Article

Hebrew Poetry in Spain

Tova Rosen and Uriah Kfir

in Jewish Studies

ISBN: 9780199840731
Published online August 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0055
Hebrew Poetry in Spain

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Hebrew poetry began flourishing in mid-10th-century Spain (Sefarad, the ancient Jewish name for Spain) and survived there until the 1492 expulsion. Between 950 and 1150 (often referred to as its golden age), Hebrew poetry prospered in Muslim Spain. Already then it was widely acknowledged as the indisputable Jewish poetic center. This poetic efflorescence was part of a wider renaissance of Jewish letters (which had its roots in earlier developments in the Orient). Poets were often themselves Talmudic scholars, biblical exegetes, Hebrew grammarians, and Neoplatonic philosophers. But whereas most writings were in Arabic, poetry was uniquely in Hebrew. Poets and audiences belonged to the elite known in scholarship as “the courtier-rabbis.” They were deeply immersed in the Arabic culture and way of life, and some of them served as officers in Muslim courts. As poets, they extensively employed Arabic poetics (genres, themes, prosody, and rhetoric) in both their secular and liturgical poems. The Arabic influence persisted beyond 1150, at which time the literary center moved to the Jewish communities in the Christian kingdoms of Iberia. In its second period, from the mid-12th century on, liturgical poetry waned, while Kabbalah expanded, and secular poetry receded to give way to narrative compositions in rhymed prose (influenced by the Arabic maqāma and possibly also affected by the rise of European narrative genres). Medieval Hebrew poetry in Spain is evaluated today as one of the highest summits of Hebrew literature (between biblical and modern Hebrew poetry).

Article.  16201 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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