Burla (Bourla), Yehuda

views updated


BURLA (Bourla), YEHUDA (1886–1969), Hebrew novelist, one of the first modern Hebrew writers of Sephardi Middle Eastern background. Born in Jerusalem, Burla was a descendant of a family of rabbis and scholars (originally from Izmir, Turkey) that had settled in Ereẓ Israel some three centuries previously. He studied in yeshivot and the Jerusalem Teachers' Seminary (1908–11). During World War i he served in the Turkish army as an interpreter. After the war he was director of Hebrew schools in Damascus for five years. He taught in Haifa and Tel Aviv. From 1930 he spent several years as head of the Arab Department of the Histadrut, was an envoy of Keren Hayesod to the Latin American countries (1946), and director of Arab Affairs in the Ministry of Minorities (1948). Burla served several terms as president of the Hebrew Authors' Association and as chairman of the Bio-Bibliographical foundation, Genazim.

When he was 18, Burla read the classical modern Hebrew authors (*Mendele Mokher Seforim, Ḥ.N. *Bialik, J.Ḥ. *Brenner, I.L. *Peretz) for the first time, and discovered that they portrayed only the life of the Ashkenazim of Eastern Europe, while neglecting the world of the Middle Eastern Sephardim. He determined to correct this imbalance by depicting the milieu, language, customs, and thinking of this hitherto neglected community. When he completed his final year in the Teachers' Seminary, he wrote his first story "Lunah," which he sent to the noted writer Joseph Ḥayyim Brenner. A week later came the decision, a turning point in Burla's life: "You are talented," said Brenner, "Write!"

Beginning with "Lunah," a love story set in the Sephardi communities of old Jerusalem, and continuing with his many other works, Burla became the first modern Hebrew writer to deal extensively with the life of Middle Eastern Sephardim. He may be termed the epic writer of this Jewry, encompassing Jewish life in Arab and Balkan lands as well as in Ereẓ Israel–Jerusalem, Safed, Hebron – from its Turkish period to the State of Israel. Just as an entire Eastern European Ashkenazi society could be reconstructed from the works of *Shalom Aleichem and S.Y. *Agnon, so the Sephardi Jewish world can be recreated from Burla's writings. His novels and stories depict a way of life that is fast disappearing as a result of immigration and acculturation to Israeli life. His fiction recorded the garb, diet, language, and folklore of that community.

"Lunah" set the tone in subject matter (Sephardi Jewry), theme (characters overwhelmed by the power of love and the forces of destiny), and narrative mode (a blend of realism and romanticism) of his ensuing works. His second story "Beli Kokhav" ("Without a Star," 1937) continues this method. Here the setting changes to Bedouins instead of Jews, but the same tragic fate in love befalls the protagonists. Burla's first novel Ishto ha-Senu'ah ("His Hated Wife," 1928) centers on a Sephardi Jew in Ereẓ Israel who does not love his wife, but, afraid of the financial ruin that a divorce might bring, remains married to her. The same theme of emptiness in marriage is seen in Naftulei Adam (1929, In Darkness Striving, 1968), the story of a man who is continually unfaithful to his wife and falls in love with a selfless Arab divorcee. In this series of infidelities as a traveling merchant in the Arab villages on the outskirts of Damascus, he expresses his soul's longing for beauty and his gratitude to God who blessed him with such good fortune. Tragedy in love and the eventual insanity of the beloved are themes developed in Alilot Akavyah ("The Adventures of Akavyah," 1939). This two-part novel portrays a romantic and primitive child of nature with a sense of prophetic mission. He falls in love with an Armenian woman in the Anatolian mountains, is later rejected by her, then goes to Ereẓ Israel where he meets her reincarnation. Burla's two major historical novels deal with Sephardi Jews who had visions of Zion restored. Elleh Masei Yehudah Halevi ("The Journeys of Judah Halevi," 1959) depicts the life of the great poet of the Golden Age who 800 years ago called for a return to Ereẓ Israel, and Ba-Ofek ("On the Horizon" (three parts), 1943) portrays R. Judah Ḥai *Alkalai, the early 19th century Sephardi rabbi who urged immediate resettlement of Zion without waiting for miracles.

Although Burla's subject matter is mainly the Jews of Middle Eastern communities, his aesthetics and literary discipline are Western, shaped both by his education and his readings in modern Hebrew literature. His writing has no educational or didactic purpose, as did the works of the first Hebrew authors of Ashkenazi Jewry. Burla is primarily a storyteller. He is not a revolutionary in form or style but a traditional, somewhat romantic, narrator of the realistic school. Other works by Burla include (1) story collections: Im Shaḥar (1946), Nashim (1949), Tom va-Meri (1951), Be-Ma'gelei Ahavah (1953), Reshafim (1961); (2) novels: Meranenet (1930), Bat Ẓiyyon (1930–1), Na'amah (1934), Bi-Kedushah o-Ahavah (1935), Senunit Rishonah (1954), Ba'al be-Amav (1962); (3) collected works (8 volumes) were published in 1962. For English translations of Burla's works, see Goell, Bibliography, 19, 64f., 102.


Kressel, Leksikon (1965), 192–3; Y. Lichtenbaum, Soferei Yisrael (1959), 142–5; D. Kimḥi, Soferim (1953), 121–7; A. Ben-Or, Toledot ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit be-Dorenu, 2 (1955), 74–93; A. Barash, Y. Burla, and S. Yizhar, Sheloshah Sippurim (1964), 41–43 (with some autobiographical notes of Burla); Yehuda Burla, Storyteller of the Jewish Orient, pamphlet (Jewish Agency, Department of Education and Culture), New York (1963; mimeographed); Waxman, Literature, 4 (1960), 189–94. add. bibliography: H. Hanani, Iẓẓuv Demuyot Rashiyyot be-Sippurei Burla (1978); A.H. Elhanani, Arba'ah she-Sipperu: Burla, Agnon, Reuveni, Hazaz (1978); Y. Seh-Lavan, Y. Burla (1979); L. Suchman, Meshiḥiyyut ve-Ẓiyyonut be-Kitvei Burla (1993); B. Shimoni, Zehuto ha-Tarbutit shel ha-Aḥer bi-Yeẓirato shel Yehuda Burla (1998). website: www.ithl.org.il.

[Curt Leviant]