Biblical scholars study his Torah commentaries, poets read his verse, grammarians look to his linguistic work and a lunar crater is named in his honor. Meet Rabbi Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra.

As was common at the time, Ibn Ezra was a scholar of diverse interests who produced numerous works on mathematics and astronomy, and discovered a lunar crater (later named Abenezra). Ibn Ezra was also a renowned poet who followed the Arabic (and Sephardic) tradition of writing both religious and “romantic” (about love, friendship, wine, etc.) poetry. Ibn Ezra’s poetry was written in Hebrew, a language to which he dedicated a great deal of his scholarship. In addition to translating and writing several works on Hebrew Grammar, Ibn Ezra used grammar as the basis for his biblical commentary. His commentaries, which are included in most Mikraot Gedolot (bibles containing multiple commentaries), deliberately avoid explanations based on Midrash (legend) and focus on the direct meaning of the words/grammar.

A fascinating personality, Ibn Ezra also faced many difficulties in life. Born in 1089 in religiously tolerant Muslim-ruled Toledo, Spain, Ibn Ezra lost at least three children in infancy and his wife passed away at a young age. When the Almohads, a fanatical North African Muslim sect, conquered Iberia, Ibn Ezra and his remaining family became perpetual wanderers. His presence is noted in North Africa, Egypt, Israel, Italy, Southern France, Northern France and even England. Somewhere during their travels, his son Isaac converted to Islam, the ultimate tragedy of Ibn Ezra’s life. Ibn Ezra never succeeded in business and viewed himself as a man of ill fortune. In one poem he even wrote of himself: “if I were to sell candles, the sun would never set; if I should deal in shrouds, no one would ever die.”

The Yahrtzeit of Abraham Ibn Ezra is Rosh Chodesh Adar (1164).

(Read a translation of Ibn Ezra’s poems.)

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