Thursday, January 3, 2008

Class: Ibn Ezra, Pashtan Extraordinaire

This Shabbat I will begin a series of classes on two Pashtanim (biblical commentators who gear their commentary toward the literal text, as much as possible): Ibn Ezra and Rashbam.

Our first class will be about Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra; I'll offer a brief biography and then give an overview of his style. If there is time, we will begin to look at his introduction to his commentary on the Chumash.

Here is the outline I expect to distribute:

R’ Avraham Ibn Ezra, Pashtan Extraordinaire - Week I

Early years

Toledo, 1092

Family and contacts in Toledo

Five children? (Shmot 2:2)

Secular knowledge, poetry

Wandering (1138-1140)

Post-1140 - life on the road
Shunned in Salerno

Commentary to Tanach




Gd and Divine control



Old age
Bitterness (Bereishit 12:4)

Crater on the moon

Basic overview of his style in Peirush haTorah
Grammar and context
(Bereishit 2:2, Bereishit 5:24, Devarim 33:6)

Jewish philosophy (Shmot 6:3, 31:17)

Sharp, even personal comments (Bereishit 29:17, Shmot 21:35)

Mysticism (Zecharyah)

Mussar (Shmot 20:13)

Some Riddles of Ibn Ezra

Who am I?
עשירית הכף בראש השם
עשירית הכף באחריתו
והשנית בחשבון כף
בחסרון כף ומחציתו
והאות השלישי כף
ותבוא עד אחריתו.

אם תהפוך מילה למצוא שמו תראה,איך תחשוב כי הוא נעלם, והוא נראה.

A calendar joke
וכי יכה איש את עין עבדו
ועשה פסח לה'
לא תאבה אליו ולא תשמע בקולו.

אבי א--ל חי שמך, למה מלך משיח לא יבא?
דעו מאביכם כי לא בוש אבוש, שוב אשוב אליכם כי בא מועד!

For those who won't be there, here is a quick run-down to solve the riddles:

The first riddle
The first letter in the name is 1/10 of the numerical value of "Kaf". "Kaf" is כף is 100, so the first letter is 10, or י.
The last letter in the name is 1/10 of the numerical value of "Kaf". "Kaf" is the letter כ, which is 20, so the last letter is 2, or ב.
The second letter is "Kaf" minus Kaf-and-a-half. That's כף minus כ and then minus half of כ, or 100-20-10, which is 70 or ע.
The third letter is just "Kaf" or ק.
So the answer is יעקב.

The second riddle
Turn the word around and you will see the name you thought was hidden - this is נראה.
Rather than translate נראה as "visible," read it is the word to be 'turned around'. Scramble its letters, and you get the answer: אהרן.

The calendar joke
On the first line, the pasuk about what happens if you remove the עין of a servant, take the 'עין' as a letter. Thus you have taken the ע from עבדו, and the remainder is בדו.
You can't fulfill the second pasuk, celebrating Pesach, on בדו - because Pesach cannot begin on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday (בדו).
Therefore we have the third pasuk - 'You shall not listen to him' if he tells you to eat the Pesach on Monday/Wednesday/Friday.

For some interesting on-line references with Ibn Ezra biographical information:




  1. I once heard the following word square attributed to the Ibn Ezra, regarding the case of an insect that falls into honey, but have been unable to find a source for it:


    Have you seen this cited anywhere?


  2. Hello Josh,

    Thanks for posting that. I, too, have seen it attributed to Ibn Ezra, and it fits his style, but I don't know of a citation.