Amittai ben Shephatiah

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AMITTAI BEN SHEPHATIAH (late ninth century), liturgical poet in Oria, S. Italy, grandson of *Amittai; he succeeded his father *Shephatiah as leader of the community in Oria, evidently exercising his authority in an arbitrary manner. Over 30 of Amittai's liturgical poems have been published, and several were incorporated into the Italian and Ashkenazi liturgies. Although following the traditions of the Hebrew poetry of the Orient, Amittai often makes use of rare or novel word forms. Amittai's poems contain references to the persecutions to which the Jews of his day were subjected, in particular lamenting the forced conversions imposed by the Byzantine emperor *Basili (867–86). Allusions to religious *disputations between Jews and Christians also appear in his work. In one poem he employs the dialogue form for a disputation between the Congregation of Israel and its enemies, possibly chanted by two groups of worshipers, or by the precentor and congregation alternately. Another poetical dialogue, also possibly recited in synagogue, is a debate between the vine and other trees discussing the merits of drinking and abstinence. Amittai also composed hymns and poems for special occasions; his epithalamium on the marriage of his sister Cassia to Hasadiah b. Hananeel served as a model for subsequent compositions in France and Germany. He was able to improvise, and recited a lament over the bier of a wayfarer which he saw being conveyed through the streets. The incident was parodied by a teacher named Moses (later of Pavia) who incurred Amittai's resentment, and had to leave Oria. In general his poems consist of equal stanzas each with its own rhyming key, varying from distiches to decastiches, sometimes with a repetend at the end of each strophe. Y. David's critical edition of Amittai's poems contains 46 poems collected on the basis of 100 manuscripts in addition to the work by B. Klar, Megillat Aḥima'aẓ.


Schirmann, Italyah, 2–11; idem, Roth, Dark Ages, 252–6; B. Klar (ed.), Megillat Aḥima'aẓ (1944), 36–37, 72–119; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 368–9; Zunz, Lit Poesie, 166–8; Y. David, The Poems of Amittay, Critical Edition with Introduction and Commentary (1975).

[Abraham Meir Habermann]