Two Episodes in the Life of Judah Halevi
TWO memorable moments in the life of Judah ben Samuel Halevi (c. 1085- 1140), the unsurpassed genius of medieval Hebrew poetry, are illustrated by the following poetical letters. They differ in extent, contents and style, and yet a mysterious unity originating in the character and fate of their inspired author seems to link them together.
Judah Halevi and Abraham ibn Ezra ( 1092-1167), both natives of Toledo, were contemporaries and friends. As creative spirits they stand on the same level, but their personalities belong to different spheres. Two poetical epistles, found in a manuscript of the Bodleian Library, are highly characteristic of this contrast, one of them displaying admirably the tenderness and idealism of Judah Halevi, the other the wit and realism of Ibn Ezra. Whether Judah Halevi's invitation to Ibn Ezra referred to his intended pilgrimage to Eretz Israel or to some other kind of withdrawal from worldly life is an open question, but the sense of Ibn Ezra's exuberant reply is unmistakable.
There is no need to accept the opinion of Geiger and Graetz that both poems were the work of Ibn Ezra, composed by him after Judah Halevi's death, still less a statement elsewhere that the first poem was composed by Judah al-Harizi. We may rather consider as well founded David Kahana's assumption that we have before us a genuine correspondence of the two classical Hebrew poets.
In the absence of any indication where and when the poems were composed, no place and only an approximate time -- the first half of the twelfth century -- can be assigned to the epistles.
'Come then, and let us sing and rest together'
A deep sleep was upon me, but the desire
To see thee, my beloved friend, awakened me,
The heavenly choirs had chosen just thy songs,