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Meir ben Elijah of Norwich


MEIR BEN ELIJAH OF NORWICH (13th century; also called Meir of England ), liturgical poet and ḥazzan. Meir's family came from France, and his father was apparently a dayyan. Meir lived in Norwich and was among those exiled from England in 1290. His piyyut Oyevi bi-Me'erah Tikkov ("Thou wilt curse mine enemy with execration") was composed on this exile, as its heading states: "For the severity of the exile and the killings, the imprisonment, and the destruction of property." A great Torah scholar, Meir was the only known English paytan. His piyyutim contain some elements of the Ashkenazi piyyut and some of the Spanish. Strong phrases on the suffering of the nation find their expression through his poetry. His piyyut for Passover, Mitnasse ba-Marom al Keruvo ("Uplifted on High upon His Cherub" called by him "Who is like Thee"), is one of the longest acrostics in the Hebrew piyyut. Besides the alphabet, autobiographical information is also contained in the acrostic. Meir's secular poems, which he called ḥaruzot ("stanzas") – 16 in all, with an additional poem explaining the form and the construction of the poems – are written in the meter of the Spanish-Hebrew poetry, but do not have its glitter and originality. Sent to one of his friends, the poems were arranged in an order unknown in the poetry of others, namely in four parts ("banim") following the letters of his name Meir (Benei M (-em), Benei A (-lef), etc., i.e., poems whose stanzas begin with the letters mem, alef, etc.). The first two letters of each stanza are also repeated at the end of the stanza.


V.D. Lipman, The Jews of Medieval Norwich (1967), with the poems edited by A.M. Habermann; Davidson, Ozar (1933), 432; A. Berliner, in: Magazin fuer die Wissenschaft des Judenthums, 16 (1889), 52–55; Zunz, Lit Poesie, 328; Roth, England, 127; Urbach, Tosafot, 279; J. Schirmann, in: ks, 43 (1967/68), 450–1; A. Berliner, Hebraeische Poesien des Meir ben Elia aus Norwich (1887). add. bibliography: E. Fleischer, The Yoẓer (Hebrew, 1984), 590.

[Abraham Meir Habermann]

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