Proximity and Distance: Medieval Hebrew and Arabic Poetry

Proximity and Distance: Medieval Hebrew and Arabic Poetry

Proximity and Distance: Medieval Hebrew and Arabic Poetry

Proximity and Distance: Medieval Hebrew and Arabic Poetry

Synopsis

The first steps in Hebrew secular poetry took place around the turn of the ninth century, under the impact of contemporary Arabic poetry. This impact was so great that some researchers, incorrectly, define the Hebrew poetry as a school which is distinct from the Arabic school only by virtue of its Hebrew language. However, the right way to the essence of medieval Hebrew poetry is not only by revealing and describing its ties with Arabic poetry but also by determining the specific characteristics by which it stubbornly distinguished itself from its Arabic contemporaries. This innovative critical approach is the central feature of this book.

Excerpt

The first steps in Hebrew secular poetry took place around the turn of the ninth century, under the evident impact of contemporary Arabic poetry. By that time the latter had become consolidated as a courtly poetry, in which luxury and pleasure were among the supreme aspects of social life. Nevertheless, this poetry still preserved many of the social and conceptual values by which it was characterized it its early stages in the jāhiliyya. Hebrew poetry was then written in accordance with Arabic poetic rules, in terms of content— jāhilī and courtly, prosody (metre and rhyme), linguistic outlook, and rhetorical texture.

Students of Hebrew poetry who are fairly well acquainted with Arabic poetry have taken note of this link between the two. Such scholars include Sha͗ul ͑Abdallah Yosef and David Yelin in the first half of the twentieth century. A more systematic study has been conducted by contemporary scholars such as Yəhuda Ratzaby, Israel Levin, and Arie Schippers. Indeed, it is simply impossible really to understand medieval Hebrew poetry without examining it against the Arabic poetry by which it was influenced and from which it lavishly borrowed conceptual as well as figurative, poetic, and linguistic values. The impact of the Arabic on the Hebrew poetry was so great that some researchers, incorrectly, define the latter as a poetic school which is distinct from the Arabic school only on account of its Hebrew language.

All the above holds not only for secular poetry. It is also true of another genre created in Hebrew medieval belles-lettres, the maqāma; and even Hebrew sacred poetry, originating in the ancient EreṣIsraeli piyyut and intended for liturgical-religious use, was not free from the impact of Arabic poetry, although far less than secular Hebrew poetry.

This critical approach, which I explicitly state on the title-page of this book, seemingly does not need to be proved or sustained, although there are scholars who disregard it or belittle and even deny it. Obviously, when approaching a person's creative work to grasp and interpret it, particularly if he is of a time and place so remote from us, we should delve into the roots of its spiritual environment and . . .

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