970 AD to 990 AD, Psalm 96: Sing a new song

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hebrew alphabet texture background - high resolutionThis generation is that of the 970s and the 980s.

In Andalus, in 976 Al Hakam II dies after 15 years of reign, designating like successor his still young son Hisham II. This succession is illusory and will cause the fall of the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba.
In the West, the empire created by Otto I asserts itself and consolidates itself. In this new empire, many Jewish communities are taking off.
As the Abbasid empire continues to fall apart, the Fatimids are trying to take advantage of it by continuing their expansion eastward.
Apart from a few unfortunate interludes (especially during the reign of al Hakim from 996 to 1021 which persecutes Jews and Christians, and which will eventually be hated by the Muslims themselves), the Fatimid power is favorable to the Jews:
  • The marginal position [1] of Ismailism in the Muslim community is undoubtedly one of the reasons for its tolerance of the dhimmis according to the rule that the minority communities in power are, in general, well disposed to minorities.

1024px-Cairo_-_Coptic_area_-_Ben_Ezra_Synagogue annoteThe conquest is accompanied by a reform favorable to minorities:

  • The army [2] arrived in Egypt in June 969. Ghawar issued a proclamation promising financial reforms, the end of abuses and ensuring respect for the religious freedom of Egyptians, Sunni Muslims as well as minority Christians and Jews (dhimmi).
The highlight of this generation is the Jewish cultural revival, in the secular and religious domains, and first of all in Spain:
  • Historians [3] of Hebrew literature often use such terms as “new thrust”, “from one day to another”, “ex nihilo”, “revolutionary act”, etc. “In Spain […] by a unique miracle, has flourished on the stage of history […] a certain virgin Judaism […] who lived until then totally isolated or almost and suddenly began to immerse himself […] […] ] Jewish and Arab cultural bases “. Men of the golden age themselves considered the beginnings of poetry as a great renewal. Abraham ibn Dawud, a Jewish chronicler of the twelfth century, states in his “Book of the Cabal”: “From the time of Hasdai Ha-Nassi, they begin to whistle and in the time of Shlomo ha-Naguid they sing aloud”; Moshe ibn Ezra (1055-1140), in his classic book on poetics, says in the chapter of the poetry of the Golden Age: “In these times, spirits come out of their torpor.”
The efforts of Hasdai ibn Shaprut to promote the revival of Judaism are beginning to bear fruit. Thus, the poets he protects reinvigorate the sacred language:
  • Stimulated [4] by the example of his two masters Abdul Rahman and Al Hakim, Hasdai protected Jewish scholars and poets, and it is to him mainly that the merit of having implanted the Jewish civilization in Spain. Among the men of talent whom he called to him, the most remarkable were undoubtedly Menahem ben Saruk and Dounasch ben Labrat. Both have deepened the study of the Hebrew language and greatly enriched and ennobled that language. In this way they have gone far beyond their predecessors, especially the Caraitian grammarians and even Saadia.
  • Dounasch ben Labrat gave the holy tongue a harmony and a symmetry she did not know before. He introduced into Hebrew the meter, the stanza, and a wealth of assonances that no one had ever suspected before him. Saadia blamed him for what he called an unheard-of innovation and blamed him for doing violence to the language.
  • At the same time as the form, the background of Hebrew poetry also undergoes profound changes. Until then, Hebrew poetry had remained purely synagogical, it had the contrite penitential paces, without ever being cheered up by a smile. Even when she rose to the hymn, she remained austere, unequal and prolix. Kaliri was his model. In didactic and polemical writings, she descended to a vulgar flatness, as in the works of Salmon ben Yeroham, Abu Ali Yephet, Ben-Acher and Sabbataï Donnolo. Hasdai provides poetry with the opportunity to vary its themes. His imposing exterior, his elevated position, his talents, his generosity inflamed the imagination of poets. By celebrating it in verses of high lyricism, they rejuvenated the Hebrew language, which seemed already dead, and gave it vigor and harmony. While imitating the Arabs, as they themselves admitted, Dounasch and the other Hispano-Jewish poets did not follow their models slavishly, they did not impose on the Hebrew language meters which could only ‘Arab. But they always took into account in their works the special nature of Hebrew. They impressed on the new poetry a lively, rapid, bouncy pace. In Hasdai’s time, however, this poetry was a little stiff; as a critic would later say, the singers still only heard a vague and uncertain twittering. Poets’ favorite themes were then panegyrics and satires, but they also cultivated liturgical poetry.
Dounasch ben Labrat really initiates the revival of Hebrew poetry in Spain:
  • There is [5] no doubt that thanks to Donash […] she has come out (the Hebrew poetry) of an isolation of nearly a thousand years.
This renewal initiated by Hasdai ibn Shaprut continues after his death:
  • While [6] Jewish civilization was gradually declining in the East and was gradually falling into decadence, it flourished vigorously on the banks of Guadiana and Guadalquivir. In the Andalusian communities, the various branches of human knowledge were cultivated with fruitful activity; teachers and pupils competed with zeal and ardor. These magnificent results were certainly due to the liberality of Hasdai, the teaching of Moses ben Hanok and the works of Ben Saruk and Ben Labrat. The seed had been good and abundant, the harvest was brilliant. In Andalusia, among the Jews as well as among the Muslims, scientists and, in general, cultivated minds were honored and appointed to the highest dignities. Like the illustrious Abdul Rahman, Christian and Muslim princes in Spain called Jewish counselors and ministers to their court. They were forgiving their situation by their goodness and generosity, and, like Hasdai, they encouraged and protected science and poetry. The most cordial relations reigned between Muslims and Jews, who often wrote Arabic with elegance and purity. Talmudists, like in some countries, did not see hostility to other scholars. Exegetes, Talmudists, philosophers, poets, lived among themselves in perfect harmony and knew how to esteem and respect each other.
This renewal engenders generations of Jewish poets in Spain who will definitively mark Jewish culture by enriching its heritage and renewing it until the liturgy.
It is this cultural renaissance that the beginning of the psalm of this generation evokes:

(extract of the psalm 96 associated to this generation, verse 1 )

  • Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, all the earth.

While the Sephardic Jews (traditionally the Jews of Spain and subsequently the Jews of the East who are considered their successors after the expulsion from Spain) are being built on the spiritual plane, the Ashkenazi Jews (traditionally Jews from Germany and thereafter all Jews from the West until the Second World War) also emerge spiritually. This is thanks to a man [7] trained at the academy of Poumbédita, born in Metz who is part of his journey to Byzantium but who, following court intrigues, exile to Mainz: Rabbi Guershom Ben Yehuda said “Meor Ha-Golah” which means “The light of exile”.


Mainz depends on the new German empire, which at that time was favorable to the Jews. The emigration of Rabbenu Guershom to Mainz unleashes the birth of a European Judaism in the following generations:
  • Later  [8] generations described Rabbenu Guershom as the “light of exile”. His liturgical poetry was among the prayers of all German Jewish communities. This Talmudist and poet would mark by his work a stage in the cultural development of the Ashkenazi Jews.
  • While the Jews of Muslim Spain wrote sophisticated and profound works of linguistics and philosophy, songs of love, songs to drink, odes to God and Zion, while they enjoyed the sun and scents from their country in the South, Ashkenazi Jews took the first steps towards talmudic literature and biblical commentaries, sermons, kabbalistic treatises, sad and exalted religious poetry, codes of laws, and pietistic mysticism.
It is this emergence of a new Judaism both in the East and in the West, within the nations, that the following of the psalm of this generation describes:

(extract of the psalm 96 associated to this generation, verses 2 to 5 )

  • Sing to the Lord, bless His name, announce His salvation from day to day.
  • Tell of His glory among the nations, among all peoples His wonders.
  • For the Lord is great and very much praised; He is feared over all divine powers.
  • For all the gods of the peoples are nought, but the Lord made the heavens.
While throughout the medieval world, Judaism takes a new rise, the last pagan peoples of Europe convert to Christianity.
Vasnetsov_Bapt_VladimirThus the new Russian empire, eventually adopts the religion of Byzantium. Basil II (958-1025), before the Russian threat at the gates of Constantinople, finally agreed to give his sister Anna in union with Vladimir. The Russian prince is radically transformed at the end of this union:
  • In tears [9], Anna, aged twenty-five, accepted the inevitable and embarked reluctantly on the boat that was to take her to Kherson where her promise was awaiting her. Vladimir was to marry him, and the colony (of Kherson) was immediately returned to Basile as a traditional gift from the groom. Just before celebrating the wedding, the bishop of Kherson baptized (in 988) the Prince of Kiev during the most decisive religious ceremony in Russian history.
  • The conversion of Vladimir marked the entry of Russia into the fold of Christianity. After their marriage, he and his wife were escorted to Kiev by the clergy of Kherson, who immediately undertook his mission of proselytism, converting mass cities and villages. The new Russian church was therefore subordinate to the Patriarchate of Constantinople from the beginning, and there is some reason to hope that poor Anna found her new life a little less intolerable than she had feared: her husband, after his baptism was another man. He dismissed his previous wives (four in number) and his concubines (eight hundred) too. From then on, he spent his time supervising conversions, assuming the role of godfather in baptisms, and building churches and monasteries wherever he went. The saints can never be easy husbands, and St. Vladimir of Kiev was probably no exception, but the young woman, who was expecting to share the bed of an ogre, must have been relieved.
It is to this new advance of the celebration of God through monotheistic religions that are Christianity and Islam, which the following of the psalm of this generation evokes:

(extract of the psalm 96 associated to this generation, verses 6 to 9 )

  • Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
  • Ascribe to the Lord, [you] families of peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and might.
  • Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; carry an offering and come to His courtyards.
  • Prostrate yourselves to the Lord in the majestic sanctuary; quake before Him, all the earth.
Thus the generation of the third guard of the night is being prepared from generation to generation. A world, with a varied and renewed Judaism within a world that shares the monotheism of Judaism even if it associates its own prophets with various divine degrees.
This faith is not enough, however, nations must not be content to recognize the work of God but must apply justice and equity. As pagan peoples, he could have some excuses, recognizing divine majesty, this is no longer the case.
This is what the continuation of the psalm expresses:

(extract of the psalm 96 associated to this generation, verses 10 to 13 )

  • Say among the nations, « The Lord has reigned. » Also the inhabited world will be established so that it will not falter; He will judge peoples with equity.
  • The heavens will rejoice and the earth will exult; the sea and the fullness thereof will roar.
  • The field and all that is therein will jubilate; then all the forest trees will sing praises.
  • Before the Lord, for He has come, for He has come to judge the earth; He will judge the inhabited world justly and the peoples with His faith.


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[1] André Raymond: “Cairo”. Chapter: “Cairo, Fatimid City” (French: « Le Caire ». Chapitre : « Le Caire, ville fatimide » (p.51) )

[2] André Raymond: “Cairo”. Chapter: “Cairo, Fatimid City” (French: « Le Caire ». Chapitre : « Le Caire, ville fatimide » (p.43) )

[3] (Under the direction of Ron Barkaï): “Christians, Muslims and Jews in medieval Spain”. Tova Moqed-Rosen: “Spanish Jewish poetry”. The author inscribes a quote from E. Fleischer. (French: « Chrétiens, musulmans et juifs dans l’Espagne médiévale ». « La poésie juive espagnole ». (p. 106). L’auteur inscrit une citation d’E. Fleischer ).

[4] Henri Graetz: “HISTORY OF THE JEWS / THIRD PERIOD – DISPERSION”. Second epoch – Science and Jewish poetry at their peak. Chapter 1 – Saadia, Hasdai and their contemporaries (928-970). (French: « HISTOIRE DES JUIFS / TROISIÈME PÉRIODE — LA DISPERSION ». Deuxième époque — La science et la poésie juive à leur apogée. Chapitre premier — Saadia, Hasdaï et leurs contemporains (928-970) ).

[5] (Under the direction of Ron Barkaï): “Christians, Muslims and Jews in medieval Spain”. Tova Moqed-Rosen: “Spanish Jewish poetry”. The author makes a quote from H. Shirmann. (French: « Chrétiens, musulmans et juifs dans l’Espagne médiévale ». Tova Moqed-Rosen : « La poésie juive espagnole ». (p. 106). L’auteur fait une citation de H. Shirmann. ).

[6] Henri Graetz: “HISTORY OF THE JEWS / THIRD PERIOD – DISPERSION”. Second epoch – Science and Jewish poetry at their peak. Chapter II – End of gaonat in Babylonia, dawn of Jewish civilization in Spain (970-1070). (French: « HISTOIRE DES JUIFS / TROISIÈME PÉRIODE — LA DISPERSION ». Deuxième époque — La science et la poésie juive à leur apogée. Chapitre II – Fin du gaonat en Babylonie, aurore de la civilisation juive en Espagne (970-1070) ).

[7] According to: www.hebraica.org  (“Chronicles / 10th century”, French: « Chroniques / Xe siècle » ).

[8] Chaim Potok: “A story of the Jewish people”. Chapter: “Christianity: Lost in the Enchanted Country”. (French: « Une histoire du peuple Juif ». Chapitre : « Le Christianisme : perdus dans le pays enchanté ». (p. 474) ).

[9] John Julius Norwich: “History of Byzantium”. Chapter: “The climax”. (French: « Histoire de Byzance ». Chapitre : « L’apogée ». (p. 245) ).