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Abulafia, Todros ben Judah Ha-Levi


ABULAFIA, TODROS BEN JUDAH HA-LEVI (1247–after 1298), Hebrew poet. He was born in Toledo and spent most of his life there. Todros was a member of a well-known family of the city, although his kinships with other Abulafias, such as Meir *Abulafia, or with "the Rav," Todros ben Joseph *Abulafia, are not completely clear. The branch of his own family was probably not very rich, and he had to search for a job serving the richest members of the Jewish community. He accompanied Don Isaac b. Don Solomon Zadok (Don Çaq de la Maleha; see *Ibn Zadok) on his travels, collecting taxes. He shared in his diversions and, apparently through his influence, was brought in touch with the royal court. In his presentation before the royal court, he offered to King Alfonso the Wise a goblet with an engraved Hebrew poem.

In his youth Abulafia composed numerous poems in honor of Jewish notables close to the court of Alfonso x of Castile and later Sancho iv, Solomon Ibn Zadok and his son Isaac, the rabbi Todros ben Joseph Abulafia and his son Joseph, etc., and even to persons of the royal family. He divided his time between poetry and finance and succeeded at both. In common with others of his class at that period, his morals were lax and he had many liaisons with non-Jewish women. He was among the Jews of Castile arrested by royal order in January 1281, in connection with the revolts of Don Sancho, the son of the King, which had as a consequence the sentence of death for Don Çaq de la Maleha. In prison he wrote many poems which seem to indicate a change in outlook, although none of them expresses contrition for his past behavior. After the release of the prisoners, with the impact of their misfortune still fresh in their minds, the rabbi Todros ben Joseph Abulafia called upon his kinsmen to repent and demanded that all those who continued to consort with Muslim or Christian women be excommunicated. The poet himself, however, did not alter his own conduct nor did he see in it any contradiction of his religious views.

After great effort Abulafia succeeded in regaining his status at court; in 1289 he is mentioned among the men of affairs in the service of Sancho iv, and some years later headed a group of Jewish financiers who received important mono polies. The last certain date mentioned in his poems is 1298.

Abulafia was a prolific writer. His Gan ha-Meshalim veha-Ḥidot ("Garden of Apologues and Saws," the diwan collected by himself, adding Arabic headings) contains more than 1,000 poems; it was published by M. Gaster in 1926 (as a facsimile of the manuscript), and in three volumes by D. Yellin (1934–37): an extensive selection appears in Schirmann's anthology Ha-Shirah ha-Ivrit bi-Sefarad u-vi-Provence, 2 (1956), 413–48, 694. There are very different opinions on his virtues as a poet and on the value of his literary production. Although the themes, technique, and genres of his poems continue the classical traditions of Andalusian Hebrew literature, he lived in a post-classical period with clear signs of mannerism and a tendency to virtuosity. His poetry can be called epigonal in its search for surprising elements, plays on words, trivia, vulgar language, etc. For some scholars, most of Abulafia's poems seem repetitive and superficial, although they are valuable for the historical material they contain and for the interesting relation to the general literature of the times that is revealed, for example, polemical verses, poems on spiritual love, etc. Without denying the interest of these poems as historical documents, many with an autobiographical character, they also show clear signs of the high literary qualities of their author. In some poems he appears wholly familiar with Andalusian conventions, trying to overcome them in a very sophisticated way. Writing in a different environment, and in accordance with the sociological and cultural changes of the Jewish communities in Castile, Todros imitated the Andalusian models, genres, motifs, and conventions, adapting them to the new tendencies of the time not only in Hebrew but also in Romance literature. Renouncing Hebrew-Arabic formalism, and being in contact with the life of the Castilian Court and its literary preferences, Abulafia followed the realistic tendencies of his time.

It is true that some of his poems may be seen as a low variety of literary texts in comparison with high literary compositions. Few of the Judeo-Spanish poets wrote about themselves as candidly as Abulafia, even on matters which were likely to arouse the resentment of his readers. The poet was able to deride even the physical defects of his opponents using an equivocal language. Following Romance patterns, like that of the tensones, Todros discusses with other poets, like Pinḥas, in a tone varying between the festive and the serious, which of them is better qualified to write poetry. It is a display of skill in the use of language and verse, trying to show subtleness in praising the speaker's own poetry and ridiculing the adversary with the kind of invectives that sometimes clearly enter the realm of obscenity. The tone is not of bitterness nor has it any tragic greatness; the poets are just mocking each other and trying to overcome the adversary with a sophisticated play on words. On other occasions, he maintained literary correspondence at a higher level with other poets of his time. Todros dedicated long series of poems to notable Jewish courtiers of his time, like "the Rav," or Solomon Ibn Zadok; the series are divided into sections, on different Andalusian topics, preceded by Arabic and Hebrew introductions, showing the ability of the poet to adapt the classical genres to the praise of the distinguished courtiers.

His "girdle" poems (47 muwashshahāt) are very interesting, particularly due to the kharajāt preserved in them, in old Spanish, Hebrew, and Arabic.


H. Brody, in: ymḤsi, 1 (1933), 2–93; Y. Baer, in: Zion, 2 (1937), 19–55; Baer, Spain, 1 (1961), 123 ff., 133–7, 237–40; B. Chapira, in: rej, 106 (1941–45), 1–33; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 383–6; Lewin, in: Oẓar Yehudei Sefarad, 10 (1968), 48–66. add. bibliography: J. Targarona, in: Helmantica, 36 (1985), 195–210; A. Doron, Meshorer ba-Ḥatsar ha-Melekh: Todros ha-Levi Abulafyah: Shirah Ivrit bi-Sefarad ha-Noẓrit (1989); F. Márquez Villanueva, El concepto cultural Alfonsí (1994); Schirmann-Fleischer, 2, 366–424; A. Sáenz-Badillos, in: C. Carrete (ed.), Actas del iv Congreso Internacional "Encuentro de las tres culturas" (Toledo, 30 de septiembre–2 octubre 1985) (1988), 135–46; Prooftexts, 16 (1996), 49–73; Jewish Studies at the Turn of the 20th Century. Proceedings of the 6theajs Congress, Toledo 1998, 1 (1999), 504–12.

[Jefim (Hayyim) Schirmann /

Angel Saenz-Badillos (2nd ed.)]

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