The Famous Jews of Cordoba

ט״ז במרחשון ה׳תש״פ (November 14, 2019) The Famous Jews of Cordoba

From the diary of Rabbi Howard Morrison

Famous Jews of Cordoba
October 31, 2019

Today, we drove from Granada to Cordoba. Perhaps the three most famous Jews who lived in Cordoba were Chasdai ibn Shaprut, Yehuda Ha’Levi, and the Rambam, an acronym for Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, commonly called Maimonides.

Yehuda HaLevi is remembered in part for his poetry, much of which has entered the liturgy. One of his most famous poems is called, “Libi B’Mizrach – My heart is in the East.”

Before we entered the Jewish Quarter, we were given a tour of the Mezquita, once the great Mosque of Cordoba, now an impressive Christian Cathedral. In its best of times, Cordoba represented a triangular relationship of mutual respect and shared dialogue between the Christian, Moslem and Jewish faiths. Maimonides was known to spend time interacting in the Mezquita. Once a 40,000 library of diverse religious texts was held there.

Maimonides was respected by his neighboring faith groups. He wrote the Guide to the Perplexed, the Mishneh Torah – a codification of the Talmud, a commentary on the Mishnah, a list of thirteen principles of Jewish faith, and much more. The Yigdal we recite in our liturgy is a poetic reformulation of his thirteen principles. While some found his codification of the Talmud to be controversial; over the ages, Maimonides would be regarded as one of the greatest rabbinic luminaries. In modern times. Schools, hospitals, and more have been named in his memory.

Maimonides lived only his childhood and teenage years in Cordoba. A famous statue depicts a much older and scholarly version of the man. A small synagogue adjacent to the statue, in which we prayed and sang Yigdal, is attributed to Maimonides. Around the local square are the Maimonides hotel, the Maimonides jewelry store, and more.

For me personally, the day was meaningful on many levels. As a child, I attended the Maimonides Day School in Brookline, Mass. In the afternoon, I met a U.S. Jewish tour group, which included my sister in law’s cousin, a rabbi in Massachusetts. We had last seen each other at my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah a few years ago.

Another great day. Tomorrow, we leave to spend Shabbat in Gibraltar.

November 4, 2019

Shabbat in Gibraltar
Shabbat in Gibraltar

We spent Friday and Shabbat in Gibraltar. Known for its indigenous monkeys, we started our tour seeing and interacting with them.

Ultimately, our purpose in arriving here for Shabbat was to celebrate the holiest day of the week with an historic Jewish community which remains vital and vibrant. Many of the historic Jewish sites we saw in Spain were alive until the late 15th century but were now in ruins and a memory of the past.

Gibraltar has a Jewish history of over three hundred years. Some of the families have a lineage that traces back to the early years. A Sephardic community – It has four synagogues similar in their traditional Orthodox religious orientation. We were told that the synagogue communities all get along with each other. There is no religious strife in Gibraltar.

On Friday night, we attended one particular synagogue for Kabbalat Shabbat. While the basic structure of the Siddur is similar to an Ashkenazic Siddur, phrases vary in familiar prayers, such as the Amidah, Yigdal, Kaddish and more. In the local synagogues, women sit in a balcony above the men’s section.

On Shabbat morning, a number of our group attended another synagogue where a Bar Mitzvah was taking place. We were impressed at how much of the service was led competently by young people. One could notice the Gabbai tapping the outer parchment of the Torah scroll varying the depiction of his fingers and hands. He was displaying the Cantilation notes in advance to the Torah reader.

In addition to the four synagogues, a youth service took place in a Talmud Torah school building, where older children mentored younger children. We celebrated our Shabbat meals in that building and enjoyed the delights prepared by local kosher catering. At the end of Shabbat, we conducted an outdoor Ramah style Havdalah in the courtyard. Soon after the conclusion of Shabbat, some of us went back for a fun filled kumzitz.

Tomorrow, we reenter Spain for sites in Seville.