Chapters on Jewish Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 153 pages of information about Chapters on Jewish Literature.



Graetz.—­III, p. 285 [292] seq.


I.H.  Weiss.—­J.Q.R., I, p. 290.


Schiller-Szinessy.—­Encycl.  Brit., Vol.  XX, p. 284.



    Jehuda Halevi.—­Charizi.

Turning once more to the brighter condition of Jewish literature in Spain, we reach a man upon whom the whole vocabulary of praise and affection has been exhausted; a man of magnetic attractiveness, whom contemporaries and successors have agreed to admire and to love.  Jehuda Halevi was born in Toledo about 1085, the year in which Alfonso VI recaptured the city from the Moors.  It was a fit birth-place for the greatest Jewish poet since Bible times.  East and West met in Toledo.  The science of the East there found Western Christians to cultivate it.  Jew, Moor, and Christian displayed there mutual toleration which existed nowhere else.  In the midst of this favorable environment Jehuda Halevi grew to early maturity.  As a boy he won more than local fame as a versifier.  At all festive occasions his verses were in demand.  He wrote wedding odes, elegies on great men, eulogies of the living.  His love poems, serenades, epigrams of this period, all display taste, elegance, and passion.

The second period of Jehuda Halevi’s literary career was devoted to serious pursuits, to thoughts about life, and to practical work.  He wrote his far-famed philosophical dialogue, the Cuzari, and earned his living as a physician.  He was not an enthusiastic devotee to medicine, however.  “Toledo is large,” he wrote to a friend, “and my patients are hard masters.  I, their slave, spend my days in serving their will, and consume my years in healing their infirmities.”  Before making up a prescription, he, like Sir Thomas Browne, used to say a prayer in which he confessed that he had no great faith in the healing powers of his art.  Jehuda Halevi was, indeed, dissatisfied with his life altogether.  “My heart is in the East, but I am sunk in the West,” he lamented.  He was unhappy because his beloved was far from him; his lady-love was beyond the reach of his earnest gaze.  In Heine’s oft-quoted words,

    She for whom the Rabbi languished
    Was a woe-begone poor darling,
    Desolation’s very image,
    And her name—­Jerusalem.

The eager passion for one sight of Jerusalem grew on him, and dominated the third portion of his life.  At length nothing could restrain him; go he would, though he die in the effort.  And go he did, and die he did in the effort.  The news of his determination spread through Spain, and everywhere hands were held out to restrain him.  But his heart lightened as the day of departure came.  His poems written at this time are hopeful and full of cheery feeling. 

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