December 2013: From TBS President Bryan H. Pines

December 2013: From TBS President Bryan H. Pines

            Last spring, my daughter Sara spent a semester abroad in Granada, Spain. She enjoyed being immersed in the culture and loved the southern region of Spain. This was an opportunity for me to study the history of Jews in Spain both before and after the Inquisition. There are no Jewish synagogues or yeshivas remaining in Granada. The lasting contribution of the Jews in this region can be found in the text and writings left by the scholars. Spanish culture and Jewish history is complex and fascinating. I can’t help but wonder if my ancestors descended from Spanish Jews in exile.


            It is believed that Granada was founded by Jews. When the Arabs attacked Spain in 711, they discovered a Jewish community in the town of Granada. Jewish life flourished under Arab rule until the riots and massacre in 1066. In medieval years, Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived together in Granada for centuries. Some of the most prolific Talmudic scholars lived in the Andalusia region of Spain. It was a golden era for Jews.

            My recent interest has been studying the liturgical poems written by a Jewish mystic named Solomon Ibn Gabirol (1021-1058). He was born in Malaga, Spain and lived most of his life in Saragossa and Grenada. His understanding of spiritual mysticism blended the various religious communities of the region. He strove to develop a spiritual union between man and G-d. Essentially, man’s actions help complete G-d’s work. This divine force is strengthened through communal prayer. Many of his poems are recited during Friday evening and Shabbat morning services. The beautiful poem Odon Olam is attributed to his works. As it states: “Eternal Master, before all Creation” might be an example of his interest in astronomy. For me, this is the most plausible explanation of what existed prior to the Big Bang. Many philosophers interpreted the first half of the poem as an examination of the question of what it means to be outside of both time and space. The poem brings great comfort to be reassured by G-d’s presence. We are fortunate to have the liturgy written by the Spanish scholars. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a TBS trip to Spain and explore another important time in Jewish history.


Bryan H. Pines

TBS President