Nevuchim, Maamar T'chias HeMeisim and his commentary on the Mishna, from Arabic into Hebrew.

© Daniel Santacruz

May 2016

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