Iben Ezra and the Synonyms Israelite and Hebrew (21 February, 2013, ADAR 11, 5773)
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Rabbi Abraham Iben Ezra (1089-1164) was born in Tudela, Narbonne, north Spain.
Ibn Ezra excelled in philosophy, astronomy/astrology, mathematics, poetry, linguistics, and Biblical Commentary.
During his lifetime traveled he travelled extensively. He was reported of in France,
Italy, North Africa, Egypt, and the Land of Israel. Indications from his writings are that he reached India.
Towards the end of his life he settled in England. He is considered to have returned to Spain and died there. Irene Lancaster ("Deconstructing the Bible. Abraham Ibn Ezra's Introduction to the Torah,", London 2003) however quotes a report that he stayed in England where he was killed by a "wild mob", whatever that means.
Another version of his dying in England is quoted by Wikipedia:
# There is a legend that he died in England from a fever and a sickness which came upon him after an encounter with a pack of wild black dogs. This legend is attached to the belief that he denied the existence of demons. # Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition www.sacred-texts.com chapter 3, pp. 26-27
Irene Lancaster (p.17) asks:
# One of the most puzzling questions in Jewish intellectual history is why Iben Ezra should have come to England? The answer may well lie in the contemporary cultural and financial links between the Jews of Normandy and England described above.
However, other reasons may well have been equally important for Ibn Ezra. In many ways England could be considered as prime virgin territory for the implanting of Sephardic [i.e. Spanish Jewish] cultural seeds at the end of one man's very long life. In those days 'Angleterre' ["England" in French] was regarded as being at the 'edge of the earth', and was therefore of great interest to someone of Ibn Ezra's evangelical and messianic mentality #.
In his commentary to the Bible Iben Ezra examines the term Hebrew. He proves from Scripture that the names Hebrew and Israelite meant the same thing and were interchangeable.
We have discussed previously the meaning of the word Hebrew. A Hebrew was an Israelite. The terms Israelite and Hebrew were synonymous. In Hebrew the word for Hebrew is Ivri also pronounceable as Ibri or as Ha-Ivri or Ha-Iberi i.e. The (Ha-) Hebrew.
Later the inhabitants of the British Isles and Western Europe who in Modern Times are referred to as Celts called themselves Iberi or Hiberi i.e. Hiberi.
This is one of the thousands of indications that the Ten Tribes of Israel were to be found in these areas. Our use of this proof involved examining its application by the so-called "Celts" and related peopes (such as the Dacians-Danish) to themselves and also its meaning and application in Biblical Times.
The Name 'Hebrew'
In the Commentary of Rabbi Avraham Iben Ezra, the discussion of what is meant by the term 'Hebrew' in the Bible revolves around the question as to what is meant by 'Hebrew servant'.
If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing (Exodus 21:2).
In Biblical Hebrew the word 'aved' (also pronounced as 'oved', or 'eved') may mean either slave or servant. There is no linguistic distinction.
In Biblical Law, there were two main types of 'eved':
(a) A Hebrew Slave who would serve for seven years or less and then go out free (Exodus 21:2 . The female equivalent was an 'amah' who would either go out free upon reaching puberty unless her master (or his son) married her (Exodus 21:7). A Hebrew Slave was more like an indentured servant than a slave in our sense of the word.
The Hebrew Slave was known as an 'eved ivri', with 'eved' meaning slave and 'ivri' meaning Hebrew. Apart from having to work for his master for a certain period a Hebrew Slave had the same rights as anyone else, or almost the same.
(b) A Canaanite Slave. This term was applied to any non-Israelite slave. A Canaanite Slave would have to work all his life. It was forbidden to free a Canaanite Slave except under certain conditions (Exodus 21:26-27) but if he was freed he automatically become a fully-fledged Israel.
Slavery and Israel
Iben Ezra in his Commentary often engaged in disputes with Karaites, Jewish free-thinkers, or non-Jews all of whom offered explanations that were contrary to those accepted by mainstream Judaism.
Below is a rough translation and paraphrase of what Iben Ezra said on the subject. It is not an exact word-for-word rendition but it gives the gist of what he said:
Our forebears said that a Hebrew Slave meant an Israelite... There are those who dispute this [opinion of our forebears] and say that a Hebrew Slave was not an Israelite, but rather someone descended from the Family of Abraham. ...
Let us now examine the simple meaning of the words. If a Hebrew servant was not an Israelite why is it written, "if your Hebrew brother sells himself to you" (Deuteronomy 15:12)?
12 If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you.
[Wherever the term 'brother' is found it refers to a fellow Israelite]
We know that the significance of the commandment, 'You shall not hate your brother in your heart' (Leviticus 19:17) refers to an Israelite. So too when it says , 'Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, 'Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him (Deuteronomy 1:16). There are many more examples like this.
There is no doubt that the explanation of our forefather Abraham being called "Abram the Hebrew" (Genesis 14:13) meant someone descended from Eber (Genesis 10:24), descendant of Sem of whom it was written, "the father of the sons of Eber" (Genesis 10:21). This was in juxtaposition to Ham who was described as the father of Canaan (Genesis 9:18).
[Eber] was called Ibri [Hebrew] because he came from other side [In Hebrew, "aiber"] of the river [Euphrates]. [In Hebrew 'Ibri' or 'ivri' meaning Hebrew is also cognate with 'aver' or "aiber" meaning 'over']. We consider, Ivir in Scripture to be short for 'over the river' since we find 'and I took your father, Abraham, from the other side of the river' (Joshua 24:3) .
We see that the term Hebrew was an alternative name for Israelites. Moses said to Pharaoh, 'so says the Almighty, the God of Israel' (Exodus 5:1). Later when Pharaoh asks who this refers to, the reply was "the Almighty the God of the Hebrews" (Exodus 5:3).
1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord God of Israel: 'Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.''
2 And Pharaoh said, 'Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.'
3 So they said, 'The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go three days journey into the desert and sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.'
Behold, "the God of the Hebrews" is synonymous with "the God of Israel." The People of Israel are called Hebrews because they are related to Eber. [It may be claimed] that this trait is shared with the descendants of Ishmael (son of Abraham) and the descendants of Keturah (children of Abraham) and the descendants of Esau (son of Isaac, grandson of Abrahm). Of these we have found only Esau referred to as a brother of Israel since he was in the womb with Jacob. Scripture never speaks of Esau as our brother concerning the commandments but only concerning our involvement with him, 'You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother' (Deuteronomy 23:7). So too, in condemnation of Edom due to his lack of fraternity,
' Thus says the Lord: 'For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because he pursued his brother with the sword.." (Amos 1:11).
In all of Scripture we do not find the term Hebrew applied to anybody apart from the descendants of Jacob.
Now there was a young Hebrew man with us there (Genesis 41:12).
So they set him a place by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves; because the Egyptians could not eat food with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians (Genesis 43:32).
Exodus 2:11 Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren.
Jonah when he was asked, What nation he belonged to, replied he was a Hebrew.
7 And they said to one another, 'Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.' So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, 'Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?'
9 So he said to them, 'I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.'
Jonah answered he was a Hebrew. If the term Hebrew encompassed several peoples then Jonah would not have satisfactorily answered the question.
So too, in the story of Samuel and the war with the Philistine, the term Hebrews meant Israelites.
5 And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth shook. 6 Now when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, 'What does the sound of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?' Then they understood that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp. 7 So the Philistines were afraid, for they said, 'God has come into the camp!' And they said, 'Woe to us! For such a thing has never happened before. 8 Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness. 9 Be strong and conduct yourselves like men, you Philistines, that you do not become servants of the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Conduct yourselves like men, and fight!'
21 Moreover the Hebrews who were with the Philistines before that time, who went up with them into the camp from the surrounding country, they also joined the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan.
8 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people who were at Jerusalem to proclaim liberty to them: 9 that every man should set free his male and female slave, a Hebrew man or woman, that no one should keep a Jewish brother in bondage.
Here we have the word Hebrew as interchangeable with Jewish meaning Israelite.
[Everywhere we find the word Hebrew in the Bible it means the same as Israelite.]