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Double Diaspora in Sephardic Literature 1200-1600


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Slides from a work in progress talk given at the Oregon Humanities Center (8 April 2011)

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Double Diaspora in Sephardic Literature 1200-1600

  1. 1. Double Diaspora in Sephardic Literature 1200-1600 David Wacks Ernest Moll Fellow in Literary Studies Oregon Humanitites Center 8 April 2011
  2. 2. Overview <ul><li>What is Sephardic Literature and who cares? </li></ul><ul><li>What is ‘Double Diaspora’? </li></ul><ul><li>Diaspora theory and Jewish doctrine of galut </li></ul><ul><li>Case studies </li></ul>
  3. 3. What is Sephardic Literature? <ul><li>What is Sepharad? </li></ul><ul><li>Who is is Sephardic? </li></ul><ul><li>What did they write? </li></ul>
  4. 4. What is Sepharad? Image: Accessed 10 march 2011.
  5. 5. Sefarad in the Tanakh (OT) <ul><li>Ovadiah 1:20 (KJV): </li></ul><ul><li>“ And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel shall possess that of the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath; and the captivity of Jerusalem, which is in Sepharad , shall possess the cities of the south” </li></ul>
  6. 6. Hispania (Roman) = Sefarad Vicens Vives, Jaime. Atlas de historia de España. Barcelona: Teide, 1973.
  7. 7. Hispania (Visigothic) = Sefarad Vicens Vives, Jaime. Atlas de historia de España. Barcelona: Teide, 1973.
  8. 8. al-Andalus = Sefarad
  9. 9. Castilla y León = Sefarad
  10. 10. 1492: Sephardic diaspora
  11. 11. Why a focus on Sephardic writers? <ul><li>Marginal to Judaic Studies </li></ul><ul><li>Marginal to Hispanic Studies </li></ul><ul><li>Complement popular image of Jewish culture </li></ul><ul><li>Complement popular image of Hispanic culture </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Judaica Exotica’ </li></ul>
  12. 12. What is Sephardic literature? <ul><li>Mostly rabbinical </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Biblical commentaries </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ethical treatises </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Responsa (legal briefs) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>‘ Literary’ texts </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Novellas, romances </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Poetry </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>histories </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Popular novels </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. What is Double Diaspora? <ul><ul><li>What is Diaspora? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What is Galut ? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What is ‘Double Diaspora’? </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Diaspora <ul><li>Greek diasporein : scattered, like seeds </li></ul><ul><li>Population dispersed from original homeland </li></ul><ul><li>Originally applied to Jewish history </li></ul><ul><li>Armenian, Indian, Chinese, African, etc </li></ul>
  15. 15. Galut and Ge’ulah <ul><li>Hebrew “exile” </li></ul><ul><li>Ge’ulah = redemption </li></ul><ul><li>Statelessness </li></ul><ul><li>Chosenness, destiny, relationship to God </li></ul><ul><li>Prophetic </li></ul><ul><li>Suffering, oppression, passivity </li></ul>
  16. 16. Traditional voices of galut : al-Andalus <ul><li>“ How, indeed, can an idea be expressed in fair words by those who have wandered, after the glory of the kingdom has departed; who have long suffered afflictions and calamities, and see their flags in the land no more ? We, indeed, who are of the remnant of the captive Israelites, servants of my lord the King, are dwelling peacefully in the land of our sojourning, for our God has not forsaken us , nor has His shadow departed from us.” </li></ul><ul><li>Hasdai ibn Shaprut (10 th c. Spain), Letter to the King of the Khazars </li></ul>
  17. 17. Traditional voices of galut <ul><li>&quot; God has made us unique by His laws and precepts, and our pre-eminence is manifested in His rules and statutes…. Therefore all the nations instigated by envy and impiety rose up against us …. They wanted to thwart God, but He cannot be thwarted. Ever since the time of the Revelation, every despot or slave that has attained to power, be he violent or ignoble, has made it his first aim and his final purpose to destroy our law, and to vitiate our religion, by means of the sword, by violence, or by brute force…. may their bones be ground to dust, and others like them.” </li></ul><ul><li>Maimonides (al-Andalus/Egypt, 12 th century), Epistle to the Jews of Yemen </li></ul>
  18. 18. Galut = suffering <ul><li>&quot;the Jew, who on his part never conceded his inferiority, felt that humiliation by unfriendly Gentiles was part of that complex of sufferings going under the name 'Exile' [galut]&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>Salo Baron, A Social and Religoius History of the Jews (1957, 3: 171) </li></ul>
  19. 19. Galut and Jewish History <ul><li>“ the chronicle of powerless, passive endurance , the history of all the factors whose sum total made up the Galut, the Exile.” </li></ul><ul><li>But also </li></ul><ul><li>“ the record of Israel's enduring chosenness , its continuous search for the will of God, and its ceaseless reassertion of the special relationship between it and its Father in Heaven” </li></ul><ul><li>Raphael Patai, The Jewish Mind (1997: 35-36) </li></ul>
  20. 20. What’s wrong with this picture? <ul><li>Minimizes realities of diasporic experience : </li></ul><ul><li>“ [the] approach that equates the Jewish diaspora with galut privileges the idea of longing for an ancient and semi-mythic homeland over more concrete ties developed to the lands of more recent residence ” </li></ul><ul><li>--Jonathan Ray, 2008 </li></ul>
  21. 21. What’s wrong with this picture? <ul><li>“This mindset has obscured the fact that Jews can experience diaspora in much the same way as other societies , as a translational chain of minority communities linked by both a common heritage and a common experience of statelessness” </li></ul><ul><li>--Jonathan Ray (2008) </li></ul>
  22. 22. From Spain, more reassessment <ul><li>“ [Hebrew literature from Christian Spain] tends to be understood with an internal perspective as yet another stage of the evolution of Hebrew literature, rather than from a true understanding of this literary creation in the context of the wider culture where it took place&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>--(Spanish Hebraist) Ángel Sáenz-Badillos (2001) </li></ul>
  23. 23. What does diaspora theory offer? <ul><li>Critical perspective </li></ul><ul><li>Focus on historical specificity </li></ul><ul><li>Diaspora as a dynamic system </li></ul><ul><li>Diaspora as a multi-segmented system or network </li></ul><ul><li>Self-referential, self-critical body of criticism </li></ul>
  24. 24. Snapshots from diaspora theory <ul><li>How can these ideas be used as a corrective to the galut mindset? </li></ul>
  25. 25. Diaspora is transnational <ul><li>&quot;Diasporic cultural forms can never, in practice, be exclusively nationalist. They are deployed in transnational networks built from multiple attachments, and they encode practices of accomodation with, as well as resistance to, host countries and their norms” </li></ul><ul><li>--James Clifford (1994) </li></ul>
  26. 26. Diasporic culture is emergent <ul><li>“ [Jewish] migration was largely from one in-between place to another and not from Palestine to a new land…. Many Jews looked upon these enclaves as their homeland rather than to the Israel of the Book of Exodus. Their own diasporic episteme was located squarely in the realm of the hybrid , that is, in the domain of cross-cultural and contaminated social and cultural regimes” </li></ul><ul><li>-- Vijay Mishra (2007) </li></ul>
  27. 27. Diasporic subjectivity is complex <ul><li>“ this indispensable humanist intervention has used the figure of diaspora to investigate structures of identity and subjectivity . . . [and] to illuminate the complexity of identity in diasporic texts and individuals” </li></ul><ul><li>-- Khachig Tölölyan (1996) </li></ul>
  28. 28. Why Double Diaspora? <ul><li>Corrective to galut thinking </li></ul><ul><li>Response to 1492-ism </li></ul><ul><li>Dialogue with scholars working on other diasporic moments </li></ul>
  29. 29. 1492-ism <ul><li>Disciplinary division split by 1492 </li></ul><ul><li>Sephardic studies dominated by modern historians (Ottoman) </li></ul><ul><li>Sephardic literary studies dominated by modernists (Francophone, Latin American) </li></ul><ul><li>Medieval texts rarely discussed with post-expulsion texts </li></ul>
  30. 30. Case studies <ul><li>Jacob ben Elazar (Toledo, ca 1220) - tales </li></ul><ul><li>Todros Abulafia (Toledo, ca 1260) – poems </li></ul><ul><li>Solomon ibn Verga (Adrianopolis, ca 1520) </li></ul><ul><li>Isaac Algabe (Constantinople, ca 1550) </li></ul>
  31. 31. Case studies: what unites them? <ul><li>Engagement with the ‘hostland’ culture (i.e. vernacular romance) </li></ul><ul><li>Use of diasporic classical literary language (Hebrew) </li></ul><ul><li>Obscurity in Jewish tradition </li></ul><ul><li>Clear affiliation with romance vernacular tradition </li></ul>
  32. 32. Case: Jacob ben Elazar’s Love stories <ul><li>Toledo ca 1220 (conquered 1085) </li></ul><ul><li>“ Sahar and Kima” (Romance) </li></ul><ul><li>Rare text, virtually unknown </li></ul><ul><li>Almost completely unknown in Spain </li></ul><ul><li>Modern edition difficult to find </li></ul>
  33. 33. Ben Elazar’s “Sahar and Kima” <ul><li>French romance in Hebrew clothing </li></ul><ul><li>Adaptation of conventions of Romance </li></ul><ul><li>“ Diasporization” of values of Romance </li></ul>
  34. 34. Courtly Romance? <ul><li>“ and he laid eyes upon her, and was struck with her beauty. He bowed and kissed her hand as is the habit of all gallants with their beloveds, and they kissed from afar, as is the custom among true lovers.” </li></ul>
  35. 35. Sahar and Kima: Romance (genre) motifs <ul><li>Kisses hand of beloved </li></ul><ul><li>Lady speaks on the value of chaste love </li></ul><ul><li>Code of love: ‘laws and customs of true lovers’ </li></ul><ul><li>Prefigures castilian Romances by some 100 years </li></ul>
  36. 36. Sahar and Kima: disaporic romance <ul><li>Chivalric Romance: Feats of arms </li></ul><ul><li>Sephardic Romance: Feats of rhetoric </li></ul><ul><li>Jewish social realities and poetic conventions </li></ul><ul><li>Clerk vs. Knight dichotomy obviated </li></ul><ul><li>Diasporic turn: rhetoric not arms </li></ul>
  37. 37. Case: Solomon ibn Verga (ca. 1520) <ul><li>Spain-Portugal-Naples-Turkey </li></ul><ul><li>MS ca 1520, 1 st ed. Adrianopolis, 1550 </li></ul><ul><li>Histories of persecutions and expulsions </li></ul><ul><li>Alternates Rome/Middle Ages </li></ul><ul><li>“ Jewish Humanism” </li></ul><ul><li>Classical persecutions as models for modern ones </li></ul>
  38. 38. Shevet Yehudah = The Rod (or Tribe) of Judah <ul><li>Hebrew text peppered with Castilian words </li></ul><ul><li>Ambivalent relationship with Sefarad </li></ul><ul><li>Attachment: use of languages and sources </li></ul><ul><li>Alienation/Attachement </li></ul><ul><li>Characteristic of “tension” and “dynamism” chez diaspora theoreticians </li></ul>
  39. 39. Jewish Humanist History <ul><li>“ Humanistic subordination of history to ars oratoria ” (Robert Tate 1970) </li></ul><ul><li>Persecutions of Rome as model for current persecutions </li></ul><ul><li>Great acts of oratory/rhetoric/kabbalah </li></ul>
  40. 40. Refutation of blood libel accusation in Jeréz <ul><li>“ Rabbi Yehuda pronounced the Holy Name, for he was also a cabbalist . The Duke took out the parchment and found a drawing of four groups of friars: on one side were three friars digging up gentile graves and taking out a body; on the second square were three friars carrying the body and, because it was heavy, one of them had wrapped his belt, called cordón de fraile , around it… </li></ul>
  41. 41. Refutation of blood libel accusation <ul><li>“ When the Duke saw this marvel, he was astonished, fell on his face bending his knee, and sent the parchment with the pictures to the King. Right away the Duke sent for the friars, who denied the deed; he then took out the parchment, wherepon they confessed to him, astounded. The Duke asked them about the business with the cordón and they said it had happened thus” (ch. 38) </li></ul>
  42. 42. Feats of Kabbalism <ul><li>“ I have heard that in Sefarad some people spread the accusation that they had found a dead boy in the house of a Jew. . . . Don Solomon Halevi, who was a sage and a kabbalist, put the One True Name under the tongue of the boy, and the boy awoke and told us who had murdered him. I have not seen this written, but that was how I heard it” (chap. 61) </li></ul>
  43. 43. Christians in defense of Jews <ul><li>Attributed to Johannes Versoris </li></ul><ul><li>Rector of University of Paris 1458 </li></ul><ul><li>In discussion with Alfonso V “el magnanim” of Aragon </li></ul><ul><li>Ibn Verga: “I translated it from the Latin” </li></ul><ul><li>Source unknown to modern editors </li></ul>
  44. 44. Christians in defense of Jews <ul><li>“ What good will it do our Lord, our King, when we spill holy water upon the Jews and call them by our names, Pedro or Pablo? They continue to observe their Law like Aqiva and Tarfon. Fear not, their conversion will only serve to let them grow haughty against true Christians, for they now pass for Christian; they no longer give the royal taxes they used to when they were Jews. Understand, our Lord, and do not doubt, that Judaism is one of the sicknesses for which there is no cure” (chap. 64) </li></ul>
  45. 45. The Double Diasporic turn <ul><li>Tension between Sephardic and Zionic imaginaries </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Use of Spanish vernacular as prestige marker </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Use of Hebrew as prestige literary language </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Adapting Humanist historiography for diasporic history </li></ul><ul><li>Turning toward Spain as the new Rome </li></ul><ul><li>Celebrating Spanish culture while suffering persecution by its Empire </li></ul>