RABBI ADONIM HALEVI

haleviIntroduction

Dunash ben Labrat, often known as Rabbi Adonim Halevi (920-990) laid the foundations for the greatest post-biblical period of Hebrew poetry by expressing Jewish traditions in Arabic verse forms. Dunash was best known for his poetry — of which little unfortunately remains — but it was his religious and grammarian disputes that furnish our fragmentary biographical information.

Medieval Spain, both Muslim and Christian, was generally tolerant of religious minorities, though Jews were often massacred in wars between Muslims and Christians and between contending Muslim states.

Dunash was born in Fès and probably served as a rabbi in the great city of learning, Cordoba. Dunash'a works include the Shabbat song Dror Yikra and Dvai Hasair, the (now) traditional preface to birkat hamazon at weddings.

The secular Hebrew poetry of Spain is often seen as its golden age — this literary greatness being shared with Islamic science and Christian theology. Poets like Yehuda Halevi (1086-1145), Samuel HaNagid (993-1056), Solomon ibn Gvirol (1021-?1070) and Moses ibn Ezra (1055-?1135) produced a great wealth of poetry that employed linguistic virtuosity, Hebrew learning and Arabic idioms/images in a deeply personal style. Most were court poets retained by the Jewish aristocracy, or members of that aristocracy, and their poetry has the Arab celebration of the senses with a sombre religiosity and sense of man's sinfulness. The themes are deeply varied: war and all its exultations and terrors, love and the fleeting nature of passion, desolating grief, injustice, the follies of human nature and our mortality.

Hebrew, an ancient Semitic language, largely written today as it was some 3000 years ago, is the medium of a long and rich tradition of poetry. Its greatest period is the classical (1150-150 BC), where the characteristics of parallelism and terseness were used to create hymns, prayers, songs, lamentations and aphorisms, as Old Testament readers will know. Poetry of the Piyyut (500-800 AD) period was more liturgical, but in Muslim Spain secular poetry had its great flowering.

Hebrew poetry has often adopted the metrical forms of surrounding cultures, and these in Spain were qasida, rubaiyat (quatrains) and muwashshah (girdle or love poem). Hebrew poetry has retained its characteristics in all periods, until perhaps the present, when contemporary Israeli writing and poetry dealing with the holocaust and current politics employs free verse and everyday or enigmatic images.

Medieval Hebrew is a specialist field, and accounts of its poetry tend to be scholarly e.g. A. Schippers' Spanish Hebrew Poetry, N. Roth's Deal gently with the young man, and R. Scheindlin's Wine, Women and Death and The Gazelle.

A little history will help, of medieval Spain and the Jewish people. Good listings of resources on medieval Spain are found at Jewish medieval history and Spanish medieval history. Much more extensive for Jewish concerns is Judaism and Jewish Resources, which also lists Hebrew language courses and centres.

Suggestion: Hispano Arabic Poetry: An Anthology. T. J. Monroe. Gorgias Pr Llc; Student edition. 2004. $48.00

A work of scholarship for the keen student: the important names in their cultural setting.

Learning Hebrew

Hebrew can be learnt from books, tapes and CDs, available at jewish software, hebrew world, Hebrew online, wannalearn and zigzagworld.

Free lessons and material are at foundation stone, hebrew learning sites, passing phrase, hebrew resources, learn hebrew verbs and aklah.

Other works, dictionaries, etc. can be ordered through hebrew books, judaism, abebooks and alibris.

Hebrew-English-Hebrew online dictionaries are at word2word, crosswalk, yourdictionary, lexicool, and language glossary.

Some useful language exchanges: friends abroad, xlingo, mylanguage exchange, polyglot learn language, and lingozone.

Hebrew Poetry

Medieval Hebrew is a specialist field, and accounts of its poetry tend to be scholarly e.g. A. Schippers' Spanish Hebrew Poetry, N. Roth's Deal gently with the young man, and R. Scheindlin's Wine, Women and Death and The Gazelle.

Hebrew literature sources are listed at the Jewish national and university library. There are many popular poetry translations, however, e.g. those by Carmi, Lewis, Kovak and Jospe, Brook and Cole.

A little history will help, of medieval Spain and the Jewish people. Much more extensive for Jewish concerns is Judaism and Jewish resources, which also lists Hebrew language courses and centres.

Halevi

The secular Hebrew poetry of Spain is often seen as its golden age — this literary greatness being shared with Islamic science and Christian theology. Poets like Yehuda Halevi (1086-1145), Samuel HaNagid (993-1056), Solomon ibn Gvirol (1021-?1070) and Moses ibn Ezra (1055-?1135) produced a great wealth of poetry that employed linguistic virtuosity, Hebrew learning and Arabic idioms/images in a deeply personal style.

C. John Holcombe   |  About the Author    | ©     2007 2012 2013 2015.   Material can be freely used for non-commercial purposes if properly referenced.