Solomon Ibn Gabirol

acrylic, ink and collage on canvas
72" x 30"
Solomon Ibn Gabirol

Perhaps no medieval thinker so completely personified the interweaving of
Judaism and Islam, as did the Spanish Jew, Solomon Ibn Gabirol (b.1020). As
scholar Michael
McGaha has noted: "Central to Ibn Gabirol's thought was the notion
that truth and righteousness are not the exclusive purview of the Jewish people,
and that one should acknowledge and embrace words of wisdom regardless of their
source." As such, Ibn Gabirol assimilated the ideas in the Islamic mystical
tract Ikhwan as-Safa, to such an extent that after the Bible, it was his primary
source of inspiration! Additionally, Ibn Gabirol followed the teachings of the
great Sufi mystic Muhammad Ibn Masarra (883-931), who had introduced Sufism to
Spain. It is said that Ibn Gabirol was one of two great Spanish mystics who further
developed Ibn Masarra's thought - the other being the great Sufi
philosopher Ibn Arabi. Many of the terms that Ibn Gabirol borrowed from his Islamic
mentors became the basic building blocks of the Kabbalistic and Hasidic mystical

His personal masterpiece Ani ha'Ish, a sort of spiritual biography, was
almost completely based in Sufi themes, from the two central ideas down to the
smallest image and concept in it. And the Choice of Pearls, an ethical/philosophical
text, shared so much with Sufi philosopher al-Ghazali's (1058-1111) Ethics that the two authors almost assuredly drew on the same Islamic sources. Ibn Gabirol
ingested other Arabic/Sufi writers, so much so that other of his writings were
often unrecognizable as necessarily Jewish! His ethical treatise, The Improvement
of the Moral Qualities
, written in Arabic when the poet was 24, was modeled on
Arab ethical handbooks such as Abu Bakhr al-Raazi's ninth century Book
of the Treatment of the Soul.

Although his contemporaries eschewed his work as bordering on heresy, today,
he is known as one of the Jewish people's greatest poets, and his works
are vital in the rites of the contemporary synagogue. One of the most important
of Ibn Gabirol's liturgical works, Adon Olam, is still chanted the world
over during both the Friday evening and Saturday morning Sabbath services. And
his legacy within the greater Jewish community has hardly been compromised by
his Sufi leanings - an important downtown Tel Aviv avenue bears his name!