Academic journal article Shofar

The Book of Tahkemoni: Jewish Tales from Medieval Spain, by Juda Alharizi, Translated and Explicated by David Simha Segal

Academic journal article Shofar

The Book of Tahkemoni: Jewish Tales from Medieval Spain, by Juda Alharizi, Translated and Explicated by David Simha Segal

Article excerpt

London: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2001. 710 pp. $77.00.

The paramount character of the large volume in focus stems from the fact that it introduces to the enlightened, learned English reader one of the most splendid accomplishments of Hebrew literature in medieval, Muslim Spain. That literary period in the long and equally formidable evolution of Hebrew literature (starting at Biblical times) is justly entitled Tor hazahav, the Golden Age.

Both genres of Hebrew secular and liturgical poetry had reached at that period of time (notably from the 10th century to the 13th century) their glorious zenith while being prolifically inspired and fruitfully influenced by Arabic poetry. Although the genres of Hebrew secular and liturgical poetry were undoubtedly the most prominent and leading trend of Hebrew literature of the Golden Age, there was one more literary genre that displayed excellent aesthetic achievements. That literary genre is entitled maqama, and consists of rhymed prose fiction that preserves partially practiced metrical systems. In terms of content the maqama remotely echoes the literary genre of the picaresque novel as it portrays the wanderings, adventures, and social meetings of the narrator. In the maqama, however, the narrator is commonly a poet.

Next to his peer, Emanuel Haromil of Rome, Juda Alharizi is the most celebrated maqama writer of the Golden Age Hebrew literature in Muslim, medieval Spain. Alharizi (1170, Toledo?-1235) came from an affluent family that lost its wealth. He wandered most of his life in Southern France, Egypt, the Land of Israel, and Syria. It is not quite certain whether eventually he returned to Spain. He was supported by Jewish communities and individuals who admired his literary talent as both poet and translator. It is more than evident that Alharizi's extensive wanderings inspired and influenced his literary creation and even propelled some of its prominent poetic proclivities. …

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