Eleazar ben Jacob Ha-Bavli

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ELEAZAR BEN JACOB HA-BAVLI (c. 1195–1250), Hebrew poet of Baghdad. Eleazar seems to have been a sort of house poet for the well-to-do Jewish families of Iraq. He represents himself as a disciple of Moses ben Sheshet al-Andalusi, who introduced him to the techniques of Andalusian poetry. He was probably the first young Oriental poet met by Judah *Al-Ḥarizi in his travels to the East, although he did not get a very positive evaluation. Some of Eleazar's poems were extant in various manuscript collections and in Oriental mahzorim and attracted the attention of 19th-century scholars (L. Dukes, A. Neubauer, E.N. Adler, S. Poznanski). It was only with the discovery of one of the manuscripts of his dīwān, which comprised 281 poems, by Elkan N. *Adler in Aleppo in 1898 (Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, Ms. ena 881), and its publication by H. *Brody (1935) that he emerged as one of the great poets of the eastern Diaspora. Thanks to other manuscripts from the Firkovitch collection of St. Petersburg and from other libraries, Y. Yahalom has been able to reproduce the possible original structure of Eleazar's dīwān, which contained more than 400 poems. Many of them are given over to praises and the familiar events of the notable Jews of the Iraqi community: births, circumcisions, weddings, and deaths of the families of his benefactors. Others are epigrams on secular subjects or short poems of didactic nature. He also wrote some Arabic poems, with his own Hebrew translation, and even verses with a mixture of both languages. While the dīwān contains mainly secular poetry, subsequent discoveries have brought to light about 50 of his religious poems. Nineteen such poems were published by S. *Bernstein; by a comparison of style and the help of acrostics, D. Jarden identified some more religious poems. They have the characteristics of the classical piyyut and some of the Andalusian innovations.

In addition to its importance to poetry, the dīwān is a historical source of utmost significance for the history of Iraqi Jews during the 13th century. It provides a glimpse into the wealthy and highly educated leading Jewish families in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Wasit, Hilla, and other places in Iraq. The dīwān is replete with the names (more than 400) of not only the contemporary geonim but also of eminent Jewish personalities, among them physicians, scholars, astronomers, administrators, keepers of the mint, and other state dignitaries in the service of the Abbasid caliphate in its declining years. The high-sounding titles of the Jewish notabilities indicate the social level and the great role played by them both in the community and in state and society. With the help of Arab chronicles, particularly of Ibn al-Fuwati, these personalities can be identified in their historical perspective.

Eleazar ha-Bavli also interested himself in the theory of Hebrew poetry and composed a book for teaching this theory to his Jewish audience. Substantial remnants of this work, written in Judeo-Arabic, have survived (published and translated into Hebrew by Yahalom, 2001). He studied 13 kinds of meter, the rhyme, the mistakes and deficiencies of the poets, and the figures of speech, following Arabic models. His method of studying Hebrew poetry was very different from that of his predecessor Moses *Ibn Ezra in his Shirat Yisrael. The situation in which Eleazar wrote was quite dissimilar, and his main goal was probably to encourage the Jews of the East to compose Hebrew poetry in consonance with Arabic poetics, reproducing the opinions of similar Arabic books and offering many examples taken from his own secular and liturgical poetic production.


E.N. Adler, in: jqr, 11 (1898/99), 682–7; idem, in: Livre d'hommage… S. Poznanski (1927), 22–24 (Eng.); Mann, Texts, 1 (1931), 263–305; H. Brody, Divan Koveẓ Shirei Rabbi Eleazar ben Ya'akov ha-Bavli (1935); S.H. Kook, in: ks, 13 (1936/37), 12–13 (also in his Iyyunim u-Meḥkarim, 2 (1963), 194–7); W.J. Fischel, in: Tarbiz, 8 (1936/37), 233–6; idem, Jews in the Economic and Political Life of Mediaeval Islam (19692), 127–34; S. Bernstein, in: Sinai, 18 (1946), 8–34; N.H. Torczyner (Tur-Sinai), in: Leshonenu, 11 (1941), 269–83 (also in his Ha-Lashon ve-ha-Sefer, 3 (1955), 366–80); D. Jarden, in: Tarbiz, 26 (1956/57), 317–27; idem, in: huca, 33 (1962), 1–26; idem, Sefunei Shirah (1967), 54–96; A. Ben-Jacob, Yehudei Bavel (1965), 32–43; Abramson, in: Perakim, 1 (1968), 9–28. add. bibliography: D. Yarden (ed.), Shirim Ḥadashim le-Rabbi Eleazar ben Ya'akov ha-Bavli (1984); Y. Yahalom, Perakim be-Torat ha-Shir le-Eleazar ben Ya'akov ha-Bavli: Makor Arvi-Yehudi ve-Targum Ivri (2001); idem, in: Hispania Judaica Bulletin, 4 (2004), 5–21; W. van Bekkum, in: Ben Ever la-Arav, 2 (2001), xxiii–xl.

[Walter Joseph Fischel /

Angel Sáenz-Badillos (2nd ed.)]

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Eleazar ben Jacob Ha-Bavli

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