While in Rome, my adorable blogofriend The Dippy-Dotty Girl has visited the Jewish Ghetto, billed as the oldest Jewish ghetto in Europe. Judging from her excellent description and gorgeous photos, the tour – and the kosher food! – was very impressive. However, I beg to disagree with the chronology of the tour books. While the Roman ghetto might be the oldest one preserved more or less intact, as shown to tourists, it was established by Pope Paul IV in 1555, while the ghetto in Granada, Spain, had already been in existence for almost 500 years.
A brilliant medieval philosopher, scientist, poet, and bible commentator, Rabbi Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra arrived in Granada a few decades after the hideous 1066 massacre, during which the Jewish vizier (chief adviser to the king) was crucified and about 4,000 Jews killed.
“Do not consider it a breach of faith to kill them, the breach of faith would be to let them carry on, “ – declared the native poet Abu Ishaq, and openly revealed the main motivation for inspiring this pogrom, –“How can they have any pact when we are obscure and they are prominent?”
To protect the survived remainder of the Jewish population from further atrocities, Ibn Ezra conceived the idea of separating them in an enclosed area, sort of like today’s gated communities. The word ghetto, though, appeared much later, with the establishment of a Jewish ghetto in Venice, around 1516, which is still earlier than the Roman one. The word itself most probably originates from Hebrew get (a bill of divorce).
Rabbi Ibn Ezra, himself a great poet, became a subject of Robert Browning’s poem Rabbi Ben Ezra that opens with these lines:
Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be
John Lennon’s last song, Grow Old with Me, is based on this poem. Tragically, John and Yoko never got a chance to grow old together, but the beautiful, haunting song lives on. So does the memory of a great medieval thinker Rabbi Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra. And in case you forget his name, there is a crater on the moon named after him, Crater Abenezer.