Ann Brener Judah Halevi and His Circle of Hebrew Poets in Granada Hebrew Language and Literature Series Hebrew Language and Literature Series 2005

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  • Judah Halevi and His Circle


    Edited by

    W.Jac. van Bekkum







    Ann Brener



  • This book is printed on acid-free paper.

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

    Brener, Ann, 1969-Judah Halevi and his circle of Hebrew poets in Granada / by Ann Brener.

    p. cm. -- (Hebrew language and literature series ; v. 6)Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index.ISBN 90-04-14709-8

    1. Judah, ha-Levi, 12th cent. - -Criticism and interpretation. 2. Judah, ha-Levi,12th cent.--Translations into English. I. Title. II. Series.

    PJ5050.J8B74 2005892.412--dc22


    ISSN 13812564ISBN 90 04 14709 8

    c Copyright 2005 by Styx/Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands

    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, storedin a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic,

    mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior writtenpermission from the publisher.

    Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal use is grantedby Brill provided that the appropriate fees are paid directly to

    The Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Suite 910Danvers MA 01923, USA.Fees are subject to change.



    It is a great pleasure for me to thank the editors of this book, my second in the seriesHebrew Language and Literature. Between the careful editing of Professor Wout vanBekkum, the editor of the series, and the professional expertise of Geerd Haayer, thissecond experience has been even more pleasant than the rst something I never wouldhave thought possible. To both these gentlemen of Brill/Styx, therefore my verywarmest thanks.

    I also wish to thank my colleagues of Ben-Gurion University, Professor Dvora Bregmanand Dr. Haviva Ishay, for their part in this book. Their helpful comments and encourage-ment over the past several years helped to make the writing of this book a very pleasantexperience indeed.

    Ann BrenerGroningen, April 2005



    PREFACE ix



    CHAPTER ONE First Contacts between Judah Halevi and Moses ibn Ezra 9

    CHAPTER TWO Judah Halevis Letter to Moses ibn Ezra 29

    CHAPTER THREE First Contacts with Judah ibn Ghayyat 45

    CHAPTER FOUR A Star is Born: Judah Halevi in Granada 59


    CHAPTER FIVE The Poetry of Wine-drinking Parties 73

    CHAPTER SIX The Poets Workshop 93

    CHAPTER SEVEN Hebrew Boon-Companions as Poets for Jewish Occasions 111

    CHAPTER EIGHT The Girl from Granada Granada as Metaphor and Place 129







    Towards the end of the eleventh century, there existed in Muslim Spain a unique circleof Hebrew poets loosely centered around the city-kingdom of Granada, then under therule of Abdallah ibn Buluggn, the last prince of the Zirid dynasty. The members ofthis circle were poets as well as rabbinic scholars, Orthodox Jews passionately devotedto Hebrew language and literature but also passionate devotees of Arabic poetry andculture. They composed poetry based on classical Arabic poetics and Arabic models ofgenre and rhetoric, only they wrote their poems in Hebrew rather than in Arabic, andused the treasures of the Bible, and not the Koran, to do so. It was a small, highly renedgroup, one that Moses ibn Ezra, its leader, was later to call a

    A wonderful group / and a marvelous troupe.1A circle ofmedieval Hebrew poetsmay seem like a strange andwondrous phenomenon

    to us today, but it was in fact very much a creation of its time. Poetry played an importantrole in the society of Muslim Spain, or at least in certain segments of that society, and itleft its traces wherever we look. Poetry is chiseled into palace walls, woven into garmentsand rugs, carved in marble and stone. It spills off the pages of Andalusi histories andrises, song after song, anecdote after anecdote, in the numerous anthologies from theperiod, till we almost wonder whether poetry was not in the very air itself. Here we readof kings and laundresses improvising distichs on the banks of rivers, there we read aboutprinces and poets trading versets and rhymes. And everywhere we read of odes recitedand rewarded, poems set to music and performed, farewells taken in rhyme and meter,and the wine-drinking parties in which all this took place. Poetry was the prerogativeof kings, and poets the ornaments of courtly life. It is not surprising, therefore, to ndthat this love for poetry had a kind of rippling effect on other segments of society, or tolearn that the Jewish poets of al-Andalus were in many ways a reection of practicesand norms current in the courts of Muslim society.2Like any creative circle of working artists, themembers of this group evolved their own

    codes of behavior and ways of interacting with each other: inuencing, inspiring, and,as we shall see, occasionally - if gracefully even correcting each other. These Hebrewpoets did not write for some anonymous far-off reader, and certainly not for their desk

    1 Ibn Ezra composed his book in Judaeo-Arabic, that is, in Arabic written in Hebrew letters; it has beentranslated intoHebrew byA. S. Halkin, Kitab al-muh

    .ad.ara wal-mudhakara (Jerusalem,Mekitzei Nirdamim:

    1975). For a good analysis of the work in English, see Raymond Scheindlin, Rabbi Moshe ibn Ezra on theLegitimacy of Poetry, Medievalia et Humanistica , n. s. 7 (1976), pp. 101115.2 The fourteenth-centuryMuslim historian, Lisan al-Dn ibn al-Khat

    .b, conceded that the Andalusi talent for

    poetry trickled down to women as well as indels. See his comments in ibn Moh

    .ammed al-Maqqar,

    The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain, trans. Pascual de Gayangos, (London: The OrientalTranslation Fund, 1890), 1: 151.


  • Preface

    drawers. Very often their poems were addressed to a specic member, or members, ofthe group, and often as not elicited a reply in kind. They reect specic social situationsand norms, and give expression to contemporary standards of elegance and conduct. Inthem we read about wine-drinking parties and poetic competitions, Purim feasts andweddings. We hear of poems sung and then imitated, of gifts given and received, ofriddles propounded and solved. Seen as a group these poems help breathe life into whatmust surely be one of the most fascinating periods of Hebrew creativity since the closeof the biblical canon. In them one senses the same excitement, the same pulse of energythat animates the work of any creative group of artists, whether they inhabit the gardensand villas of Renaissance Italy, the cobble-stoned streets of Provence, or the throbbingcoffee houses of New York and London. Yet the poems emanating from the Granadaperiod of Judah Halevis life have never yet been examined as the expression of adistinct circle of poets, and it is this circle this wonderful group / and marveloustroupe that the present study will seek to examine.




    When Abdallah ibn Buluggn, the last Zirid prince of Muslim Granada, threw open thegates of his kingdom in 1090 to the conquering hordes from North Africa, it signaledmore than the end of his own ruling house. In one stroke it not only ushered a newera into Granada, but throughout al-Andalus sounded the death knoll for that period ofcultural splendor and achievement known as the Taifa, or party kingdoms, of MuslimSpain.1 These were the thirty or so independent city-kingdoms that rose from the ashesof the Caliphate of Cordoba following the breakdown of centralized government in1013, in a process that one medieval historian likened to the breaking of the necklaceand the scattering of its pearls.2 The Muslim rulers who scrambled for the pearls inthat turbulent period may have fought each other almost as much as they fought theirenemies in Christian Spain, but they also gave new impetus to the arts and sciences. In aprocess not unlike that of Renaissance Italy, the princes of each tiny kingdom disputedwith each other the prize of prose and poetical composition . . . encouraged literature,and treated the learned with distinction, rewarding them municently for their labors.3Poetry and music ourished, as did the decorative arts and architecture for aristocraticconsumption. This was the period in which Ibn Zaydun sang of the princess Wallada, inwhich the miradors and palaces of the Alcazaba and the Alfajeria were constructed, andin which the carmen gardens of the Alhambra and Generalife were laid out and planted.All this magnicence, however, came to an end with the Almoravid troops from North

    Africa as, one by one, the victors removed the individual kings from their thrones andrestrung the scattered pearls into an empire of their own. From exile in North Africathe deposed Abdallah recalled the days of glory as he penned a history of his dynastysrule in Granada, closing his political memoirs with a backward glance at the pastimesof kings once his to enjoy, and at a period of his life when, as he himself put it, my1 The literature on this period is extensive; see for example E. Levi-Provencal, LEspagne musulmaneau Xeme sie`cle: Institutions et view sociale, 3 vols. (Paris: Larose, 1932); Reinhart Dozy, Spanish Islam,trans. Francis Grifn Stokes (London: Frank Cass, 1972); and David Wasserstein, The Rise and Fall of theParty Kings: Politics and Society in Islamic Spain 10021086 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).Translations from the Arab historians on the events of this period, and on the progress of the Almoravidvictors, are found inAh

    .med ibnMohammed al-Maqqar, TheHistory of theMohammedanDynasties in Spain,

    trans. Pascual de Gayangos, (London: The Oriental Translation Fund, 1890). Of particular interest, perhaps,are several recent studies dealing with the period from a more interdisciplinary point of view, combiningstudies of poetry, architecture, and social life from the period. See for example Cynthia Robinson, In Praiseof Song: The Making of Courtly Culture in al-Andalus and Provence, 11051134 A. D. (Leiden: Brill,2002); D. Fairchild Ruggles, Gardens, Landscape and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain (UniversityPark: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000).2 Al-Shaqund (d. 12311232). Quoted from Al-Maqqar, The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties, pp.3435.3 Ibid.


  • Introduction

    mind was carefree, my heart relaxed and . . . able to contemplate all that was lovely.4But it was not only deposed Zirid rulers who suffered under the new dynasty or who

    looked with longing at life back in Granada.5 Yet another exile from the Zirid kingdomrecalled the glories of life in Granada before the days of Almoravid rule and bewailed hislost paradise from the distance of a foreign land. This was Moses ibn Ezra (10551135),the leading Hebrew poet of Muslim Spain on the eve of the Almoravid invasion, anda member of a prominent Jewish family whose sons were later to gure amongst theleaders of the emerging Jewish communities in Christian Spain. From the lonelinessof exile in Christian Spain, alienated for unknown reasons from his family and deeplyscornful of the cultural life in his new surroundings,6 Ibn Ezra yearned for Granadaand wistfully recalled the days when he had enjoyed a life of ourishing creativityamongst a group of like-minded Hebrew poets and scholars. It was a small, highlyrened group, one that Ibn Ezra, its leader, was later to call a

    a wonderful group / and a marvelous troupe.7 It was also this circle of poetsthat was destined to provide the framework for the appearance of perhaps the greatestHebrew poet since biblical times: Judah ben Samuel Halevi.Today Judah Halevi is best-known as the author of exquisite lyric poetry describing

    his longing for Zion and his voyage to the Holy Land in old age. Many of his religiouspoems grace the pages of Hebrew prayer-books the world over, and no commemorationof Independence Day in Israel is complete without a recitation of his great threnody,

    4 This fascinating document disappeared during the Middle Ages and was only recovered in 1932 when thegreat Arabist, E. Levi-Provencal, discovered it in the library of a mosque in Fez. Levi-Provencal publishedpart of his ndings in Al-Andalus 3 (1935); 4 (19361939); and 6 (1941). The quotation here comes fromthe English translation of the Arabic original, published as The Tibyan: Memoirs of Abdallah b. Buluggin,Last Zirid Amir of Granada, trans. Amin T. Tibi (Leiden: Brill, 1986), p. 174.5 The majority of Granadas citizens disapproved of Zirid rule and gave the conquering Almoravid general aheros welcome, but other segments of society suffered greatly by the change. As Reinhart Dozy concludes,Almoravid rule justied both the expectations of the clerical Muslims in Granada and the fears of thosewho desired to be ruled neither by ecclesiastics nor barbarians from Morocco and the Sahara. Scholars,poets, philosophers all had bitter grievances. Though many of these found positions under the new rulers,they found themselves out of place amongst an uncongenial crowd of fanatical priests and uncouth soldiers;far different had been the Courts they had been accustomed to. These souls, Dozy continues, felt a deepregret for the lettered princes who had passed for ever. See Reinhart Dozy, Spanish Islam, p. 718. CynthiaRobinson points to a similar experience in Saragossa, where the loss to the Almoravid in 1111 appears tohave been for the nobility and literati, at any rate devastating. See Cynthia Robinson, In Praise of Song,p. 317, note 43.6 The most comprehensive treatment of the poets life in both Granada and Christian Spain is HaimSchirmann, Toldot ha-shirah ha-ivrit bi-sefarad ha-muslemit (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1995), ed. andnotes by Ezra Fleischer, pp. 391403. This book, which will be frequently cited in the following chapters,was composed by Haim Schirmann without notes, either through design or because he died before hecould carry out his project. Ezra Fleischer, who subsequently edited the book, provides copious notes toSchirmanns text, giving poetic citations, updated and very detailed bibliography, additional information,and occasional corrections based on the research subsequent to Schirmanns death. Fleischer also providesentire sub-chapters supplementing Schirmanns text. It is Fleischers notes and additions which essentiallytransform the book from a general history of Hebrew poetry in Muslim Spain into the most authoritativework of its kind up to the present date, and probably for many generations to come. In English, the best studyof Ibn Ezras life is Haim Brody, Moses ibn Ezra: Incidents in His Life, Jewish Quarterly Review, n. s. 24(1933), pp. 309 ff. See also Yitzhak Baer, A History of the Jews in Christian Spain, trans. Louis Schoffman(Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society...


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