Schirmann, Jefim

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SCHIRMANN, JEFIM (Ḥayyim ; 1904–1981), scholar of medieval Hebrew poetry. Born in Kiev, Schirmann received a doctorate in Berlin for his thesis Die hebraeische Uebersetzung der Maqamen des Hariri (Frankfurt 1930). He was one of the first to undertake research in medieval Hebrew poetry at the Schocken Institute for Research (first in Berlin, then in Jerusalem). In 1937 he began teaching medieval Hebrew poetry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and subsequently was appointed to the chair in this subject. From 1954 to 1969 he edited *Tarbiz, a quarterly for Jewish studies. He was a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and of the Academy of the Hebrew Language. In 1957 he was awarded the Israel Prize for Jewish Studies.

Schirmann's research spans the entire range of medieval Hebrew poetry. He began his activities by investigating the Hebrew poetry of Spain, both as an independent area of research and also with reference to its links with Arabic literature. At the same time he studied Italian Hebrew poetry. He compiled two large and unique anthologies of the most important existing texts of (1) Hebrew poetry written in Italy between the ninth and 20th centuries, Mivḥar ha-Shirah ha-Ivrit be-Italyah (Berlin, 1934); and (2) Hebrew poetry written in Spain and Provence from the 10th to the 15th centuries, Ha-Shirah ha-Ivrit bi-Sefarad u-vi-Provence (19613). Schirmann laid the foundations for modern research and critical evaluation of secular and sacred Hebrew poetry, as well as of the rhymed tales composed by the Jews of Spain and Italy.

His many works in this field include "Ha-Meshorerim Benei Doram shel Moshe ibn Ezra vi-Yhudah ha-Levi" (in: ymḤsi, 3 pts., 2 (1936), 4 (1938), 6 (1945)); "Ḥayyei Yehudah ha-Levi" (in: Tarbiz, 9 (1938) and 11 (1939)); "La métrique quantitative dans la poésie hébraïque du Moyen Age" (in Sefarad, 8 (1948)); "Samuel Hannagid, the Man, the Soldier, the Politician" (in jsos, 13 (1951)); "The Function of the Hebrew Poet in Medieval Spain" (ibid., 16 (1954)); "La poésie hébraïque du Moyen Age en Espagne" (in Mélanges de philosophie et de littérature juives, 3–5 (1962)), and "The Beginning of Hebrew Poetry in Italy" (in The World History of the Jewish People, Vol. 11: The Dark Ages, 1966).

Schirmann's later researches were devoted primarily to early medieval Hebrew poetry. Of particular note is the essay "Hebrew Liturgical Poetry and Christian Hymnology" (jqr 49, 1953, pp. 123–161), Shirim Ḥadashim min ha-Genizah ("New Poems from the Genizah," 1965), which contains, besides a large collection of unknown texts from different periods, a number of very important critical monographs on poets from various centers of Jewish life (Ereẓ Israel, Babylonia, North Africa, and Spain), and his collected articles in Hebrew, Studies in the History of Hebrew Poetry and Drama (1979). His critical edition of the secular poetry of Solomon ibn Gabirol (1974), completing the work initiated by H. Brody, can be seen as one of his most mature contributions to the history of medieval Hebrew poetry.

Several years after Schirmann's death, E. Fleischer published in two large volumes the important notes that he had left on the history of medieval Hebrew poetry with his own observations, updated bibliography, and commentaries: The History of Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain (1995) and The History of Hebrew Poetry in Christian Spain and Southern France (Heb., 1997).

Schirmann's numerous publications and long teaching career led to the creation of a new attitude toward research in medieval Hebrew culture. His approach to the Hebrew intellectual creativity of the Middle Ages was within the wider context of general contemporary culture, and he emphasized its connection with other cultures and literary creativities.


S. Abramson and A. Mirsky (eds.), Sefer Ḥayyim Schirmann (1970); D. Pagis and E. Fleischer, ibid., 413–27, (bibl.). add. bibliography: D. Pagis, E. Fleischer, Y. David, Kitvei Profesor Ḥayim Shirman (19041981): Reshimah Bibliyografit (1983).

[Ezra Fleischer /

Dan Pagis]