JUDAH HALEVI (also YEHUDA HALEVI or HA-LEVI; Hebrew : יהודה
הלוי and Judah ben Shmuel Halevi יהודה בן שמואל
* 1 Biography * 2 Journey to Israel
* 3 His work
* 3.1 Secular poetry
* 3.1.1 Love songs * 3.1.2 Riddles
* 3.2 Religious poetry
* 3.2.1 Liturgical poetry
* 3.3 Analysis of his poetry * 3.4 As a philosopher
* 4 References * 5 External links
Convention suggests that Judah ben Shmuel Halevi was born in Toledo,
Spain in 1075. He often referred to himself as coming from Christian
territory. Alfonso the Battler conquered Tudela in 1119; Toledo was
conquered by Alfonso VI from the Muslims in Halevi's childhood (1086).
As a youth, he seems to have gone to
Like most Jewish intellectuals of Muslim Spain, Halevi wrote prose in
Nothing is known of Halevi's personal life except the report in his poems that he had a daughter and that she had a son, also named Judah. He could well have had other children. The tradition that this daughter was married to Abraham Ibn Ezra does not rest on any evidence, though Halevi and Abraham Ibn Ezra were well acquainted, as we know from the writings of the latter.
JOURNEY TO ISRAEL
Halevi's various residences in Spain are not known; he seems to have
lived at times in
Halevi sailed for Alexandria. Arriving on September 8, 1140, he was greeted enthusiastically by friends and admirers. He then went to Cairo, where he visited several dignitaries, including the Nagid of Egypt, Samuel ben Hanania, and his friend Halfon ben Nethaniel Halevi. He did not permit himself to be persuaded to remain in Egypt, but returned to Alexandria and sailed for Israel on May 14, 1141. Little is known of his travels after. He died during the summer, presumably after having reached Palestine. Legend, however, has it that Halevi was killed after being run over by an Arab horseman as he arrived in Jerusalem.
Halevi dealt with his pilgrimage extensively in the poetry written during his last year, which includes panegyric to his various hosts in Egypt, explorations of his religious motivations, description of storms at sea, and expressions of his anxieties and doubts. We are well informed about the details of his pilgrimage thanks to letters that were preserved in the Cairo geniza . Poems and letters bearing on Halevi's pilgrimage are translated and explicated in Raymond P. Scheindlin, The Song of the Distant Dove (Oxford University Press, 2007).
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The life-work of Judah Halevi was devoted to poetry and philosophy. The scholar Jose de la Fuente Salvat elevates him as the "most important poet in judaism of all times".
Manuscripts give some grounds for believing that Halevi himself divided his ouvre into sacred (shirē haq-qodesh) and profane (shirē ha-hol) poetry. The poetry can be divided as follows (following the 1895-1904 edition by Hayyim Brody):
* Poems about friendship and laudatory poems (shirē yedidut we-shirē hak-kabod): 138 poems. * Pieces of correspondence in rhymed prose (miktabim): 7 pieces. * Love poems (shirē ahabah): 66 poems. * Elegies (qol bokim; qinot we-hespēdim): 43 pieces. * Elevation of the soul to Zion; travelling poems (massa‘ nefesh Ṣiyyonah; shirē Ṣiyyon we-shirē massa‘): 23 poems. * Riddle poems (ḥidot): 49 poems. * Other poems, various poems (she’ērit Yehudah; shirim shonim): 120 poems.
Judah's secular or non-liturgical poetry is occupied by poems of
friendship and eulogy. Judah must have possessed an attractive
personality; for there gathered about him as friends, even in his
earliest youth, a large number of illustrious men, like Levi al-Tabban
Also with the grammarian
Abraham ibn Ezra
Especially tender and plaintive is Judah's tone in his elegies Many of them are dedicated to friends such as the brothers Judah (Nos. 19, 20), Isaac (No. 21), and Moses ibn Ezra (No. 16), R. Baruch (Nos. 23, 28), Meïr ibn Migas (No. 27), his teacher Isaac Alfasi (No. 14), and others. In the case of Solomon ibn Farissol, who was murdered on May 3, 1108, Judah suddenly changed his poem of eulogy (Nos. 11, 22) into one of lamentation (Nos. 12, 13, 93 et seq.). Child mortality due to plague was high in Judah's time and the historical record contains five elegies written for the occasion of the death of a child. Biographer Hillel Halkin hypothesizes that at least one of these poems may have been written in honor of one of Judah's own children that did not reach adulthood and who is lost to history.
Joyous, careless youth, and merry, happy delight in life find their expression in his love-songs. Many of these are epithalamia and are characterized by a brilliant near-eastern coloring, as well as by a chaste reserve. In Egypt, where the muse of his youth found a glorious "Indian summer" in the circle of his friends, he wrote his "swan-song:" "Wondrous is this land to see, With perfume its meadows laden, But more fair than all to me Is yon slender, gentle maiden. Ah, Time's swift flight I fain would stay, Forgetting that my locks are gray."
Drinking songs by Judah have also been preserved.
Judah is noted for composing riddles, which often have religious themes underlying their challenges to the wit; his diwan contains forty-nine of them. One example is: What is it that's blind with an eye in its head, But the race of mankind its use can not spare; Spends all its life in clothing the dead, But always itself is naked and bare?
After living a life devoted to worldly pleasures, Halevi was to experience a kind of "awakening"; a shock, that changed his outlook on the world. Like a type of "conversion" experience, he turned from the life of pleasure, and his poetry turned to religious themes.
It seems that his profound experience was the consequence of his
sensitivity to the events of history that were unfolding around him.
He lived during the
First Crusade and other wars. There was a new kind
of religio-political fanaticism emerging in the
If one may speak of religious geniuses , then Judah Halevi must certainly be regarded among the greatest produced by medieval Judaism. His vision of a God that is accessed through tradition and devotion, and not philosophical speculation, dominates his later work.
His attachment to the Jewish people is an equally significant theme: he identifies his sufferings and hopes with that of the broader group. Like the authors of the Psalms , he gladly sinks his own identity in the wider one of the people of Israel; so that it is not always easy to distinguish the personality of the speaker.
Often Judah's poetic fancy finds joy in the thought of the "return" of his people to the Promised Land. He believed that perfect Jewish life was possible only in the Land of Israel . The period of political agitation about 1130, when the conflict between Islam and Christianity intensified, giving Judah reason to hope for such a return in the near future. The vision of the night, in which this was revealed to him, remained indeed but a dream; yet Judah never lost faith in the eventual deliverance of Israel, and in "the eternity" of his people. On this subject, he has expressed himself in poetry: Lo! Sun and moon, these minister for aye; The laws of day and night cease nevermore: Given for signs to Jacob's seed that they Shall ever be a nation — till these be o'er. If with His left hand He should thrust away, Lo! with His right hand He shall draw them nigh.
His piyyut , Mi Kamoka, was translated by Samuel di Castelnuovo and published in Venice in 1609.
The longest, and most comprehensive poem is a "Kedushah," which
summons all the universe to praise God with rejoicing, and which
terminates, curiously enough, in Ps. ciii. These poems were carried to
all lands, even as far as
Judah by his verses has also beautified the religious life of the home. His Sabbath hymns should be mentioned here; one of the most beautiful of which ends with the words: On Friday doth my cup o'erflow, What blissful rest the night shall know, When, in thine arms, my toil and woe Are all forgot, Sabbath my love! 'Tis dusk, with sudden light, distilled From one sweet face, the world is filled; The tumult of my heart is stilled — For thou art come, Sabbath my love! Bring fruits and wine and sing a gladsome lay, Cry, 'Come in peace, O restful Seventh day!'
Judah used complicated
Judah was recognized by his contemporaries as "the great Jewish national poet ", and in succeeding generations, by all the great scholars and writers in Israel. His poetry and writing have also been considered an early expression of support for Jewish nationalism.
ANALYSIS OF HIS POETRY
The remarkable, and apparently indissoluble, union of religion ,
nationalism , and patriotism , which were so characteristic of
post-exilic Judaism, reached its acme in
Judah Halevi and his poetry.
Yet this very union, in one so consistent as Judah, demanded the
fulfillment of the supreme politico-religious ideal of medieval
Judaism—the "return to Jerusalem". Though his impassioned call to
his contemporaries to return to "