The Song of the Distant Dove: Judah Halevi's Pilgrimage

By Raymond P. Scheindlin | Go to book overview

7
An Epistle

We now have an overall picture of Halevi’s religious outlook and its development, and we have followed the story of his pilgrimage. It is time to think about Halevi’s motive in deciding that the pilgrimage was the appropriate way to spend his declining years.

Several themes emerging from the poems that we have read are relevant to this decision. The unsettled conditions of his time may have caused Halevi to despair of any solution to the problem of Jewish political status in exile and may have made him sympathetic to messianic thinking; they may even have impelled him to take the matter of Jewish exile into his own hands by going to Palestine at all costs—alone, if necessary. Some readers of Halevi’s works have even proposed that his journey was itself a messianic venture, a summons to the Jewish people to leave their exile and thereby force the coming of the messianic age. Other readers have emphasized the element of social critique in Halevi’s writing: his expressions of distaste for the worldliness and acculturation of the Jewish elite of al-Andalus; and his longing for a purer, more authentic, variety of Judaism than he could find in his homeland. These themes are all present in his writing, and undoubtedly there were elements of all of them in Halevi’s thinking during the years in which he considered the plan.

But no merely negative cause seems adequate to explain the pilgrimage. Halevi’s pilgrimage poetry does not deal with the sufferings and exile of the Jewish people (except in the Ode to Jerusalem, which deals with their dispersal). It is devoid of messianic material.

-155-

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The Song of the Distant Dove: Judah Halevi's Pilgrimage
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Introduction 3
  • Part I- A Portrait of the Pilgrim 9
  • 1- Halevi’s Religious Development 11
  • 2- The National Problem 53
  • 3- The Visionary 70
  • Part II- The Pilgrimage 95
  • 4- Alexandria 97
  • 5- Cairo 119
  • 6- Alexandria Again 141
  • Part III- The Pilgrim Speaks 153
  • 7- An Epistle 155
  • 8- In Imagination 163
  • 9- Argumentation 182
  • 10- The Voyage 215
  • Epilogue 249
  • Notes 253
  • Poem Sources 285
  • Bibliography 291
  • Index of Poems 299
  • Index of Names and Subjects 303
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