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Shmuel Hanagid

Shmuel Hanagid

(993-1056; 4753-4816)

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Samuel, the son of Joseph ibn Nagdela, or better known as Rabbi Samuel Hanagid (the ruling prince) was born in Cordova, Spain, in the year 4743 (17 years before the close of the 10th century of the c.e.) He was a pupil of the great Rabbi Enoch, who had been brought to Cordova in a miraculous way among the "Four Captives." Samuel also studied languages, mastering Arabic and Latin in addition to Hebrew.

In the year 4773 (1013), when civil war in Cordova caused widespread persecution of the Jews, Samuel was forced to leave Cordova together with numerous other Jews, and settled in Malaga. Thus the great economic and cultural Jewish center of Cordova was all but destroyed at that time, but simultaneously another great Jewish center was coming up that of Granada, the new capital of the Arabic Kingdom. Samuel made his way thither, and settled down in business in that city. At the same time he never gave up his studies, and was hard at work in the study of the Talmud and sciences whenever he found time for it. Soon he became known as a great poet and writer, not merely in Hebrew but also in Arabic. His perfect mastery of the Arabic language, grammar and literature became known to the Vizier Abu-al-Kassim-ibn-al-Adiph. The Vizier invited him to his, house to make his acquaintance. He was so impressed by his scholarship and wisdom that he appointed him as his personal secretary and adviser. The more the Vizier knew his Jewish friend the more he became convinced of his great statesmanship and great political astuteness, as well as of his honesty and reliability. The Vizier did nothing without first consulting Samuel.

One day the Vizier became very ill, and Caliph Habus came to visit his dying Vizier. The Caliph told the Vizier how sorry he was to see his able and devoted minister go, whereupon the Vizier confessed to him that he owed all his success to his able Jewish secretary and adviser. And so when the Vizier died, the Caliph appointed Samuel in his place.

The office of Vizier was that of Minister of State, the highest office next to the Caliph himself. At the same time Rabbi Samuel retained his position as the rabbi of his great and flourishing community, and also as the director of the Talmudic academy of Granada. He never stopped for a moment to care for his brethren, as well as for his land, and served both with equal devotion. As communal rabbi and director of the academy, Rabbi Samuel Hanagid (as he was now called by all his devoted brethren) encouraged the study of the Torah, and Granada became a great Talmudic center.

As to his attitude towards his enemies who envied him the honor and esteem he enjoyed, it can best be seen from the following story: One day, when Samuel Hanagid accompanied the Caliph through the streets of Granada, a wicked Arab perfume vendor called some insulting words in the direction of the Jewish Vizier. The Caliph became furious. He ordered the offender brought before him, and urged the Vizier to have his tongue cut out in accordance with the law of that time. Instead of punishing him in the way the Caliph urged him to do, Rabbi Samuel gave the offender a present and said to the Caliph, "Not merely have I cut out his bad tongue, but I have given him a good one instead."

When Caliph Habus died and his son Badis succeeded him, Rabbi Samuel retained his Viziership. In fact the Caliph entrusted his able Vizier with managing all the affairs of state, as he himself wanted to enjoy himself fully, without carrying the burden of any state matters whatever.

Rabbi Samuel's fame grew daily, but at the same time he remained as modest and as affectionate as always. He was particularly kind to scholars, and many Jewish Talmudists, philosophers and poets were his constant guests, receiving their full support from his own means, so that they could engage in their studies and creative work undisturbed. Among them was the famous Jewish poet Rabbi Solomon ibn Gebirol. He also maintained many scribes to copy important Hebrew books, and generally did everything possible to further the cause of the Torah and Jewish culture. Rabbi Samuel is also the author of a work entitled "Mevo Hatalmud" (an introduction to the Talmud) that was later published with every edition of the Talmud, and was even translated into Latin.

Samuel Hanagid died in Granada in the year 4816 (1056), sadly mourned by the Jewish and Arab population alike. He was succeeded by his son Rabbi Joseph Hanagid.

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