A Treasury of Jewish Letters: Letters from the Famous and the Humble - Vol. 1

By Franz Kobler | Go to book overview
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29 Judah ibn Tibbon's Letter of Admonition to his Son

JUDAH, son of Saul ibn Tibbon, was born about 1120 in Granada, but the persecutions of the fanatical sect of the Almohades forced him to leave Spain and to settle in the Provençal city of Lunel. Here, while active as a physician, he gained fame as one of the outstanding Hebrew scholars of his time. Besides producing various original works, he translated several epochmaking books, such as Saadia's 'Emunot ye-Deot', Judah Halevi's 'Cusari' and the poems of Solomon ibn Gabirol from the Arabic into Hebrew, and for these activities became known as 'Father of Translators'. He was a great stylist and calligrapher, and an enthusiastic collector of precious books, in fact, a precursor of the type which later was called humanist.

Judah's character is clearly revealed in the 'Ethical Will' which he addressed to his son Samuel. In this celebrated Letter of Admonition Judah's rich experiences, his own spiritual ardour and erudition, his moral zeal and his passion for education found ample expression. The sharp reproaches of the father to his son and the many autobiographical details inserted into the admonitions add a piquant personal note to the letter and heighten the interest of the reader.

The following reproduction of the letter is somewhat shortened; the poetical version of the admonitions, composed by Judah ibn Tibbon himself, has been entirely omitted.


JUDAH IBN TIBBON TO HIS SON SAMUEL

'All the honour I ask of thee is to attain a higher degree in the pursuit of wisdom, to excel in right conduct and exemplary character, to behave in friendly spirit to all and to gain a good name, that greatest of crowns'

[Lunel, second half of the 12th century]

In the name of God, whose mention be exalted and praised for ever!...

My son, listen to my precepts,1 neglect none of my injunctions. Set my admonition before thine eyes, thus shalt thou prosper and prolong thy days in pleasantness....

-156-

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