TIMELINE OF WORLD HISTORY
 

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Western Literature
 
 
  The Beginnings of Literature. Myths and Legends

Classical Myth

Myth and Mystery

Bible. Hebrew literature

Ancient Greek literature

Ancient Greek literature. Greek theatre

Ancient Greek literature. Philosophical prose

Latin (Roman) literature

Latin (Roman) Literature. The Silver Age

Latin (Roman) Literature. Renaissance

Modern Italian Literature
The Middle Ages Literature

The Middle Ages. Elizabethan England

The Restoration

The Rise of the Novel

Cervantes and Spanish literature

The Enlightenment

Romanticism

Classicism and Naturalism

The 19th century - Prose

The 20th century - Modernism

The 20th century - The Political Novel
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
CONTENTS
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see also:
 
     
 



"Sepher Yetzirah"

 
     
 
 
 
 


Tintoretto. The Queen of Sheba and Solomon


Hebrew literature
 

 

 

 

The body of written works produced in the Hebrew language and distinct from Jewish literature, which also exists in other languages.

Literature in Hebrew has been produced uninterruptedly from the early 12th century bc, and certain excavated tablets may indicate a literature of even greater antiquity. From 1200 bc to c. ad 200, Hebrew was a spoken language in Palestine, first as biblical Hebrew, then as Mishnaic Hebrew, a later dialect that does not derive directly from the biblical dialect and one that gained literary status as the Pharisees began to employ it in their teaching in the 2nd century bc. It was not revived as a spoken language until the late 19th century, and in the 20th century it was adopted as the official language of the new State of Israel. The latter event gave impetus to a growing movement in Hebrew literature centred in Israel.

Hebrew literature is not synonymous with Jewish literature. Some Hebrew writing was produced by the Samaritans and in the 17th century by Protestant enthusiasts. Jews also produced important literatures in Greek, Aramaic, Arabic, Judeo-Spanish (Ladino), Yiddish, and a number of other languages. Apart from the Aramaic writings, however, such literatures always served only that part of Jewry using the language in question. When the community ceased to exist, the literature produced in that language was forgotten (or, in the case of Greek Jewish literature, became part of Christian tradition) except for whatever part of it had been translated into Hebrew and thus became part of Hebrew literature.

The Hebrew language, though not spoken between c. ad 200 and the late 19th century, has always adapted itself to the needs of changing literary tastes. In the Bible it develops from a simple and earthy idiom to a language suitable for the expression of sophisticated religious thought without losing the poetic force and rhythmic fullness that characterizes it. Mishnaic Hebrew is pedestrian and exact, and yet it can reach heights of irony or of warmth. In medieval poetry Hebrew allows extravagant displays of verbal artistry but also, in northwestern Europe, a simplicity equal to that of the spoken languages of its milieu. One generation of translators in the 12th century created a scientific Hebrew that is not inferior to contemporary Arabic or Latin in precision or syntactic refinement. The 17th–19th centuries saw the formation of a stately, rigid, classical style based on biblical Hebrew, but at the same time eastern European mystics made the language serve the expression of their love of God. Literary Hebrew in the 20th century draws upon ancient literature to a marked degree, with styles often modeled upon ancient predecessors. The modern period has also evolved a new type of language for nonliterary writing, while in novels the style is often based upon the spoken language.

 

Ancient Hebrew literature


Preexilian period, c. 1200–587 bc


All that is preserved of the literature of this period is slightly more than 20 of the 39 books included in the
Old Testament (the remainder being from the next period). Poetry probably preceded prose. Biblical poetry was based on the principle of parallelism; i.e., the two halves of a verse express the same idea, either by repeating it in different words or by stressing different aspects of it. Examples are found in the book of Psalms: “But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues” (Ps. 78:36); “He turned their rivers to blood, so that they could not drink of their streams” (Ps. 78:44). To this form was added a simple rhythm, consisting mainly in having each half of a line divided into an equal number of stressed words. There were also folk songs, to which belonged perhaps large parts of the Solomon "Song of Songs", dirges, epic chants, and psalms. The use of various forms of poetry in the work of the prophets appears to be a later development.

The earlier prose texts were still very close to poetry in structure and language. The first real prose may well have been some of the laws recorded in the Pentateuch. In Jeremiah and Deuteronomy a high standard of prose rhetoric was achieved: some of the conversations in the historical books were attempts to reproduce in writing the style of ordinary speech.



Period of the Second Temple, 538 bc–ad 70

The literary output of this period was large, only part of it belonging to the biblical canon. The biblical Hebrew of the writings was artificial because it had ceased to be spoken and had been replaced by Aramaic, a related Semitic language, and Mishnaic Hebrew. Works that are included among the Dead Sea Scrolls belong to this period. Some of these works provide evidence of a new kind of writing, the homiletic, or sermonizing, commentary to the Bible called Midrash. The only work of real literary merit among the scrolls is the fervent personal poetry of the Hymns of Thanksgiving.

Parts of the biblical books of Ezra and Daniel and certain works among the Dead Sea Scrolls are in an early form of Aramaic. This period also began to provide translations (called Targums) of most of the Hebrew Bible into a slightly later Aramaic.


Talmudic literature

In contrast to the works of the Bible and the Second Temple were the collections of writings concerned with Jewish civil and religious law. Whereas the former were lengthy writings bearing the imprint of their authors or editors, early rabbinic literature consisted entirely of collections of individual statements loosely strung together. The individual paragraphs exhibit the influence of Hellenistic rhetoric. Collections that follow the arrangement of biblical books are called Midrash, as opposed to works such as the Mishna, where the material is arranged according to subject. The Mishna was the main work of the period c. 100 bc–ad 200. The following period, ad 200–500, was notable for two main innovations: the appearance of an additional literary centre in Babylonia, where Jewry flourished in contrast to its subjugation under the oppressive rule of Rome and, later, Byzantium in Palestine; and the literary use of the spoken local dialects of Aramaic alongside Hebrew. The Talmuds produced by Palestine and Babylonia in this period contained a large proportion of Haggada, statements dealing with theological and ethical matters and using stories, anecdotes, and parables to illustrate certain points. This material was later an influence on Hebrew fiction of the Middle Ages and of the modern period.




Literary revival, 500–1000

In the 6th century, some Jewish groups attempted to enforce the exclusive use of Hebrew in the synagogue, this tendency being part of a Hebrew revival that began in Palestine and spread westward but did not reach Babylonia until the 10th century.


Piyyutim

Synagogues began in this period to appoint official precentors, part of whose duty it was to compose poetical additions to the liturgy on special sabbaths and festivals. The authors were called payṭanim (from Greek poiētēs, “poet”), their poems piyyuṭim. The keynote was messianic fervour and religious exuberance. Besides employing the entire biblical, Mishnaic, and Aramaic vocabularies, the payṭanim coined thousands of new words. Such poems, presupposing a highly educated audience, abound in recondite allusions and contain exhaustive lists of rites and laws. It is known that the most outstanding poets—Phineas the Priest, Yose ben Yose, Yannai, and Eleazar ha-Kalir, or ben Kalir—lived in that order, but when or where in Palestine any of them lived is not known. The accepted datings are 3rd century and 5th–6th century ad. Many piyyuṭim are still used in the synagogue.


Adoption of Arabic metre

Biblical Hebrew was re-established as the literary idiom about 900 by Sa'adia ben Joseph, grammarian and religious polemicist. The Arabic system of quantitative metre was adapted for Hebrew during this period (900–1000), probably by Dunash ben Labrat. At first the piyyuṭ form was retained for religious poems, and the new metres were used only for secular poetry, which closely imitated Arabic models and, like the latter, was chiefly employed for laudatory addresses to prominent people.
 


Sa'adia ben Joseph


Saʿadia ben Joseph, Arabic Saʿīd Ibn Yūsuf Al-fayyūmī (b. 882, Dilaz, in al-Fayyūm, Egypt—d. September 942, Sura, Babylonia), Jewish exegete, philosopher, and polemicist whose influence on Jewish literary and communal activities made him one of the most important Jewish scholars of his time. His unique qualities became especially apparent in 921 in Babylonia during a dispute over Jewish calendrical calculations. He produced his greatest philosophical work, Kitāb al-amānāt wa al-iʿtiqādāt (“The Book of Beliefs and Opinions”) at Sura in 935. His Arabic translation of the Old Testament is exceptionally valuable for its commentaries.

Life
Little is known of Saʿadia’s early years. When he departed from Egypt, at the age of about 23, he left behind, besides his wife and two sons, a distinguished group of devoted students. By that time he had already composed a Hebrew-Arabic dictionary, later expanded and issued under the name ha-Egron. For unknown reasons he migrated to Palestine. There he found a growing community of Karaites, a heretical Jewish sect that rejected the Talmud (the authoritative rabbinic compendium of law, lore, and commentary); this group enjoyed the support of the local Muslim authorities.

Apparently disappointed with the standards of learning in Palestine, he left for Babylonia. There he was confronted with not only the Karaitic schism but also a gnostic trend (derived from an ancient dualistic, theosophical movement), which rejected the foundations of all monotheistic religions. Books such as that of the Persian Jewish heretic Ḥiwi al-Balkhī, which denied the omnipotence, omniscience, and justice of the biblical God and pointed to biblical inconsistencies, were then popular. In the face of such challenges, Saʿadia marshaled his great talents in the defense of religion in general and Jewish tradition in particular. Employing the same manner as Ḥiwi, Saʿadia composed his refutation of him in a somewhat complicated rhymed Hebrew. Then, too, he wrote his Kitāb ar-radd ʿalā ʿAnān (“Refutation of Anan,” the founder of Karaism), a lost work that has been identified with Saʿadia’s partially extant polemical poem Essa meshali.

In 921 Saʿadia, who by then had attained scholarly prominence, headed the Babylonian Jewish scholars in their conflict with the Palestinian scholar Aaron ben Meir, who had promulgated a far-reaching change in the Jewish calendrical computation. The conflict ended with no definite victory for either side. Yet, Saʿadia’s participation in it demonstrated his indomitable courage and his importance for the Jewish community in Babylonia. Throughout this period he continued his literary polemics against the Karaites. In 928 he completed his Kitāb attamyīz (“Book of Discernment”), a defense of the traditional Rabbanite calendar.

On May 22 of the same year he was appointed by the exilarch (head of Babylonian Jewry) David ben Zakkai as the gaon (“head”) of the academy of Sura, which had been transferred to Baghdad. Upon assuming this office, he recognized the need to systematize Talmudic law and canonize it by subject. Toward this end he produced Kitāb al-mawārīth (“Book on the Laws of Inheritance”); Aḥkam al-wadīʿah (“The Laws on Deposits”); Kitāb ash-shahādah wa al-wathāʾiq (“Book Concerning Testimony and Documents”); Kitāb aṭ-ṭerefot (“Book Concerning Forbidden Meats”); Siddur, a complete arrangement of the prayers and the laws pertaining to them; and some other minor works. In the Siddur he included his original religious poems. These works clearly show the Greco-Arabic methods of classification and composition.

His accomplishments intensified his sense of chosenness and made him more unyielding and less compromising. As it seems, these attitudes alienated some of his friends and provoked the envy of the Exilarch. In 932, when Saʿadia refused to endorse a decision issued by the Exilarch in a litigation, an open breach ensued between the two leaders. The Exilarch excommunicated Saʿadia, and the latter retaliated by excommunicating the Exilarch. After three years of embittered struggle, in which each side enjoyed the support of some rich and politically influential Jews of Baghdad, Ben Zakkai succeeded in having the Muslim ruler al-Qāhir remove Saʿadia from his office. The Gaon went into seclusion.

The years that followed turned out to be the brightest in Saʿadia’s literary career. During these years he composed his major philosophical work, Kitāb al-amānāt wa al-iʿtiqādāt. The objective of this work was the harmonization of revelation and reason. In structure and content it displays a definite influence of Greek philosophy and of the theology of the Muʿtazilī, the rationalist sect of Islām. The introduction refutes skepticism and establishes the foundations of human knowledge. Chapter one seeks to establish creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) in order to ascertain the existence of a Creator-God. Saʿadia then discusses God’s uniqueness, justice, revelation, free will, and other doctrines accepted both by Judaism and by the Muʿtazilī (a great Islāmic sect of speculative theology, which emphasized the doctrines of God’s uniqueness and absolute justice). The second part of the book deals with the essence of the soul and eschatological problems and presents guidelines for ethical living.

In 937 a reconciliation between the Gaon and the Exilarch occurred, and Saʿadia was reinstated as gaon. In 940 Ben Zakkai died and seven months later his son died, leaving behind a young child. Saʿadia took the orphan into his home and treated him like his own. Saʿadia himself died in September 942.


Sa'adia’s works.
Exact chronology for many of Saʿadia’s works cannot be definitely determined. The most important of these in philology are: Kutub al-lughah (“Books on Grammar”), fragments of which were published by Solomon Skoss, and Tafsīr as-sab ʿīn lafẓah (“The Explanation of the Seventy Hapaxlegomina”), fragments of which were edited by N. Alony.

Saʿadia’s opus magnum was on exegesis. He prepared an Arabic translation of the whole Pentateuch (published by Joseph Derenbourg) and a translation with an extensive commentary on Genesis 1–28, Exodus, and Leviticus. Only a few fragments of this extensive commentary have been published. His translation and commentaries on Isaiah, Proverbs, Job, and Psalms are extant in their entirety. Fragments of his commentaries on Daniel and Canticles, Esther, and Lamentations are preserved in the Geniza collection (fragments of medieval texts found in an old synagogue in Cairo and transferred to various libraries). In his biblical commentaries the Gaon formulated new principles of interpretation modeled on the rules of Greco-Arabic rhetoric.

His anti-Karaite works include Kitāb ar-radd ʿalā Ibn Sākawayhī (“Refutation of Ibn Sākawayhī”) and Kitāb taḥṣīl ash-sharāʾiʿ as-samāʿīyah (“Book Concerning the Sources of the Irrational Laws”). In the latter work the Gaon contends that matters pertaining to the irrational commandments of the Mosaic Law may never be decided by means of analogy but only by the regulations transmitted through oral tradition. Talmudic tradition is therefore, he argues, indispensable. Another anti-Karaite work is the Maqālah fī sirāj as-sabt (“Treatise on the Lights of Sabbath”). It refutes the Karaite injunction forbidding the preparation of light for the sabbath.

In philosophy he wrote a philosophical commentary on the mystical book Sefer yetzira. In contrast to his “Book on Beliefs and Opinions,” this volume does not show any influence of kalām (Islāmic scholastic theology).

Moses Zucker

 

 


Dunash ben Labrat

Dunash , Labrat also spelled Librat, also called Al-abrad, or Adonina Ha-levi (b. c. 920, Fès, Mor.?—d. c. 990, Córdoba?), Hebrew poet, grammarian, and polemicist who was the first to use Arabic metres in his verse, thus inaugurating a new mode in Hebrew poetry. His strictures on the Hebrew lexicon of Menahem ben Saruq provoked a quarrel that helped initiate a golden age in Hebrew philology.

Dunash was born either in Fès or in Baghdad and after travelling to Sura, Babylonia, studied there under a renowned master of Jewish learning, Saʿadia ben Joseph. It was in Sura that he first composed his poems in Arabic metres, an innovation that amazed Saʿadia.

After a time, Dunash migrated to Córdoba, in Moorish Spain, then experiencing a renaissance of Jewish culture under a powerful Jewish statesman and adviser to the caliph, Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut (c. 915–975?). A favourite of Ḥisdai’s, the philologist Menahem ben Saruq, had written the first true Hebrew dictionary. Dunash wrote a devastating polemic against this work that combined personal attacks on Menahem with praise for Ḥisdai. Menahem lost favour with Ḥisdai and died not long afterward. Menahem’s pupils answered with a polemic of their own, a quarrel that paved the way for a fresh examination of Hebrew grammar. Dunash also wrote an unpublished treatise on grammar in which he reveals his understanding (unusual for his time) that, although Hebrew verbs are based on three-consonant roots, in some conjugations a root letter may be dropped.
 




The Middle Ages

The Palestinian tradition in Europe, 800–1300

From Palestine, the Hebrew renaissance soon spread into the Byzantine Empire. In Sicily and southern Italy (which belonged to Byzantium) several important payṭanim were at work, and before 1000 a secular literature began to arise in Italy: a fantastic travelogue of Eldad the Danite; a historical romance, Sefer ha-yashar (1625; Eng. trans., Sefer ha-yashar, the Book of the Righteous) and Josippon, a revision of Josephus’ Antiquities filled with legendary incidents—this last-named book was popular until modern times and was translated into many languages. Nathan ben Yehiel completed in 1101 at Rome a dictionary of Talmudic Aramaic and Hebrew, the ʿArukh, which is still used.

In the middle of the 10th century members of the north Italian family Kalonymos brought Talmudic studies and piyyuṭim to Mainz, Ger., where the yeshiva (school) became a centre of studies under the direction of Gershom ben Judah, known as “the Light of the Exile.” As a poet, he established a distinctive style of European piyyuṭ in poems that read very much like early European popular poetry. The greatest alumnus of the Mainz academy was Rashi, an author of complete commentaries on the Bible and on the Babylonian Talmud, himself a poet of note.

The slaughter of Jewish peoples in western and central Europe during the Crusades drove large masses of Jews into eastern Europe. The German Jews carried with them their Yiddish speech but hardly any literary culture. In Germany accounts of the disaster were written in a new prose style permeated with poetry; liturgical poetry became henceforth mainly a chronicle of persecutions. These sufferings inspired an important mystical movement, largely propagated through stories, of which the chief collections are the Ayn Shoyn Mayse Bukh (1602; Maʿaseh Book) and the Sefer Ḥasidim (1538; “The Book of the Just”), the latter attributed to Judah ben Samuel, “the Hasid” of Regensburg (died 1217).
 


Eldad the Danite

Eldad ben Mahli ha-Dani, English Eldad the Danite (flourished 9th century), Jewish traveller and philologist who was generally credited with the authorship of a fanciful geographical narrative that exerted an enduring influence throughout the Middle Ages. This possibly gave rise to the legend of Prester John, the mighty Oriental priest-potentate of fabulous wealth and power.

Probably originally from southern Arabia, Eldad visited Mesopotamia, Egypt, North Africa, and Spain and caused a stir by his account of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. He himself claimed to be a descendant of the Danites, who, together with the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, and Gad, were said to have established a Jewish kingdom in Cush (Kush), variously interpreted as Ethiopia or, roughly, present-day Sudan. His veracity was challenged largely because the ritual prescriptions he described diverged from those of the Talmud, the rabbinical compendium of law, lore, and commentary. His Hebrew narrative, Sefer Eldad, established his reputation as a philologist whom leading medieval Jewish grammarians and lexicographers quoted as an authority on linguistic difficulties. It appeared in several languages and in widely deviating versions. The first edition was published at the Italian city of Mantua in 1480.
 

 

 


Gershom ben Judah

Gershom ben Judah, (b. c. 960, Metz, Lorraine [now in France]—d. 1028/40, Mainz, Franconia [Germany]), eminent rabbinical scholar who proposed a far-reaching series of legal enactments (taqqanot) that profoundly molded the social institutions of medieval European Jewry.

He was called the light of the exile and also Rabbenu (“Our Teacher,” a title of reverence). As head of the rabbinic academy at Mainz, he was a pioneer in bringing the learning of the Talmudic academies at Babylon and Palestine to western European schools. At synods of community leaders he proposed his taqqanot, which included the prohibition of polygamy (permitted by biblical and Talmudic law but already mostly unpracticed), interdiction of the husband’s right to divorce without the wife’s consent, prohibition of reading another’s mail without his consent (mail then was usually carried by travelers), and prohibition against taunting Jews who had been forcibly converted to another religion and had then returned to Judaism.

He wrote many responsa (authoritative answers in response to questions about Jewish law), worked on a critical text of the Talmud and the Masora, and transmitted to his students an extensive oral commentary on the Talmud. All subsequent rabbinic students in western Europe considered themselves, in the words of the renowned medieval French Jewish commentator Rashi (1040–1105), “students of his students.”
 

 

 


Judah ben Samuel

Judah ben Samuel, also called Judah The Ḥasid Of Regensburg, or Yehuda The Ḥasid (d. 1217), Jewish mystic and semilegendary pietist, a founder of the fervent, ultrapious movement of German Ḥasidism. He was also the principal author of the ethical treatise Sefer Ḥasidim (published in Bologna, 1538; “Book of the Pious”), possibly the most important extant document of medieval Judaism and a major work of Jewish literature. Judah is not to be confused with the commentator Judah Sir Leon of Paris (1166–1224), also called ha-Ḥasid, or the 17th-century messianic enthusiast Judah Ḥasid ha-Levi, nor is the Ḥasidic movement of his time directly related to the 18th-century Ḥasidic movement founded by the Baʿal Shem Ṭov.

The facts of Judah’s life, like those of other major Jewish mystics, are obscure. He was the son of Samuel the Ḥasid, also a mystic, and belonged to the eminent Kalonymos family, which provided medieval Germany with many of her mystics and spiritual leaders. It is known that in about 1195, possibly because of German persecution, he left Speyer for Regensburg, where he founded a yeshiva (academy) and gathered such disciples as the mystic Eleazar of Worms (also a member of the Kalonymos family) and the codifiers Isaac ben Moses of Vienna and Baruch ben Samuel of Mainz. Most of Judah’s life, however, is clothed in legend; e.g., it is stated that he was ignorant of Jewish law until, at 18, sudden enlightenment enabled him to work such miracles as reviving the dead and visiting the prophet Elijah.

The Sefer Ḥasidim is a compilation of the writings of Judah, of his father Samuel, and of Judah’s disciple Eleazar of Worms. Judah’s teachings, however, appear to give a distinctive stamp to the entire work. The treatise, although disorganized and poorly written, is invaluable for giving a realistic picture of the concerns and problems of a medieval Jewish community; religion is revealed in its practical workings, rather than as disembodied theories. Dealing with man’s relations with God and his fellowman, his business practices, the sabbath, social intercourse with Gentiles, penitence, and a host of other subjects, the book is a detailed manual of conduct.

Judah also wrote a mystic work surviving only in citations dealing with the kavod (“divine glory”), the aspect of God that man can experience, as distinguished from the ultimate reality of God, which is beyond man’s experience or comprehension. Judah was also the author of liturgies and responsa (authoritative answers, or responses, to questions of Jewish law).
 


 

The golden age in Spain, 900–1200


Spanish Jewry began to flourish in Muslim Spain under the caliphate of Córdoba, where Hasdai ibn Shaprut, a vizier, was the first great patron of Hebrew letters. His secretary, Menahem ben Saruk (died c. 970), wrote a biblical lexicon, which was criticized by Dunash ben Labrat when the latter arrived in Spain with philological ideas from the East. Samuel ha-Nagid, vizier of Granada (990–1055), himself a poet and philologist, gathered around him a group of poets, most outstanding among whom was Ibn Gabirol. Moses ibn Ezra of Granada (died c. 1139) was the centre of a brilliant circle of poets. Moses’ kinsman Abraham ibn Ezra, a poet, philosopher, grammarian, and Bible commentator, attacked the language and style of the early payṭanim; he and Judah ben Samuel Halevi were the first to use Arabic metres in religious poems. Dominated by Arab standards of taste, the secular poetry dealt with themes of Arabic poetry and often reproduced Arabic phrases; it was written to be appreciated by a small circle of connoisseurs and declined with the collapse of Jewish prosperity in Muslim Spain. The last major poet in Spain was Judah ben Solomon Harizi, who translated various philosophical works into Hebrew.

The use of biblical Hebrew was made possible by the work of philologists. Of great importance was the creation of comparative linguistics by Judah ibn Kuraish (about 900) and Isaac ibn Barun (about 1100). Judah Hayyuj, a disciple of Menahem ben Saruk, recast Hebrew grammar, and, in the form given to it by David Kimhi of Narbonne (died c. 1235), the new system was taken over by the Christian humanists and through them by modern scholarship. The first complete Hebrew grammar, Kitāb al-lumaʿ (1886; “The Book of the Variegated Flower Beds”), was written by Ibn Janāh of Córdoba (died 1050).

Jewish medieval philosophers in Spain wrote in Arabic, not Hebrew, until the 13th century. Apart from Isaac Israeli (north Africa, died c. 940) few medieval Jews made original contributions to science, but the Spanish Jews shared the best scientific education. Abraham bar Hiyya (died c. 1136) of Barcelona was an original mathematician who wrote in Hebrew works on mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy. When the Almohads expelled the Jews from Muslim Spain in 1148, many learned refugees went to Languedoc and Provence and there translated scientific and philosophical works.
 


Hisdai ibn Shaprut

Hisdai ibn Shaprut, in full Ḥisdai Abu Yusuf ben Isaac ben Ezra ibn Shaprut, Ḥisdai also spelled Ḥasdai (b. c. 915, Jaén, Spain—d. c. 975, Córdoba), Jewish physician, translator, and political figure who helped inaugurate the golden age of Hebrew letters in Moorish Spain and who was a powerful statesman in a number of major diplomatic negotiations.

After becoming court physician to the powerful Umayyad caliph ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān III, Ḥisdai gradually gained eminence in the Arab world, acting as vizier without title. He used his linguistic talents (he knew Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin) and persuasive personality in delicate diplomatic missions between Muslim and Christian rulers. On one occasion he helped negotiate a treaty with the Byzantine Empire. One of the presents from the Byzantine emperor to the caliph was a copy of a pharmacological text by the Greek physician Dioscorides (fl. c. 50 ce); Ḥisdai helped translate it into Arabic. On another occasion, Ḥisdai paved the way for a peace treaty with the warring kingdoms of Navarre and León. After ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān died in 961, Ḥisdai continued to perform important services for ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān’s son and successor, al-Ḥakam II, in whose reign he died.

Ḥisdai helped inaugurate the golden age of Spanish Judaism, gathering under his patronage such major literary figures as Dunash ben Labrat (c. 920–c. 990) and Menahem ben Saruq (c. 910–c. 970), who helped establish scientific Hebrew grammar and a new mode in Hebrew poetry. Ḥisdai fostered the study of Jewish law and the Talmud (the rabbinic compendium of law, lore, and commentary), thereby making Spanish Jewry relatively independent of the Eastern Talmudic academies.

Ḥisdai’s correspondence (written by Menahem ben Saruq) with a Jewish Khazar king, Joseph, is of historic importance. The Khazars, a Turkic people dwelling in southern Russia, had converted to Judaism in the middle of the 8th century ce. Ḥisdai’s letter and the king’s response led a shadowy existence until their unexpected publication in the 16th century. After much controversy, the authenticity of both letters and the accuracy of their information seem well established.
 

 

 


Menahem ben Saruk


Menahem ben Saruq, in full Menahem ben Jacob ibn Saruq, Saruq also spelled Saruk (b. c. 910, Tortosa, Independent Moorish States—d. c. 970, Córdoba?), Jewish lexicographer and poet who composed the first Hebrew-language dictionary, a lexicon of the Bible; earlier biblical dictionaries were written in Arabic and translated into Hebrew.

After travelling to Córdoba, a city in Moorish Spain, Menahem became a protégé of Isaac, the father of Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut, who was to become a powerful Jewish statesman in Córdoba. After Isaac’s death, Ḥisdai employed Menahem as his literary secretary. Menahem composed the historic letter Ḥisdai sent to Joseph, king of the Khazars, inquiring about the Khazars’ conversion to Judaism.

Ḥisdai also encouraged Menahem to compile his famous dictionary. It was severely criticized by a rival philologist and poet, Dunash ben Labrat, who, by his bitter attacks, succeeded in turning Ḥisdai against Menahem. Menahem probably died not long after his fall from favour. Dunash’s attack provoked a counterattack by Menahem’s pupils, one of whom, Judah ben David Ḥayyuj, was a major Hebrew grammarian.

Menahem’s dictionary, the Maḥberet (from ḥaber, “to join”), despite its faults, did have many virtues and remained in use for many years. He established that Hebrew is a language with definite, discoverable rules, and he illustrated his principles with many elegantly phrased examples. His dictionary was an invaluable aid to Bible study for European Jews who could not read Arabic.

 

 


Samuel ha-Nagid


Samuel ha-Nagid, Arabic Ismail Ibn Nagrelʿa (b. 993, Córdoba, Spain—d. 1055/56, Granada), Talmudic scholar, grammarian, philologist, poet, warrior, and statesman who for two decades was the power behind the throne of the caliphate of Granada.

As a youth Samuel received a thorough education in all branches of Jewish and Islāmic knowledge and mastered Arabic calligraphy, a rare achievement among Jews. When Córdoba was sacked in 1013 by the Berbers, a north African people believing in Islām, Samuel fled to Málaga, at that time part of the Muslim kingdom of Granada.

Samuel’s unusual linguistic and calligraphic skills caught the attention of the Granadan vizier, who employed him as his private secretary. He soon became an invaluable political adviser to the vizier, who, at his death, commended Samuel to the caliph Ḥabbūs. The caliph made Samuel the new vizier, and as such he assumed direction of Granada’s diplomatic and military affairs.

Ḥabbūs died in 1037. Although his elder, pleasure-loving son then assumed the throne, Samuel was the caliph in fact if not in actuality. He steered Granada through years of continuous warfare and actively participated in all major campaigns. His influence became so great that he was even able to arrange for his son Joseph to succeed him as vizier.

Samuel was also nagid (Hebrew: “chief ”) of Granadan Jewry. As such, he appointed all the judges and headed the Talmudic academy. He is generally believed to be the author of Mevo ha-Talmud (“Introduction to the Talmud”), a long-lived Talmudic manual. He also wrote a concordance to the Bible, encouraged learning in all fields, and became a respected, even revered figure among both Arabs and Jews.
 

 

 


Ibn Gabirol
 

Ibn Gabirol, in full Solomon ben Yehuda Ibn Gabirol, Arabic Abū Ayyūb Sulaymān ibn Yaḥyā ibn Gabirūt, Latin Avicebron or Avencebrol (b. c. 1022, Málaga, caliphate of Córdoba—d. c. 1058/70, Valencia, kingdom of Valencia), one of the outstanding figures of the Hebrew school of religious and secular poetry during the Jewish Golden Age in Moorish Spain. He was also an important Neoplatonic philosopher.

Early life and career
Born in Málaga about 1022, Ibn Gabirol received his higher education in Saragossa, where he joined the learned circle of other Cordoban refugees established there around famed scholars and the influential courtier Yekutiel ibn Ḥasan. Protected by this patron, whom Ibn Gabirol immortalized in poems of loving praise, the 16-year-old poet became famous for his religious hymns in masterly Hebrew. The customary language of Andalusian literature had been Arabic, and Hebrew had only recently been revived as a means of expression for Jewish poets. At 16 he could rightly boast of being world famous:

…My song is a crown for kings and mitres on the heads of governors.
My body walks upon the earth, while my spirit ascends to the clouds.
Behold me: at sixteen my heart like that of a man of eighty is wise.

He made, however, the mistake of lampooning Samuel ha-Nagid, a rising Jewish statesman and vizier in the Berber kingdom of Granada, who was also a talented poet, Talmudist, strategist, and model writer of letters. After making poetical amends, Ibn Gabirol seems to have been admitted to the favour of this vizier, whose main court encomiast he subsequently became.

This happened while the poet was involved (on the Saragossan side) in the disproportionate strife between the grammarians of Saragossa and those of Granada concerning Hebrew linguistics. Being an emancipated Cordoban, he offended the orthodox with heresies such as recommending childlessness, denunciation of the “world,” Neoplatonism, and an almost insane self-aggrandizement (coupled with the use of animal epithets for his opponents). He apparently had to flee from Saragossa; the circumstances leading to his departure are described in his “Song of Strife”:

Sitting among everybody crooked and foolish his [the poet’s] heart only was wise.
The one slakes you with adder’s poison, the other, flattering, tries to confuse your head.
One, setting you a trap in his design will address you: “Please, my lord.”
A people whose fathers I would despise to be dogs for my sheep…

His “Song of Strife” and other poems show that his being a synagogal poet did not protect him against the hatred of his co-religionists in Saragossa, who called him a Greek because of his secular leanings.

Against all warnings by his patron Yekutiel, Ibn Gabirol concentrated on Neoplatonic philosophy, after having composed a non-offensive collection of proverbs in Arabic, Mukhtār al-jawāhir (“Choice of Pearls”), and a more original, though dated, ethical treatise (based on contemporary theories of the human temperaments), also in Arabic, Kitāb iṣlāḥ al-akhlāq (“The Improvement of the Moral Qualities”). The latter contains chapters on pride, meekness, modesty, and impudence, which are linked with the sense of sight; and on love, hate, compassion, and cruelty, linked with hearing and other senses.

In need of a new patron after the execution of Yekutiel in 1039 by those who had murdered his king and taken over power, Ibn Gabirol secured a position as a court poet with Samuel ha-Nagid, who, becoming the leading statesman of Granada, was in need of the poet’s prestige. Ibn Gabirol composed widely resounding poems with a messianic tinge for Samuel and for Jehoseph (Yūsuf), his son and later successor in the vizierate of Granada. All other biographical data about Ibn Gabirol except his place of death, Valencia, must be extrapolated from his poetry.


Poetry
The Jewish subculture of Moorish Andalusia (southern Spain) was engendered by the cultural “pressure” of the Arab peers. Ibn Gabirol’s dual education, typical for the Jewish intelligentsia in the larger cities, must have encompassed both the entire Hebrew literary heritage—the Bible, Talmud, and other rabbinic writings and, in particular, Hebrew linguistics—and the Arabic, including the Qurʾān, Arabic secular and religious poetry and poetics, and the philosophical, philological, and possibly medical literature.

His poetry, like that of the entire contemporary Hebrew school, is modelled after the Arabic. Metrics, rhyme systems, and most of the highly developed imagery follow the Arabic school, but the biblical language adds a particular tinge. Many of Ibn Gabirol’s poems show the influence of the knightly Arab bard al-Mutanabbī and the pessimistic Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī.

His secular topics included exaggerated, Arab-inspired self-praise, justified by the fame of the child prodigy; love poems (renouncing yet keenly articulate); praise of his noble and learned protectors, together with scathingly satirical reproach of others; dirges (the most moving of which are linked with the execution of the innocent Yekutiel); wine songs (sometimes libertine); spring and rain poems; flower portraits; the agonizingly realistic description of a skin ailment; and a long didactic poem on Hebrew grammar. Ibn Gabirol’s long poetic description of a castle led to the discovery of the origins of the first Alhambra palace, built by the above-mentioned Jehoseph. Of a very rich production, about 200 secular poems and even more religious ones were preserved, though no collection of his poems survived. Many manuscript fragments of the former came to light only recently, preserved in synagogue attics by his co-religionists’ respect for the Hebrew letter. Many of his religious poems were included in Jewish prayer books throughout the world.

His religious poems, in particular the poignant short prayers composed for the individual, presuppose the high degree of literacy typical of Moorish Spain, and they, too, show Arabic incentive. His famed rhymed prose poem “Keter malkhut” (“The Crown of the Kingdom”), a meditation stating the measurements of the spheres of the universe, jolts the reader into the abject feeling of his smallness but, subsequently, builds him up by a proclamation of the divine grace.

The following morning meditation exemplifies his religious poetry:

See me at dawn, my Rock; my Shelter, when my plight
I state before Thy face likewise again at night,
Outpouring anguished thought—that Thou behold’st my heart
and what it contemplates I realise in fright.
Low though the value beof mind’s and lip’s tribute
to Thee (accomplishes aught my spirit with its might?).
Most cherish’st Thou the hymnwe sing before Thee. Thus,
while Thou support’st my breath, I praise Thee in Thine height.
Amen.


Philosophy
His Fountain of Life, in five treatises, is preserved in toto only in the Latin translation, Fons vitae, with the author’s name appearing as Avicebron or Avencebrol; it was re-identified as Ibn Gabirol’s work by Salomon Munk in 1846. It had little influence upon Jewish philosophy other than on León Hebreo (Judah Abrabanel) and Benedict de Spinoza, but it inspired the Kabbalists, the adherents of Jewish esoteric mysticism. Its influence upon Christian Scholasticism was marked, although it was attacked by St. Thomas Aquinas for equating concepts with realities. Grounded in Plotinus and other Neoplatonic writers yet also in Aristotelian logic and metaphysics, Ibn Gabirol developed a system in which he introduced the conception of a divine will, like the Logos (or divine “word”) of Philo. It is an essential unity of creativity of and with God, mutually related like sun and sunlight, which mediates actively between the transcendent deity and the cosmos that God created out of nothingness (to be understood as the potentiality for creation). Matter emanates directly from the deity as a prime matter that supports all substances and even the “intelligent” substances, the sphere-moving powers and angels. This concept was accepted by the Franciscan school of Scholastics but rejected by the Dominicans, including St. Thomas, for whom form (and only one, not many) and not matter is the creative principle. Since matter, according to Aristotle and Plotinus, “yearns for formation” and, thus, moving toward the nearness of God, causes the rotation of the spheres, the finest matter of the highest spheres is propelled by the strongest “yearning,” which issues from God and returns to him and is active in man (akin to the last line of Dante’s Divine Comedy: “The love which moves the sun and the other stars”).

Yet, the dry treatise does not betray the passionate quest of the Neoplatonist author. A philosophical poem, beginning “That man’s love,” reveals the human intent. Therein, a disciple asks the poet-philosopher what importance the world could have for the deity (to be understood in Aristotelian terms as a deity that only contemplates its own perfection). The poet answers that all of existence is permeated, though to different degrees, by the yearning of matter toward formation, and he declares that this yearning may give God the “glory” that the heavens proclaim, as the Bible teaches.

Frederick P. Bargebuhr

 

 


Moses ibn Ezra
 

Moses ibn Ezra, (b. c. 1060, Granada, Spain—d. c. 1139), Hebrew poet and critic, one of the finest poets of the golden age of Spanish Jewry (900–1200). He was one of the first Jewish poets to write secular verse; his surname, “ha-Sallaḥ” (Hebrew: Writer of Penitential Poems), however, was bestowed because of his penitential prayers (seliḥot).

Known in Arabic as Abū Hārūn Mūsā, he belonged to a prominent Hispano-Hebrew family (his three brothers were eminent scholars) and was related to the poet and biblical interpreter Abraham ibn Ezra. He fell deeply in love with a niece, the daughter of one of his older brothers, and she requited his love. His brother, however, refused his suit, giving her hand to a younger brother. This episode affected Ibn Ezra deeply, not only estranging him from his brothers and driving him from Granada but also influencing his subsequent poetry.

Both his sacred and his secular poetry are generally considered to be unsurpassed in mastery of the Hebrew language and poetic structure and style. Much of his secular poetry is found in the cycle Tarshish. In it, he celebrates love, the pleasures of wine, and the beauty of birdsong and bemoans faithlessness and the onset of old age.

His later works were mostly penitential prayers of an introspective, melancholy cast; many of them are included in the liturgy of the Sefardim (Jews of Spanish or Portuguese descent) for the New Year and the Day of Atonement. He also wrote a moving elegy when his former love died in childbirth.

Ibn Ezra wrote, in Arabic, an important treatise on the poetic art, Kitāb al-muḥāḍarah wa al-mudhākarah (“Conversations and Recollections”; translated into Hebrew as Shirat Yisraʾel, or “Song of Israel,” in 1924 by B. Halper). Dealing with Arabic, Castilian, and Jewish poetry, the work is an important Spanish literary history.

Also in Arabic, Ibn Ezra wrote a philosophical treatise, sections of which were translated into Hebrew as ʿArugat ha-bosem (“The Bed of Spices”). It deals with such problems as the attributes of God and the microcosmic nature of man and is largely a compilation of the thoughts of other philosophers.
 

 

 


Abraham ibn Ezra

 

Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra, (b. 1092/93, Tudela, Emirate of Saragossa—d. 1167, Calahorra, Spain), poet, grammarian, traveller, Neoplatonic philosopher, and astronomer, best known as a biblical exegete whose commentaries contributed to the Golden Age of Spanish Judaism.

As a young man, he lived in Muslim Spain. Not much is known about his early life. He was on friendly terms with the eminent poet and philosopher Judah ha-Levi, and he travelled to North Africa and possibly to Egypt. Primarily known as a scholar and poet up to that point, in about 1140 Ibn Ezra began a lifelong series of wanderings throughout Europe, in the course of which he produced distinguished works of biblical exegesis and disseminated biblical lore.

His biblical commentaries include expositions of the Book of Job, the Book of Daniel, Psalms, and, most importantly, a work produced in his old age, a commentary on the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. Although his exegeses are basically philological, he inserted enough philosophical remarks to reveal himself to be a Neoplatonic pantheist. At the same time, he believed that God gave form to uncreated, eternal matter, a concept somewhat at odds with his Neoplatonic emanations doctrine. Ibn Ezra, in his departure from orthodox biblical interpretation (although he extolled such orthodoxy), is sometimes held to be a precursor of the great 17th-century philosopher Spinoza. His commentary on the Pentateuch is sometimes ranked with the classic 11th-century commentaries by Rashi on the Talmud, the rabbinic compendium of law, lore, and commentary.

Ibn Ezra also translated the Hispano-Hebrew grammarians who had written in Arabic and wrote grammatical treatises. He also had a good knowledge of astronomy and cast horoscopes, and he believed in numerological mysticism as well.
 

 

 


Judah ben Samuel Halevi
 

Judah ha-Levi, Hebrew in full Yehuda Ben Shemuel ha-Levi (b. c. 1075, Tudela, Kingdom of Pamplona [Navarre]—d. July 1141, Egypt), Jewish poet and religious philosopher. His works were the culmination of the development of Hebrew poetry within the Arabic cultural sphere. Among his major works are the poems collected in Dīwān, the “Zionide” poems celebrating Zion, and the Sefer ha-Kuzari (“Book of the Khazar”), presenting his philosophy of Judaism in dialogue form.

Life
Judah ha-Levi was born in the town of Tudela in northern Spain. At the time of his birth, most of Spain, including his native town, was still under Muslim rule, but the Reconquista, the Christian sovereigns’ struggle to regain the territories lost to the Muslims, was already under way. In 1085 King Alfonso VI of Castile conquered Toledo and made it his capital, and the exploits of the Cid, the celebrated national hero of Spain, also fall into the same period. Judah ha-Levi, whose poetic gifts manifested themselves unusually early, spent his childhood in the Christian part of the country, but even as a boy he felt himself drawn to Muslim Spain, then one of the principal cultural centres of Europe.

Judah ha-Levi went to Andalusia in southern Spain some time before 1090, where he established contact with local Hebrew poets and intellectuals, and justly attracted considerable attention by his impressive talent. The most famous Hebrew poet of the time, Moses ibn Ezra from Granada, invited Judah ha-Levi to visit him, and the two sealed a bond of lifelong friendship. His stay in Granada, enjoyed in the company of Ibn Ezra, was a period of success and happiness. He expressed his good spirits in several poems. This pleasant period ended in 1090 when Granada was stormed by the Almoravids, North African Berber disciples of a zealous Muslim movement, who now established an orthodox and intolerant regime in Andalusia. It is not known with any certainty whether Judah ha-Levi witnessed the Almoravid invasion in Granada or elsewhere, but the event greatly influenced the remainder of his life and his world view.

In his youth Judah ha-Levi also spent time in other Jewish centres of Andalusia, for example, in Lucena, a town of predominantly Jewish population in which a noted yeshiva, or academy for Jewish theological studies, was located. He composed a poetic epitaph when Isaac Alfasi, the head of the institution, died in 1103 and maintained very friendly relations with his successor, Joseph ibn Migash, for whom he even wrote letters. Judah ha-Levi also spent a certain amount of time in Sevilla (Seville), where he was poorly received by some wealthy Jews, on whom he revenged himself by denouncing their greed and ignorance in biting satirical verses. There are intimations in his poems that he must once have known material distress and depended on the good will of generous patrons.

Judah ha-Levi finally made his way, however, and became independent. Disappointed with the Almoravid regime, he turned toward Christian Castile and settled in its capital city of Toledo. There he worked untiringly as a physician, one of the professions open to Jews in Christian surroundings, a profession which in fact brought them into close contact with those surroundings.

As a resident of Toledo he celebrated prominent Castilian Jews in his verses, particularly the successful courtier Joseph ibn Ferruziel, better known by his Hispano-Arabic sobriquet Cidellus, who distinguished himself as a physician and adviser to King Alfonso VI. Judah ha-Levi for a while believed that the fortunes of his sorely tried people would flourish in Castile, but his hopes were destroyed by successive disappointments. Solomon ibn Ferruziel, a nephew of Cidellus who was also actively in the service of the Castilian state, was to return to Toledo from an important mission in Aragon. Along the way he was assassinated by Christian Spaniards on May 3, 1108. Judah ha-Levi had already composed a very elaborate poem to celebrate the reception of the Jewish statesman, which he had to set aside. He composed a long official elegy for the murdered man, ending it with a curse against the “Daughter of Edom,” sinful Christianity. Additional acts of violence were committed against Jews in Castile, and, still worse, it was often they who suffered in the clashes between the Almoravid realm and the Christian kingdoms in Spain. Distrusted, plundered, and slain by both sides, it was as though they were between hammer and anvil. Judah ha-Levi recognized the complete hopelessness of their situation and portrayed it in his poems.

Medieval Jews tried again and again to decipher the mysterious dates of their deliverance cited in the Book of Daniel and sought to apply them to their own time. Judah ha-Levi’s works contain a reference to Daniel in a prophetic poem, in which the poet said that he had learned in a dream of the impending collapse of the Muslim empire in 1130. In the last years of his life he apparently returned in resignation to Muslim Spain and lived in Córdoba, which remained an important centre of Jewish culture even in the period of decline. Judah ha-Levi had a very wide circle of acquaintances and maintained relationships with many famous contemporaries in Spain as well as abroad. He managed to gain a certain prosperity and lived in his house surrounded by a loving family and a few disciples. Yet he was thoroughly dissatisfied with his life. As old age approached he felt an increasing need to travel to Jerusalem, writing about it at length in verse and prose. The epilogue of the Kuzari explains his attachment to Zion and sounds like a farewell to Spain. Among his many poems celebrating the Holy Land is “Zionide” (“Ode to Zion”), his most famous work and the most widely translated Hebrew poem of the Middle Ages. He also carried on a heated controversy in verse with the opponents of his Zionist ideas.

Judah ha-Levi thought about and prepared for his journey to the Holy Land for many years. He was aided by a good friend, Halfon ha-Levi-Aldamyati, a very rich and cultivated Egyptian Jew whose trade relations extended as far as Yemen and India and who also frequently visited Spain. Judah ha-Levi left Spain in 1140. According to his carefully laid plans, he was first to embark for Egypt and then to proceed from there via the land route to Palestine. Aboard ship he composed a whole series of sea songs, which in both theme and mood represented a considerable innovation in Hebrew literature. His ship entered Alexandria harbour on May 3, 1140, where he, along with a large Jewish party, was splendidly received. He was lodged in the magnificent home of Aaron ibn al-ʿAmmānī, a noted Jewish physician and judge, and stayed in Egypt for several months. Many prominent Jews of the country came to admire him and to make his acquaintance, and he acquired many friends. From Alexandria he went to Cairo, or Fustat, the city where lived Samuel ben Hananiah, the Nagid, or head, of all Egyptian Jews, and there he was further acclaimed. Judah ha-Levi felt deep awe and humility in the land in which some of the biblical miracles had occurred and at the same time a kind of delight in all the beauties that revealed themselves to him. It seemed to him that his youth was restored; creative forces stirred within him, and he wrote prolifically and easily. But he certainly always bore in mind his sacred destination and was often disturbed by the thought that death might yet intervene.

Judah ha-Levi did not in fact go beyond Egypt, although it is not known what detained him there. He died in 1141 and was deeply mourned in Egypt. His death was romantically embellished in a legend that arose much later, according to which he was slain by a hostile Muslim just as he had arrived in Zion and was reciting his famous “Zionide.” The legend found wide circulation and was repeated in detail by two well-known 19th-century poets, in German by Heinrich Heine in the Romanzero of 1851 and in Hebrew by Micah Judah Lebensohn in Rabbi Yehudah ha-Levi in 1869.


Writings
Judah ha-Levi was strongly influenced by Arabian literature, elements of which he ingeniously assimilated. His great collection of poems entitled Dīwān includes secular and religious poetry, both of which express passionate attachment to Zion (the land of Israel). For the poet, the Holy Land was not only a site where the Jewish people would one day gather after their deliverance from exile; immigration and settlement in Palestine would also hasten the coming of the Messiah. He celebrated Jerusalem in song as had none of his medieval predecessors. He also expounded his views on the nature of Judaism in an Arabic prose work consisting of dialogues between a learned Jew and the Khazar king who was converted to Judaism in the 8th century. It was widely circulated in Hebrew translation under the title Sefer ha-Kuzari.

Jefim H. Schirmann

 

 


Judah ben Solomon Harizi

Judah ben Solomon Harizi, (b. c. 1170, Spain—d. c. 1235), man of letters, last representative of the golden age of Spanish Hebrew poetry. He wandered through Provence and also the Middle East, translating Arabic poetry and scientific works into Hebrew.

His version of the Guide of the Perplexed of Maimonides is more artistic if less accurate than that of Ibn Tibbon. His skillful adaptation of the difficult Maqāmāt of al-Ḥarīrī, under the title Mahberot Ithi’el, encouraged him to compose original Hebrew maqāmahs entitled the Tahkemoni, on which his fame primarily rests. His writing is characterized by its rich vocabulary and remarkable linguistic dexterity.

 

 


David Kimhi

David Kimhi, Kimhi also spelled Kimchi, Kimḥi, or Qimḥi, byname Radak (acronym of Rabbi David Kimhi), also called Maistre Petit (b. c. 1160, Narbonne?, Toulouse, France—d. c. 1235, Narbonne?), European scholar of the Hebrew language whose writings on Hebrew lexicography and grammar became standard works in the Middle Ages and whose reputation eclipsed that of both his father, Joseph Kimhi, and his brother, Moses, a grammarian.

As a boy David Kimhi learned his father’s teachings under the tutelage of his brother and then began to support himself by teaching children the Talmud, the body of Jewish tradition. His own great work, the Sefer mikhlol (“Book of Completeness”), was originally intended to comprise a grammar and a lexicon of the Hebrew language. The latter, however, appeared as a separate work, Sefer ha-shorashim (“Book of the Roots”). (The grammar, edited and translated by William Chomsky, was published in 1933; 2nd ed. 1952.) His work differed from previous grammars in its comprehensive treatment of verbs and covered all the rules of conjugation, punctuation, and accent. Distinguished also by conciseness and clarity, it became the leading grammar for centuries. The lexicon enjoyed a comparable popularity, and, though based largely on the dictionary of Ibn Janāḥ and the writings of Joseph Kimhi, it remains an original work. Kimhi introduced many new etymologies, made comparisons of Hebrew and Aramaic and of Hebrew and Provençal, and included exegetical notes on the biblical contexts of word roots. Another work, ʿEṭ sofer (“Pen of the Scribe”), was a manual covering the rules of punctuation and accent for biblical manuscripts.

David Kimhi was also the most important biblical exegete of his family. The importance of his commentaries on Genesis, the Psalms, and other Old Testament books is underscored by their presence, second to those of the great medieval commentator Rashi, in the first printed editions of the Hebrew Bible. (The commentaries were edited and translated into English by various hands and published in 1919–35 as part of Columbia University Oriental Studies.) A staunch supporter of the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides, Kimhi was also extremely skilled in refuting Christian attacks on Judaism and Jews.

 

 

 


Ibn Janāh

Ibn Janāḥ, also called Ibn Jonah, Abu Al-walīd Marwān, bynames Rabbi Jonah and Rabbi Marinus (b. c. 990, Córdoba—d. c. 1050, Zaragoza, Spain), perhaps the most important medieval Hebrew grammarian and lexicographer. Known as the founder of the study of Hebrew syntax, he established the rules of biblical exegesis and clarified many difficult passages.

Trained as a physician, Ibn Janāh practiced medicine, but, out of profound religious conviction, he also devoted much time to the scientific investigation of Hebrew so as to place biblical exegesis on a firm linguistic basis. His first work, al-Mustalha (“The Complement”), like his other works, was written in Arabic. It was a criticism of and a supplement to the verb studies of Judah ben David Ḥayyuj, the founder of scientific Hebrew grammar.

The critical aspect of Ibn Janāḥ’s study embroiled him in a long and bitter dispute with the partisans of Ḥayyuj. Though his polemics against them have been lost, their substance has been preserved in his principal work, Kitāb at-tanqiḥ (“Book of Exact Investigation”). In the first of its two parts, Kitāb al-luma (“Book of the Many-Coloured Flower Beds”), Ibn Janāḥ dealt in large measure with grammar proper and included discussions of parts of speech and prefixes and provided a detailed outline of noun declensions. Particularly important was the section on syntax, which has scarcely been surpassed.

The second part of the Tanqiḥ, Kiṭāb al-uṣūl (“Book of the Roots”), is a Hebrew lexicon in which Ibn Janāḥ showed the nuances of word roots and illustrated them with examples. He made extensive comparisons of Hebrew and Arabic and thereby managed to clarify the meaning of many words. His comments facilitated the exegesis of many abstruse biblical passages, and the origin of various corrections by modern textual critics can be found in his work.

 

 


Isaac ben Solomon Israeli
 

Isaac ben Solomon Israeli, Arabic Abū Ya-ʿqūb Isḥaq Ibn Sulaymān Al-isrāʾīlī, also called Isaac Israeli, or Isaac The Elder (b. 832/855, Egypt—d. 932/955, Al-Qayrawān, Tunisia), Jewish physician and philosopher, widely reputed in the European Middle Ages for his scientific writings and regarded as the father of medieval Jewish Neoplatonism. Although there is considerable disagreement about his birth and death dates, he is known to have lived more than 100 years and never to have married or to have had children.

Israeli first gained note as an oculist, maintaining a practice near Cairo until about 904, when he became court physician in Al-Qayrawān to the last Aghlabid prince, Ziyādat Allāh. He also studied medicine there under Isḥāq ibn ʿAmrān al-Baghdādī, with whom he sometimes has been confused.

Some five years after his arrival, Israeli entered into the service of al-Mahdī, the founder of the North African Fāṭimid dynasty (909–1171), whose capital was Al-Qayrawān. At the request of the caliph, Israeli wrote eight medical works in Arabic. All were translated into Latin in 1087 by the monk Constantine, who claimed to have written them himself. Not until 1515 was their true authorship uncovered, and the works were republished in Lyon under the title Omnia Isaac Opera (“All of Isaac’s Works”); the editor, however, mistakenly included the writings of other medical scholars as well. Israeli’s scientific works include standard treatises on fevers, urine, pharmacology, ophthalmology, and ailments and treatments. He wrote also on logic and psychology, showing particular insight in the field of perception.

Of his philosophical writings, Kitāb al-ḥudūd (Hebrew: Sefer ha-gevulim, “The Book of Definitions”) is best known. Beginning with a discussion of Aristotle’s four types of inquiry, Israeli goes on to present 56 definitions, including definitions of wisdom, intellect, soul, nature, reason, love, locomotion, and time. Others of his philosophical works include Sefer ha-ruʾaḥ ve-ha-nefesh (“Treatise on Spirit and Soul”), probably part of a larger exegetical effort, and Kitāb al-jawāhir (“Book of Substances”).

Israeli’s thought was influenced heavily by two major sources: the great 9th-century Islāmic philosopher al-Kindī and a lost pseudo-Aristotelian treatise on such matters as the source of being, the nature of the intellect, and the course of the soul. Israeli’s interpretation of eschatological matters in the light of Neoplatonic mysticism was to influence Solomon ibn Gabriol in the 10th century and other later Jewish philosophers.
 

 

 


Abraham bar Hiyya

Abraham bar Hiyya, also called Abraham Bar Hiyya Ha-nasi (Hebrew: “the Prince”) (b. c. 1065—d. c. 1136), Spanish Jewish philosopher, astronomer, astrologer, and mathematician whose writings were among the first scientific and philosophical works to be written in Hebrew. He is sometimes known as Savasorda, a corruption of an Arabic term indicating that he held some civic office in the Muslim administration of Barcelona.

In addition to translating scientific books from Arabic into Latin and Hebrew, Abraham also wrote a number of original works, among them a scientific encyclopaedia (the first in the Hebrew language) and a book on mathematics, Ḥibbur ha-Meshiḥah ve-ha-Tishboret (“Treatise on Measurement and Calculation”), which, in its Latin translation, Liber Embadorum (1145), became a principal textbook in western European schools. Other notable works by Abraham include the philosophical treatise Hegyon ha-Nefesh ha-Aẓuva (Meditation of the Sad Soul), which dealt with the nature of good and evil, ethical conduct, and repentance; and Megillat ha-Megalleh (“Scroll of the Revealer”), in which he outlined his view of history, based on astrology and purporting to forecast the messianic future.
 




The period of retrenchment, 1200–1750


Hebrew culture in western Europe

From 1200 to 1750 was the era of the ghetto, during which the area of western European Hebrew culture shrank to a remnant in Italy, while an entirely different culture arose in eastern Europe. The appearance in 1200 of the Hebrew version, translated from Arabic, of Moses Maimonides’ Moreh Nevukhim (1851–85; The Guide of the Perplexed), which applied Neoplatonic and Aristotelian philosophy to biblical and rabbinic theology, provoked orthodox circles into opposition to all secular studies. As a result of Maimonides’ work, there was a return to Neoplatonist mysticism in a form known as Kabbala. This culminated in the theosophy of the Zohar (1560; “The Book of Splendor”), which is ascribed to Moses de Leon and which exercised an influence comparable only with that of the Bible and Talmud. Hebrew culture, however, was reduced to a miniature scale in the West after the expulsion of the Jews from England (1290), from France (1306), and from Spain (1492). It continued in Italy, where it remained in contact with contemporary Christian thought. The most outstanding figure was the mystical philosopher Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto, who wrote a work on poetics and three remarkably modern plays.
 



Moses Maimonides
 

Moses Maimonides, original name Moses Ben Maimon, also called Rambam, Arabic name Abū ʿImran Mūsā ibn Maymūn ibn ʿUbayd Allāh (b. March 30, 1135, Córdoba [Spain]—d. Dec. 13, 1204, Egypt), Jewish philosopher, jurist, and physician, the foremost intellectual figure of medieval Judaism. His first major work, begun at age 23 and completed 10 years later, was a commentary on the Mishna, the collected Jewish oral laws. A monumental code of Jewish law followed in Hebrew, The Guide for the Perplexed in Arabic, and numerous other works, many of major importance. His contributions in religion, philosophy, and medicine have influenced Jewish and non-Jewish scholars alike.

Life
Maimonides was born into a distinguished family in Córdoba (Cordova), Spain. The young Moses studied with his learned father, Maimon, and other masters and at an early age astonished his teachers by his remarkable depth and versatility. Before Moses reached his 13th birthday, his peaceful world was suddenly disturbed by the ravages of war and persecution.

As part of Islamic Spain, Córdoba had accorded its citizens full religious freedom. But now the Islamic Mediterranean world was shaken by a revolutionary and fanatical Islamic sect, the Almohads (Arabic: al-Muwaḥḥidūn, “the Unitarians”), who captured Córdoba in 1148, leaving the Jewish community faced with the grim alternative of submitting to Islam or leaving the city. The Maimons temporized by practicing their Judaism in the privacy of their homes, while disguising their ways in public as far as possible to appear like Muslims. They remained in Córdoba for some 11 years, and Maimonides continued his education in Judaic studies as well as in the scientific disciplines in vogue at the time.

When the double life proved too irksome to maintain in Córdoba, the Maimon family finally left the city about 1159 to settle in Fez, Morocco. Although it was also under Almohad rule, Fez was presumably more promising than Córdoba because there the Maimons would be strangers, and their disguise would be more likely to go undetected. Moses continued his studies in his favourite subjects, rabbinics and Greek philosophy, and added medicine to them. Fez proved to be no more than a short respite, however. In 1165 Rabbi Judah ibn Shoshan, with whom Moses had studied, was arrested as a practicing Jew and was found guilty and then executed. This was a sign to the Maimon family to move again, this time to Palestine, which was in a depressed economic state and could not offer them the basis of a livelihood. After a few months they moved again, now to Egypt, settling in Fostat, near Cairo. There Jews were free to practice their faith openly, though any Jew who had once submitted to Islam courted death if he relapsed to Judaism. Moses himself was once accused of being a renegade Muslim, but he was able to prove that he had never really adopted the faith of Islam and so was exonerated.

Though Egypt was a haven from harassment and persecution, Moses was soon assailed by personal problems. His father died shortly after the family’s arrival in Egypt. His younger brother, David, a prosperous jewelry merchant on whom Moses leaned for support, died in a shipwreck, taking the entire family fortune with him, and Moses was left as the sole support of his family. He could not turn to the rabbinate because in those days the rabbinate was conceived of as a public service that did not offer its practitioners any remuneration. Pressed by economic necessity, Moses took advantage of his medical studies and became a practicing physician. His fame as a physician spread rapidly, and he soon became the court physician to the sultan Saladin, the famous Muslim military leader, and to his son al-Afḍal. He also continued a private practice and lectured before his fellow physicians at the state hospital. At the same time he became the leading member of the Jewish community, teaching in public and helping his people with various personal and communal problems.

Maimonides married late in life and was the father of a son, Abraham, who was to make his mark in his own right in the world of Jewish scholarship.


Works
The writings of Maimonides were numerous and varied. His earliest work, composed in Arabic at the age of 16, was the Millot ha-Higgayon (“Treatise on Logical Terminology”), a study of various technical terms that were employed in logic and metaphysics. Another of his early works, also in Arabic, was the “Essay on the Calendar” (Hebrew title: Maʾamar haʿibur).

The first of Maimonides’ major works, begun at the age of 23, was his commentary on the Mishna, Kitāb al-Sirāj, also written in Arabic. The Mishna is a compendium of decisions in Jewish law that dates from earliest times to the 3rd century. Maimonides’ commentary clarified individual words and phrases, frequently citing relevant information in archaeology, theology, or science. Possibly the work’s most striking feature is a series of introductory essays dealing with general philosophic issues touched on in the Mishna. One of these essays summarizes the teachings of Judaism in a creed of Thirteen Articles of Faith.

He completed the commentary on the Mishna at the age of 33, after which he began his magnum opus, the code of Jewish law, on which he also laboured for 10 years. Bearing the name of Mishne Torah (“The Torah Reviewed”) and written in a lucid Hebrew style, the code offers a brilliant systematization of all Jewish law and doctrine. He wrote two other works in Jewish law of lesser scope: the Sefer ha-mitzwot (Book of Precepts), a digest of law for the less sophisticated reader, written in Arabic; and the Hilkhot ha-Yerushalmi (“Laws of Jerusalem”), a digest of the laws in the Palestinian Talmud, written in Hebrew.

His next major work, which he began in 1176 and on which he laboured for 15 years, was his classic in religious philosophy, the Dalālat al-ḥāʾirīn (The Guide for the Perplexed), later known under its Hebrew title as the Moreh nevukhim. A plea for what he called a more rational philosophy of Judaism, it constituted a major contribution to the accommodation between science, philosophy, and religion. It was written in Arabic and sent as a private communication to his favourite disciple, Joseph ibn Aknin. The work was translated into Hebrew in Maimonides’ lifetime and later into Latin and most European languages. It has exerted a marked influence on the history of religious thought.

Maimonides also wrote a number of minor works, occasional essays dealing with current problems that faced the Jewish community, and he maintained an extensive correspondence with scholars, students, and community leaders. Among his minor works those considered to be most important are Iggert Teman (Epistle to Yemen), Iggeret ha-shemad or Maʾamar Qiddush ha-Shem (“Letter on Apostasy”), and Iggeret le-qahal Marsilia (“Letter on Astrology,” or, literally, “Letter to the Community of Marseille”). He also wrote a number of works dealing with medicine, including a popular miscellany of health rules, which he dedicated to the sultan, al-Afḍal. A mid-20th-century historian, Waldemar Schweisheimer, has said of Maimonides’ medical writings: “Maimonides’ medical teachings are not antiquated at all. His writings, in fact, are in some respects astonishingly modern in tone and contents.”

Maimonides complained often that the pressures of his many duties robbed him of peace and undermined his health. He died in 1204 and was buried in Tiberias, in the Holy Land, where his grave continues to be a shrine drawing a constant stream of pious pilgrims.


Significance
Maimonides’ advanced views aroused opposition during his lifetime and after his death. In 1233 one zealot, Rabbi Solomon of Montpellier, in southern France, instigated the church authorities to burn The Guide for the Perplexed as a dangerously heretical book. But the controversy abated after some time, and Maimonides came to be recognized as a pillar of the traditional faith—his creed became part of the orthodox liturgy—as well as the greatest of the Jewish philosophers.

Maimonides’ epoch-making influence on Judaism extended also to the larger world. His philosophic work, translated into Latin, influenced the great medieval Scholastic writers, and even later thinkers, such as Benedict de Spinoza and G.W. Leibniz, found in his work a source for some of their ideas. His medical writings constitute a significant chapter in the history of medical science.

 

 


Moses de Leon
 

Moses , original name Moses Ben Shem Tov (b. 1250, León [Spain]—d. 1305, Arevalo), Jewish Kabbalist and presumably the author of the Sefer ha-Zohar (“Book of Splendour”), the most important work of Jewish mysticism; for a number of centuries its influence among Jews rivaled that of the Old Testament and the Talmud, the rabbinical compendium of law, lore, and commentary.

The details of Moses de León’s life, like those of most Jewish mystics, are obscure. Until 1290 he lived in Guadalajara (the Spanish centre of adherents of the Kabbala). He then traveled a great deal and finally settled in Ávila. On a trip to Valladolid, he met a Palestinian Kabbalist, Isaac ben Samuel of Acre; to him (as recorded in Isaac’s diary), Moses confided that he possessed the centuries-old, original manuscript of the Zohar, copies of which he had been circulating since the 1280s. He promised to show it to Isaac at his home in Ávila. Because the authorship of the Zohar was ascribed to the 2nd-century Palestinian rabbinic teacher Simeon ben Yoḥai (a reputed worker of miracles), the original manuscript would have been of incomparable interest and value. Unfortunately, Moses died before he could fulfill his promise, and Isaac subsequently heard rumours that Moses’ wife had denied the existence of this manuscript, claiming rather that Moses himself was the author of the Zohar.

The Zohar, written for the most part in a strange, artificial, literary Aramaic, is primarily a series of mystical commentaries on the Pentateuch (the Five Books of Moses), in manner much like the traditional Midrashim, or homilies based on Scripture. Against the backdrop of an imaginary Palestine, Simeon ben Yoḥai and his disciples carry on a series of dialogues. In them, it is revealed that God manifested himself in a series of 10 descending emanations, or sefirot (e.g., “love” of God, “beauty” of God, and “kingdom” of God). In addition to the influence of Neoplatonism, the Zohar also shows evidence of the influence of Joseph Gikatilla, a medieval Spanish Kabbalist thought to have been a friend of Moses de León. Gikatilla’s work Ginnat egoz (“Nut Orchard”) provides some of the Zohar’s key terminology.

These influences, although cunningly disguised, were discerned by Gershom Scholem, one of the great 20th-century scholars of Jewish mysticism, and he became convinced that the Zohar was a medieval work. He was able to demonstrate, further, that the Aramaic in which the Zohar is written is, in both vocabulary and idiom, the work of an author whose native language was Hebrew. Finally, by comparing the Zohar with the Hebrew works of Moses de León, Scholem identified León as the Zohar’s author. Scholem theorized that the Zohar was León’s attempt to combat the rise of rationalism among Spanish Jewry and the resultant laxity in religious observance. With the Zohar, according to Scholem, Moses de León attempted to reassert the authority of traditional religion (Kabbala itself means “tradition”) by simultaneously giving its doctrines and rituals a fresh, compelling reinterpretation and ascribing this reinterpretation to an old, mythically revered authority. Many traditional scholars, nevertheless, still hold that Simeon ben Yoḥai wrote the Zohar.

 

 


Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto

Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto, (b. 1707, Padua, Venetian republic [Italy]—d. May 6, 1747, Acre, Palestine [now ʿAkko, Israel]), Jewish cabalist and writer, one of the founders of modern Hebrew poetry.

Luzzatto wrote lyrics and about 1727 the drama Migdal ʿoz (“Tower of Victory”), but he early turned to cabalist studies, eventually becoming convinced that he was receiving divine revelation and, finally, that he was the Messiah. After being expelled by the Italian rabbis, he moved to Amsterdam (1736), where he wrote his morality play La-yesharim tehilah (Praise for Uprightness) and an ethical work, Mesilat yesharim (1740; The Path of the Upright), which still ranks as a classic.
 


 

Eastern Europe and the religious crisis

In the kingdom of Poland (which then extended from Lithuania to the Black Sea) refugees from German persecution mingled with earlier Byzantine émigrés to create, by the 15th century, a prosperous Jewry with extensive autonomy. Their culture was not a continuation of western European Hebrew civilization but a new creation. The Bible (except for the Pentateuch) was neglected, while the Babylonian Talmud—hitherto studied only by specialists—became the basis of all intellectual life, particularly since the so-called pilpul method of Jacob Pollak had turned its study into an exciting form of mental gymnastics. The typical literature consisted of novellae (hiddushim), ingenious discussions of Talmudic minutiae written in an ungrammatical mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. Imaginative literature existed only in Yiddish, for women and the uneducated.

The expulsion from Spain produced a wave of messianic emotion. Kabbala flourished in Safad, the new Palestinian centre, the meeting place of Spanish, European, and Oriental Jews. There, in 1570–72, Isaac Luria created a cosmic messianism. Though its formulation, in the writings of his pupil Hayyim Vital, was abstruse and esoteric, its phraseology penetrated the widest masses, as a result of the introduction of Kabbalist prayers, and coloured all later Hebrew writing. Luria’s teachings were developed by the false messiah Sabbatai Zebi in the next century, for and against whom a vast literature was written.

The sufferings of Polish Jewry in the Cossack massacres of 1648—described in a long poem by the Talmudist Yom Tov Lipmann Heller—opened their country to Lurianic mysticism. Out of popular Kabbalist elements, Israel ben Eliezer, called the Ba'al Shem Tov, produced Ḥasidism. His teaching, like that of his successors, was oral and, of course, in Yiddish; but it was noted by disciples in a simple, colloquially flavoured Hebrew. Since they taught mainly through parables, this may be considered to mark the beginning of the Hebrew short story. Indeed these narratives exercised, and still exercise, a profound influence on modern Hebrew writers.
 


Isaac ben Solomon Luria

Isaac ben Solomon Luria, byname Ha-ari (Hebrew: The Lion) (b. 1534, Jerusalem, Palestine, Ottoman Empire—d. August 5, 1572, Safed, Syria [now Zefat, Israel]), eponymous founder of the Lurianic school of Kabbala (Jewish esoteric mysticism).

Luria’s youth was spent in Egypt, where he became versed in rabbinic studies, engaged in commerce, and eventually concentrated on study of the Zohar, the central work of Kabbala. In 1570 he went to Safed in Galilee, where he studied under Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, the greatest Kabbalist of the time, and developed his own Kabbalistic system. Although he wrote few works beyond three famous hymns, Luria’s doctrines were recorded by his pupil Ḥayyim Vital, who presented them in a voluminous posthumous collection.

Luria’s father was an Ashkenazi (a German or Polish Jew), while his mother was a Sephardi (of Iberian-North African Jewish stock). Legend has it that the prophet Elijah appeared to his father and foretold the birth of the son, whose name was to be Isaac. As a child, Luria was described as a young genius, “a Torah scholar who could silence all opponents by the power of his arguments,” and also as possessed of divine inspiration.

The main source for his life story is an anonymous biography, Toledot ha-Ari (“Life of the Ari”), written or perhaps edited some 20 years after his death, in which factual and legendary elements are indiscriminately mingled. According to the Toledot, Luria’s father died while Isaac was a child, and his mother took him to Egypt to live with her well-to-do family. While there, he became versed in rabbinic studies, including Halakha (Jewish law), and even wrote glosses on a famous compendium of legal discussions, the Sefer ha-Halakhot of Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi. He also engaged in commerce during this period.

While still a youth, Luria began the study of Jewish mystical learning and lived for nearly seven years in seclusion at his uncle’s home on an island in the Nile River. His studies concentrated on the Zohar (late 13th–early 14th century), the central and revered work of the Kabbala, but he also studied the early Kabbalists (12th–13th century). The greatest Kabbalist of Luria’s time was Moses ben Jacob Cordovero of Safed (modern Ẕefat), in Palestine, whose work Luria studied while still in Egypt. During this period he wrote a commentary on the Sifra di-tzeniʿuta (“Book of Concealment”), a section of the Zohar. The commentary still shows the influence of classical Kabbala and contains nothing of what would later be called Lurianic Kabbala.

Early in 1570 Luria journeyed to Safed, the mountain town in the Galilee that had become a centre of the Kabbalistic movement, and he studied there with Cordovero. At the same time, he began to teach Kabbala according to a new system and attracted many pupils. The greatest of these was Ḥayyim Vital, who later set Luria’s teachings down in writing. Luria apparently expounded his teachings only in esoteric circles; not everyone was allowed to take part in these studies. While he devoted most of his time to the instruction of his pupils, he probably made his living in trade, which prospered at that time in Safed, situated as it was at the crossroads between Egypt and Damascus.

At the time of Luria’s arrival in Safed, the group of Kabbalists gathered there around Cordovero had already developed a unique style of living and observed special rituals, going out, for instance, into the fields to welcome the sabbath, personified as the Sabbath Queen. With Luria’s arrival, new elements were added to these excursions, such as communion with the souls of the zaddikim (men of outstanding piety) by means of special kawwanot (ritual meditations) and yiḥudim (“unifications”) that were in essence a kind of lesser redemption whereby the souls were lifted up from the kelipot (“shells”; i.e., the impure, evil forms) into which they were banned until the coming of the Messiah.

The strong influence of Luria’s personality helped to bring about in Safed an atmosphere of spiritual intensity, messianic tension, and the fever of creation that accompanies the sense of a great revelation. Deep devoutness, asceticism, and withdrawal from the world marked the Kabbalists’ way of life. Luria apparently looked upon himself as the Messiah ben Joseph, the first of the two messiahs in Jewish tradition, who is fated to be killed in the wars (of Gog and Magog) that will precede the final redemption. In Safed there was an expectation (based on the Zohar) that the Messiah would appear in Galilee in the year 1575.

Even though he did not distinguish himself as a writer, as is evident from his own remarks about the difficulty of writing, Luria composed three hymns that became widely known and part of the cultural heritage of the Jewish people. These are hymns for the three sabbath meals, which became part of the Sephardic sabbath ritual and were printed in many prayer books. The three meals were linked by means of mystical “intention” or meditation (kawwana) to three partzufim (aspects of the Godhead). The hymns are known as “Azamer be-she-vaḥim” (“I Will Sing on the Praises”), “Asader seʿudata” (“I Will Order the Festive Meal”), and “Bene hekh-ala de-khesifin” (“Sons of the Temple of Silver”). They are mystical, erotic songs about “the adornment (or fitting) of the bride”—i.e., the sabbath, who was identified with the community of Israel—and on the other partzufim: arikh anpin (the long-suffering: the countenance of grace) and zeʿir anpin (the impatient: the countenance of judgment).

During his brief sojourn in Safed—a scant two years before his death—Luria managed to construct a many-faceted and fertile Kabbalistic system from which many new elements in Jewish mysticism drew their nourishment. He set down almost none of his doctrine in writing, with the exception of a short text that seems to be only a fragment: his commentary on the first chapter of the Zohar—“Be-resh hormanuta de-malka”—as well as commentaries on isolated passages of the Zohar that were collected by Ḥayyim Vital, who attests to their being in his teacher’s own hand. Luria died in an epidemic that struck Safed in August 1572.

What is called Lurianic Kabbala is a voluminous collection of Luria’s Kabbalistic doctrines, recorded after his death by Ḥayyim Vital and appearing in two versions under different editorship. Because of this work, Lurianic Kabbala became the new thought that influenced all Jewish mysticism after Luria, competing with the Kabbala of Cordovero. Vital laboured much to give Lurianic Kabbala its form as well as to win legitimization for it.

Lurianic Kabbala propounds a theory of the creation and subsequent degeneration of the world and a practical method of restoring the original harmony. The theory is based on three concepts: tzimtzum (“contraction,” or “withdrawal”), shevirat ha-kelim (“breaking of the vessels”), and tiqqun (“restoration”). God as the Infinite (En Sof) withdraws into himself in order to make room for the creation, which occurs by a beam of light from the Infinite into the newly provided space. Later the divine light is enclosed in finite “vessels,” most of which break under the strain, and the catastrophe of the “breaking of the vessels” occurs, whereby disharmony and evil enter the world. Hence comes the struggle to rid the world of evil and accomplish the redemption of both the cosmos and history. This event occurs in the stage of tiqqun, in which the divine realm itself is reconstructed, the divine sparks returned to their source, and Adam Qadmon, the symbolic “primordial man,” who is the highest configuration of the divine light, is rebuilt. Man plays an important role in this process through various kawwanot used during prayer and through mystical intentions involving secret combinations of words, all of which is directed toward the restoration of the primordial harmony and the reunification of the divine name.

The influence of Luria’s Kabbala was far-reaching. It played an important role in the movement of the false messiah Shabbetai Tzevi in the 17th century and in the popular Ḥasidic (mystical-pietistic) movement a century later.

Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer

 

 


Hayyim ben Joseph Vital

Hayyim ben Joseph Vital, (b. 1543, Safed, Palestine [now Ẕefat, Israel]—d. May 6, 1620, Damascus [now in Syria]), one of Judaism’s outstanding Kabbalists (expounder of Jewish esoteric or occult doctrine).

In Safed, Palestine, in about 1570, Vital became the disciple of Isaac ben Solomon Luria, the leading Kabbalist of his time, and after Luria’s death (1572) Vital professed to be the sole interpreter of the Lurian school. He became the leader of Palestinian Jewish Kabbalism and served as rabbi and head of a yeshiva (school of advanced Jewish learning) in Jerusalem (1577–85). His major work was the ʿEtz ḥayyim (“Tree of Life”), a detailed exposition of Lurian Kabbala, which also appeared in altered editions by rivals that he repudiated. His son Samuel published accounts of Vital’s dreams and visions posthumously under the title Shivḥe R. Ḥayyim Vital.

 

 


Sabbatai Zebi

Shabbetai Tzevi, also spelled Sabbatai Zebi, or Zevi (b. July 23, 1626, Smyrna, Ottoman Turkey [now İzmir, Tur.]—d. 1676, Dulcigno, Alb.), a false messiah who developed a mass following and threatened rabbinical authority in Europe and the Middle East.

As a young man, Shabbetai steeped himself in the influential body of Jewish mystical writings known as the Kabbala. His extended periods of ecstasy and his strong personality combined to attract many disciples, and at the age of 22 he proclaimed himself the messiah.

Driven from Smyrna by the aroused rabbinate, he journeyed to Salonika (now Thessaloníki), an old Kabbalistic centre, and then to Constantinople (now Istanbul). There he encountered an esteemed and forceful Jewish preacher and Kabbalist, Abraham ha-Yakini, who possessed a false prophetic document affirming that Shabbetai was the messiah. Shabbetai then traveled to Palestine and after that to Cairo, where he won over to his cause Raphael Halebi, the wealthy and powerful treasurer of the Turkish governor.

With a retinue of believers and assured of financial backing, Shabbetai triumphantly returned to Jerusalem. There, a 20-year-old student known as Nathan of Gaza assumed the role of a modern Elijah, in his traditional role of forerunner of the messiah. Nathan ecstatically prophesied the imminent restoration of Israel and world salvation through the bloodless victory of Shabbetai, riding on a lion with a seven-headed dragon in his jaws. In accordance with millenarian belief, he cited 1666 as the apocalyptic year.

Threatened with excommunication by the rabbis of Jerusalem, Shabbetai returned to Smyrna in the autumn of 1665, where he was wildly acclaimed. His movement spread to Venice, Amsterdam, Hamburg, London, and several other European and North African cities.

At the beginning of 1666, Shabbetai went to Constantinople and was imprisoned on his arrival. After a few months, he was transferred to the castle at Abydos, which became known to his followers as Migdal Oz, the Tower of Strength. In September, however, he was brought before the sultan in Adrianople and, having been previously threatened with torture, became converted to Islām. The placated sultan renamed him Mehmed Efendi, appointed him his personal doorkeeper, and provided him with a generous allowance. All but his most faithful or self-seeking disciples were disillusioned by his apostasy. Eventually, Shabbetai fell out of favour and was banished, dying in Albania.

The movement that developed around Shabbetai Tzevi became known as Shabbetaianism. It attempted to reconcile Shabbetai’s grandiose claims of spiritual authority with his subsequent seeming betrayal of the Jewish faith. Faithful Shabbetaians interpreted Shabbetai’s apostasy as a step toward ultimate fulfillment of his messiahship and attempted to follow their leader’s example. They argued that such outward acts were irrelevant as long as one remains inwardly a Jew. Those who embraced the theory of “sacred sin” believed that the Torah could be fulfilled only by amoral acts representing its seeming annulment. Others felt they could remain faithful Shabbetaians without having to apostatize.

After Shabbetai’s death in 1676, the sect continued to flourish. The nihilistic tendencies of Shabbetaianism reached a peak in the 18th century with Jacob Frank, whose followers reputedly sought redemption through orgies at mystical festivals.

 

 


Yom Tov Lipmann Heller

 

Yom Ṭov Lipmann ben Nathan ha-Levi Heller, (b. 1579, Wallerstein, Bavaria [Germany]—d. Sept. 7, 1654, Kraków, Pol.), Bohemian Jewish rabbi and scholar who is best known for his commentary on the Mishna. His works also indicate that he had extensive knowledge of mathematics, the sciences, and other secular subjects.

Raised by his grandfather Moses Wallerstein, a respected rabbi, Heller studied at the yeshiva of Judah Loew ben Bezalel and was appointed a dayan (judge) in Prague at the age of 18. He served as a rabbi to communities in Moravia and Vienna, but he was recalled to Prague in 1627 to the office of the chief rabbinate. At this time, because of involvement in the Thirty Years’ War, the Holy Roman emperor Ferdinand II had imposed heavy taxes on the Jews of Bohemia. As chief rabbi, Heller was responsible for overseeing the collection of the tax, a task that aroused bitter opposition within the Jewish community and made him the object of false accusations. Charged with contemning both the state and Christianity, he was heavily fined and briefly imprisoned; he was also forbidden to serve the rabbinate anywhere within the empire.

Later, while serving as a rabbi in Vladimir, Volhynia, Pol., Heller again became the centre of controversy. At a rabbinical conference known as the Council of the Four Lands, he fought for the renewal of a decree preventing the purchase of rabbinical offices, simony being a practice at that time. This aroused the anger of some of the wealthier Jews, who succeeded in obtaining a decree from the governor ordering Heller’s expulsion. Although the decree was eventually rescinded, in 1643 Heller accepted an appointment to the chief rabbinate in Kraków, where he lived the remainder of his life.

Among Heller’s many written works are an autobiography, Megillat eyva (“Scroll of Hate”; first published in 1818), which documented the various communities in which he had lived and included accounts of massacres of Jews in Prague (1618) and the Ukraine (1643). The most famous of his many religious works is his commentary on the Mishna, Tosafot Yom Ṭov (1614–17, 2nd ed. 1643–44; “The Additions of Yom Ṭov”). Heller’s commentary was intended to serve as a supplement to the commentary of Obadiah of Bertinoro; both works are found in many modern editions of the Mishna.

 

 


Ba'al Shem Tov
 

Baʿal Shem Ṭov, (Hebrew: “Master of the Good Name”: )byname of Israel Ben Eliezer, acronym Beshṭ (b. c. 1700, probably Tluste, Podolia, Pol.—d. 1760, Medzhibozh), charismatic founder (c. 1750) of Ḥasidism, a Jewish spiritual movement characterized by mysticism and opposition to secular studies and Jewish rationalism. He aroused controversy by mixing with ordinary people, renouncing mortification of the flesh, and insisting on the holiness of ordinary bodily existence. He was also responsible for divesting Kabbala (esoteric Jewish mysticism) of the rigid asceticism imposed on it by Isaac ben Solomon Luria in the 16th century.

Life
The Beshṭ’s life has been so adorned with fables and legends that a biography in the ordinary historical sense is not possible. He came from humble and obscure beginnings in a village known to contemporary Jews as Okop or Akuf, depending on the Hebrew vocalization. As a young orphan he held various semi-menial posts connected with synagogues and Hebrew elementary religious schools. After marrying the daughter of the wealthy and learned Ephraim of Kuty, he retired to the Carpathian Mountains to engage in mystical speculation, meanwhile eking out his living as a lime digger. During this period his reputation as a healer, or baʿal shem, who worked wonders by means of herbs, talismans, and amulets inscribed with the divine name, began to spread. He later became an innkeeper and a ritual slaughterer and, about 1736, settled in the village of Medzhibozh, in Podolia. From this time until his death, he devoted himself almost entirely to spiritual pursuits.

Though the Beshṭ gained no special renown as a scholar or preacher during his lifetime, he made a deep impression on his fellow Jews by going to the marketplace to converse with simple people and by dressing like them. Such conduct by a holy man was fiercely condemned in some quarters but enthusiastically applauded in others. The Beshṭ defended his actions as a necessary “descent for the sake of ascent,” a concept that eventually evolved into a socio-theological theory that placed great value on this type of spiritual ministration.

While still a young man, the Beshṭ had become acquainted with such figures as Rabbi Naḥman of Gorodënka and Rabbi Naḥman of Kosov, already spoken of as creators of a new life, and with them he regularly celebrated the ritual of the three sabbath meals. In time it became customary for them to deliver pious homilies and discourses after the third meal, and the Beshṭ took his turn along with the others. Many of these discourses were later recorded and have been preserved as the core of Ḥasidic literature. When the Beshṭ’s spiritual powers were put to a test by other members of the group—an indication that he probably was not yet recognized as the “first among equals”—he reportedly recognized a mezuzah (ritual object affixed to a doorpost) as ritually “unfit” by means of his clairvoyant powers.

The Beshṭ gradually reached the point where he was prepared to renounce the strict asceticism of his companions. In words recorded by his grandson Rabbi Baruch of Medzhibozh, he announced:

I came into this world to point a new way, to prevail upon men to live by the light of these three things: love of God, love of Israel, and love of Torah. And there is no need to perform mortifications of the flesh.

By renouncing mortification in favour of new rituals, the Beshṭ in effect had taken the first step toward initiating a new religious movement within Judaism. The teaching of the Beshṭ centred on three main points: communion with God, the highest of all values; service in ordinary bodily existence, proclaiming that every human deed done “for the sake of heaven” (even stitching shoes and eating) was equal in value to observing formal commandments; and rescue of the “sparks” of divinity that, according to the Kabbala, were trapped in the material world. He believed that such sparks are related to the soul of every individual. It was the Beshṭ’s sensitivity to the spiritual needs of the unsophisticated and his assurance that redemption could be attained without retreat from the world that found a ready response among his listeners, the common Jewish folk. He declared that they were, one and all, “limbs of the divine presence.”

The Beshṭ and his followers were fiercely attacked by rabbinical leaders for “dancing, drinking, and making merry all their lives.” They were called licentious, indifferent, and contemptuous of tradition—epithets and accusations that were wild exaggerations, to say the least.

An understanding of the Beshṭ’s view of the coming of the Messiah depends to a great extent on the interpretation of a letter attributed to, but not signed by, the Beshṭ. It affirms that the author made “the ascent of the soul,” met the Messiah in heaven, and asked him when he would come. The answer he received was: “when your well-springs shall overflow far and wide”—meaning that the Beshṭ had first to disseminate the teaching of Ḥasidism. According to one view, the story indicates that the messianic advent was central in the Beshṭ’s belief; according to another, it effectively removes messianic redemption from central spiritual concern in the life that must be lived here and now.


Influence
During his lifetime, the Beshṭ brought about a great social and religious upheaval and permanently altered many traditional values. In an atmosphere marked by joy, new rituals, and ecstasy, he created a new religious climate in small houses of prayer outside the synagogues. The changes that had occurred were further emphasized by the wearing of distinctive garb and the telling of stories. Though the Beshṭ never did visit Israel and left no writings, by the time he died, he had given to Judaism a new religious dimension in Ḥasidism that continues to flourish to this day.

Among the Beshṭ’s most outstanding pupils was Rabbi Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye, whose books preserve many of the master’s teachings. He speaks with holy awe of his religious teacher in tones that were echoed by other disciples, such as Dov Baer of Mezrechye, Rabbi Nahum of Chernobyl, Aryeh Leib of Polonnoye, and a second grandson, Rabbi Ephraim of Sydoluvka, who was but one of many to embellish the image of his grandfather with numerous legends.

Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer

Sid Z. Leiman




The 18th and 19th centuries

In the 18th century the conservative mystical movement of Hasidism spread rapidly over all eastern Europe except Lithuania. There, Elijah ben Solomon of Vilna, a writer of unusually wide scope, advocated a better graded course of Talmudic training. Shneur Zalman of Ladi created the highly systematized Habad Ḥasidism, which was widely accepted in Lithuania. The Musar movement of Israel Salanter encouraged the study of medieval ethical writers.

 


Elijah ben Solomon
 

Elijah ben Solomon, in full Elijah Ben Solomon Zalman, also called by the acronym Ha-gra, from Ha-gaon Rabbi Eliya-hu, also called Elijah Gaon (b. April 23, 1720, Sielec, Lithuania, Russian Empire—d. Oct. 9, 1797, Vilna [now Vilnius, Lithuania]), the gaon (“excellency”) of Vilna, and the outstanding authority in Jewish religious and cultural life in 18th-century Lithuania.

Born into a long line of scholars, Elijah traveled among the Jewish communities of Poland and Germany in 1740–45 and then settled in Vilna, which was the cultural centre of eastern European Jewry. There he refused rabbinic office and lived as a recluse while devoting himself to study and prayer, but his reputation as a scholar had spread throughout the Jewish world by the time he was 30. As a mark of nearly universal reverence, the title gaon, borne by the heads of the Babylonian academies and virtually extinct for many centuries, was bestowed upon him by the people.

Elijah’s scholarship embraced mastery of every field of study in the Jewish literature up to his own time. His vast knowledge of the Talmud and Midrash and of biblical exegesis, as well as of mystical literature and lore, was combined with a deep interest in philosophy, grammar, mathematics and astronomy, and folk medicine.

Elijah’s most important contributions were his synoptic view of Jewish learning and his critical methods of study. In an age of narrow, puritanical piety, he broadened the conception of Torah learning to include the natural sciences, and asserted that a complete understanding of Jewish law and literature necessitated the study of mathematics, astronomy, geography, botany, and zoology. He encouraged translations of works on these subjects into Hebrew. Elijah also introduced the methods of textual criticism in the study of the Bible and the Talmud. He based his interpretations on the plain meaning of the text rather than on narrow sophistries. In general, his influence was felt in the direction of an increased emphasis on rationalism and synthesis.

Elijah led an implacable opposition to the pietistic mystical movement of Ḥasidism from 1772 until his death. He condemned Ḥasidism as a superstitious and antischolarly movement and ordered the excommunication of its adherents and the burning of their books. He became the leader of the Mitnaggedim (opponents of Hasidism) and was temporarily able to check the movement’s spread in Lithuania. He was also mildly opposed to the Haskala, or Jewish Enlightenment.

At about age 40 Elijah began teaching a chosen circle of devoted pupils who were already experienced scholars. Among them was Ḥayyim ben Issac, who went on to found the great yeshiva (Talmudic academy) at Volozhin (now Valozhyn, Belarus), which trained several generations of scholars, rabbis, and leaders. Elijah’s writings were published posthumously and include commentaries and numerous annotations on the Bible, Talmud, Midrash, and other works.
 



Beginnings of the Haskala movement

In the Berlin of Frederick II the Great, young intellectuals from Poland and elsewhere, brought in as teachers, met representatives of the European Enlightenment; they came under the influence of Moses Mendelssohn and also met some representatives of Italian and Dutch Hebrew cultures. One, a Dane, Naphtali Herz Wessely, who had spent some time in Amsterdam, wrote works on the Hebrew language, and another, an Italian, Samuel Aaron Romanelli, wrote and translated plays. Out of these contacts grew Haskala (“Enlightenment”), a tendency toward westernization that venerated Hebrew and medieval western Jewish literature. Among German Jews, then already in rapid process of Germanization, this Hebrew movement had no place. The Enlightenment was introduced in Galicia (Austrian Poland), a centre of Ḥasidism, by the Edict of Toleration (1781) of the emperor Joseph II. By supporting some of its aims, Hebrew writers incurred hatred and persecution. Their chief weapon was satire, and the imitation by Joseph Perl of the Epistolae obscurorum virorum (1515; “Letters of Obscure Men”) of Crotus Rubianus and the essays of Isaac Erter were classics of the genre. One poet, Meir Letteris, and one dramatist, Naḥman Isaac Fischman, wrote biblical plays.

 


Moses Mendelssohn
 

Moses Mendelssohn, (b. Sept. 26, 1729, Dessau, Anhalt [Germany]—d. Jan. 4, 1786, Berlin, Prussia), German-Jewish philosopher, critic, and Bible translator and commentator who greatly contributed to the efforts of Jews to assimilate to the German bourgeoisie.

The son of an impoverished scribe called Menachem Mendel Dessau, he was known in Jewry as Moses Dessau but wrote as Mendelssohn, from the Hebrew ben Mendel (“the Son of Mendel”). His own choice of the German Mendelssohn over the Hebrew equivalent reflected the same acculturation to German life that he sought for other Jews. In 1743 he moved to Berlin, where he studied the thought of the English philosopher John Locke and the German thinkers Gottfried von Leibniz and Christian von Wolff.

In 1750 Mendelssohn became tutor to the children of the silk manufacturer Issak Bernhard, who in 1754 took Mendelssohn into his business. The same year, he met a major German playwright, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, who had portrayed a noble Jew in his play Die Juden (1749; “The Jews”) and came to see Mendelssohn as the realization of his ideal. Subsequently, Lessing modeled the central figure of his drama Nathan der Weise (1779; Nathan the Wise, 1781) after Mendelssohn, whose wisdom had caused him to be known as “the German Socrates.” Mendelssohn’s first work, praising Leibniz, was printed with Lessing’s help as Philosophische Gespräche (1755; “Philosophical Speeches”). That year Mendelssohn also published his Briefe über die Empfindungen (“Letters on Feeling”), stressing the spiritual significance of feelings.

In 1763 Mendelssohn won the prize of the Prussian Academy of Arts in a literary contest; and as a result King Frederick the Great of Prussia was persuaded to exempt Mendelssohn from the disabilities to which Jews were customarily subjected. Mendelssohn’s winning essay compared the demonstrability of metaphysical propositions with that of mathematical ones and was the first to be printed under his own name (1764). His most celebrated work, Phädon, oder über die Unsterblichkeit der Seele (1767; “Phaedo, or on the Immortality of the Soul”), defended the immortality of the soul against the materialism prevalent in his day; his title reflects his respect for Plato’s Phaedo.

In 1771 Mendelssohn experienced a nervous breakdown as the result of an intense dispute over Christianity with the Swiss theologian J.C. Lavater, who two years earlier had sent him his own translation of a work by his compatriot Charles Bonnet. In his dedication, Lavater had challenged Mendelssohn to become a Christian unless he could refute Bonnet’s arguments for Christianity. Although Mendelssohn deplored religious controversy, he felt compelled to reaffirm his Judaism. The strain was relaxed only when he began a translation of the Psalms in 1774. He next embarked on a project designed to help Jews relate their own religious tradition to German culture—a version of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, written in German but printed in Hebrew characters (1780–83). At the same time, he became involved in a new controversy that centred on the doctrine of excommunication. The conflict arose when his friend Christian Wilhelm von Dohm agreed to compose a petition for the Jews of Alsace, who originally had sought Mendelssohn’s personal intervention for their emancipation. Dohm’s Über die bürgerliche Verbesserung der Juden (1781; “On the Civil Improvement of the Jews”) pleaded for emancipation but, paradoxically, added that the state should uphold the synagogue’s right to excommunicate its members. To combat the resulting hostility to Dohm’s book, Mendelssohn denounced excommunication in his preface (1782) to a German translation of Vindiciae Judaeorum (“Vindication of the Jews”) by Manasseh ben Israel. After an anonymous author accused him of subverting an essential part of Mosaic law, Mendelssohn wrote Jerusalem, oder über religiöse Macht und Judentum (1783; “Jerusalem, or on Religious Power and Judaism”). This work held that force may be used by the state to control actions only; thoughts are inviolable by both church and state.

A final controversy, revolving around allegations that Lessing had supported the pantheism of Benedict de Spinoza, engaged Mendelssohn in a defense of Lessing, while he wrote his last work, Morgenstunden (1785; “Morning Hours”), in support of the theism of Leibniz. His collected works, which fill seven volumes, were published in 1843–45.

Through his own example Mendelssohn showed that it was possible to combine Judaism with the rationalism of the Enlightenment. He was accordingly one of the initiators and principal voices of the Haskala (“Jewish Enlightenment”), which helped bring Jews into the mainstream of modern European culture. Through his advocacy of religious toleration and through the prestige of his own intellectual accomplishments, Mendelssohn did much to further the emancipation of the Jews from prevailing social, cultural, political, and economic restrictions in Germany. His son Abraham was the father of the composer Felix Mendelssohn.



Romanticism

Galicia’s chief contribution was to the Jüdische Wissenschaft, a school of historical research with Romanticist leanings. The impact of Haskala ideas upon the humanistic Italo-Hebrew tradition produced a short literary renaissance. Its main connections were with the Jüdische Wissenschaft, to which Isaac Samuel Reggio contributed. Samuel David Luzzatto , a prolific essayist, philologist, poet, and letter writer, became prominent by his philosophy of Judaism, while a poet, Rachel Morpurgo, struck some remarkably modern chords. For the Jews of the Russian Empire, the Enlightenment proper began with Isaac Baer Levinsohn in the Ukraine and with Mordecai Aaron Ginzberg (Günzburg), in Lithuania. In the 1820s an orthodox reaction set in, coinciding with the rise of a Romanticist Hebrew school of writers. A.D. Lebensohn wrote fervent love songs to the Hebrew language, and his son Micah Judah, the most gifted poet of the Haskala period, wrote biblical romances and pantheistic nature lyrics. The first Hebrew novel, Ahavat Ziyyon (1853; “The Love of Zion”), by Abraham Mapu, was a Romantic idyll, in which Mapu, like all Haskala writers, employed phrases culled from the Bible and adapted to the thought the writer wished to express.

Mapu’s third novel, ʿAyiṭ tzavuaʿ (1857–69; “The Hypocrite”), marked a departure. It dealt with contemporary life and attacked its social evils and portrayed a new type, the maskil (possessor of Haskala), in a fight against orthodox obscurantism. The new, aggressive Haskala soon came under the influence of Russian left-wing writers, such as Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky and Dmitry Pisarev. Judah Leib Gordon, like Mapu, had started as a Romantic writer on biblical subjects. From 1871 onward he produced a series of ballads exposing the injustices of traditional Jewish life. Moses Leib Lilienblum began as a moderate religious reformer but later became absorbed by social problems, and in Mishnat Elisha ben Abuyah (1878; “The Opinions of Elisha ben Abuyah”) he preached Jewish socialism. Peretz Smolenskin created in six novels a kaleidoscope of Jewish life in which he rejected the westernized Jew as much as orthodox reactionaries did.

 


Samuel David Luzzatto
 

Samuel David Luzzatto, also called by acronym Shedal (b. Aug. 22, 1800, Trieste [Italy]—d. Sept. 30, 1865, Padua), Jewish writer and scholar.

In his writings, which are in Hebrew and Italian, Luzzatto presents an emotional and antiphilosophical concept of Judaism, and his Hebrew poetry is also pervaded by national spirit. His chief merit as a scholar lies in biblical exegesis, Hebrew philology, and the history of Hebrew literature. His extensive correspondence in Hebrew was published in 1882–94 and in other languages in 1890. His autobiography in Italian appeared in 1882.

 

 


Abraham Mapu


Abraham Mapu, (b. Jan. 10, 1808, near Kovno, Lithuania, Russian Empire—d. Oct. 9, 1867, Königsberg, East Prussia [now Kaliningrad, Russia]), author of the first Hebrew novel, Ahavat Ziyyon (1853; Annou: Prince and Peasant), an idyllic historical romance set in the days of the prophet Isaiah. Couched in florid biblical language, it artfully depicts pastoral life in ancient Israel; the book attained immediate popularity and was later translated into several languages.

A teacher of religion and German, Mapu was an influential advocate of the Haskalah, or Enlightenment, movement. Influenced stylistically by Victor Hugo and Eugène Sue, Mapu’s novels romanticized a sovereign Israel and indirectly paved the way for the revival of Jewish nationalism and the Zionist movement. Other novels include ʿAyiṭ tzavuaʿ (1858–69; “The Hypocrite”), an attack on social and religious injustice in the ghetto; Ashmat Shomron (1865; “Guilt of Samaria”), a biblical epic about the hostility between Jerusalem and Samaria in the time of King Ahaz; and Ḥoze ḥezyonot, (1869; “The Visionary”), an exposé of Ḥasidism, which was confiscated by religious authorities.

 

 


Judah Leib Gordon


Judah Leib Gordon, also called Leon Gordon, byname Yalag (b. Dec. 7, 1830, Vilnius, Lithuania—d. Sept. 16, 1892, St. Petersburg, Russia), Jewish poet, essayist, and novelist, the leading poet of the Hebrew Enlightenment (Haskala), whose use of biblical and postbiblical Hebrew resulted in a new and influential style of Hebrew-language poetry.

After he left Lithuania, Gordon was imprisoned as a political conspirator by the Russian government. After his release he became editor of Ha-Melitz. His early poems dealing with biblical subjects were followed by powerful satires in verse aimed against the harsher aspects of rabbinic Judaism. His last poems reflect bitter disillusionment with the ideals of Haskala, or Jewish Enlightenment. Although of limited poetic talent, Gordon’s advocacy of social and religious reforms proved widely influential, and his skillful use of postbiblical idiom increased the flexibility of modern Hebrew. His poems were collected in Kol Shire Yehuda (1883–84) and his stories in Kol Kithbe Yehuda (1889).





Modern literature in Hebrew


Mendele Moykher Sforim, Sholem Aleichem,
Mordecai (Rabbinowicz) Ben-Ammi,
and Hayyim Nahman Bialik (Odessa, circa 1910).


Formative influencesThe first formative influences on 20th-century Hebrew literature belong to the late 19th century. The middle classes of eastern European Jewry that read Hebrew books turned to Jewish nationalism, and Zionist activity, coupled with the movement for speaking Hebrew, widened the circle of Hebrew readers. Hebrew daily papers began to appear in 1886. Writers borrowed extensively from medieval translators and European languages, and the Hebrew language assumed a new character. A key figure in the transition to modern writing was Shalom Jacob Abramowitsch, who wrote under the pseudonym of Mendele Mokher Sefarim; after his first novel he became convinced that biblical Hebrew was unsuitable for modern subjects and turned to Yiddish. From 1886 onward he returned to writing mainly in Hebrew and by using Hebrew and Aramaic phrases from the Talmud was able to capture the homeliness he prized in Yiddish. His stories depicted life as it really was, and his style and support of traditional values attracted a wide readership. The popularity of his stories of ghetto life ensured that they would remain the most read and written genre of Hebrew literature until the mid-20th century. A group of writers adopted “grandfather Mendele” as their model. One of these, Asher Ginzberg (Ahad Haham), wrote, from 1889 onward, articles evolving a secular philosophy of Jewish nationalism. His periodical ha-Shiloaḥ attained editorial standards previously unknown in Hebrew. From 1921, he devoted his last years to the editing of his correspondence, a valuable documentary of the period.

Hayyim Nahman Bialik, an important poet, essayist, editor, and anthologist of medieval literature, was, for a time, literary editor of ha-Shiloaḥ and was much influenced by Aḥad Haʿam. His poetry expressed the inner struggles of a generation concerned about its attitude to Jewish tradition. Saul Tchernichowsky, on the other hand, was untroubled by tradition, and his poetry dealt with love, beauty, and the three places where he had lived: the Crimea, Germany, and Palestine. Isaac Leib Peretz, who wrote both in Hebrew and in Yiddish, introduced the Ḥasidic, or pietistic devotional, element into literature. The emotionalism and simple joy of life of that milieu thereafter strongly influenced writers, and the language absorbed many Ḥasidic terms. A literary historian, Ruben Brainin, discerned the presence of a “new trend” in literature and foresaw a concentration on human problems. Bialik had already pointed to a conflict between Judaism and the natural instincts of Jews. This psychological interest dominated the work of a group of short-story writers and, in particular, that of the writer and critic David Frischmann, who, more than anyone else, imposed European standards on Hebrew literature. European literary tendencies thus became absorbed into Hebrew. Uprooted by the pogroms of 1881 and the two Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, Jews had emigrated to western Europe and America, and Hebrew literary activity in eastern Europe was disrupted. The Soviet Union eventually banned Hebrew culture, and it also decayed in other eastern European countries and in Germany as the position of Jews deteriorated.
 


Mendele Mokher Sefarim
 

Mendele Moykher Sforim, Moykher also spelled Mokher or Mocher, Sforim also spelled Seforim or Sefarim, pseudonym of Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh (b. Nov. 20, 1835, Kopyl, near Minsk, Russia [now in Belarus]—d. Dec. 8, 1917, Odessa [now in Ukraine]), Jewish author, founder of both modern Yiddish and modern Hebrew narrative literature and the creator of modern literary Yiddish. He adopted his pseudonym, which means “Mendele the Itinerant Bookseller,” in 1879.

Mendele published his first article, on the reform of Jewish education, in the first volume of the first Hebrew weekly, ha-Maggid (1856). He lived from 1858 to 1869 at Berdichev in the Ukraine, where he began to write fiction. One of his short stories was published in 1863, and his major novel ha-Avot ve-ha-banim (“Fathers and Sons”) appeared in 1868, both in Hebrew. In Yiddish he published a short novel, Dos kleyne mentshele (1864; “The Little Man”; Eng. trans. The Parasite), in the Yiddish periodical Kol mevaser (“The Herald”), which was itself founded at Mendele’s suggestion. He also adapted into Hebrew H.O. Lenz’s Gemeinnützige Naturgeschichte, 3 vol. (1862–72).

Disgusted with the woodenness of the Hebrew literary style of his time, which closely imitated that of the Bible, Mendele for a time concentrated on writing stories and plays of social satire in Yiddish. His greatest work, Kitsur massous Binyomin hashlishi (1875; The Travels and Adventures of Benjamin the Third), is a kind of Jewish Don Quixote. After living from 1869 to 1881 in Zhitomir (where he was trained as a rabbi), he became head of a traditional school for boys (Talmud Torah) at Odessa and was the leading personality (known as “Grandfather Mendele”) of the emerging literary movement. In 1886 he again published a story in Hebrew (in the first Hebrew daily newspaper, ha-Yom [“Today”]), but in a new style that was a mixture of all previous periods of Hebrew. While continuing to write in Yiddish, he gradually rewrote most of his earlier Yiddish works in Hebrew. His stories, written with lively humour and sometimes biting satire, are an invaluable source for studying Jewish life in eastern Europe at the time when its traditional structure was giving way.
 

 

 


Asher Ginzberg (Ahad Ha'am)

 

Aḥad Haʿam , (Hebrew: “One of the People”: )original name Asher Ginzberg (b. Aug. 18, 1856, Skvira, near Kiev, Russian Empire [now in Ukraine]—d. Jan. 2, 1927, Tel Aviv, Palestine [now in Israel]), Zionist leader whose concepts of Hebrew culture had a definitive influence on the objectives of the early Jewish settlement in Palestine.

Reared in Russia in a rigidly Orthodox Jewish family, he mastered rabbinic literature but soon was attracted to the rationalist school of medieval Jewish philosophy and to the writings of the Haskala (“Enlightenment”), a liberal Jewish movement that attempted to integrate Judaism with modern Western thought.

At the age of 22, Aḥad Haʿam went to Odessa, the centre of the Jewish nationalist movement known as Hibbat Zion (“Love of Zion”). There he was influenced both by Jewish nationalism and by the materialistic philosophies of the Russian nihilist D.I. Pisarev and the English and French positivists. After joining the central committee of Hibbat Zion, he published his first essay, “Lo ze ha-derekh” (1889; “This Is Not the Way”), which emphasized the spiritual basis of Zionism.

In 1897, after two visits to Palestine, he founded the periodical Ha-Shiloaḥ, in which he severely criticized the political Zionism of Theodor Herzl, the foremost Jewish nationalist leader of the time. Aḥad Haʿam remained outside the Zionist organization, believing that a Jewish state would be the end result of a Jewish spiritual renaissance rather than the beginning. He called for a renaissance of Hebrew-language culture, and to that end he did urge the creation of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine as the centre and model for Jewish life in the Diaspora (i.e., the settlements of Jews outside Palestine).

Aḥad Haʿam was an intimate adviser to the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann during the time that Weizmann was playing a leading role in eliciting from the British government its Balfour Declaration of 1917, a document supporting a Jewish homeland in Palestine. His last years were spent in Palestine, editing his Iggerot Aḥad Haʿam, 6 vol. (1923–25; “Letters of Aḥad Haʿam”). Further letters, principally from the last phase of his life, and his memoirs were published in Aḥad Haʿam: Pirqe zikhronot we-iggerot (1931; “Collected Memoirs and Letters”). His essays comprise four volumes (1895, 1903, 1904, and 1913).

While stressing the rational and moral character of Judaism, Aḥad Haʿam believed that the goal of re-creating Jewish nationhood could not be achieved by purely political means but rather required spiritual rebirth. The clarity and precision of his essays made him a major Hebrew-language stylist and an influential force in modern Hebrew literature.

 

 


Hayyim Nahman Bialik


Haim Naḥman Bialik , (b. January 9, 1873, Radi, Volhynia, Ukraine, Russian Empire—d. July 4, 1934, Vienna, Austria), a leading Hebrew poet, esteemed for expressing in his verse the yearnings of the Jewish people and for making the modern Hebrew language a flexible medium of poetic expression.

Born into poverty, Bialik was left fatherless when he was five or six years old and was brought up by his rigidly pious, learned grandfather. After an intensive education in the Jewish classics, he attended for a short time the Jewish academy in Volozhin (now Valozhyn, Belarus). These three influences—his poverty, his being an orphan, and his study of Jewish religious classics—were the wellsprings of much of Bialik’s poetry. In 1891 he went to Odessa, then the centre of Jewish modernism, where he struck up a lifelong friendship with the Jewish author Aḥad Haʿam, who encouraged Bialik in his creative writing.

The following year Bialik moved to Zhitomir (now Zhytomyr, Ukraine) and to a small town in Poland. He worked unsuccessfully as a lumber merchant, then taught for a few years in a Hebrew school. The publication of his first long poem, “Ha-matmid” (“The Diligent Talmud Student”), in the periodical Ha-shiloaḥ (edited by Aḥad Haʿam) established his reputation as the outstanding Hebrew poet of his time. The poem is a sympathetic portrait of a student whose single-minded dedication to Talmudic study is awe-inspiring, even saintly.

His writing career assured, Bialik returned to Odessa as a teacher in a Hebrew school, at the same time publishing poems and some of the most highly regarded stories in modern Hebrew literature. His poems inspired by the pogrom that took place in 1903 in the city of Kishinyov (now Chişinău, Moldova) contain some of the fiercest and most anguished verse in Hebrew poetry. In such poems as “Be-ʿĭr he-haregah” (“In the City of Slaughter”), Bialik lashes out at both the cruelty of the oppressors and the passivity of the Jewish populace.

His other poems include a fragment of an epic, “Metey midbar” (“The Dead of the Desert”), and “Ha-brekha” (“The Pool”). “Metey midbar” imaginatively builds on a Talmudic legend about the Jewish host (in the biblical book of Exodus) who perished in the desert. “Ha-brekha” is a visionary nature poem in which the body of water reveals to the poet the wordless language of the universe itself.

Bialik translated into Hebrew such European classics as Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Friedrich von Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell, and S. Ansky’s play Der dibek (“The Dybbuk”). An indefatigable editor and literary organizer, he was a cofounder of the Tel Aviv publishing firm Dvir (with his lifelong associate, the author and editor Y.H. Ravnitzky) and edited Sefer ha-agadah (1907/08–1910/11; The Book of Legends), a collection of traditional Jewish homilies and legends. He also edited the poems of the medieval poet and philosopher Ibn Gabirol and began a popular modern commentary on the Mishna (the codification of Jewish oral laws).

In 1921 Bialik left Soviet Russia for Germany, where Jewish writers had established a short-lived Hebrew centre, and then settled in Palestine (1924). There he devoted himself to public affairs, producing only a few poems, the most important of which was “Yatmut” (“Orphanhood”), a long poem about his childhood that he wrote shortly before his death.

 

 


Saul Tchernichowsky
 

Saul Tchernichowsky, Tchernichowsky also spelled Chernikhovsky (b. Aug. 20, 1875, Crimea, Ukraine, Russian Empire—d. Oct. 13, 1943, Jerusalem), prolific Hebrew poet, whose poetry, in strongly biblical language, dealt with Russia, Germany, and Palestine and with the themes of love and beauty.

In 1922 Tchernichowsky left the Ukraine, and, after wanderings that took him to the United States in 1928–29, he settled in Palestine in 1931 and became a school physician at Tel Aviv. His production of written material (chiefly poetry), from the age of 14 until a month before his death, was immense. It included sonnet cycles, short stories, idylls of Jewish village life in Russia, and translations of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer, William Shakespeare, Molière, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Tchernichowsky’s poetry is deeply romantic and suffused with a love of Greek culture; the conflict between this and Judaism gave rise to what some consider to be his finest work.

 

 


Isaac Leib Peretz


I.L. Peretz, in full Isaac Leib Peretz, also spelled Yitskhak Leybush Perets, Leib also spelled Loeb or Löb (b. May 18, 1852, Zamość, Poland, Russian Empire—d. April 3, 1915, Warsaw), prolific writer of poems, short stories, drama, humorous sketches, and satire who was instrumental in raising the standard of Yiddish literature to a high level.

Peretz began writing in Hebrew but soon turned to Yiddish. For his tales, he drew material from the lives of impoverished Jews of eastern Europe. Critical of their humility and resignation, he urged them to consider their temporal needs while retaining the spiritual grandeur for which he esteemed them. Influenced by Polish Neoromantic and Symbolist writings, Peretz lent new expressive force to the Yiddish language in numerous stories collected in such volumes as Bakante bilder (1890; “Familiar Scenes”), Khasidish (1907; “Hasidic”), and Folkstimlekhe geshikhtn (1908; “Folktales”). In his drama Die goldene keyt (1909; “The Golden Chain”), Peretz stressed the timeless chain of Jewish culture.

To encourage Jews toward a wider knowledge of secular subjects, Peretz for several years wrote articles on physics, chemistry, economics, and other subjects for Di yudishe bibliotek (1891–95; “The Jewish Library”), which he also edited. Among his other nonfictional works are Bilder fun a provints-rayze (1891; “Scenes from a Journey Through the Provinces”), about Polish small-town life, and Mayne zikhroynes (1913–14; “My Memoirs”).

Peretz effectively ushered Yiddish literature into the modern era by exposing it to contemporary trends in western European art and literature. In his stories he viewed Hasidic material obliquely from the standpoint of a secular literary intellect, and with this unique perspective the stories became the vehicle for an elegiac contemplation of traditional Jewish values.

The Peretz home in Warsaw was a gathering place for young Jewish writers, who called him the “father of modern Yiddish literature.” During the last 10 years of his life, Peretz became the recognized leader of the Yiddishist movement, whose aim—in opposition to the Zionists—was to create a complete cultural and national life for Jewry within the Diaspora with Yiddish as its language. He played an important moderating role as deputy chairman at the Yiddish Conference that assembled in 1908 at Czernowitz, Austria-Hungary (now Chernivtsi, Ukraine), to promote the status of the language and its culture.
 

 

Émigré and Palestinian literature

The writers of this generation were known as the émigré writers. Their work was pessimistic, as the rootlessness without hope of Uri Nissan Gnessin and Joseph Ḥayyim Brenner exemplified. The majority of writers active in Palestine before 1939 were born in the Diaspora (Jewish communities outside Palestine) and were concerned with the past. An exception was Yehuda Burla, who wrote about Jewish communities of Middle Eastern descent. The transition from ghetto to Palestine was achieved by few writers, among them Asher Barash, who described the early struggles of Palestinian Jewry. S.Y. Agnon, the outstanding prose writer of this generation (and joint winner of the 1966 Nobel Prize for Literature), developed an original style that borrowed from the Midrash (homiletical commentaries on the Hebrew Scriptures), stories, and ethical writings of earlier centuries. While his earlier stories were set in Galicia, he later began to write about Palestine. In Ore’aḥ nataʿ lalun (1938; A Guest for the Night) the narrator recounts his return to his native town in Galicia. Temol shilshom (1945; Only Yesterday), widely regarded as Agnon’s finest work, satirizes the ideals of both secular Zionism and religious Judaism.

Poetry immediately addressed Palestinian life. Among outstanding writers were Rachel (Rachel Bluwstein), who wrote intensely personal poems; Uri Zevi Greenberg, a political poet and exponent of free verse; and Abraham Shlonsky, who would lead Israel’s Symbolist school.

 

 



S.Y. Agnon
 

S.Y. Agnon, in full Shmuel Yosef Agnon, pseudonym of Shmuel Yosef Halevi Czaczkes (b. July 17, 1888, Buczacz, Galicia, Austria-Hungary [now Buchach, Ukraine]—d. Feb. 17, 1970, Reḥovot, Israel), Israeli writer who was one of the leading modern Hebrew novelists and short-story writers. In 1966 he was the corecipient, with Nelly Sachs, of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Born of a family of Polish Jewish merchants, rabbis, and scholars, Agnon wrote at first (1903–06) in Yiddish and Hebrew, under his own name and various pseudonyms. Soon after settling in Palestine in 1907, however, he took the surname Agnon and chose Hebrew as the language in which to unfold his dramatic, visionary, highly polished narratives.

Agnon’s real literary debut was made with Agunot (1908; “Forsaken Wives”), his first “Palestinian” story. His first major work was the novel Hakhnasat kalah, 2 vol. (1919; The Bridal Canopy). Its hero, Reb Yudel Hasid, is the embodiment of every wandering, drifting Jew in the ghettos of the tsarist and Austro-Hungarian empires. His second novel, Ore’aḥ Nataʿ Lalun (1938; A Guest for the Night), describes the material and moral decay of European Jewry after World War I. His third and perhaps greatest novel, ʿTmol shilshom (1945; “The Day Before Yesterday”), examines the problems facing the westernized Jew who immigrates to Israel. This is neither a realistic story (like some of the early tales) nor a symbolic autobiography, yet it can be understood only in the light of Agnon’s own actual and spiritual experience.

All Agnon’s works are the final result of innumerable Proust-like revisions, as is shown by the many manuscripts in existence and by the variety of the printed texts. Already there are two widely different versions of his collected works, one in 11 volumes (Kol sipurav shel Shmuel Yosef Agnon, vol. 1–6, Berlin, 1931–35; 7–11, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1939–52) and one in 8 volumes (Tel Aviv, 1953–62). The archaic structure of his prose presents great difficulties for the translator, yet even in translation his power is unmistakable.

Agnon edited an anthology of folktales inspired by the High Holidays of the Jewish year, Yamim nora’im (1938; Days of Awe, 1948), and a selection of famous rabbinic texts, Sefer, sofer, vesipur (1938). An autobiographical sketch appeared in 1958. Translations of his works include In the Heart of the Seas (1948; Bi-levav yamim) and Two Tales (1966; Edo ve-Enam).
 

 

 


Uri Zvi Greenberg


Uri Zvi Greenberg, byname Tur Malka (b. Jan. 10, 1894, Bialykamien, Eastern Galicia [now Ukraine]—d. May 8, 1981, Israel), Hebrew and Yiddish poet whose strident, Expressionist verse exhorts the Jewish people to redeem their historical destiny; he warned of the impending Holocaust in such poems as “In malkhus fun tselem” (1922; “In the Kingdom of the Cross”). An adherent of the right-wing Revisionist Zionist Party, Greenberg used his poetry to espouse a religious mystical view of Zionism and to further Revisionism’s extreme nationalism.

The son of a Hasidic rabbi, Greenberg received a traditional Hasidic upbringing in Lemberg (now Lvov). In Warsaw, in 1920, he was co-publisher of Khalyastre (“The Gang”), an Expressionist, avant-garde literary journal. He wrote in both Yiddish and Hebrew until immigrating to Palestine (later Israel) in 1924; thereafter he wrote solely in Hebrew. Considered a foremost Hebrew poet of his generation, Greenberg was at odds with the main intellectual and political thrust in Hebrew literature and Israeli politics because of his political and social views. He served one term in the Knesset (parliament) as a member of the Herut Party (1949–51).

His early Hebrew-language poetry, such as “Yerushalayim shel matah” (1924; trans. as “Jerusalem”), was influenced by Walt Whitman. From the 1930s his work was politicized, as in the collection Ezor magen u-ne’um ben ha-dam (1930; “A Shield of Defense and the Word of the Son of Blood”), the poem “Migdal ha-Geviyyot” (1937; “The Tower of Corpses”), and the acclaimed collection Reḥovot hanahar (1951; “Streets of the River”).
 

 

 


Abraham Shlonsky


Abraham Shlonsky, also spelled Avraham Shlonski (b. March 6, 1900, Poltava province, Russia [now in Ukraine]—d. May 18, 1973, Tel Aviv–Yafo, Israel), Israeli poet who founded Israel’s Symbolist school and was an innovator in using colloquial speech in Hebrew verse.

In the early 1920s Shlonsky emigrated to Palestine, becoming literary editor of various periodicals. He translated into Hebrew works by authors such as Bertolt Brecht, Nikolay Gogol, Aleksandr Pushkin, William Shakespeare, and G.B. Shaw. Much of Shlonsky’s poetry concerns the Israeli pioneer’s rejection of Western values and the emergence of Israel as a modern country. Verse collections include Shire ha-mapolet ve-ha-piyus (1938; “Songs of Defeat and Conciliation”) and ʿAl mileʾt (1947; “On Filling In”).
 




Israeli literature

World War II and the Arab-Israeli War of 1948–49 brought to the fore Palestinian-born writers who dealt with the problems of their generation in colloquially flavoured Hebrew. In the State of Israel, where Hebrew had become the official language, literature developed on a large scale, mainly along contemporary western European and American lines. The extreme diversity in culture of parts of the population and the problems of new immigrants provided the main themes for fiction. Poetry flourished, but original drama at first was slow to develop. Greenberg’s Rehovot HaNahar (1951; “Streets of the River”) traces the process by which the humiliation of the massacred is transmuted by the pride of martyrdom into the historical impulse of messianic redemption. In a long dramatic poem, Bein ha-Esh ve-ha-Yesha (1957; Between the Fire and Salvation), Aaron Zeitlin envisioned the annihilation of European Jewry in mystical terms, examining the relationship of catastrophe and redemption.

Native Israeli prose writers wrote of their life in the kibbutz, the underground, and the war of 1948–49. S. Yizhar and Moshe Shamir emerged as the outstanding representatives of this generation, probing the sensibility of the individual in a group-oriented society. But the establishment of the State of Israel could not allay the anxieties of the individual. The dominant themes of writers who had no access to collective ideals were personal ones—frustration, confusion, and alienation. The works of Yehuda Amichai and Haim Gouri are representative of the poetry of this period and of the following decades; their poems emphasize the dissolution of social coherence and express the individual devoid of a sense of historical and spiritual mission. The novelist Aharon Megged’s Ha-Hai ʿal ha-met (1965; The Living on the Dead) casts a putative hero of the pioneer generation in an ironic light.

Memories of the Holocaust haunt the lyrical work of Aharon Appelfeld. Flight and hiding are the characteristic situations of his early stories. His Badenhaim, ʿir nofesh (Badenheim 1939), published in 1975, captures the ominous atmosphere of the approaching Holocaust sensed by a group of assimilated Jews vacationing at an Austrian resort. It describes social and spiritual disintegration, as do his novels Tor ha-peli ʾot (1978; The Age of Wonders) and Katerinah (1989; Katerina). Appelfeld’s many other novels and novellas consider the theme of the survivor’s spiritual paralysis (as, for example, in Bartfus ben ha-almavet [1988; The Immortal Bartfuss]) at the same time that they explore the frozen spiritual landscape of the post-Holocaust world.

The New Wave is the name given to the generation of prose writers who began publishing in the late 1950s and ’60s. Shimon Ballas’s novel Ha-Maʾabarah (1964; “The Transit Camp”), which describes the struggle of immigrants from Iraq in an Israeli transit camp, is one of the first books in which the absorption of Jewish immigrants of the Mizrahi religious Zionist movement is recounted from the immigrant’s perspective. But many New Wave writers—including A.B. Yehoshua, Yaʿakov Shabtai, and Amos Oz—made attempts in their early work to distance themselves from preoccupations with Israeli reality. In Yehoshua’s stories the narrator’s tone is remote and the people are drained of emotion. Occasionally, an act of feeling or meaning breaks the mood of boredom and illuminates a character’s humanity. In both Ha-Meʿahev (1976; The Lover) and Gerusḥim meʾuḥarim (1982; A Late Divorce), Yehoshua explores the confrontation between the philosophy of his generation and the ideology of the Zionist founders. His Mar Mani (1990; Mr. Mani), a complex and innovative work about a Sephardic family whose history is linked to the significant events in Diaspora and Israeli history, spans a period of 150 years. Shabtai’s novel Zikhron devarim (1977; Past Continuous) broke new ground in its evocation of the family in society. Oz, in a series of later novels, confronted the difficulties of life in Israel. Kufsah sheḥora (1987; Black Box) utilizes a satirical epistolary style to depict a family at war with itself, while La-daʾat ishah (1989; To Know a Woman) also details family relationships. Panter ba-martef (1994; Panther in the Basement), written from the point of view of a child, is set in Palestine in 1947 as British rule over the region is coming to an end. Oto ha-yam (1999; The Same Sea) is an unconventional novel of love, family, and loss, written in a mixture of poetry and prose.

Personal frustration and religious vision are the subjects of the novelist Pinḥas Sadeh. Yitzḥak Orpaz’s novels tend toward psychological exploration, particularly in the series beginning with Bayit le-adam eḥad (1975; “One Man’s House”). Yoram Kaniuk’s work examines the alienated Israeli, but Ha-Yehudi ha-aḥaron (1981; The Last Jew) explores the Israeli experience as a response to the Holocaust. The realistic stories of Yitzḥak Ben Ner are set in rural and urban communities (Sheḳiʿah kefarit [1976; “A Rustic Sunset”] and Ereẓ reḥokah [1981; “A Distant Land”]). The writings of Amalia Kahana-Carmon explore the subjective impressions of experience and the complexities of time and memory through a stream-of-consciousness technique.

In the 1980s and ’90s a new generation of writers, including Yehoshuʿa Ḳenaz and David Grossman, began to emerge. Ḳenaz’s Hitganvut yeḥidim (1986; “Heart Murmur”; Eng. trans. Infiltration) depicts a group of recruits in the Israeli army who are representative of Israeli society. Grossman’s ʿAyen ʿerekh: ahavah (1986; See Under: Love), a novel about the Holocaust, is regarded by some as one of the great novels of the modern period. In Viḳṭoryah (1993; Victoria) Sami Michael traced the history of a Baghdadi family in Israel. The experiences of immigrants from North African and Middle Eastern countries were described by other writers, including Albert Swissa in his novel ʿAḳud (1990; “The Bound One”) and the poets Ronny Someck, Erez Biṭon, and Maya Bejerano. Yoel Hoffmann, whose work is characterized by stylistic experimentation and the influence of Japanese literature, represented the experience of German Jewish immigrants to Palestine in Bernharṭ (1989; Bernhard) and Krisṭus shel dagim (1991; The Christ of Fish).

In the last decades of the 20th century, writers explored a wide variety of themes and styles, influenced more than previously by American popular culture. In Agadat ha-agamim ha-ʿatsuvim (1989; “The Legend of the Sad Lakes”) Itamar Levi attempted to confront the subject of the Holocaust in a surrealistic manner. One of the phenomena of these decades was the appearance of a number of women writers, including Judith Katzir, ʿEdnah Mazya, Orly Castel-Bloom, and many others, who provided a powerful alternative to the male voice that had dominated Hebrew letters from the start of the modern period. Many of these writers traced their own family histories. The literary world of Leʾah Eni (Leah Aini) is one of memory, in which two central elements intersect: the community in which she spent her childhood and the Holocaust. The work of Hanna Bat Shahar (a pseudonym) deals predominantly with the inner world of women who are bound by the strict rules and customs of Orthodox communities.

At the turn of the 21st century, Hebrew poetry remained innovative. Some poets addressed subjects previously considered taboo for Hebrew literature, such as homosexuality. The poetry of Itamar Yaʿoz-Ḳesṭ, Admiel Kosman, Benyamin Shvili, and Chava Pinchas-Cohen (Ḥava Pinḥas-Kohen) tended toward broadly metaphysical, even religious, expression.

Chaim Rabin
Samuel Leiter
Glenda M. Abramson
Ed.

 


Yehuda Amichai


Yehuda Amichai, (b. May 3, 1924, Würzburg, Germany—d. September 22, 2000, Jerusalem, Israel), Israeli writer who is best known for his poetry.

Amichai and his Orthodox Jewish family immigrated to Palestine in 1936. During World War II he served in the British army, but he later fought the British as a guerrilla prior to the formation of Israel; he also was involved in the Arab-Israeli conflicts of 1956 and 1973. Amichai attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and taught for several years at secondary schools.

Amichai’s poetry reflects his total commitment to the state of Israel, and from his first collection, Akhshav u-ve-yamim aḥerim (1955; “Now and in Other Days”), he employed biblical images and Jewish history. He also compared modern times with ancient, heroic ages and sought to expand biblical language in order to encompass contemporary phenomena. In the 1970s he introduced sexuality as a subject in his poems. With Amen (1977) he garnered a wider audience through the translation of his poems into English by Ted Hughes. Influenced by modern American and English poets, including W.H. Auden, Amichai was noted for his lyrical use of everyday language and the simplicity of his work. The English-language collection The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai (1986) contains selections from his many publications in Hebrew.

In addition to short stories and plays, Amichai also wrote novels, of which the best known is Lo me-achshav, lo mi-kan (1963; Not of This Time, Not of This Place), about the quest for identity of a Jewish immigrant to Israel. Gam ha-ʾegrof hayah paʿam yad petuḥah (1989; Even a Fist Was Once an Open Palm with Fingers) is a selection of his poetry in translation. Open Closed Open (2000) continued to explore the Israeli experience.
 

 

 


Aharon Appelfeld


Aharon Appelfeld, Aharon also spelled Aron (b. Feb. 16, 1932, Cernăuţi, Romania [now Chernivtsi, Ukraine]), novelist and short-story writer who is best known for his Hebrew-language allegorical novels of the Holocaust.

At the age of eight Appelfeld and his parents were captured by Nazi troops. His mother was killed, and Aharon and his father were sent to a labour camp. Appelfeld eventually escaped and for two years roamed rural Ukraine. In 1944 he worked in the field kitchens of the Soviet army. He immigrated to Palestine in 1947 and served two years in the Israeli army, during which time he resumed his formal education, which had ended after the first grade. He later studied philosophy at Hebrew University and taught Hebrew literature at Israeli universities. Although Appelfeld’s works in English translation deal primarily with the Holocaust, his writings cover a wider range of subject matter.

Appelfeld’s fiction includes Bagai ha-poreh (1963; In the Wilderness), Badenheim, ʿir nofesh (1979; Badenheim 1939), Ha-Ketonet veha-pasim (1983; Tzili: The Story of a Life), Bartfus ben ha-almavet (1988; The Immortal Bartfuss), Katerinah (1989; Katerina), Mesilat barzel (1991; “The Railway”), and Unto the Soul (1994). Beyond Despair: Three Lectures and a Conversation with Philip Roth was published in 1994.
 

 

 


Amos Oz


Amos Oz, original name Amos Klausner (b. May 4, 1939, Jerusalem), Israeli novelist, short-story writer, and essayist in whose works Israeli society is unapologetically scrutinized.

Oz was educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the University of Oxford. He served in the Israeli army (1957–60, 1967, and 1973). After the Six-Day War in 1967, he became active in the Israeli peace movement and with organizations that advocated a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition to writing, he worked as a part-time schoolteacher and labourer.

Oz’s symbolic, poetic novels reflect the splits and strains in Israeli culture. Locked in conflict are the traditions of intellect and the demands of the flesh, reality and fantasy, rural Zionism and the longing for European urbanity, and the values of the founding settlers and the perceptions of their skeptical offspring. Oz felt himself unable to share the optimistic outlook and ideological certainties of Israel’s founding generation, and his writings present an ironic view of life in Israel.

His works of fiction include Artsot ha-tan (1965; Where the Jackals Howl, and Other Stories), Mikhaʾel sheli (1968; My Michael), La-gaʿat ba-mayim, la-gaʿat ba-ruaḥ (1973; Touch the Water, Touch the Wind), Kufsah sheḥora (1987; Black Box), and Matsav ha-shelishi (1991; The Third State). Oto ha-yam (1999; The Same Sea) is a novel in verse. The memoir Sipur ʿal ahavah ve-ḥoshekh (2002; A Tale of Love and Darkness) drew wide critical acclaim.

Oz was among the editors of Siaḥ loḥamim (1968; The Seventh Day), a collection of soldiers’ reflections on the Six-Day War. His political essays are collected in such volumes as Be-or ha-tekhelet ha-ʿazah (1979; Under This Blazing Light) and Be-ʿetsem yesh kan shete milḥamot (2002; “But These Are Two Different Wars”). How to Cure a Fanatic (2006) is an English-language collection of two essays by Oz and an interview with him.
 

 

 


Amalia Kahana-Carmon


Amalia Kahana-Carmon, (b. 1926, Kibbutz Ein Harod, Israel), Israeli author of novels, novellas, short stories, and essays, whose modern style influenced subsequent generations of Israeli writers.

Kahana-Carmon was raised in Tel Aviv. She served as a radio operator in an Israeli army combat unit during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948–49. At Hebrew University in Jerusalem, she studied library science and philology. She was secretary of the Israeli consulate in London and later worked as a librarian at Tel Aviv University.

In 1966 she published her first collection of stories, Bi-khefifah ahat (“Under One Roof”). Unlike anything before it in Hebrew literature, the book was an immediate success, and it became so influential that in 2007 it was deemed to be among the most important books written during Israel’s history. Along with Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, Kahana-Carmon became a key figure in the new wave of Israeli fiction of the 1960s. Unlike her contemporaries, however, she wrote about the inner lives of women, exploring a realm of desire and fantasy more subjective than the Zionist themes then prevalent in Israeli literature. Her later writing often concerned itself with individuals who are marginalized by society and who revolt against established orders and expectations
 

 
 
 
 
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