6 thoughts on “Medieval Spain: Arabs and Jews in Cultural Embrace – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم
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  1. The idyllic view of relations between Jews and Muslims generally fails to take into account that in medieval Muslim societies the Jews had a social and legal position that was far from being equal to that of Muslims. There never was a situation in which Jews and Muslims lived peacefully side by side on a basis of absolute equality. Also, at different places and in different periods of the history of Islam we obviously see a large variety of attitudes towards Jews and other non-Muslims ( and Muslims ) on the part of Muslim rulers. Some of these rulers were very tolerant, but it always was a tolerance that was a result of almost absolute superiority. Still, all this does not mean that we cannot learn from that period, or from each other. Some sort of ( separate? ) coexistence is still possible and should be our goal.

  2. You make a good point in yr. comment. But I hope you realize that I wasn’t making the claim that Jews enjoyed absolutely equality with Muslims in this period. I also was not saying the period was an idyll. While Jews & Muslims may not have lived “peacefully side by side in absolute equality,” they did live peacefully side by side & that’s something important that neither Israelis nor Pal. have learned to do.

    Plus, Muslims in this period & later were generally (note I did not say ‘absolutely’) more tolerant towards Jews than their Christian counterparts. I consider that a major distinction in the Muslims’ favor. There were probably as many problems bet. the religious groups in medieval Spain as there are in any society in which there are large religious minorities coexisting with another religious majority. My point was rather, despite such inequality Jews managed to play key roles within Spanish society, culture & the arts. They made major contributions to the society. That is the model I’d like to see within the contemporary ME.

  3. As an artist and musician focussed on the period being discussed here, I can tell you that as it is today – the CULTURAL leaders – that is to say the musicians, artists, and writers, et al produced their work via collaboration and mutual inspiration. You see the evidence of this in how the same melodies can be found in notated musical works of both peoples and the illuminated scripts, crafts, decorative works, etc. shared common methods and motifs. Artists then, as now, were focussed on their work and collaboration and influence was, as it is now, vital to doing the work. You can’t devote yourself to the type of accomplishment required in the profession if you’re going to spend much of your time in a religious debate. As well, artsits, musicians, et al have always been outcasts struggling to make a living and by profession, much more devoted to the making of something than political and religious debate and battle. Religious institutions were a source of work for artists AND musicians and composers. Beyond that, as it is now, most artists and musicians had other priorities. I imagine that during the 14th century, things weren’t THAT much different for semitic artists and musicians as they were in the early 20th century where in order to work for example as a musician, it wasn’t unheard of to disguise one’s self and pretend he was not a Jew or not a Muslim or not a gypsy in order to get a particular ‘gig’. Bands were comprised of a true mix of backgrounds as far as the musicians were concerned and the makers of culture were then as today and not by preference more concerned about survival than the nature of the God that their benefactor prayed to.

  4. the makers of culture were then as today and not by preference more concerned about survival than the nature of the God that their benefactor prayed to.

    Thanks for yr comment LjR.

    I do think we have to be careful when we study cultures outside our own. In doing so, we sometimes can project our own values and beliefs onto the subject we’re studying. I think you’ve done this in yr comment.

    There is no way one can minimize the critical nature of religion in the cultural and artistic phenomenon that is the Golden Age. The “nature of God” was a critical factor for both Jews and Muslims in everything they did including their art, music and literature. If you attempt to diminish the role of religion you make a mistake that does not help you understand what you are studying.

    I can hear in yr comment the tremendous respect you have for medieval Spanish culture. That’s certainly a wonderful thing. But we must try respect a culture more on ITS terms and less on our own.

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