R' Menachem was a poet and grammarian. He was born in Tortosa,
Spain and was brought to Cordova by R' Yitzchak ibn Shaprut. R'
Menachem later became the private secretary to R' Chisdai ibn
Shaprut, foreign minister of the Spanish caliphs.|
At R' Chisdai's request, R' Menachem compiled Machberet, a
dictionary of the Hebrew language. R' Menachem wrote his work in
Hebrew, thus departing from the accepted practice of writing in
Arabic. He also abandoned the practice of deriving the meanings of
Hebrew words from phonetically similar words in Arabic and Aramaic;
by doing so he stirred much criticism.
One of R' Menachem's foremost opponents was R' Donash ben Labrat,
who wrote an extensive criticism of the Machberet. R' Menachem did
not answer. He did, however, criticize R' Donash's introduction of
Arabic forms and meters into Hebrew poetry. R' Menachem's students
wrote a treatise to defend their teacher, as did the Tosafist,
Rabbenu Tam, two centuries later.
The Machberet was particularly popular in northern Europe, where
Arabic was not spoken. For example, it is quoted approximately 200
times in Rashi's Bible commentary. (Source: The Artscroll Rishonim
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