JUDAH HALEVI (before 1075–1141), Hebrew poet, philosopher, and physician. Halevi was one of the most distinguished and emblematic medieval intellectuals, perhaps the most mature and representative model of Jewish culture in al-Andalus; he was deeply involved in the life of his times and, because of his prestige, he had a deep influence on future Judaism. Judah Halevi's own work constitutes his most important biographical source: his poems tell of his journeys in Spain and in other countries, of his relations with his contemporaries, of his position in society, and of his spiritual development. Many biographical particulars are also contained in his extant letters and in poems of his contemporaries, as well as in later writers (e.g., Ibn Ezra's commentary to the Pentateuch, and Maḥberet he-Arukh of Salomon ibn *Parḥon). Publications of letters from the Cairo Genizah have clarified many aspects of the last period of Judah Halevi's life. Wider acquaintance with the many manuscripts and fragments of his writings preserved in the libraries of Russia have notably helped in the last years to increase our knowledge of his person and work.
early years and adult life
Despite the traditional location of Judah Halevi's birthplace in Toledo, modern research (since Schirman's study in Tarbiz, 10 (1939), 237–9) prefers the town of Tudela, still under Muslim rule and close to the border of Castile, as birthplace of both Halevi and Abraham *Ibn Ezra. Judah Halevi, apparently from a wealthy and learned family, received a comprehensive education in both Hebrew and Arabic. His childhood years were spent during a peaceful period for the Jews of the region. He lived for some time in Christian territory, as confirmed by his own words in a letter and by the testimony of his contemporaries. In some manuscripts he is called "the Castilian." Some researchers have pushed forward the date of his first visit to al-Andalus. But it is very likely that he was still very young when he traveled to the Muslim South with the intention of proceeding to the large Jewish center in Granada. Among the various communities he passed through on his way were Córdoba and Lucena; it was probably in one of these places that he participated in a poetry writing contest (styled after those of the Arabs). He won the competition for imitating a complicated poem by Moses ibn Ezra, who invited Judah Halevi to his home. The two developed a close friendship and Judah Halevi seems to have spent some time in Granada, in an atmosphere of wealth and culture. There he also wrote his first important poems – primarily eulogies and poetical letters – and apparently some of his wine and love poems, which reflect his easy-going, hedonistic life during those years. Judah Halevi also became friendly with Ibn Ezra's brother, Isaac, and was in contact with other great poets in Granada, Seville, and Saragossa.
With the coming of the Almoravides from Africa and their conquest of Muslim Spain (after 1090), the position of the Jews in Andalusia deteriorated, and Judah Halevi left Granada. For the following 20 years he traveled through numerous communities. In various places he was in contact with Jewish and non-Jewish nobles and dignitaries (e.g., Joseph ibn Migash in Lucena and the vizier Meir ibn Kamniel in Seville). He spent some time in Christian Toledo, practicing medicine, apparently in the service of the king and his nobles. Like many of his fellow Jews at that time, he trusted that the status and influence of the Jewish nobles and community leaders who were close to the royal house would ensure security and peace for the Jews in the Christian lands. However, he was disillusioned by the murder in 1108 of his patron and benefactor, the nobleman Solomon ibn Ferrizuel, who had achieved a high rank in the service of Alfonso vi. Judah left Toledo apparently before the death of Alfonso vi (1109) and again began to travel. His fame continued to spread, and the circle of his friends and admirers, to whom he wrote many poems, broadened greatly. Judah Halevi also had contact with the Jewish communities in North Africa, Egypt, and Narbonne.
His financial situation was generally sound; it seems that he was only rarely dependent on gifts. Aside from his profession as a physician, he also engaged in trade, apparently with Jewish merchants in Egypt, and, in particular, with the great Jewish merchant, Abu Saʿid Ḥalfon ha-Levi of Damietta, who on one of his many travels came to Spain. Five letters of Halevi to Ḥalfon have been found in the *Genizah, written by the poet between 1127 and 1140. Active in community affairs, too, he helped to collect money for the ransom of captives.
friendship with abraham ibn ezra
Of all his ties with various people, Judah Halevi's friendship with Abraham ibn Ezra was especially close and long-lasting. Some scholars believe that both wandered through the various cities of Muslim Spain, and even traveled to North Africa together. They were both in North Africa, but it is not sure that they were there together. In his biblical commentaries, Abraham ibn Ezra quotes Judah Halevi numerous times in matters of grammar, exegesis, and philosophy (e.g., Ex. 9:1; 20:1; Dan. 9:2). Various traditions maintain that the two were related by blood or by marriage. According to a later tradition (Sefer ha-Yuḥasin of Abraham Zacuto, ed. by A. Freimann, 1925) they were cousins, while another – no doubt legendary – mentioned in Abrabanel's commentary on the Torah and in the Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah of Gedaliah ibn Yaḥya (Cracow, 1596), asserts that Judah Halevi gave his daughter in marriage to Abraham ibn Ezra, despite the latter's poverty. On the basis of letters from the Cairo Genizah, however, it may be surmised that his son-in-law was Isaac, the son of Abraham ibn Ezra, who traveled with him to Egypt.
Last Days in Ereẓ Israel
Judah Halevi's decision to emigrate to Ereẓ Israel, a gradual one, reflected the highest aspiration of his life. It resulted from a complex of circumstances: intense and realistic political thought; disillusionment with the possibility of secure Jewish existence in the Diaspora; intense longing for a positive, redeeming act; and the prevalent messianic climate, which so affected him that he once dreamt that the redemption would come in the year 4890 (1130 c.e.).
The decision was strengthened by his religious philosophy, developed at length in his book the Kuzari and in many of his poems. This philosophy maintained the unity which ensues from the relationship between the God of Israel, the people of Israel – to whom He chose to reveal His truth through His prophets, Ereẓ Israel – the "Gate of Heaven," the only place where prophecy is possible, and Hebrew – the language of Israel. From this it clearly followed that the ideal existence for the Jews was attainable only in their own land. Throughout the philosophical and poetic work of Judah Halevi, as in his life, one can sense the intellectual effort to make other Jews conscious of this. In his philosophical work as well as in his poetry, Judah Halevi spoke out harshly against those who deceived themselves by speaking of Zion and by praying for its redemption while their hearts were closed to it and their actions far removed from it. Judah, however, understood the problems which emigration to Ereẓ Israel posed for many people; he decided to realize his own aliyah – the educational act of an individual who also seeks personal redemption.
Great difficulties lay before him. The long journey by both sea and desert was perilous. He knew that he would encounter very difficult living conditions in Ereẓ Israel, which was under Crusader rule at that time. Moreover, Judah Halevi had to counter the arguments of his friends who tried to deter him; he had to overcome his attachment to his only daughter and son-in-law, to his students, his many friends and admirers; and he had to give up his high social status and the honor which he had attained in his native land. He struggled deeply with his intimate attachment to Spain, the land of "his fathers' graves": at one time he had even looked upon Spain with pride and thankfulness, as a homeland for the Jews. These indecisions, which occupied him in the last period of his life, find expression in his "Poems of Zion," in the Kuzari (mainly in the fifth and final part), and in the Genizah letters which date from the same period. On the other hand, Judah Halevi was encouraged to make the journey by his friend Ḥalfon ha-Levi, whom he met in Spain in 1139.
Important new letters and documents published by Goitein on the one hand (five of them are holographs of Judah Halevi himself), and by M. Gil and E. Fleischer (2001) on the other, have illuminated in a decisive way his last days in Egypt and his trip to Palestine. Thanks to the letters found in the Genizah we know that on the 24th of Elul (Sept. 8, 1140) Judah Halevi, accompanied by Isaac, the son of Abraham Ibn Ezra, among others, arrived in Alexandria. His arrival caused great excitement, and the dayyan Aaron ibn al-'Ammānī was his host. Several months later he went to Cairo where he stayed with Ḥalfon ha-Levi. The scenery, pleasures, the admiration and honor generally accorded him everywhere, and the friendships he enjoyed all served to prolong his stopover in Egypt. He wrote there a substantial number of poems, no fewer than 50, praising his Egyptian friends. He wanted to continue his trip to Jerusalem and began to fear that he would die before reaching his destination. His friends tried to convince him to remain in Egypt, claiming that Egypt was as important as Ereẓ Israel, since the first prophecy as well as great miracles took place there. He tried the land route from Cairo to Jerusalem, but had to return. Isaac Ibn Ezra decided to follow his own route and did not return with him to Alexandria. Judah Halevi boarded a ship at Alexandria on May 8, 1141, bound for Ereẓ Israel, but its departure was delayed by inclement weather. The ship finally set sail on May 14. The sea journey to Ashkelon or Acre took about 10 days, and it seems very likely that he actually arrived in the Holy Land. A letter by Ḥalfon informs us that Halevi died in the month of July. It seems that he succeeded spending his last month in the land of his dreams. What was denied him in life, however, the famous legend, first mentioned in Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah, and later by Heinrich Heine in his Hebraeische Melodien, has supplied. It relates that he managed to reach the city of Jerusalem, but, as he kissed its stones, a passing Arab horseman (Jerusalem, in fact, was then under the Crusaders) trampled on him just as he was reciting his elegy, "Ẓiyyon ha-lo tishali."
About 800 poems written by Judah Halevi are known, covering all the subjects commonly found in Spanish Hebrew poetry, as well as the forms and artistic patterns of secular and religious poetry.
His love poems, which number about 80, are addressed to a deer or gazelle, or – as marriage poems – to the two together. His short poems with internal rhyme, and his girdle poems, as well as those of the zajal type, in which plays on sound and rhyme sometimes add a musical grace, attained great artistic perfection ("Ḥammah be-ad reki'a ẓammah," "Bi bi ha-ẓevi, bi adoni"). Their content and form are those generally found in Arabic-Hebrew love poetry, such as the yearnings and travails of the lover, the cruelty of the beloved who delights in mocking her victims, her countenance shining from the darkness of a stormy night, and her "lethal" glances. Sometimes there is a particularly original description of feminine beauty, such as the one comparing the face surrounded by a red fall of hair to the setting of the sun which reddens the clouds of the horizon ("Leil gilleta elai"); sometimes the light playful spirit unites with a surprisingly graphic description. A popular vein is discernible in the clear and simple style of the epithalamia. Interpretations of Judah Halevi's love poems vary: some assert that they reflect his personal experiences, while others maintain that they are simply artistic compositions, with accepted literary themes and descriptions. Following contemporary trends, Judah Halevi also composed poems in praise of wine and its pleasures. A playfulness can also be felt in his entertaining riddles and in his various epigrams, which in the main are witty ("Lo nikreti").
poems of eulogy and lament
The largest number of Judah Halevi's secular poems deal with eulogy and friendship. A small portion of the approximately 180 were written for unnamed individuals but the majority for his famous contemporaries – poets, philosophers, religious scholars (e.g., Moses ibn Ezra, Judah ibn Ghayyat, Joseph ibn Ẓaddik, Joseph ibn Migash), nobles, and philanthropists. Their form is the qaṣīda and their language, rich and brilliant, with much embellishment. Splendid poetic descriptions, such as that of the night in the poetic eulogy composed for Solomon ibn Ghayyat ("Ayinnedivah asher tashut ke-soḥeret"), or that of the garden, the wine, and the party of friends in a poem in honor of Isaac ibn al-Yatom ("Ereẓ ke-yaldah hayetah yoneket") are attained. The opening is generally the most artistic part of the poem, whereas the eulogy itself – which for the most part comprises the content – is usually pedestrian, lacking any mark of individuality, and tending to extreme exaggeration. The frank and sensitive poems within this type were written for those people, like the Ibn Ezra family, toward whom Judah Halevi felt deep affection and admiration.
The qaṣīda is also the form of most of the laments (approximately 45) on the deaths of many of his friends and acquaintances. His grief is combined with pessimistic meditation on omnipotent death, and on fate which strikes arbitrarily, and with exaggerated eulogies of the deceased – all in the contemporary style. The death of close friends, however, evoked a strong personal feeling which succeeded in investing the usual motifs with originality ("Alei zot tivkeinah" on the death of Moses ibn Ezra and his brother Joseph). As was common in this period, Judah Halevi combined a conscious intellectual structuring of the whole poem with an expression of genuine emotion, as exemplified in particular by the lament on the murder of Solomon ibn Ferrizuel at the hands of Christian mercenaries. Here the tragedy of the individual unites with the catastrophe of the people, and perplexity with rage against Christendom, which is cursed in this poem. Stylistically the openings of the laments are unique. The poems themselves, adapted to different mourning situations, are written in strophic forms, free from the stylized contents and the representations of the classic laments. The influence of folk songs is clearly discernible in them; the ballad verse form is sometimes used, especially in dialogue between the living who stand by the grave and the deceased.
Outstanding among the 350 piyyutim which Judah Halevi composed for all of the Jewish festivals is a large group, which may be entitled "Shirei ha-Galut" ("Poems of the Diaspora"). The realism of these poems clearly reflects the tragic events suffered by the Jewish people. Their main value, however, is to be found in the lyric fashioning of his own world by the poet, who identified deeply with the fate of his people and whose poetry afforded true expression to many others. The combination of stylistic aspects of Spanish-Hebrew poetry with the various characteristics of the ancient Hebrew style results in rare achievements of perfection and beauty. Job's lament, the cries of Lamentations and of the psalmist, and the bitter complaints of Jeremiah resound in these poems, together with the joy of the prophetic visions of redemption. By relating his personal experience, the poet particularizes the idea of suffering – heightened by imagery and descriptions drawn from ancient sources. In their rich language and imagery, in the force of their varied style, and in the magic effect of their sound patterns, these poems rank among the most outstanding Hebrew poetry of all time (e.g., "Yonah nesatah al kanfei nesharim").
In discussing the problem of the "end of days," Judah Ha-levi uses the obscure eschatology of the Book of Daniel. He sometimes expresses depression arising from his fear at the delay of the redemption and of the danger of destruction of his people. In these piyyutim Judah Halevi expresses his yearning for redemption in an urgent demand for its realization and in rejoicing over its expected realization. Following an ancient midrashic motif, he allegorically expressed the pain of God's chosen and faithful people, whom He had seemingly forsaken to idolators, in terms of the anguish of a prince whose servants have captured him and whose father delays in rescuing him; in contrast God, the lover, promises to keep His covenant and assures His people of His love and the future redemption. In this section the poetry is replete with descriptions of love and spring taken from the Song of Songs. In these poems Judah Halevi takes a polemical stand against false belief; against the enticements of monks and apostates, the beloved, wounded and insulted, vows unconditional faithfulness to her lover ("Yode'ei yegoni"), proclaiming happiness in her pains which are but wounds of a lover ("Me-az me'on ha-ahavah"). He emphasizes the superiority of the Jewish religion, which alone is divinely revealed ("Ya'alat ḥen mi-me'onah raḥakah," "Yekar im ha-shabbat tagdil"). The poems are imbued with sometimes strongly contrasting emotions: loneliness and suffering; rejoicing in the light of the past and sufferings in the darkness of the present; despair and security; lust for revenge and yearning for redemption. The strong tensions between these opposites find imagistic expression in such figures as a dove escaping the hunter (the Jewish people carried, in the past, on the wings of eagles); the degradation of the slave (the lost kingdom); the loneliness of the exiled son (the essential chosenness of the people).
personal lyric poetry
Along with piyyutim of a national nature on such biblical and historic themes as the description of the miracles in Egypt in the poems for Passover, the miracle of Purim, the Avodah for the Day of Atonement, are found lyric poems expressing personal religious experiences: yoẓerot, kerovot, reshuyyot, and mainly seliḥot, which are among the greatest in Jewish religious poetry after the Psalms. Judah Halevi expresses man's reverence for God, his dread of sin, and the desperate struggle against his carnal nature. He repeatedly admonishes the soul with harsh words, instills in it the fear of judgment and death, entices it with the idea of the reward of paradise, and deters it with the threat of the fire of hell. In this conflict God, a harsh judge, is too lofty to be approached and known. On the other hand, he writes of his happiness with God, which pervades his entire being; his powerful love of and devotion to God increase the light in his soul, mitigate its fear, and protect it from the power of evil. At that time, God is revealed to the heart. Traces of contemporary philosophical views can be discerned in these poems, as well as influences of similar motifs in earlier Hebrew poetry. Exalted style is only rarely used ("Yeḥav lashon ḥazot ishon," "Elohim el mi amshilkha"); generally the poetic tone is gentle, humble, and quiet. Some poems confront the great paradoxes of religious experience; some combine deep meditation with emotional feeling ("Yah, anah emẓa'akha"); others occasionally border on the mystical, as the poet ventures into areas of the ancient revelation in quest of his "lover," his God, "and no one answers."
songs of zion and songs of the sea
The most famous of the poetic works of Judah Halevi are the "Shirei Ẓiyyon" ("Poems of Zion," or Zionides), approximately 35 in number. Their originality is evident in the very topic, which was at that period an uncommon one, but even more so in their varied and beautiful artistry. Several categories of these poems can be differentiated, although they were written over several decades, and contain recurring motifs and similar tones.
(1) The poems of longing for Ereẓ Israel express the inner tension between love and pain, between the dream and the reality, and the effort required to bridge the West and East ("Libbi be-mizraḥ," "Yefeh nof," "Elohai, mishkenotekha yedidot").
(2) The poetic disputations exhibit a strong intellectual base, overpowered by personal emotion. At times the controversy is an expression of the poet's own inner uncertainties. To Judah Halevi it seemed that for many life in Spain was a kind of slavery, a pursuit of worthless enticements, and a betrayal of God. He found true freedom in servitude to God and in subservience to His will, realized by his emigration to Ereẓ Israel. Prior to his voyage, Judah Halevi lived it in his imagination and poetry, overcoming deep fears in this way; he even taught himself to anticipate happily and excitedly the dangers of the future ("Ha-tirdof ne'arut," "Ha-yukhlu pegarim"). It was in his poems of dispute with others – in which Judah Halevi appears a vigorous opponent – that his doctrine on Ereẓ Israel was developed and the national consciousness elevated to a hitherto unknown level. In the 12th century he was able, as a result of reasoning and clear political understanding, to argue that there is no secure place for the Jewish people except Ereẓ Israel. As for its being desolate, it was also given that way to the forefathers.
(3) Some of the poems of the voyage were actually written aboard ship; others are imaginary descriptions composed before the journey, while still others were written after it. Important descriptive poems are structurally influenced by ancient biblical poetical forms (e.g., Ps. 107:23–32). They begin with a description of the world, but the subsequent descriptions diminish in perspective: the stormy Mediterranean Sea, the weak ship at its mercy, and finally the poet himself in prayer. Following that is the final calm after the storm. The roaring of the waves dominate the rhythm and sound patterns. His prayer is identified with Jonah's, and the roaring of the sea is consciously identified with the moaning of his heart. The best of his "Shirei Ẓiyyon" is "Ẓiyyon ha-lo tishali" ("Zion, wilt thou not ask the welfare of thine prisoners?").
How shall it be sweet to me to eat and drink while I behold
Dogs tearing at thy lion's whelps?
Or how can light of day be joyous to mine eyes while yet
I see in ravens' beaks torn bodies of thine eagles.
Numerous imitations and translations of this poem have appeared. By virtue of its inclusion (according to the Ashkenazi rite) in the kinot for the Ninth of Av, many generations have lamented the destruction of the Temple and dreamt their dream of redemption in the words of this poem. All aspects of the poem focus on Zion. The single rhyme of all the stanzas is ָיִךְ which produces a trance-like effect. Deep attachment to Ereẓ Israel alone permeates the meaning of everything in the poem. The holy qualities of the land are specified at length with a lyric feeling which imaginatively transplants the poet to places of former revelation, prophecy, monarchy, and to the graves of the forefathers. In a unique poetic outcry, he expresses his grief at its destruction and his humiliation in subjugation:
As the deep groans and roars beneath me
Learning from my inmost fears.
He expresses the happiness of his hope in the quiet lines which end the poem. With these lines he blesses those who will be fortunate enough to see the real redemption in the dawn.
Judah Halevi's poems were widespread in manuscript from an early period. Thousands of fragments of his poems were preserved in the Genizah, and also in other manuscripts collections that are kept today in Russia and many other countries. During his lifetime they were already known outside of Spain. Not long after his death his poems started to be collected in diwānīm by different scholars. The best known of them is the large diwān compiled, probably in Cairo, by Ḥiyya al-Dayyan al-Maghribī, not long after Halevi's visit to Egypt (Oxford, Bodl. Ms. 1970). Other editors tried to increase the number of poems of the diwān, as the Cairene compiler *Joshua ben Elijah Halevi did at least one century later, including an appendix with more compositions (Oxford, Bodl. Ms. 1971). Before him David ben Maimon and Sa'id ibn al-Kash also collected Halevi poetry.
From the beginning of printing many of Judah Halevi's piyyutim were included in maḥzorim and in collections of piyyutim, seliḥot, and kinot. From the 19th century scholars began to publish his secular and liturgical poems from manuscripts in literary journals and periodicals, e.g., A. Geiger, in Melo Hofnayim (1840); S.H. Edelman in Ginzei Oxford (1850); J.L. Dukes in Oẓar Neḥmad (1857); S.D. Luzzatto in Tal Orot (1881) and in Iggeret Shadal (1882–84). The first scholar to publish collections of Judah Halevi's poems as individual books and to publish his complete diwan was S.D. Luzzatto. He received from Oxford a copy of the manuscript of the diwan made by Joshua Elijah bar-Levi (14th century) and published the poems in it in Betulat Bat Yehudah (Prague, 1864). He also began to publish the entire diwan but he only managed to publish the first section of it (Lyck, 1864). Afterward many collections of Judah Halevi's poems were published, completely or in part. The following may be mentioned: A.A. Harkavy, Rabbi Yehudah Halevi, Koveẓ Shirav u-Meliẓotav, 2 vols. (Warsaw, 1893–94); H. Brody, Diwan Jehudah ha-Levi, 4 vols., of which two are annotated (Berlin, 1894–1930); S. Bernstein, Shirei Rabbi Yehudah Halevi popular edition (with notes and an explanation; New York, 1945); Y. Zmora, Kol Shirei Rabbi Yehudah Halevi, 3 vols. (Tel Aviv, 1955). A commentary on the first section of Judah Halevi's diwan was published by Abdallah Saul Joseph, Givat Sha'ul (Vienna, 1923), edited by S. Krauss. In the various anthologies of Hebrew poetry much space was devoted to Judah Halevi's poems, e.g., H. Brody-K. Albrecht, Sha'ar ha-Shir (1905); H. Brody-M. Wiener, Mivhar ha-Shirah ha-Ivrit (1922, 19462, ed. A.M. Habermann); H. Schirmann, Ha-Shirah ha-Ivrit bi-Sfarad u-ve-Provence, vol. i (1959). A new comprehensive and critical edition of all Halevi's poems is one of the great desiderata of medieval Hebrew poetry in our days. J. Yahalom is working on it.
Part of Judah Halevi's poetry has been translated and published either alongside the Hebrew original or by itself, e.g., by J.M. Sachs (in Die religoese Poesie der Juden in Spanien, 1845); by A. Geiger (Divan des Castiliers Abu'l-Hassan Juda ha-Levi, 1851); by Franz Rosenzweig (Zionslieder, 1933); into English by N. Salaman (Selected Poems of Jehudah Halevi, 1924), G. Levin (2002), etc.; into Dutch by S. Pinkhof (1929); Hebrew and Spanish by A. Sáenz-Badillos and J. Targarona (1994); Italian by S. de Benedetti (1871); Hungarian by J. Patai (1910).
characteristics of halevi's poetry
Halevi's poetry has received countless commentaries and very different interpretations. No other medieval author has been received with the same enthusiasm by all subsequent generations. His poetry is considered one of the outstanding models of the Andalusian school. Some scholars have shown reserve about his conservative attitude, in sharp contrast, for example, to the much more liberal Ibn *Gabirol. But no one has doubted the literary and esthetic value of his poetry.
Halevi follows the conventions of the time in poems that may be considered "formalist," like most of his love or bacchic poems that are sometimes almost literal translations from Arabic; but even in these cases he has his own particular and personal style. He can also write with the most profound lyricism, expressing in a wondrous way his own aspirations or those of his people in exile. His words of friendship are not simple formulas, and his affection for his people is entirely sincere. As a poet, he feels like a prophet proclaiming the liberation of Israel.
Coming from the Christian North, as a stranger, Halevi became fully integrated in the Andalusian world with its Arabic lore, exhibiting the maximum degree of cultural adaptation. Even some of the most significant topics and images that he employs in his poetry, including the feelings of the exile and the heart's separation from the object of its affection, are taken from Arabic poets, always with the nuances imposed by a Jewish mind. But he seems to have become disenchanted with the life of al-Andalus, gradually rejecting the Andalusian-Jewish courtly cultural and social values; a consequence of this may have been the trip to Jerusalem in the last days of his life and his possible decision to abandon the writing of poetry.
Analyzing this particular situation of Halevi, R. Brann sees in the poet's contradictory attitudes toward poetry a sign of the conflicts inherent in living in two quite different worlds, in cultural ambiguity; for him, Halevi did not undergo a "conversion" in his adult years; he remained an Andalusian and compunctious Hebrew poet conflicted about the ambiguity of his literary identity. However, in the last 15 years of his life, Brann observes in Halevi a clear deviation from literary traditions and cultural conventions that produces a "culturally subversive discourse" tending to replace the dominant values of this society.
R. Scheindlin has examined the individual vision and religious experience of Halevi (in contrast to that of Ibn Gabirol) as reflected in liturgical poetry. Although both poets share the Neoplatonic psychology, they are in fact widely separated: Halevi attributes great importance to the distance between God and man, to His transcendence, introducing in his poems a climate of tranquil confidence in God and a passive acceptance of His will that seem to have their main sources in Arabic religious poetry. In a very beautiful study Scheindlin (2003) has contemplated Halevi's pilgrimage as a literary phenomenon, underlining the significance of his pervasive use of imagery involving birds. Birds can be connected with Israel, with the human soul, or with the pilgrimage itself. In particular, he frequently employs the image of the dove to represent the nation Israel, combining it many times with the words "silence" and "distance" to express the exile or the dream of redemption. When finally he focused his literary energies on the pilgrimage, the distant, silent dove served him also as an image of his search for the land of his dreams.
Halevi's poetry was not an isolated phenomenon. When he arrived in al-Andalus he met a large number of poets in all the important Jewish centers. He learned from them and became the friend of many of them. Poetry was one of the most highly esteemed activities of Andalusian society, a sign of intellectual distinction and an ideal of life. Literary meetings, competitions, proof of inventive capacity and imaginative talent, correspondence between poets, riddles, plays on words and images were usual practices among these groups of cultivated Jewish Andalusians. Judah Halevi was surrounded by the members of the Ibn Ezra family, by Joseph ibn Zaddiq, Joseph ibn Sahal, Judah and Solomon ibn Gayyat, Ibn al-Mu'alim, Levi ibn al-Tabban, and other minor poets that represented the rich life of a Golden Century close to its end.
[Encyclopaedia Hebraica /
Angel Sáenz-Badillos (2nd ed.)]
Judah Halevi was one of medieval Jewry's most influential thinkers, and his arguments for the truth of Judaism and the essential superiority of the Jewish People are invoked to this day in traditionalist circles. Although Halevi rejected Islamic Aristotelianism, which was beginning to be adopted by his fellow Jews and would soon be considered by most Jewish philosophers (such as Maimonides) as scientifically authoritative, he maintained that Judaism could be defended rationally by emphasizing its empirical basis. Hence, his rejection of the leading philosophy of the day did not mean that he was an anti-rationalist.
Halevi's thought is developed in Kitâb al-Radd wa-ʾl-Dalīl fi 'l-Dîn al-Dhalîl (The Book of Refutation and Proof on the Despised Faith, 1140), commonly called The Kuzari, after the king of the Khazars, who is portrayed as initiating a search for the correct religion after repeated dreams in which an angelic figure tells him that his intentions were pleasing to God, but his actions were not. The story is based on the historical conversion of the central Asian Khazars to Judaism in the eighth century, even though Halevi's account of the king's search for truth is purely his own literary invention. As the story is told by Halevi, the king first heard and rejected the doctrines of an Aristotelian philosopher, a Christian, and a Muslim. The philosopher presented a theory of a wholly impersonal God who does not care which actions humans choose; such a stance contradicted the evidence of the king's own dream. In contrast, both the Christian and Muslim claimed that the actions of their religion are those which are pleasing to God, but the king rejected their creeds as illogical (Christianity) and unsubstantiated (Islam).
Having had the king reject the dominant intellectual and religious doctrines of his day, Halevi then presented the king as finally inviting a Jew to hear his views. Eventually he was persuaded by a Jewish sage (the ḥaver) of the truth of Judaism. After the king's conversion to Judaism, described at the beginning of Kuzari, Book 2 (out of 5), his discussions with the ḥaver continued until the latter announced his departure to the Land of Israel at the end of the treatise. This dialogue provided Halevi with the framework for presenting his defense of Judaism.
Halevi used the Bible as the basic text for his reconstruction of Jewish history, paying only scant attention to rabbinic interpretations of the biblical narrative. His use of midrash is selective, highlighting those traditions which emphasize Jewish particularity. There is very little legal material in The Kuzari, but Halevi was well aware of rabbinic halakhah, especially compared to the Karaite practices. Certain trends in the Jewish mystical tradition, especially merkavah speculation, also had an impact on Halevi's ideas; in turn, his thought had a vital impact on later Kabbalah.
The Kuzari benefited greatly from an assortment of non-Jewish sources. While Halevi rejected Greek philosophy as it was developed in the Islamic world, he was very much aware of the Aristotelian system (of which he may have been enamored in his youth). His portrayals of philosophy were indebted to the works of Abû Bakr Muhammad ibn Bajja and Abû Ali al- Hussain Ibn Sînâ (*Avicenna, whose treatise on the soul is transcribed in Kuzari 5:12). Halevi's opposition to philosophy seems to have been inspired in part by Abû Hâmid Al-Ghazâli. He also drew from the kalamic sources used by his Jewish predecessors, such as *Saadiah Gaon and *Baḥya ibn Paquda, but he considered Kalam useful only to the extent that one is searching for a rationalistic defense of Jewish theology. Greek science, as moderated by the Islamic environment, had an impact on his thought as well. In recent years, attention has been paid to the way in which Shi'ite and Sufi concepts and terms helped frame Halevi's religious outlook, especially visà-vis the special status of the Jewish People.
Halevi rejected the two regnant scientific/philosophical models of his day: Kalam and Aristotelianism. He believed that both relied on theoretical constructs rather than hard, empirical truth. Kalam arrived at the correct conclusions, such as the creation of the world and the existence and unity of God, but it was useful mainly for apologetics. Aristotelianism, in contrast, taught many incorrect doctrines, since Aristotle lacked reliable tradition when he set out to understand the world by use of his syllogistic reasoning (qiyâs) alone. For instance, he believed that the world is eternal; if he had known the Bible, he would have used his reason to defend the proposition that the world was created (Kuzari 1:67). Furthermore, philosophy can go only so far: philosophical, syllogistic knowledge of God, for instance, is possible, but it is deficient compared with immediate, unmediated experience (dhawq, literally "taste") of God through prophecy (Kuzari 4:15–17).
The Jewish tradition provided true knowledge based on the experience of the Jewish people. The reliability of the tradition is guaranteed by the large number of witnesses to the miraculous exodus from Egypt, the revelation on Mt. Sinai, and the entrance into the Land of Israel. Not only were there hundreds of thousands of observers of these events, but also the original testimony of these witnesses has been transmitted publicly over the centuries. Since, Halevi claimed, all Jews accepted the accuracy of the biblical account as having been passed down to them by previous untold generations, there is no possibility of error or falsification of the tradition. If the Bible were a fabrication, there would not be universal Jewish consent to its truth. In contrast, Christianity and Islam claimed to have been revealed to only a small number of people, and, therefore, cannot be validated. Although this historical argument for the certainty of the Jewish tradition is not totally original (it has an antecedent in the work of Saadiah Gaon), Halevi's formulation of it is probably his most significant legacy.
Once Halevi established the veracity of Judaism, he employed reason to explain its truths. Nothing in Scripture or tradition, he claimed, contradicted reason (Kuzari 1:67, 89). Thus, one may look for justifications of problematical doctrines (such as the superiority of the Jewish people) or historical occurrences (such as revelation). These explanations may strike the modern reader as rationally invalid, but they were based in part on medieval scientific notions or commonplace notions of the time. In any event, it is too facile to dismiss Halevi as solely a doctrinaire religious critic of philosophy; he attempted to replace Aristotelian rationalism, which to his mind was insufficient, with a form of Jewish empiricism.
singularity of the jewish people
According to Judah Halevi, the Jewish people were capable of achieving prophecy and receiving the Torah because they are essentially different from other nations. Borrowing notions common in Shi'ite literature, Halevi argued that Adam was the original perfect human whose status was passed on biologically to a selective line of his descendants. At first, this singular distinctiveness (Arabic: safwa, usually translated into Hebrew as segulah) was confined to individuals such as Seth, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. With the generation of Jacob's sons, this special characteristic became universal among all Jews. As a result of their distinctiveness, the Jewish people were able to conjoin with an aspect of God called "the divine influence" or "the divine order" or "the divine faculty" (Arabic: al-amral-ilahi, usually translated into Hebrew as ha-inyan ha-elohi) and become prophets (Kuzari 1:95 and other places). It is this special relationship which marks Jews off from all non-Jews; a convert to Judaism can aspire at most to a sub-prophetic level of inspiration but will never be equal to the native-born Jew (Kuzari 1: 27, 115; the status of the proselyte's Jewish-born progeny is not clarified in the Kuzari, although there is reason to think that Halevi believed they would also be inferior to other Jews). The fact that the non-Jewish king of the Khazars chose to become Jewish, despite the convert's lower status, is presented as a strong argument for the essential truth of Judaism.
Even though Jews were a persecuted minority, they actually functioned as the "heart" of humanity; without a heart, a living organism could not exist, but the heart can be very weak when other limbs are strong. Humanity could not exist without Jews, who are like a sick man who once was vibrant and can still return to his earlier state. The nations of the world are like a beautiful statue which is externally impressive but which was never truly alive (Kuzari 2:29–44).
the land of israel and the hebrew language
A corollary to the theory of the superiority of the Jewish people was the concept of the superiority of the Land of Israel (usually called by the Arabic geographical term al-sham, namely "greater Syria") and of the Hebrew language (Kuzari 2). For instance, prophecy is possible only in the Land of Israel (or "for its sake"; Halevi was aware that a number of biblical prophets were not in the Land of Israel). In order to explain this geographical uniqueness, Halevi adopted a climatological theory, originally innovated by the Greeks and developed by the Arabs, which postulated that the center of the populated areas of the earth is superior to the northern and southern areas. The Land of Israel is the most perfect of all lands. This is yet another example of the use of what was considered a scientific theory to justify Jewish exclusivity.
The sad state of the Land of Israel in Halevi's own time was explained as a result of the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews. Just as a particular piece of land might have all the natural attributes to produce a wonderful vineyard, if other factors necessary to grow grapes (e.g., rain, fertilization, weeding) are missing, the vineyard will not produce as it should. Thus, without the ongoing observance of the commandments, especially the sacrifices, the visible Shekhinah is no longer present; the Jewish inhabitants of the Land of Israel have temporarily lost their special status, although it remains latent in both the land and the people. Nevertheless, Jews should return to the Land of Israel, even in its unredeemed state. The ḥaver's departure from Khazaria at the end of the The Kuzari mirrors Judah Halevi's own departure from Andalusia.
The Hebrew language has also deteriorated despite its intrinsic superiority. Although it was the language in which the world was created, the language spoken by Adam and Eve, and the language of prophecy, in the exile it has suffered the same fate as the Jewish people. It should be noted that, although Halevi wrote his poetry in Hebrew, The Kuzari was written in Arabic.
reasons for the commandments
Halevi accepted Saadiah Gaon's distinction between rational and revelational commandments, but in contrast to the Gaon, he stressed the value of the revelational commandments as distinguishing Judaism from other religions. Everyone, including a gang of thieves, can observe the basic societal norms (the rational commandments) in their own limited communities; only Jews can observe the specific commandments given in the Torah. Those religions which teach the observance of "intellectual nomoi," and not the divine commandments of the Torah, are human in origin and are merely "syllogistic" and "governmental" or "political" (Kuzari 1:13, 81; 2:48).
One should accept observance of the Torah as the will of God, without searching for the reasons for the revelational commandments. For those who were incapable of reaching such a level of belief, Halevi offered a number of different justifications of the commandments, including their contribution to harmony in the world and to personal harmony of the individual worshipper (Kuzari 2:25–65; 3:1–22). Unlike those Jewish rationalists who gave historical reasons for many of the commandments, such as the sacrifices, thereby undermining their intrinsic worth, Halevi believed that each of the commandments has its own value and fits into a way of life which, by pleasing God, results in prophecy and divine providence.
Halevi attacked not only Aristotelian philosophy in his Kuzari. He was equally opposed to Judaism's rival religions, Christianity and Islam, as well as to Karaism, a Jewish sect which challenged the truth of rabbinic Judaism. Writing at a time of Christian-Muslim warfare both in Iberia and in the Land of Israel, Halevi was sensitive to the claim that numerical, military, and economic successes were signs of the truth of a religion. Compared to both Christianity and Islam, Jews were at a distinct material disadvantage, a fact which called into question the Jewish claim of superiority and divine favor.
Halevi maintained that temporal success is not a measure of truth, and even early Christianity and Islam themselves pointed to the martyrdom of their believers as a sign of the certainty of their religions. The fact that Judaism had survived adversity for such a long time, despite the ease with which individual Jews could have escaped persecution by converting to one of the other religions, is a sign of divine providence (Kuzari 1:112–115). Furthermore, Judaism's competitors thrive in this world specifically since they promise their adherents great rewards without demanding a concomitant commitment to observing divine commandments. Christianity and Islam are poor imitations of the one true religion, Judaism, but, in the messianic future, their adherents will recognize the superiority of the People of Israel. In the meanwhile, they prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah (Kuzari 4:23).
Refutation of the Karaite interpretation of Judaism may have been one of the Halevi's motivations when he composed an early version of The Kuzari (the question of possible changes in Halevi's views has recently been discussed in the scholarly literature, but meanwhile no consensus on the issue has emerged and the suggestions which have been proposed are highly speculative). Halevi regarded Karaism as parallel to philosophy because its adherents used personal exertion (idjtihâd) and syllogistic reasoning (qiyâs), rather than reliable tradition, as a source of interpreting the Torah and its commandments. Despite the worthiness of their intentions, their lack of reliable legal traditions resulted in behavioral anarchy, since each Karaite interpreted the Torah as he saw fit; in like manner the philosophers' lack of reliable metaphysical traditions resulted in a form of intellectual anarchy, such as their denial of creation of the world (Kuzari 3:22–74).
The Judaeo-Arabic original of The Kuzari was first published by Hartwig Hirschfeld (Leipzig, 1887) on the basis of the unique manuscript of the text. A more definitive edition was prepared by David Baneth and completed by Haggai Ben-Shammai (Jerusalem, 1977). A medieval Hebrew translation was executed by Judah ibn Tibbon and has been reprinted many times, but there is no scientific edition. Hirschfeld's edition of this translation, which took into account the Judeo-Arabic original and restored censored passages, has served as the basis of most 20th century editions of the Ibn Tibbon text, despite its problematic nature. Johannes Buxtorf the Younger published a good version of the Ibn Tibbon text, accompanied by a Latin translation (Basel, 1660).
Two modern Hebrew translations exist: Yehudah Even Shmuel (Tel Aviv, 1972; the translation is not strictly literal; for instance it blurs some of Halevi's more ethnocentric statements, among its other idiosyncrasies); and Yosef Kafih (Kiryat Ono, 1997). Hirschfeld's English translation (many editions) is superseded by a new translation being prepared by Barry S. Kogan on the basis of the original work of Lawrence V. Berman. A number of other contemporary English editions have been translated from the Hebrew and have little scholarly significance. Charles Touati's French translation from the Arabic (Louvain, 1994) is of great value. The Kuzari has also been translated into a number of other European languages.
[Daniel J. Lasker (2nd ed.)]
In Jewish Literature
It is as the romantic "singer of Zion," rather than as the religious philosopher, that Judah Halevi has figured in literary works written by Jews. Perhaps the most memorable of such portrayals is that by the German poet Heinrich *Heine in "Jehuda Ben Halevi," one of the Hebraeische Melodien contained in his late Romanzero (1851). In lines which reecho the Psalms and the verse of the Spanish poet himself, Hei ne fondly traces the early education and later career of the courtly troubadour whose heart was set on Jerusalem. Indeed, Heine wrongly credited him with the authorship of the Sabbath Eve *Lekhah Dodi hymn (both here and in "Prinzessin Sabbat," in Hebraeische Melodien). A Yiddish version of Hei ne's "Jehuda Ben Halevi" was published by Zelig I. Schneider in 1904. Later in the 19th century, Ludwig *Philippson wrote the historical novel Rabbi Jehuda Halevi, der juedische Minister (Yid. tr., 1895), a Hebrew version of which later appeared as "Sefarad vi-Yrushalayim…" (in Ha-Asif, 3 (1886), 481–564). The subject has retained its popularity in the 20th century with works including the U.S. writer Eisig *Silberschlag's Hebrew epic poem Yehudah Halevi (1925) and the Yiddish poet A. Leyeles' "Yehudah Halevi" (in his Labyrinth, 1918). In his Hebrew novel Elleh Masei Yehudah Halevi (1959), the Israel writer Yehudah *Burla emphasized Judah Halevi's call for the Jewish people's return to Zion.
works of (translations) and on judah halevi in english: a. kuzari: H. Hirschfeld (tr.), Judah Hallevi's Kitāb al Khazari (1906, 19313, repr. 1945); I. Heinemann (ed. and tr.), Kuzari: the Book of Proof and Argument (abridged ed., 1947; repr. in: Three Jewish Philosophers, 1960); M. Friedlaender, in: Semitic Studies in Memory of Alexander Kohut (1897), 139–51; I.I. Efros, in: paajr, 2 (1931), 3–6; L. Nemoy, in: jqr, 26 (1935/36), 221–6; M. Buber, in: Contemporary Jewish Record, 8 (1945), 358–68; L. Strauss, in: paajr, 13 (1943), 47–96; M. Wiener, in: huca, 23 (1951), 669–82. B. poetry: N. Salaman (tr.), Selected Poems of Jehudah Halevi (1924); A. Lucas (tr.), in: jqr, 5 (1893), 652–63; J.J. Ackerman, Biblishe un Moderne Poemen… fun R. Yehudah Halevi (1923), incl. Eng. transl.; N. Allony, in: jqr, 35 (1944/45), 79–83 (no. 4 by Judah Halevi); Yehuda Halevi – Sweet Singer of Zion… (1940), incl. selections of his poems; J. Schirmann, in: ks, 15 (1938/39), 360–7 incl. Eng.). add. bibliography: T. Carmi, The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse (1981), 333–52; G. Levin (tr.), Yehuda Halevi, Poems from the Diwan (2002). C. works on judah halevi in english: J. Schirmann, in: eb, Macropaedia, 10 (1973), 282–284; D. Druck, Yehudah Halevi, His Life and Works (1941); I.I. Efros, Judah Halevi as Poet and Thinker (1941); idem, in: paajr, 11 (1941), 27–41; R. Kayser, Life and Time of Jehudah Halevi (1949), incl. bibl., 171–4; J. Jacobs, in: Jews' College Literary Society (1887), 98–112; idem, Jewish Ideals and Other Essays (1896), 103–34; K. Magnus, Jewish Portraits (1897), 1–23; D. Neumark, in: Hebrew Union College Catalogue… (1908), 1–91; S. Baron, in: jsos, 3 (1941), 243–72; S.S. Cohon, in: ajyb, 43 (1941),447–88; H. Keller, Modern Hebrew Orthopedic Terminology and Jewish Medical Essays (1931), 152–76; D. de Sola Pool, in: L. Jung (ed.), Jewish Library (19432), 79–104; S. Solis-Cohen, Judaism and Science (1940), 170–92; H.A. Wolfson, in: paajr, 11 (1941), 105–63; idem, in: Essays in Honour of J.H. Hertz… (1942), 427–42; S. Zeitlin, in: jqr, 35 (1944), 307–13. add. bibliography: M. Saperstein, in: Prooftexts, 1:3 (1981), 306–11; idem, in: ajs Review, 26:2 (2002), 301–26; A. Hamori, in: Journal of Semitic Studies, 30 (1985), 75–83; J. Yahalom and I. Benabu, in: Tarbiz, 54 (1985), 246–47 (Heb.); R. Brann, in: Prooftexts, 7 (1987), 123–43; idem, in: M.R. Menocal, R.P. Scheindlin, and M. Sells (eds.), The Literature of Al-Andalus (2000), 265–81; S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, vol. 5 (1988), 448–68; R.P. Scheindlin, in: Prooftexts, 13 (1993), 141–62; J. Yahalom, in: Miscelánea de Estudios Arabes y Hebraicos, 44, 2 (1995), 23–45; idem, in: S. Reif (ed.), The Cambridge Genizah Collections (2002), 123–35; A. Brener, Judah Halevi and His Circle of Hebrew Poets in Granada (2005). D. works in other languages: Schirmann, Sefarad, 1 (1959), 425–536; 2 (1956), 684f. incl. bibl. idem, Ḥamishah Piyyutim li-Yhudah Halevi (1966); idem, in: Haaretz (May 31, 1968); I. Zmora (ed.), Rabbi Yehudah Halevi, Meḥkarim ve-Ha'arakhot (1950); S. Ben Shevet, in: Tarbiz, 25 (1955/56), 385–92; S.D. Goitein, in: paajr, 28 (1959), 41–56; S.B. Starkova, Versions of Judah Halewi's Diwan According to Leningrad Fragments (1960); Y. Levin, in: Oẓar Yehudei Sefarad, 7 (1964), 49–69; Y. Ratzaby, ibid., 8 (1965), 11–16; S. Abramson, Bi-Leshon Kodemim (1965), passim; A. Scheiber, in: Tarbiz, 36 (1967), 1–156. add. bibliography: E. Hazan, "Poetical Elements in the Liturgical Poetry of Yehuda Halevi" (Heb., diss., 1979); idem, in: Poesía hebrea en al-Andalus (2002), 213–24; A. Vilsker, in: Sovietishe Heimland, 5 (1982), 128–36, and 6 (1983), 135–51 (Yiddish); A. Doron, Yĕhudah ha-Leví: repercusión de su obra (1985); E. Fleischer, in: Kiryat Sefer, 61 (1986–87), 893–910; idem, in: Asupot, 5 (1991), 139–41; idem, in: Israel Levin Jubilee Volume, 1, (1994), 241–76; A. Sáenz-Badillos, Actas del vi Simposio de la Sociedad Española de Literatura General y Comparada (1989), 123–30; idem, in: Luces y sombras de la judería europea (1996), 69–84; J. Yahalom, in: Pe'amim, 46–47 (1991) 55–74; Yĕhudah ha-Levi. Poemas. Critical Hebrew text with Spanish transl. A. Sáenz-Badillos & J. Targarona, lit. stud. A. Doron (1994); Schirmann-Fleischer, The History of Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain (Heb., 1995), 421–80; M. Itzhaki, Juda Halévi: d'Espagne à Jérusalem: (1075?–1141) (1997); M. Gil & E. Fleischer, Yehuda ha-Levi and his Circle (Heb., 2001); A. Schippers, in: Poesía hebrea en al-Andalus (2002), 173–86; R.P. Scheindlin, in: Poesía hebreaen al-Andalus (2002), 187–212; A. Salvatierra, in: Poesía hebrea en al-Andalus (2002), 225–44. as philosopher: Husik, Philosophy, index; Guttmann, Philosophies index; L. Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (1952), 95–141; H.A. Wolfson, in: jqr, 32 (1941/42), 345–70; 33 (1942/43), 49–82; Heinemann, in: Keneset, 7 (1942), 261–79; idem, in: Sinai, 9 (1941), 120–34; J. Guttmann, Dat u-Madda (1955), 66–85; D.Z. Baneth, in: Keneset, 7 (1942), 311–29; Schweid, in: Tarbiz, 30 (1960/61), 257–72; S.B. Orbach, Ammudei ḥa-Mahashavah ha-Yisre'elit, 1 (1953), 199–267. add. bibliography: D. Lobel, Between Mysticism and Philosophy: Sufi Language of Religious Experience in Judah Ha-Levi's Kuzari (2000); Shlomo Pines, in: jsai, 2 (1980), 165–251; H, Davidson, in: rej, 131 (1973), 351–96; and H.T. Kreisel, Prophecy: The History of an Idea in Medieval Jewish Philosophy (2001), 94–147; D.J. Lasker, in: jqr, 81:1–2 (July–October, 1990), 75–91; C.H. Manekin, in: B.C. Bazán et al. (eds.), Moral and Political Philosophies in the Middle Ages (1995), 1686–97; E.R. Wolfson, in: paajr, 57 (1991), 179–242; Y. Silman, Philosopher and Prophet: Judah Halevi, the Kuzari and the Evolution and his Thought (1995); H.A. Wolfson, Studies in the History of Philosophy and Religion, vol. 2 (1977), 1–119; L. Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (1952; 1973), 95–141 (but cf. K.H. Green, in: jaar, 61:2 (Summer, 1993), 225–73); A. Altmann, Melilah, 1 (1944), 1–17; I. Heinemann, in: Zion, 9 (1944), 147–77.
The Spanish Hebrew poet and religious thinker Judah Halevi (ca. 1085-ca. 1150) taught that God had revealed Himself primarily through the people of Israel.
Few definite facts are known about Judah Halevi. He was born in Toledo, Castile, to a family of means. A gifted youth, he received his Jewish training in the school of the famous Talmudist Isaac Alfasi. He also had a secular education in Greek and Arabic philosophy, the poetic arts, and medicine. Halevi was not happy in the medical profession; he found fulfillment, however, in his poetry, in which he expressed his true genius and gift. He employed the forms and structure of Arabic poetry in his Hebrew verse. Halevi's verse is replete with graphic symbolism and simile, embroidered with biblical idioms and allusions. It may be divided in three main classes: secular, religious, and national.
The first half of his life Halevi seems to have spent in lightheartedness and gaiety, the enjoyment of nature, friends, love, and wine. This is reflected in the mood of his earlier secular verse. As he grew older, however, and he saw the destruction of the Spanish Jewish communities in the reconquista, the struggle for the reconquest of Spain by the Christians from the Moslems, his outlook became more somber. His people's suffering in the course of the Crusades, when entire Jewish communities were completely destroyed, also contributed to his change of mood.
Aside from the physical extermination Halevi's people suffered, there were ravages from within. Jewish intellectuals in his day were falling prey to Greek rationalism and philosophy, which challenged and weakened their faith. These conditions are reflected in his religious poetry, which is characterized by a deep and often mystic yearning and love of God. The tragedy of his people, too, is given voice in his national poems, in which he depicts the past glory of Zion and his pain and sorrow at its desolation, as well as his hopes for its restoration. Many of Halevi's religious and national poems have been preserved in the Jewish liturgy.
To counter the influence of philosophy on his generation, Halevi wrote Kitab al-Khazari in Arabic to reach a wide audience, particularly among the enlightened. It was translated by Judah ibn Tibbon into Hebrew. The Sefer ha-Kuzari (or the Kuzari), as it is called in Hebrew, is still one of the most popular classics in Judaism. It is written in dialogue and employs the historical and romantic theme of the conversion to Judaism early in the 8th century of the heathen king of the Khazars, a Tatar tribe on the Volga. Before his conversion, the King called in a rabbi, a Christian theologian, a Moslem scholar, and an Aristotelian philosopher, who expounded the merits of their respective religious beliefs.
Unlike earlier Jewish philosophers, Halevi was not concerned in demonstrating that Judaism conforms to the tenets of rationalism, but rather in proving its excellency and its superiority over its two daughter religions, Christianity and Islam. Halevi argues that the God of Judaism requires no rational proof of His existence since He has manifested Himself in history through the people of Israel. Israel is therefore "the heart of the nations," for like the heart, which sends blood to other parts of the body, Israel supplies the world with ethical and spiritual nourishment. In Messianic times, however, all nations will attain Israel's spiritual level.
The language of Jewish prophecy is Hebrew, and its most favored site is the Holy Land. Halevi therefore left his only daughter and grandchild, his family, friends, and possessions, to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. According to legend, he was kneeling at the Wailing Wall when a galloping Arab horseman rode him down and crushed him to death.
The Selected Poems of Judah Halevi comprises Halevi's original Hebrew verses, well translated and annotated by Nina Salaman (1946). A translation of the Kuzari, with an introduction by Henry Slonimsky (1964), is available in paperback. Rudolf Kayser, The Life and Time of Jehudah Halevi, was translated from the German by Frank Gaynor (1949). An article entitled "Judah Halevi," written by Jacob S. Minkin, is included in Simon Noveck, ed., Great Jewish Personalities in Ancient and Medieval Times (1959).
Silman, Yochanan, Philosopher and prophet: Judah Halevi, the Kuzari, and the evolution of his thought, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. □
About 800 of his poems have survived, including love poems, laments, lyric poetry, and songs of Zion. His philosophy is contained in his Kitab al-Hujja wa-al-Dalil fi Nasr al-Din al-Dhalil (The Book of Argument and Proof in Defence of the Despised Faith), generally known as Sefer ha-Kuzari (The Book of the Kuzari, 1506). For both Abraham Isaac Kook and Franz Rosenzweig it was seen as a most faithful picture of the unique attributes of Judaism.