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Emet m'Tsiyon

Monday, June 19, 2006

Yehudah haLevi on Israel's Captivity among Arabs and Europeans

Yehudah haLevi was born in Spain and lived in both the Christian and Muslim-Arab sectors of Iberia. Later, his Zionist passions led him to Israel during the Crusading period of the Middle Ages.

Dialogue between Israel and God

My friend, the days of my affliction have compelled me
To dwell in the scorpion's and the viper's company,
In captivity.
Have mercy on me.

My soul despairs of the rise of the dawn,
To wait and hope morn after morn.
What can I say, O my lover, when
Edom is in my citadel, born free,
And I am subject to the Arab and the Admoni,
Who oppress me.
Like the dregs of humanity?

My name which once stood supreme
Has become in strangers' mouths a mark of shame,
The Ammonite, the Moabite, and Hagar's line,
Glorify themselves in visions because of me,
Despising the word of God and Palmoni
Enticing me
By false prophecy.

Come let us return to the gardens, my friend,
To gather there both lilies and nard.
How can the doe live with the jackal's herd?
. . . .

"Be ready for the end, even if it tarries;
For I have not put another nation in your place.
You have chosen Me. You also are My choice.

"Which other people in the north or the south is to Me
Like My son, bound as a sacrifice, My power's primacy,
Who loves Me?
Which god is like Me?"
[translated by David Goldstein in The Jewish Poets of Spain (Penguin 1971), pp 119-120]

In this poem, the Europeans and the Arabs are signified by the scorpion and the viper, which becomes more obvious in the second stanza when he mentions the Arab explicitly and uses Edom too, which is the symbolic usual name for Europeans/Christians. Further, the Admoni seems to refer to Edom. In Genesis Esau is described as reddish in hair. He is also considered the ancestor of Edom [Edom is related to adom, meaning red in Hebrew. Admoni means reddish.]. Because Edom rhymes somewhat with Rome [actually Romi in ancient Hebrew], Edom became a code word for Rome when it was not safe to directly criticize or speak against Rome. Christendom, seen as the heir of Rome, was also called Edom. Hagar's line refers to the Arabs, descended from Ishmael, Hagar's son. Since Hagar is described as a slave in Genesis, connecting the Arabs with Hagar was a contemptuous way of referring to them by both Jews and Byzantine [Greek-speaking] Christians. They were sometimes called Sons [or Children] of Hagar in Hebrew, and Hagarenes in Greek. He describes Edom as being in his citadel. Hence, the poem was likely written while the Crusaders controlled Jerusalem.

HaLevi sees the exile as captivity and humiliation, perpetrated by two enemies, Christendom and Arab Islam, characterized as scorpions, vipers, and jackals. This was the Zionism of the Middle Ages.
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Coming: Jews in Jerusalem, Jews under Islamic oppression, more poems of Zion, etc.



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