More than 100 years before Marco Polo made and publicized his journey from Venice to the Far East, a Spanish Jew had traveled much the same route. Benjamin of Tudela covered even greater distances than Marco Polo in a I3-year odyssey that took him to every part of the then-known world and wrote an account of his voyages which to this day remains our best source of information about Jewish life in the Middle Ages.
The book he wrote is called Safer ha-Massaot (Book of Travels)-a lively report, written in an easy, fluent Hebrew, on the people and the places he had seen in the course of a grand tour from his native city (Tudela) in the province of Navarre to the four quarters of the globe.
A handsome, new edition of Benjamin's work (published by Joseph Simon) evokes the period and place in which he lived-12th century Spain, when Iberian Judaism was in its flowering-but discloses no more about the man himself than what appears in his own journal. There we learn only that he was born in Tudela, that his father's name was Jonah and that he made daily notes of everything he saw and heard. Like a good reporter of today, Benjamin not only told the facts; he also cited the sources of his information. -- Washington Jewish Week
We know a good deal about medieval Judaism, but comparatively little about medieval Jews. There was a golden age, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries; and we can appreciate its extraordinary intellectual and artistic achievements by reading the commentaries of Maimonides or Rashi and the poetic works (still a part of the ritual of Sefardic services) of Ibn Gabirol or Judah Halevi.
Now, the general public has access to the homely details of everyday existence in the period, as recorded by contemporaries. Benjamin's Itinerary is a kind of layman's treatise-Benjamin made no pretensions to being a scholarly expert-on the social and economic life of the Jewish communities in the dozen or so countries he visited by land.
Benjamin's comments on the...quandary in Lebanon, for example, predate the teleprompted remarks of your favorite anchorman by about 800 years. --Hadassah Magazine
Text: English, Hebrew (translation)
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.