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The year 1306 enjoys a terrible notoriety in the annals 
of the Jews of France. At the beginning of that year, 
Philip IV, surnamed Le Bel, issued an edict of expulsion 
against all the Jews living in any of his dominions. The 
edict practically confiscated all the property of the French 
Jews, and its terms were so rigorous that any Israelite 
found on French soil after a certain short space of time 
became liable to the penalty of death. Philip's mandate 
was promptly executed by the royal officers, and some 
100,000 Jews were mercilessly driven out from their native 
land — a land in which their fathers had already resided 
long before Christianity had become the dominant religion 
there. In consequence of this expulsion, several far-famed 
Jewish seats of learning that had long been established in 
various French towns, such as those of Beziers, Liinel, and 
Montpellier, ceased to exist, since masters and pupils 
became, like the rest of their unhappy co-religionists, 
weary wanderers and fugitives. One of these was Yedaya 
En-Bonet ben Abraham Bedaresi, the object of the present 

Yedaya, known also under the poetical pseudonym of 
Penini, has left no documentary evidence concerning the 
incidents of his life. The best biography, however, of 
a man like Yedaya is undoubtedly that which is found in 
his own works. Biographical material from such a source 
is, however, liable to vary with the judgment of the critic. 
Thus there is some diversity of opinion among bibliogra- 
phers as to the exact date of Yedaya's bii-th, for while 


Bartolocci, Wolf, and de Rossi assert that he was boru in 
1298, Steinschneider and Neubauer put the year of his 
birth between x 25^ and 1 260, without, however, attempting 
to fix the year of his death. Graetz, again, maintains that 
Yedaya was born in 1280, and died about 1340, and that 
his birth-place was Beziers, and not Barcelona, as some 
bibliographers assert^. The only indisputable fact in 
connexion with Yedaya's early education is this, that he 
entered the school of Rabbi MeshuUam of Beziers when 
he was fifteen years old. 

From Yedaya's numerous and multifarious writings it is 
obvious that he was a philosopher and a moralist, a tal- 
mudical scholar and an expert in medicine, and above all, 
a clever writer of Hebrew prose and poetry. It is chiefly 
to his latter capacity that Yedaya owes his prominent 
position among the Jewish savants of the Middle Ages, and 
for that reason special attention will have to be paid in the 
course of this essay to his chef d'oeuvre, entitled D^iy nJTia, 
or The Examination of the World. It is true that Graetz 
finds fault with this poetical composition, of which he 
thinks that it has the appearance " of empty grandiloquence 
and artificiality." But, on the other hand, Munk, in his 
Melanges, p. 495, and Buxtorf, in his BihUotheca Rabbinica, 
speak very highly of Yedaya's poetical talent, and the 
latter calls The Examination of the World an excellent 
literary production. And indeed, the same opinion will 
be shared by all those readers of the ohj? nJ'na who, like 
Munk and Buxtorf, are not prejudiced against it on the 
ground that its style is not so pure, elegant, and clear 
as that met with in some of the writings of the most 
prominent representatives of the so-called Spanish and 
Italian schools of Hebrew poetry. In fact, the little book 
in question has always enjoyed an extraordinary popularity 
among the Jews ; and it is astonishing to notice the com- 
paratively large number of manuscripts of the original, 

' Comp. Graetz's Gesch. d. J., VII, p. 277. 


and of the commentariea on it, which are to be found in 
various libraries. In addition to this, it may also be 
mentioned that the same book has passed through more 
than foiiy-four editions, issued with or without com- 
mentaries at various times and in various countries, and 
has been frequently translated into German, as well as 
into Jargon, once into Latin, English, French, Italian, and 
Polish. It is interesting to note that the eleventh and 
twelfth chapters of one of the German editions, issued at 
Prague in 1795, by Moses Kunitz, were rendered into 
German by Moses Mendelssohn ; and that the French 
translation, published at Paris in 1639, by Ph. d'Aquin, 
was dedicated to Cardinal Richelieu. The English veraion, 
which appeared in London in 1806, was inscribed by its 
author, Rabbi Tobias Goodman, to "The Most Reverend 
Solomon Hirschell, Presiding Rabbi of the German Jews " ; 
and the Latin one, which has for its title, Examen mundi, 
B. J. BedreshUae, latina interpretation e, was done by 
A. Uchtman, and issued at Ley den in 1650. 

It is curious to notice that the editor of the fii'st of the 
forty-four known editions of the a?lj? fiO'na, printed, as some 
bibliographers think, at Mantua between 1476 and lA^o, 
was a lady called Estellina, the wife of a certain Abraham 
Conath. She was assisted in her task by Jacob Levy, of 
Tarascon. The last known edition of the book under 
notice, or rather the greater part of it, was published only 
a few years ago by Dr. Harkavy, of St. Petersburg, from 
a MS. in his possession. Dr. Harkavy is also the owner 
of a hitherto unpublished commentary on the same book, 
composed in 1508 by Isaac Mon9on, of Reggio. In some 
prefatory lines, the author states that he was induced to 
write his commentary because he had noticed that many 
Jewish young men in his country were in the habit of 
learning the original by heart, without knowing anything 
about its contents ^. This curious remark stiU holds good 

nrvDa no 'is ■nm» crivc ns 11 nsbna cMynrsn o'linarr wmto rrd) ' 

.orto pm DiV) nnaD arpnwBffiai 


in its application to the mode in vogue in Russia and 
Poland, where parts of the Hebrew Bible are often learnt 
by heart by the Jewish youth in a mechanical manner, 
whilst their contents remain unknown to the learners. 
Yet there is something to praise in the method. The 
young may easily commit to memory passages which they 
will subsequently understand, and thus their minds may 
be stored with fine thoughts. In truth, all systems of 
education proceed on these lines. But the method is 
undoubtedly a dangerous one. 

As regards the style and composition of the ch^y 'Tin, 
which seems to have been composed by Yedaya after the 
expulsion of the Jews from France in 1306, it must be 
admitted at the outset that the general reader will not find 
them quite in harmony with his modern taste. Already 
de Sacy, in his Magasin encyclopedique, III, p. 321, censures 
the author of that book for his employing therein certain 
Biblical phrases in a different sense from that which they 
bear in the Bible. But he readily admits that the Church 
fathers during the Middle Ages, and certain Arabic writers, 
have, at all times, taken the same liberties respectively 
with the Scriptures and the Koran. The finest of the 
Spanish-Jewish poets, not excluding Ibn Gebirol himself, 
allowed themselves the same license ; while Charizi often 
derives his whole point from the witty misuse of a familiar 
Biblical phrase. Despite this defect, it cannot be denied 
that the Bechinath Olani possesses a peculiar charm of its 
own. This will easily be detected by those readers who, 
being well versed both in the Hebrew Bible and in the 
Midrash and the Talmud, cannot fail to appreciate the art 
with which Biblical phrases, used with an occasional 
striking play on words, are composed into a mosaic. 

Take, for instance, the following few sentences which 
occur in Chapter IX ^ : " By no means let thy pride in 

— ^^«ji3T ^1nb urh» rm nxs'T orn t>5 — toidd: msonn m«cn rvnn vh '3 ce» ' 
nnp"? 3?n oma pin lonnn •. "jwe: mso os'Jpa itom am 'D^« wvcn vn «ta vrri 
.yvian n«i -|ni« ta«m Diswn p crrtsn cm nin — -jwtn ten Timt ]n 


possessing wealth b3 of long duration, for at any moment 
may a blast come from God, which will scatter and disperse 
all thy treasures. Then will vanish as nought the fifty 
thousand ducats for which thou hast bartered thy soul, and 
thy former honour and glory will likewise depai*t at the 
sudden reverse of thy fortune. Or a fire may come down 
from heaven, and devour thee along with thy five myriads 
of ducats." Here it will at once be seen how cleverly the 
author uses for his own purpose certain phrases found in 
the second chapter of 2 Kings, in connexion with the prophet 
Elijah, and how striking the play on the word TtJDn is. 

As this peculiar mode of composition is a marked feature 
in the whole ohy '"Tin, a few more examples, having, how- 
ever, a somewhat different form, may be given here for the 
sake of illustration. In Chapter IV we read as follows ^ : 

'• Thy longings in sooth are but passion and lust. 
Thy strength sinks asunder like crumbling light dust; 
Thy treasures, like thorns, are surrounded with stings. 
And thy most lovely possessions but worthless things. 
Thy pride is enkindled like flames in the night, 
Thy riches, like insects, soon hasten their flight." 

And again, in Chapter XI, the author gives the following 
description of the four seasons of the year ^: 

" The lovely Spring gives me no peace, 
For constant cares disturb my ease. 
The Summer, too, is full of pain, 
Its glow and heat are but my bane. 
The Autumn has no charms for me, 
From cold and ills I ne'er am free. 
When Winter brings its snow and frost. 
Oh, then I am undone and lost." 

'jrpy D'ttJin nwraoa ni3i«3 »3iD»pWT nw vh a's^n ' 

nnn aepn nrnjo rooo »5S'p' '3p'S' nipisaa «n3 yip' yp" 

.D3n '»ta^ T13C1 n33 ri'D* rnon Tjoa 1^ nvrro »3a^ rprv nra^ ocirr fj^nn 


Another conspicuous feature of the nhy ''•na is its frequent 
use of poetical metaphors, which the author employs with 
great aptitude and force. The eighth chapter of the book 
in question, beginning with the words fipir D'' 73nn, may 
fitly serve as an illustration of this, and the following free 
English translation of it will afford the reader at the same 
time an insight into the general contents of the whole poem. 
It runs as follows : 

"The world is as a boisterous sea of immense depth and 
width, and Time forms a fragile bridge built over it. The 
upper end thereof is fastened to the ground by means of 
weak ropes, and its lower end leads to a place which 
is shone upon by the rays of the divine light, emanating 
from God's majesty. The breadth of the bridge is but one 
short span, and has no lattice work to atford protection 
from falling over it. Over this narrow path thou, O son 
of man, art compelled constantly to go, and notwithstanding 
all thy might and glory, thou canst not turn either to the 
right or to the left. Now, threatened as thou art on both 
sides with death and destruction, how canst thou sustain 
thy ordinary courage, and how can thy hands remain firm ? 
In vain dost thou pride thyself on the possession of vast 
treasures obtained by thee by vileness and wickedness ; 
for of what avail are they to thee when the sea rises, and 
rages, and foams, thus threatening to wreck the little hut 
wherein thou livest [meaning the body] 1 Canst thou boast 
to be able to calm and subdue its powerful waves, or wiliest 
thou try to fight against them ? Intoxicated with the wine 
of thy vanity, thou art pushed hither and thither, until 
thou sinkest into the mighty abyss ; and tossed about from 
deep to deep, thou wilt at last submerge into the foaming 
surge, and no one will bring thee up to life again." 

The ninth and eleventh chapters of the dhjj ''na contain 
some passages which refer to the author's own sufferings, 
caused to him by the aforementioned expulsion of the Jews 
from France, and to the cowardice displayed on that 
occasion by some wealthy French Jews, who, in order to 


be permitted to remain in the country, and to retain their 
earthly possessions, had embraced Christianity. How 
shamefully these renegades behaved in the face of the 
great calamity which had befallen their French co-reli- 
gionists may be seen from the following passages, which 
occur in Chapter XI. They run thus ^: 

" What care they for those gloomy envoys of fate ? 
They dance all the night, and they rise very late. 
Feasting they love, and high play and flirtation, 
And laughter, and pleasure, and wild dissipation. 
They look upon evil, of whatever sort, 
As a mirth-causing jest, and an iimocent sport." 

These few extracts from the ohy 'Tia, together with the 
above-given English translation of its eighth chapter, may 
suffice to convey an idea of the style and contents of the 
whole book. The latter has certainly several faults, which 
chiefly consist in the frequent use the author makes therein 
of Chaldaic and Aramaic words and phrases, a proper 
translation of which is almost impossible. Yet, on the 
whole, this little poetical composition of Yedaya deserves, 
for the sake of its many peculiarities, that honourable 
position which has been accorded to it by general consent 
in the wide domain of Hebrew literature. 

Another small treatise, composed by the same author 
when he was eighteen years old, is one that bears the title 
of D-iSJa i»1S^V, and has for its subject "The Defence of 
Women." Till about ten years ago it only existed as 
a unique MS. in the Bodleian Library ; but Dr. Neubauer 
published it for the first time in the Jubelschrift (Berlin, 
1888), issued by some friends of Zunz on the occasion of 
his celebrating his ninetieth birthday, under the title of 
D"'t?J aniN (The Women's Friend). This title is more appro- 
priate than the one it originally bore, for the simple reason 

vv\s 'nnw niVs 'paru r\irsf< 'pwin 

r:nrt >:'n prrsoa vri ^nnoa inijiBrT nan nmo 


that the treatise in question was evidently written by 
Fedaya in opposition to another composed, in 1 208, by the 
physician, Judah ben Sabbatai, under the title of n'B>3 N31E> 
[The Woman-hater), in which the author's strong aversion 
to the fair sex is clearly put forth. The Q'K'3 3niN, which 
Yedaya dedicated to two friends of his, viz. to Meir and 
Judah, the sons of Don Solomon Del Infanz, is written 
in rhymed prose, intermixed with a few short verses. Its 
style is rather heavy, and all that can be gathered from 
its subject-matter is this, that a certain king, called Cushan 
Rishataim, a great woman-hater, did once wage war against 
an army composed of the friends of the fair sex, and led on 
by a general named Seria. The latter ultimately defeated 
the king and his hostile troops, and, out of gi-atitude for 
his great victory, he himself was proclaimed king by his 
followers. Under his reign, a new and happy era opens 
for women in general, who are then wooed, and married, 
and loved more dearly than ever before, and wedded life 
is everywhere declared to be the most desirable state in 
existence. The D'CJ 2mN closes with the description of 
the appearance of Judah ben Sabbatai's ghost on earth, 
and of how it agrees with all Yedaya's statements made 
there, with the exception of one. Every man, the ghost 
declares, ought certainly to marry once; but it would be 
the height of folly on his pai't if he were to enter again 
upon the matrimonial state, after his first marriage had 
turned out a failure. 

In passing, it may be mentioned that the same controversy 
about the merits and demerits of the married state was 
still carried on in the sixteenth century among some 
learned Jewish writers in Italy. Among these are most 
conspicuous : Jacob of Fano, who in his poem Dniajn ''uT^ 
{The Shields of the Mighty), makes a strong attack on 
women, and Judah Sommo, of Portaleone, who in his 
treatise, D''B'3 po {The Women's Protector), which exists as 
a MS. in the Bodleian Library, presents himself as a 
champion of women. To these writers may be added 


Messer Leon (flourished at Mantua at the end of the 
fifteenth century), who, in a commentary of his on the 
thirty-first chapter of Proverbs, seizes the opportunity of 
eulogizing the female sex in general, and a few specially 
named women in particular. Among these he also men- 
tions Laura, the lady-love of the poet Petrarch ; and it is 
interesting to notice the trouble which the author takes 
in that commentary to prove that Laura was by no means 
a myth, as some writers on Petrarch consider her, but that 
she really existed in person, and was greatly distinguished 
by her exquisite beauty and grace. 

Resuming now our review of Yedaya's literary com- 
positions, especially of those he wrote when he was still 
very young, we have to refer to a Hebrew hymn of his, 
well known under the title of poiDn nt^pa, the formal 
characteristic of which is this, that each word of it begins 
with the letter fnem (d). Bartolocci, in his Bibliotheca 
Rabbinica, III, p. 7, gives the same hymn the title of 
Dt?? rhnn (Praise of God). This seems to have been 
Yedaya's first literary attempt, as it is generally assumed 
that it was composed by him at the age of fourteen. His 
father, Abraham, himself a writer of Hebrew verses of 
inferior quality, was so delighted with his son's hymn, that 
he sang its praises in a short Hebrew quatrain. Although 
from a literary point of view, the Supplication of the 
Memniin has little to recommend it, it has passed through 
fifteen editions, and has frequently been translated into 
German, and once also into Latin by Hil. Prache, who 
published his translation at Leipsic in 1662. 

Another short composition belonging to an early period 
in Yedaya's life is his DTian iSD (The Book of Paradise), 
which was composed by him at the age of seventeen, and 
appeared for the first time in print at Constantinople in 
151 7. It is divided into four chapters, each of which has 
a different heading, while the fourth chapter is again sub- 
divided into four sections. The principal subjects discussed 
in these chapters are (a) The worship of God ; (b) Friendship 


and Enmity ; (c) The Lack of Stability in the World ; and 
(d) Tho Desirability of studying Science after the usual 
Devotions. From this it will be seen that Yedaya had 
already in early life displayed a taste for writing on moral, 
ethical, and philosophical themes ; but this early taste was 
greatly developed in him at a later period of his life. 
After having reached his manhood, he wrote several other 
treatises of a similar description, each of which will be 
briefly noticed here. 

1. anrn pB*^ (The Golden Tongue). This forms part of 
a commentary (existing as a MS.) on the Agada and the 
Midrashim, and was first printed at Venice in 1599. 

2. A MS. bearing the inscription: B^nsi ni3N n3D» B'na 
nio^ro nnjN (Commentary on the Ethics of the Fathers, and 
on the Agadoth in the Talmud). 

3. ni^VJnnn rem {An Apologetical Letter). This well- 
known and often-quoted letter was addressed by Yedaya 
to Rabbi Solomon ben Adereth (^''^ci), on the occasion of 
his publicly censuring the Jewish communities of the 
Provence for their occupying themselves with scientific 
studies. There a passage occurs, which throws some light 
on the author^s own enlightened ideas in reference to the 
same subject. It runs as follows: "We cannot give up 
science ; it is as the breath of our nostrils. Even if Joshua 
would appear and forbid it, we would not obey him ; for 
we have a warranty who outweighs them all, viz. Maimuni, 
who recommended it, and impressed it upon us. We are 
ready to set our goods, our children, and our lives at stake 
for it 1." 

4. A Liturgical Poem. It is composed of a number of 
words, each of which begins with the letter aleph (n), and 
refers, according to Graetz^, to the sufferings endured by 
the French Jews banished from France in 1306. 

5. A Treatise on Medicine, based on a similar work 
composed by the Jewish philosopher, Ibn-Sina. 

' Comp. Miss L6wy's translation of Graetz's Gesch. d. J., IV, p. 47. 
« Gesch. d. J., VII, p. 269. 


6. nyin ana {A Treatise on Intellect). This is also based 
on another book treating of a kindred subject, and bearing 
the inscription niijanom ^atrn iqd, the author of which is 
Al-Fabri. A Latin translation of the latter treatise exists 
under the title of De Intellectu et Intellecto, Venice, 1595. 

7. nonn bsB'a niyin (Opinions on Matenal Intellect). 

8. jPTXon 'asna "iDNDH is a philosophical treatise on the 
movements of bodies, and has been quoted by Ibn-Habib 
under the title of njsn '•asin ana. 

9. niDXynnn ana [Treatise on Consolidation). 

10. Is a MS. without any title; but judging from its 
contents, it seems to correspond with the nVJ'Dn nn^vn neo, 
once quoted by the same Ibn-Habib. 

11. nimp "lano {The Desert of Kedenioth). This is a 
commentary on the twenty-five propositions placed by 
Maimonides at the beginning of the tenth chapter of his 
D'aiaj mic. 

12. Is a Hebrew poem, having for its subject the thirteen 
articles as arranged by Maimonides. 

The authorship of the following four compositions is also 
attributed to Yedaya : 

1. A Divan, compiled by a member of the family' of 
Bedaresi, and that member is, according to Luzzatto, no 
other but Yedaya. 

2. l^D iJlvc {The Pleasures of a King) is a short treatise 
on the game of chess, and has several times appeared in 

3. Wolf, in his Bibliotheca Rabbinica, I, p. 403, attributes 
to Yedaya the authorship of a commentary on another 
commentary written by Abraham Ibn Ezra on the Book 
of Genesis, the former of which exists as a MS. in a Paris 

4. nawnn n-iJS {A Letter of Response). This letter, which 
was published by Dr. Berliner in 1888, and copies of which 
are found in various MSS., is attributed to Yedaya by 
Bartolocci and de Rossi. 

From all hitherto said about Yedaya and his multifarious 


writings, it will be seen that he fully deserves the recogni- 
tion accorded to him by several biographei-s. Indeed, his 
name will always be honourably mentioned among the host 
of other Jewish savants living during the Middle Ages, 
who, often as exiles and fugitives, and amidst all kinds of 
sufferings and deprivations, did not neglect their habitual 
researches into almost every domain of mental culture. 
Nay, in spite of the many obstacles Yedaya must have 
met with in his daily occupation, he found leisure to 
enrich Hebrew literature with a number of works which 
are even now read with some pleasure and advantage. 

J. Chotzner.