“988G”,”Sefer Shevet Yehudah.(Ibn Verga, Solomon) בן וירגא, שלמה   1460-1554

דער פעלקרן אז וויא ער עש האט גפונדן גשריבן אויך וואשער זעלברט גזעהן האט אונ’ פאר צילט אויך פיל דישפוטיציא וועגן דער <אמונה> : און אויך דען <סדר> וויא מן דיא <נשיאים> גימאכט האט אונ’ אויך פיל <ניסים> דז ישראל גשעהן זיינן אין מלכות ישמעאל אונ’ פאר צילט אויך וויא דאש <בית המקדש> איז גבויאט גוועזין … אונ’ איז אויך דער בייא גדרוקט דיא גרושי ביזי גזירה וואש אין פולין איז גוועזן <שנת ת”ח> אונ’ <שנת ת”ט
אמשטרדם : במצות ובהוצאת הבחור שלמה בן יוסף כ”ץ פרופס – בבית אשר אנשיל בן אליעזר חזן,

Amsterdam: Asher Anshel ben ‘Eliezer Hazan, 1700   $1,800

s-l1600 2

Octavo, 186 leaves This copy is bound in old quarter leather.

 

The Scepter of Judah is a compilation of accounts of the persecutions undergone by the Jews from the destruction of the Second Temple until the Author’s own day. It contains an account of 64 persecutions, besides narratives of many disputations and an account of Jewish customs in different countries. At times, the author intersperses the historical account with disputations and deliberations, by means of these, he tried to clarify the problem of the hatred against the Jews, to examine their special destiny, to offer answers to the claims of their enemies, to rebuke his people for their social and moral faults, and to voice his objection against certain philosophical opinions.  

He addresses particularly the Spanish Jews, who suffered from persecutions more than any other people. He gives various reasons, among them being the superiority of the Jews (“whom the Lord loves He chastens”: Proverbs 3:12), and chiefly their separation from the Christians in matters of food; their troubles were also a punishment for their sins. In general, Ibn Verga does not endeavor to conceal the faults of the Jews; he sometimes even exaggerates them.

As this work is the compilation of three authors, it is not arranged in chronological order. There is no connection between the narratives, but the  Hebrew style is clear. Ibn Verga knew Latin , and derived many narratives from Latin sources. This work contains also a treatise on the form of the Temple of Solomon. Leopold Zunz (1840) points out the importance of the work from the geographical point of view, as it contains a considerable number of names of places, as well as a description of customs.

After concluding with a description of the misfortunes which had overtaken his people in his time, Ibn Verga devoted a lengthy chapter to a description of the Temple and the service for Passover and the Day of Atonement. He had intended to complete his work at this point, but then added further chapters. His son Joseph ibn Verga, who took care of its publication, also introduced supplements. The work was first published in 1554, perhaps in Adrianople.

The author drew his historical material from Josippon, the Sefer ha-Kabbalah of R. Abraham ibn Daud, from the narrative of Nathan ha-Bavli, and from Maimonides’ letters including Iggeret Teiman. He also utilized a brief Hebrew chronicle dealing with the general expulsions and religious persecutions, probably that of Profiat Duran, which was widely known in various versions, and consulted the writings of Don Isaac Abrabanel. In addition to all these, he gathered information from sources now unknown. For his own period, he mentions some of the events which he heard of or witnessed and for which he is sometimes the only source.

       The thoughts and reflections which the author interweaves in his discussions, that is in the literary and not the historical section of the work, reflect his dissatisfaction with the traditional outlook and opinions of the Middle Ages. He treats the galut in general and the problem of expulsion as natural phenomena subject to the laws of causation, is dissatisfied with traditional answers concerning the relationship between Israel and the Creator and the Will which determines history, and does not willingly accept suffering, refusing to consider it exclusively as a sign of the Jews’ superiority. He offers the opinion that hatred of the Jews is simply a popular inheritance, due principally to religious fanaticism and the jealousy of the populace, both of which stem from lack of education. His conclusion, partly explicit and partly implied, is that the Jews should remove the causes of jealousy and fanaticism by modest and humble behavior toward their non-Jewish neighbors, and try to break down some of the barriers separating them by preaching religious tolerance and similar efforts. But the author realizes in advance that all his remedies and opinions are of no avail:

“”It is in the nature of Creation that the evil exist beside the good.

The root of all this evil is in the exile itself.”

He does not believe that Redemption is near at hand and derides the “”messiahs,””

without suggesting an alternative Redemption. All he is finally left with is hope for the mercy of Heaven. The loss of simple faith leads him to seek the natural causes of the original downfall, i.e., the beginning of exile with the destruction of the Second Temple. The conclusion is that with respect to the Second Temple, faith was a negative factor. This postulate concerning the negative role of faith was an innovation of contemporary Italian political thinkers.

Ibn Verga’s critical and empirical approach to the phenomena of history makes him a herald of a new era in Jewish history. Nevertheless there is definite evidence that the author remained a loyal Jew. He thus expresses his sympathy for Jewish martyrs; when mentioning the persecutions which overtook German Jewry, he concludes:

“”They nevertheless stood firm for the sanctity of G-d and His Torah and did not abandon their honor,””

which might imply a silent criticism of Spanish Jewry which did not reach such a standard. His sympathy also goes out to those Conversos who endanger their lives in observing the Torah and its precepts. He is proud of the fact

 

“”that they have a heart sufficiently courageous to accept death by burning without changing their religion.”

Shevet Yehudah is one of the outstanding achievements of the Hebrew literature of the Renaissance.  Ibn Verga was a Spanish-Jewish historiographer His surname is of Berber origin (related to common Berber-Jewish names like Ergas and Ergaz), which suggests that his family was native to northern Africa. In addition to his extensive rabbinical and philosophical learning, Ibn Verga had a wide knowledge of the non-Jewish literature of his time, and while in Spain also devoted himself to community affairs. After the conquest of Malaga in 1487 by Ferdinand and Isabella, Ibn Verga was sent by the Spanish communities to raise funds for ransoming the Jews taken captive there, and also received official authorization to proceed with this undertaking. On the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, Ibn Verga settled in Lisbon, Portugal. From 1497, when a large number of the Jews in Portugal were forcibly baptized, he was compelled to live as a Converso but apparently was one of those “”who did not come under the waters”” (Resp. Radbaz no. 1137). When in 1506 the Conversos were permitted to leave Portugal, he went on to Italy, evidently staying some time in Rome.

 

  1. Steinschneider Catalogus Librorum, nr.; 6982,11; A.E. Cowley. A Concise Catalog … Bodleian Library; p. 664″