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Exegesis and Poetry in Medieval Karaite and Rabbanite Texts

tudes sur le Judasme Mdival

Fondes par

Georges Vajda

Rdacteur en chef

Paul B. Fenton

Diriges par

Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman
Benjamin Hary
Katja Vehlow

tome lxviii

The titles published in this series are listed at brill.com/ejm


Karaite Texts and Studies

Edited by

Meira Polliack
Michael G. Wechsler

Volume 9
Exegesis and Poetry in Medieval
Karaite and Rabbanite Texts

Edited by

Joachim Yeshaya
Elisabeth Hollender

LEIDEN | BOSTON

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Yeshaya, Joachim J. M. S., 1981 editor. | Hollender, Elisabeth, 1965


editor.
Title: Exegesis and poetry in medieval Karaite and Rabbanite texts : Karaite
texts and studies / edited by Joachim Yeshaya (KU Leuven),
Elisabeth Hollender (Goethe University Frankfurt).
Description: Leiden ; Boston : Brill, [2016] | Series: E tudes sur le
Judaisme medieval, ISSN 0169-815X ; volume 68 | Series: Karaite texts
and studies ; volume 9 | Includes index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016036869 (print) | LCCN 2016037953 (ebook) | ISBN
9789004335110 (hardback : alk. paper) | ISBN 9789004334786 (E-book)
Subjects: LCSH: Hebrew poetry, MedievalHistory and criticism.
Classification: LCC PJ5023 .E94 2016 (print) | LCC PJ5023 (ebook) | DDC
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LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016036869

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Contents

Acknowledgementsix
List of Abbreviationsx
List of Contributorsxi
Transliteration of Arabicxv
Transliteration of Hebrewxvi

Introduction1
Elisabeth Hollender and Joachim Yeshaya

Part 1
From Jerusalem to Alexandria

Singing Songs about Songs: Biblical and Exegetical Interconnections in


Three Hebrew Hymns for Ym Vayysha (the Seventh Day of Passover)17
Wout van Bekkum and Naoya Katsumata

Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison:


On the Medieval Interaction View of Biblical Metaphor40
Sivan Nir and Meira Polliack

Part 2
From Granada to Sanaa

The Distinction of Creative Ability (Fal al-ibd): From Poetics to Legal


Hermeneutics in Moses Ibn Ezra83
Mordechai Cohen

The Biblical Exegesis of Abraham Ibn Ezra as a Hermeneutical Device:


ALiterary Riddle as a Case Study122
Haviva Ishay

The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hirs Sfer ha-msr147


Adena Tanenbaum
viii contents

Part 3
From Constantinople to Candia

The Interplay of Poetry and Exegesis in Judah Hadassis Eshkl


ha-kfer187
Daniel J. Lasker

Aaron ben Josephs Poem for Prshat Yitr Considered in Light of His
Torah Commentary Sfer ha-mir207
Joachim Yeshaya

Shemarya ha-Ikriti and the Karaite Exegetical Challenge228


Saskia Dnitz

Part 4
From Istanbul to Trakai

The Methods of Judah Gibbors Biblical Exegesis in Minat Yhd251


Philip Miller

The One Who Defeats the Power of the Stars: Medieval Exegetics in
Polish-Lithuanian Karaite Poetry271
Riikka Tuori

Berakha ben Josephs Commentary on the Piyym by Aaron


benJoseph292
Elisabeth Hollender

General Index319
Acknowledgements

As with so many books, this volume would not have been possible without the
support from numerous individuals and institutions. This collection is based
on the papers that were presented during The Interplay of Medieval Jewish
Poetry and Bible Exegesis, a workshop that was hosted by the Department for
Jewish Studies of Goethe University Frankfurt in August 2014. This gathering
was part of the DFG-funded project The Introduction of Liturgical Poetry in
the Karaite Prayer Book, from Moses ben Abraham Dar to Aaron ben Joseph,
which was conducted from April 2010 to March 2016 (first at Ruhr University
Bochum then, from October 2011 onward, at Goethe University Frankfurt). We
are indebted to the anonymous reviewer of the initial proposal for this project
for suggesting that we study Aaron ben Josephs exegesis along with his poetry.
This has enriched our work greatly.
We extend special thanks to our colleagues in Frankfurt whoalbeit for
a brief periodmade the Department for Jewish Studies an active (though
small) hub for Karaite Studies: Saskia Dnitz and Riikka Tuori contributed sig-
nificantly, not only to the aforementioned workshop and this volume, but also
to many discussions of Byzantine (and later) Karaite and Rabbanite culture.
On a practical level we are grateful to our student assistants: Friederike Schpf
for her role in organizing the workshop, Julie Grothgar for her help withthe
revised Philip Miller paper, proof reading and preparation of the index, and
Max Holfelder for his support in finalizing themanuscript for this volume.
Our appreciation goes out to each of our colleagues who participated in
the workshop and its dynamic exchanges, as well as to those who contributed
to this volume without having attended that gathering. We are particularly
thankful to the editors of the Karaite Texts and Studies series for accepting
this book into the series, painstakingly reviewing all the contributions, and
recommending that we incorporate Philip Millers study of Judah Gibbor into
this volume. We are honored that Philip Miller entrusted us to edit a chapter
of his dissertation (New York University, 1984) for inclusion here. Finally, Sue
Oren deserves our full gratitude for having carefully corrected all non-native
Englishtexts.
List of Abbreviations

Gen Genesis
Exod Exodus
Lev Leviticus
Num Numbers
Deut Deuteronomy
Josh Joshua
Judg Judges
Sam Samuel
Kgs Kings
Isa Isaiah
Jer Jeremiah
Ezek Ezekiel
Hos Hosea
Joel Joel
Amos Amos
Obad Obadiah
Jonah Jonah
Micah Micah
Nah Nahum
Hab Habakuk
Zeph Zephaniah
Hagg Haggai
Zech Zechariah
Mal Malachi
Ps Psalms
Prov Proverbs
Job Job
Song Song of Songs
Ruth Ruth
Lam Lamentations
Eccl Ecclesiastes
Esth Esther
Dan Daniel
Ezra Ezra
Neh Nehemiah
Chr Chronicles
List of Contributors

Wout van Bekkum


is the Chair of Semitic Languages and Cultures at the Center of Middle
East Studies, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, the Netherlands. His recent work
includes co-authored articles in cooperation with Naoya Katsumata, includ-
ing: Importance of Saadia Gaons Poetry to the Construction of a Dictionary
of Early Medieval Piyyut: Example of Essa Meshali (2011); Shabbat Shimu
(Jer 2:4): A Kaleidoscopic View of a Liturgical-Poetic Theme (2012). Also:
Jewish and Christian Hymnody in the Early Byzantine Period, in The Jewish-
Greek Tradition in Antiquity and the Byzantine Empire, Nicholas de Lange
Jubilee Volume (2014); The Prophet Nathan has come, with Sabbatai Tzevi,
An Unknown Praise Poem from the Days of Early Sabbateanism (2014, with
Shinichi Yamamoto).

Mordechai Z. Cohen
is Professor of Bible and Associate Dean of the Bernard Revel Graduate School
of Jewish Studies, Yeshiva University. His research interests include medieval
Jewish Bible interpretation in its Christian and Muslimcultural contexts, as
well as its connections with Arabic poetics andMuslim jurisprudence. He
authored Three Approaches to Biblical Metaphor: From Abraham Ibn Ezra and
Maimonides to David Kimi (2003) and Opening the Gates of Interpretation:
Maimonides Biblical Hermeneutics in Light of His Geonic-Andalusian Heritage
and Muslim Milieu (2011), and edited, together with Adele Berlin, Interpreting
Scriptures in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: Overlapping Inquiries (2016), a
volume based on a semester-long international collaborative research project
by fourteen leading scholars that he directed at the Institute for Advanced
Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2010/11.

Saskia Dnitz
is a Research Associate in Jewish Studies at Goethe University Frankfurt. She
wrote her doctoral dissertation on the reception history of Sfer Yosippon
(berlieferung und Rezeption des Sefer Yosippon, Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013);
she has also published several articles on this subject. Her current research
focuses on Byzantine Jewish literature and its role against the background of
intellectual networks and cultural transfer among the Jewish communities of
the Middle Ages.
xii List Of Contributors

Elisabeth Hollender
is the Chair of Jewish Studies at Goethe University Frankfurt. Her Clavis
Commentariorum of Medieval Hebrew Piyyut Commentary (2005)a single-
volume compendium that presents a comprehensive inventory of all known
piyy commentary traditionswas awarded honorable mention in the
Judaica Bibliography category by AJL Research and Special Libraries Division
for 2005. She has published extensively on Ashkenazic piyy and piyy com-
mentary, including Piyyut Commentary in Medieval Ashkenaz (2008). She is
currently researching the transfer of liturgical poetry among medieval Jewish
communities, especially the use of Sefardic poetry in Ashkenaz.

Haviva Ishay
is a senior lecturer and the Chair of the Department of Hebrew Literature at
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Her research focuses on medieval Hebrew
and Arabic literatures and approaches to understanding and interpreting
medieval texts. She has authored two books: An Anthology of Moses Ibn Ezras
Poetry [in Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: Tel-Aviv University Press, 2010); Lets Make Love
in a Garden of Quills and Scripts: Love Literature in Medieval Hebrew-Arabic
Discourse [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Yad Itzhak Ben-Zvi-Hebrew University of
Jerusalem, 2011).

Naoya Katsumata
is Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the Graduate School of
Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University, Japan. His recent publi-
cations include: Seder Avodah for the Day of Atonement by Shelomoh Suleiman
Al-Sinjari (2009); Tahkemoni or the Tales of Heman the Ezrahite by Judah
Alarizi (2010, with Joseph Yahalom); Giving A Diamond: Essays in Honor of
Joseph Yahalom on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday (2011, with Wout van
Bekkum); The Yotserot of R. Samuel the Third, A Leading Figure in Jerusalem of
the Tenth Century (2014, with Joseph Yahalom).

Daniel J. Lasker
is the Norbert Blechner Professor of Jewish Values in the Goldstein-Goren
Department of Jewish Thought at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer
Sheva, Israel. He is the author of six books including Jewish Philosophical
Polemics Against Christianity in the Middle Ages, and From Judah Hadassi to
Elijah Bashyatchi: Studies in Late Medieval Karaite Philosophy; and over two
hundred other publications. All his degrees are from Brandeis University. In
addition to Ben-Gurion University, Prof. Lasker has taught at University of
List Of Contributors xiii

Toronto, Yale University, Princeton University, Ohio State University, University


of Texas, Boston College, University of Washington, and other institutions.

Philip E. Miller
is Librarian Emeritus of the Klau Library at Hebrew Union College-Jewish
Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York. In 2011, he was awarded Doctor of
Human Letters (honoris causa), from that same institution. He is an expert in
Jewish bibliography and booklore.

Sivan Nir
is a graduate student in the Department of Biblical Studies at Tel-Aviv University
and a Research Associate in the research project Biblia Arabica: The Bible in
Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims, funded by a DFG-DIP (Deutsch-
Israelische Projektkooperation) grant. Having written his Masters thesis on
depictions of Ruth in medieval Jewish exegesis, Nir is currently writing his
doctoral dissertation on the exegetical development of this literary character
and other biblical characters such as Esther and David from late midrash to
medieval exegesis.

Meira Polliack
is Professor of Bible at Tel-Aviv University. She is co-editor of the Brill series:
Karaite Texts and Studies series and Biblia Arabica. Since 2012, she serves as
one of the Project Instigators of the international research project Biblia
Arabica: The Bible in Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims (see: www.
biblia-arabica.com). Her books include: The Karaite Tradition of Arabic Bible
Translation (Leiden: Brill, 1997); Karaite Judaism: A Guide to its History and
Literary Sources (Leiden: Brill, 2003); Yefet ben Elis Commentary on Hosea,
Annotated Edition, Hebrew Translation and Introduction (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan
University Press, 2009, co-authored with Eliezer Schlossberg); The Bible in
Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims (Leiden: Brill, 2013, co-edited with
Camilla Adang and Sabine Schmidtke).

Adena Tanenbaum
Ph.D. Harvard University (1993), is Associate Professor of Near Eastern
Languages and Cultures at Ohio State University. Her book, The Contemplative
Soul: Hebrew Poetry and Philosophical Theory in Medieval Spain (Leiden: Brill,
2002), was a finalist for the Koret Foundation Jewish Book Award, Philosophy/
Thought category in 2003. She has published articles on various aspects of
medieval Hebrew poetry from Islamic Spain, including its translation, as well
xiv List Of Contributors

as on Zechariah al-hirs maqma, Sfer ha-msr (Yemen, sixteenth cen-


tury). She is currently completing a monograph on Sfer ha-msr.

Riikka Tuori
completed her doctoral thesis on Karaite Hebrew paraliturgical poetry at the
University of Helsinki in 2013. In 2014, she was a Research Associate in Jewish
Studies at Goethe University Frankfurt. She is currently a Lecturer in Middle
Eastern Studies at the University of Helsinki. Her research interests include
early modern Judaism, Karaism, Hebrew literature and poetics, and Jewish
mysticism.

Joachim Yeshaya
is a postdoctoral fellow at KU Leuven; previously he had been a research
associate in the DFG project The Introduction of Liturgical Poetry in the
Karaite Prayer Book at Ruhr University Bochum and Goethe University
Frankfurt. He has authored two books on the oeuvre of Moses ben Abraham
Dar, a twelfth-century Egyptian Karaite poet (Medieval Hebrew Poetry in
Muslim Egypt, Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2011; Poetry and Memory in Karaite Prayer,
Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2014). His current research explores Egyptian Jewish liter-
ary production from the Mamluk period.
Transliteration of Arabic

/
b


t


gh th
f j


q



k kh
l d

m dh

n r
h z
w s
y sh



a/at

The sign is omitted when initial and followed by a vowel (i.e., without wala;

thus: iqtidr for , yet asaba qtidr for
) as well as when final
in plural verbs (i.e., when functioning as al-alif al-fila; thus: yamal rather
than yamal).

Vowels

( and maqra) a

( yet : iyy) i
(yet :

uww) u

Before alif al-wal the vowels , , and are respectively represented by a, i,

, and abu

l-salm for , fi l-kalm for

and u (thus: alayhuma
l-kadhib for ) . Tanwn, though generally not indicated, is represented

by un (for ), an (for , , , or, when denoting any of the previous, final ),
orin (for or, when denoting the previous, final ).
Transliteration of Hebrew

l
m b
n
s g /
d /
p h
f v
z
q
r
y
sh k
t / kh

The sign is omitted when initial (e.g., sh for , yet l-sh for ) . Doubling
with the article and vayyiqtol forms is generally not indicated (e.g., ha-kt,
not hak-kt; va-ymer, not vay-ymer).

Vowels

The signs and are also generally used in cases of scriptio defectiva (e.g., n
for ] =[ and qm for )] =[ .

/ (gdl) a (furtive: )
/ e / (vocal)
i
/
o (qn/f)
u
Introduction
Elisabeth Hollender and Joachim Yeshaya

The articles in this volume are based primarily on the papers presented at
The Interplay of Medieval Jewish Poetry and Bible Exegesis, a workshop
that was held at the Department for Jewish Studies of Goethe University
Frankfurt in August 2014, plus a number of other pertinent studies. An inquiry
into the interdependence of exegesis and poetry among many medieval and
early modern Karaite scholars, and parallel phenomena among some of their
Rabbanite counterparts, served as catalysts for this project. This investigation
originated with research on the Byzantine Karaite scholar Aaron ben Joseph
ha-Rofe (ca. 12501320; referred to as Aaron the Elder, to distinguish him from
one of his fourteenth-century successors, Aaron ben Elijah of Nicomedia, also
known as Aaron the Younger). Aaron ben Joseph authored a Torah commen-
tary, Sfer ha-mir (The Choice Book), which earned a central place in the
Karaite library and has been well studied over the centuries. He also reformed
the Karaite prayer book, a signature feature of which undertaking was the
insertion of his own poetry (in the form of introductions to each weekly
reading) and well-known liturgical compositions by Rabbanite authors from
the Andalusian Golden Age, among them Judah ha-Levi and Abraham ibn
Ezra. The close interconnections between Aaron ben Josephs works across
genres have invited comparisons with other medieval scholars who authored
both exegesis and poetry, first and foremost Abraham ibn Ezra (10891167), his
renowned Spanish Rabbanite predecessor. When we consider how Rabbanite
and Karaite poets and exegetes approached the Hebrew Bible and how topics
that are usually associated with either poetry or exegesis can be discussed in
conjunction with the two fields, we must take into account earlier and later
authors who composed both poetry and exegesis as well as those who confined
themselves to one of these genres.
A striking number of outstanding scholars in medieval Judaism composed
poetry in addition to their halakhic, philosophical, scientific, grammatical,
or exegetical works. Analogously, many medieval poetsi.e., those who are
known mainly for their poetry todaywere also accomplished authors in other
fields. For example, Sefardic scholars such as Judah ha-Levi (ca. 10751141), who
is primarily remembered as a key figure in Golden Age Andalusian Hebrew
poetry even though his Kzr is a major philosophical work, can be named
alongside Ashkenazic scholars like Solomon ben Isaac (Rashi; ca. 10401105),
who is best known for his commentaries on Bible and Talmud although he also

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004334786_002


2 Hollender and Yeshaya

composed liturgical poetry, including works that are contained in Ashkenazic


prayer rites.1 The prominence of poetry in medieval Jewish culture is demon-
strated by the fact that even Andalusian Jewish authors who advocated the use
of Judaeo-Arabic in many genres composed (most of) their secular and liturgi-
cal poetry in Hebrew, thus anchoring it in their Jewish identity.2
Exegesisespecially biblical exegesisalso served as a crucial factor in
medieval Jewish intellectual life. With near synchrony, as the composition
of midrashmthe primary form of engagement with the Bible in Judaism
until the tenth centurywas drawing to a close, new forms and methods for
explaining the biblical text to wider audiences began to emerge. While it is
self-evident that researchers should be alert to direct relationships between
the works of specific scholars, so too should they attend to less obvious webs
of inter-genre relationships that are independent of direct parallels or quota-
tions, whether within the oeuvre of an individual author or among the works
of various authors. This principle would necessarily pertain to the genres that
any single author employs;3 however, with respect to exegesis and poetry, the
formal interactions between this pair of genres mirror the inherent differences
between highly-structured poetry and exegesis which is bound to follow the
text being interpreted. Even the shortest verbatim quotations of an authors
own work are nearly impossible between these genres since word selection
in poetry is dominated by formal requirements; yet their association with a
common biblical text presupposes connections between these two genres.
Therefore, despite their substantial areas of mutual exclusivity, close reading
can facilitate the identification of links between exegesis and poetry.
For authors who were active in both of these genres, signs of poetic cre-
ativity can be identified in their exegetical works, andthe inverse is also
truesigns of exegetical thinking are similarly evident in their poetic com-
positions. This dual-genre analysis holds particular promise for research on

1 On the importance of poetry in the oeuvre of Ashkenazic scholars, see E. Kanarfogel,
The Intellectual History and Rabbinic Culture of Medieval Ashkenaz (Detroit: Wayne State
University Press, 2013), 375443.
2 On the importance of Hebrew as Jewish language in Golden Age Andalusia, see E. Alfonso,
Islamic Culture through Jewish Eyes: Al-Andalus from the Tenth to Twelfth Century (London
New York: Routledge, 2008),1033.
3 See e.g. the discussion of the relationship between biblical exegesis and commentaries on
liturgical poetry by Joseph Kara (10501125, France) and the works of the 10th-century Spanish
grammarians Menaem ben Saruq and Dunash ben Labra, by A. Grossman, The School of
Literal Jewish Exegesis in Northern France, in Hebrew Bible, Old Testament: The History of its
Interpretation, Vol. IFrom the Beginnings to the Middle Ages (until 1300), Part2The Middle
Ages, ed. M. Sb and C. Brekelmans, 35556 (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000).
Introduction 3

scholars who produced major works of poetry and exegesis, especially in the
rare cases where that same author also wrote meta-texts on poetry or com-
mentary. Furthermore, the relationship between poetry and exegesis is always
open to inquiry, given that all poetsirrespective of whether they composed
exegetical workswere necessarily exegetes, as demonstrated by their quota-
tions of or allusions to biblical phrases, and their incorporation of interpretive
words and phrases, which reveal their understandings of the biblical text; and,
similarly, all exegetes necessarily addressed poetic passages in the Hebrew
Bibleeven when explaining prose sectionsby discussing the metaphors
and figurative language that are typically associated with poetry. The poten-
tial for indirect interactions between exegesis and poetry are manifold, as
exemplified by poetic introductions to exegetical works, such as the rshyt
that introduce every prsh in Midrash ha-gdl (The Great Midrash);4 the
introductory poem by Hezekiah ben Manoah to Hizqn, his compilatory
Torah commentary;5 and the exegetical material in liturgical poems that quote
midrashm or hlkht relevant to the prsh at hand.6
Hebrew poetry that is based on biblical texts and refers to exegetical tra-
ditions has been transmitted since the sixth century, when Hebrew liturgical
poetry started to be committed to writing in Byzantine Palestine. Poets like
Yannai (sixth century; Palestine) and Eleazar birabbi Qillir (less precisely:
Qallir; first half of seventh century; Palestine), who authored complex compo-
sitions based on Torah readings, presented their own selections of exegetical
traditions and possibly their own interpretations of the biblical text in highly
intricate poetic forms. In addition to poetic techniques available since biblical
times, like acrostics and figurative language, they employed poetic conventions
such as stanzas and rhyme, in addition to biblical quotations and allusions, to
create a unique type of poetry.7 Whereas later poets modified the linguistic

4 These have been cited in discussions on the authorship of midrash, see S. Morag, Rhyme
Patterns of Yemenite Poets and the Question of the Attribution of Midrash ha-gdl to
R.David al-Adani [in Hebrew], in Msrt ha-lshn ha-irt v-ha-lshn ha-rmt she-
b-f yhd Tmn, ed. Y. Tobi, 26166 (Tel Aviv: Afikim, 2002).
5 See H. Chavel (ed.), Hizqn. Prsh ha-Tr l-R. Hezekiah ben Manoah (Jerusalem: Mossad
HaRav Kook, 1980), 1719.
6 Critical editions of liturgical poetry therefore contain commentaries that detail such allu-
sions and references. For a discussion of their modes of presentation, see S. Elizur, Hazr
el ha-mazr, review of Mazr Pesa, ed. J. Fraenkel, Jewish Studies35 (1995):13740.
7 On the use of biblical references in early liturgical poetry, see W. van Bekkum, Zur
Verwendung der Bibel im klassischen Pijjut, in Bibel in jdischer und christlicher Tradition.
Festschrift fr Johann Maier zum 60. Geburtstag, ed. H. Merklein, K. Mller, and G. Stemberger,
22642 (Frankfurt am Main: Anton Hain, 1993).
4 Hollender and Yeshaya

style and innovated certain forms, the basic concept of poetic interaction with
the biblical text remained intact for several centuries. Beyond developing their
own exegetical concepts, these poets also drew on exegetical traditions that
were first transmitted in midrashm and continued to appear in renewed inter-
pretations throughout medieval and early modern times, thereby expanding
the repertoire of techniques and stylesthe relationships between the bib-
lical text, its exegesis, and poetry thus resonating as a basso continuo in an
ever-changing symphony. Poets were free to select which interpretations they
would incorporate into their works, whether to follow one exegete or combine
a range of sources, or even to present multiple interpretations of a biblical
phrase or narrative.8
Biblical exegesis was altered during this period as well, formally developing
from midrash to commentary, with methodologies that depended on the con-
text of its composition and its intended purpose. Especially in Karaite circles,
earlier exegetical traditions were rejected as new approaches were advanced.
However, some of the enduring exegetical challenges that invite interaction
with discussions of poetry remained constant over the centuriesfor instance,
some biblical texts employ figurative language, metaphors, and poetic con-
structions, while others feature terminology for the divine that was provoca-
tive to authors who were accustomed to avoiding anthropomorphism. On this
level, some questions posed by exegetes echoed those that were addressed by
poets who discussed their art, just as poetry offered a model for explaining the
linguistic features of a biblical text.9
All the scholars discussed in this volumewhether Karaites or Rabbanites,
known primarily as exegetes or poetsdisplay expert knowledge of biblical
language while harnessing the works of prior generations of exegetes, gram-
marians, lexicographers, and poets to swing the pendulum of exegetical

8 In cases where rabbinic literature presents two interpretations, Eleazar birabbi Qillir usually
managed to include both in his poems, cf. A. Grossman, Praise for R. Eleazar berabbi Qallir
in the Piyyut Commentary of R. J. Kara [in Hebrew], in Knesset Ezra: Literature and Life in the
Synagogue [in Hebrew], ed. S. Elizur et al., 293308 (Jerusalem: Yad Yitzhaq Ben Zvi, 1994). By
comparison, Simon ben Isaac typically rewrote a single passage from one midrash for each of
his sillqm.
9 Rabbinic literature treats some biblical texts as poetry, especially those designated as songs
in the biblical narrative. Even without addressing the formal issues that would dominate
later analysis of poetry, rabbinic exegesis was sensitive to poetic features, such as figurative
language and parallelism, in addition to ascribing historical significance to biblical songs,
cf.J. Goldin, This Song, in Studies in Midrash and Related Literature, ed. B.Eichler and
J.Tigay, 15161 (Philadelphia New York Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society, 1988).
Introduction 5

methodology10 closer to the plain message conveyed in the Hebrew Bible or


what earlier traditions had gleaned from it. Little difference emerges between
these Karaite and Rabbanite authors attitudes toward the biblical source text;
rather, they are divided by their views on interpretive methodology. Through
the application of one or more of the four typical rabbinic approaches to exe-
gesis contained in the acronym pards (psh, literal-contextual exegesis;
remez, allegory; drsh, figurative meaning; and, sd, mystery) or one of
the two signature Karaite methods of scriptural interpretation (heqsh, anal-
ogy; and, sel ha-yrushsh, the chain of (Karaite) tradition), an author
could, in a single commentary, stress a broad spectrum of exoteric and esoteric
meanings of a biblical passage.
Admittedly, caution should be exercised lest an intrinsic connection
between exegesis and poetry be automatically assumed. Indeed, the hermeneu-
tical approaches to the Hebrew Bible that typify its exegesis can be contrasted
with the general absence of efforts to explain the biblical text through poetry.11
Moreover, the shifts that bridged the biblical original to exegetical elucidation
or poetic rephrasing would inevitably lead to differing understandings ofthe
Bible and its authority among Karaites and Rabbanites. Nonetheless, both
thelanguage and content of the exegetical and poetic compositions discussed
in this volume suggest a broad array of possible and actual intertextual con-
nections between biblical sources and their interpretive layers. Of particular
relevance to this investigation into the nexus of exegesis and poetry are mech-
anisms for the production and transmission of exegetical traditions, including
the participation of medieval Jewish poets in these processes, an issue that
serves as a leitmotif throughout this volume.

10 This phrase is drawn from S. Japhet, The Pendulum of Exegetical Methodology: From
Peshat to Derash and Back, in Midrash Unbound: Transformations and Innovations,
ed.M.Fishbane and J. Weinberg, 24966 (Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish
Civilization, 2013).
11 For a volume that compares and contrasts the analytical method which characterizes
exegesis with the more synthetic approach of poetry, see W. Otten and K. Pollmann (eds.),
Poetry and Exegesis in Premodern Latin Christianity: The Encounter between Classical
and Christian Strategies of Interpretation (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2007), esp. p. 2: Exegesis
involves translating ancient texts (once established) into the desired modern receptor
language. It is essentially an analytical and derivative method; for instance, the assumed
existence or recognition of a metaphor would lead to its resolution to reveal the hidden
meaning beneath it. Poetry uses modes of language deemed adequate to communicate
particular views and feelings. It is of a fundamentally synthesizing and original nature;
e.g. the use of metaphor, as the very essence of poetry, conveys the quality of the experi-
ence behind it.
6 Hollender and Yeshaya

The contributions in this volume cross the literary boundaries of exegesis


and poetry, the religious boundaries of Karaite and Rabbanite Judaism,12 the
geographical boundaries of the Islamic world, the Byzantine Empire,and
Christian Europe, and the chronological boundaries of the medieval
andearly modern periods. This span provides the backdrop for the integrated
geographical-chronological structure of this volume, which is divided into
four sections (1: From Jerusalem to Alexandria; 2. From Granada to Sanaa;
3.From Constantinople to Candia; and, 4. From Istanbul to Trakai); as these
titles indicate, each section is dedicated to a geographical range, and within
each one the papers are presented chronologically. This ordering of material
is more than an organizational scheme; rather, it is a methodological recom-
mendation: this topic should be studied region by region, period by period,
and author by author, as well as in relation to the literatures of their majority
cultures.13
The papers in the first section, From Jerusalem to Alexandria, focus primar-
ily on the vibrant poetic and exegetical traditions of tenth-century Palestine
under Muslim rule. First, Wout van Bekkum and Naoya Katsumata (Singing
Songs about Songs: Biblical and Exegetical Interconnections in Three Hebrew
Hymns for Ym Vayysha [the Seventh Day of Passover]) examine three exten-
sive Hebrew hymns that were all composed for the same holiday, the Seventh
Day of Passover, and based on two biblical texts that feature prominently in
their poetic structure: two sdrm whose authors are unidentified and a third

12 The inclusion of this volume in the Karaite Texts and Studies series is part of a larger pro-
cess that has been described by a leading scholar of Karaite culture as follows: The con-
tinued production of Karaite texts and studies is a welcome sign that scholarly interest in
this subject remains strong. As more and more Karaitica is available, the close affinities
with Rabbanite Judaica will become even clearer. Furthermore, as students of rabbinic
Judaism discover the treasures that await them in Karaite literature, it will be possible to
mainstream Karaite studies into Jewish studies and the field will no longer be restricted
toa few specialists. See Daniel Laskers review of recent research in Karaitica in the
Journal of Jewish Studies 65/2 (2014): 438.
13 Two recent volumes apply a far-reaching comparative approach that considers Jewish,
Christian, and Muslim exegesis together: R. Szpiech (ed.), Medieval Exegesis & Religious
Difference: Commentary, Conflict, and Community in the Premodern Mediterranean
(New York: Fordham University Press, 2015); M. Cohen and A. Berlin (eds.), Interpreting
Scriptures in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: Overlapping Inquiries (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2016). The latter includes papers by contributors to this
volume: Mordechai Cohen on Emergence of the Rule of Peshat in Jewish Bible Exegesis
and Words of Eloquence: Rhetoric and Poetics in Jewish Peshat Exegesis in its Muslim
and Christian Contexts; and, Meira Polliack on Deconstructing the Dual Torah: A Jewish
Response to the Muslim Model of Scripture.
Introduction 7

sder which belongs to the oeuvre of Samuel the Third (late tenth to early elev-
enth century), a prominent literary figure and Rabbanite leader of Palestinian
Jewry. By integrating the Song of the Sea (Exod 15) and the Song of Songs, the
major passages associated with that holiday, each of these authors relied on
exegetical traditions to give voice to his own poetic impression. Through close
examination of the paleographical, structural, literary, and thematic features
of these three compositions, van Bekkum and Katsumata explore their simi-
larities and differences, and demonstrate that individual preferences and exe-
getical traditions from rabbinic sources co-exist in works of this genre. Their
analysis further confirms that the language and content of these hymns pres-
ent a sophisticated intertextuality with canonical biblical texts while also dis-
playing varying levels of congruence with midrashic interpretations.
In the following paper, Sivan Nir and Meira Polliack (Many Beautiful
Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison: On the Medieval
Interaction View of Biblical Metaphor) focus on the most influential Karaite
exegete of the tenth-century Jerusalem school, Yefet ben Eli. In this analysis
of a rich sampling of Yefets interpretation of metaphors and similesdrawn
from his edited works on Hosea, Nahum, Habakkuk, and the Song of Songs
Nir and Polliack show that Yefet held an interaction view of metaphor, rather
than the more common substitution view adhered to by the majority of
medieval Jewish poets and exegetes. That is to say, Yefet did not subscribe to
a form-content dichotomy that defines figurative language as decorative garb
that signals a specific, literal meaning. Rather, he emphasized that the inter-
pretation of a metaphor can yield numerous meanings that depend upon its
interaction with the other verses in its immediate context. This study also com-
pares the contextual approach evident in Yefets works to his view of metaphor
as attested in his Arabic Bible translations and to the methods used by other
medieval Jewish exegetes, especially the Rabbanite David Qimis (11601235)
midrash-influenced view of metaphor. Nir and Polliack also identify several
research desiderata, including an inquiry into the Karaite contribution to
medieval Jewish poetics, and an examination of whether Yefets view of meta-
phor influenced later Hebrew poetry, particularly the work of the Karaite poet
Moses Dar (twelfth century; Alexandria).
The next section, From Granada to Sanaa, considers the acclaimed
Andalusian exegetical and poetic tradition, and its offshoot in Yemen. First,
Mordechai Cohen (The Distinction of Creative Ability (Fal al-ibd): From
Poetics to Legal Hermeneutics in Moses Ibn Ezra) scrutinizes significant
remarks on the intellectual creativity of prophets and legal scholars by the
poet and literary critic Moses ibn Ezra (born ca. 1055 in Granada) from his
well-known book on poetics, Kitb al-muara wa-l-mudhkara (The Book
8 Hollender and Yeshaya

of Discussion and Conversation). In these statements Ibn Ezra, who was deeply
immersed in the scholarly Muslim discourse of his times, touches upon funda-
mental aspects of legal hermeneutical theory as it developed in the Andalusian
tradition and culminated in the system devised by Moses Maimonides
(11381204), whose work is considered by way of comparison. In light of recent
scholarship on the connections between halakhic concepts and terms bor-
rowed from Muslim jurisprudence, Cohen explores the unique poetic perspec-
tive on this subject articulated by Ibn Ezra. It is noteworthy that, in contrast to
Yefet ben Eli, Ibn Ezra subscribed to a form-content dichotomy and substitu-
tion view of metaphor, informed by Arabic poetics in its Andalusian context.
Thus, even this famous poet, who asserted that the Hebrew term for prophet
actually meant poet, considered poetic embellishments by ancient Israelite
prophets to be little more than ornamentation and, furthermore, argued that
legal scholars have an exclusive claim to true creativity or the distinction of
creative ability. In other words, for Moses ibn Ezra, legal exegesis comprised a
loftier intellectual activity than poetry.
In the next essay, Haviva Ishay (The Biblical Exegesis of Abraham Ibn
Ezra as a Hermeneutical Device: A Literary Riddle as a Case Study) shows
how Abraham ibn Ezras biblical exegesis can serve as an effective tool for
elucidating the hermeneutical essence of his secular poetry, in casu a famous
poetic riddle on the four quiescent letters. Specifically, Ishay demonstrates
how knowledge of the authors exegetical oeuvre supports the readers abil-
ity to interpret the language of the riddle and to associate the intentionally
obscure phrases with its solution. Ishay expounds this riddle through the lens
of literary theory by invoking thinkers such as Schleiermacher (17681834),
Heidegger (18891976), and Mukaovsk (18911975). Above all, she relies on
Gadamer (19002002), for whom interpretation is not simply an act of reveal-
ing truths (in this case, deciphering the riddle), but rather a process that is
re-enacted with every reading through a dialogue between reader and text.
The Gadamerian approach advanced by Ishay deems the interpretive process
a merging of horizons whereby the knowledge horizons of the reader and the
text become fused.
In the final contribution to this section Adena Tanenbaum (The Uses
ofScripture in Zechariah al-hirs Sfer ha-msr) discusses the topic of
this collection in relation to her current research on Zechariah al-hirs
sixteenth-century Yemenite Hebrew maqma entitled Sfer ha-msr
(The Book of Moral Instruction). Tanenbaum shows how al-hir contributed
to the production and transmission of exegetical traditions in late medieval
Yemen, not only via his biblical exegesisof which only one work is extant,
Sfer d la-derekh (A Book of Provisions for the Road)but also, in a more
Introduction 9

sophisticated way, by means of his literary masterpiece Sfer ha-msr.


Tanenbaum emphasizes that this unique rhymed-prose narrative, interspersed
with formal verse (maqma), was by no means intended to be a formal exe-
getical work. Indeed, she distinguishes between the methodical quality of
al-hirs Torah commentary and the more capricious style of his poetry and
rhymed prose. Yet even in Sfer ha-msr al-hir occasionally managed to
exploit his rich use of biblical language for exegetical ends. Moreover, his lit-
erary writing was informed in part by the Maimonidean philosophical orien-
tation of his Torah commentary, which was in turn inspired by the broader
exegetical preferences of contemporaneous Yemenite Jewry. Given that he was
attuned to the greater intellectualparticularly kabbalistictrends of his day
that were emerging in other areas of the Jewish world, al-hir seems to have
been primarily committed to interpreting esoteric concepts in the Hebrew
Bible by means of the full stock of literary strategies at his disposal, including
his prose exegesis and his compositions in poetry and rhymed prose.
The exegetical, liturgical, and poetic developments in the Byzantine Empire
are at the fore in the third section, From Constantinople to Candia. It opens
with a paper by Daniel Lasker (The Interplay of Poetry and Exegesis in Judah
Hadassis Eshkl ha-kfer), in which he draws on a research project being
conducted with colleagues from Freie Universitt Berlin on Eshkl ha-kfer
(The Cluster of Henna Blossoms), a massive Hebrew compendium of Karaite
scholarship, organized according to the Ten Commandments, which was writ-
ten by Judah Hadassi in mid-twelfth century Constantinople. In addition to his
treatment of particular poetic techniques (alphabetical acrostics and internal
rhymes) that appear in Eshkl ha-kfer, Lasker investigates the extent to which
Hadassis consistent use of rhymed prose contributes to his exegesis in this
work. Lasker shows how its elaborate poetic style (mls)which occasion-
ally compels Hadassi to opt for unusual Hebrew expressions, repetition and
imprecise languagecan hinder the presentation of biblical interpretations
and the treatment of exegetical methodologies more than it supports them.
On the other hand, by virtue of this challenging Hebrew style (interspersed
with occasional passages in Judaeo-Greek), Eshkl ha-kfer emerged as the
foremost literary remnant of twelfth-century Byzantine Karaism. Obviously its
formalthat it to say, poeticaspect supported the reception of this work
and thereby facilitated the transmission of its exegetical content.
In the next paper Joachim Yeshaya (Aaron ben Josephs Poem for Prshat
Yitr Considered in Light of His Torah Commentary Sfer ha-mir) scru-
tinizes the exegetical and poetic methods of Aaron ben Joseph, the lead-
ing Byzantine Karaite intellectual of the late thirteenth to early fourteenth
centuries. Yeshaya reassesses Aarons poems for the prsht in light of the
10 Hollender and Yeshaya

exegetical materials that they containnamely, words and phrases that also
appear in his Torah commentary, Sfer ha-mir. Beyond the identification
of such direct links between Aarons poetry and exegesis, this essay also takes
into consideration the reception of Aarons oeuvre in Byzantine, Ottoman, and
Eastern European Karaite scholarly circles and seeks to clarify which exegeti-
cal traditions were known to Karaites of Aarons era. His conversance with east-
ern Karaite and western Rabbanite sources in Judaeo-Arabic appears to have
been based on Hebrew translations, some of which are not currently extant.
Nevertheless, Aarons writings indicate his direct familiarity with Hebrew exe-
getical works, particularly by Abraham ibn Ezra.
In the final contribution to this section, Saskia Dnitz (Shemarya ha-Ikriti
and the Karaite Exegetical Challenge) presents the initial results of Shemarya
ha-Ikriti and the Intellectual Cosmos of the Byzantine Jews in the Fourteenth
Century, a research project that she is conducting under the auspices of the
Department for Jewish Studies of Goethe University Frankfurt. The Byzantine
Rabbanite scholar, Shemarya ha-Ikriti (Shemarya the Cretan; born before
1300 in Rome or Candia [Crete], died ca. 1360), is known as a translator of
Greek literature, an author of exegetical, philosophical, and theological works,
and a composer of liturgical and secular poetry. With fourteenth-century
Byzantine culture and the rapprochement of Karaites and Rabbanites in his
lifetime in the background, Dnitz compares Shemaryas exegetical methods
to Abraham ibn Ezras on the one hand, and to Aaron the Elders and Aaron
the Youngers on the other. This comparison suggests that Shemaryas oeuvre
reflects debates between Karaites and Rabbanites in his milieu; for example,
on the definition of psh (how to arrive at the plain meaning of the bibli-
cal text). Shemaryas claim that he used exegesis to heal the rift between com-
peting Jewish groups, including Karaites who had challenged the authority of
Rabbanite teachings, affirms that Karaite exegesis and Rabbanite exegesis were
inextricably entwined in fourteenth-century Byzantium and, as such, need to
be studied together. Dnitz focuses this analysis on exegesis, favoring this more
contested field of intellectual activity in medieval Mediterranean Judaism over
Shemaryas less impressive poetry.
In the final section, From Istanbul to Trakai, literary, religious, geographic,
and chronological boundaries are crossed yet again. Philip Millers essay (The
Methods of Judah Gibbors Biblical Exegesis in Minat Yhd) is a revised
version of Chapter Three of Millers At the Twilight of Byzantine Karaism: The
Anachronism of Judah Gibbor (PhD dissertation from New York University,
1984; revised and updated by Elisabeth Hollender and Joachim Yeshaya).14

14 The editors extend their gratitude to Philip Miller for allowing to revise and publish his
paper here, and to Michael Wechsler for recommending its inclusion in this volume.
Introduction 11

This paper examines the exegetical methods used by Judah Gibbor (second
half of the fifteenth century through the first or second decade of the six-
teenth century), one of the leading Karaite scholars in early-Ottoman Istanbul
(previously Byzantine Constantinople), in Sfer minat Yhd (The Book of
Judahs Offering), a poetic paraphrase of the Torah in 1912 verses. Miller com-
pares this work to Elijah Bashyatchis poem Mlat ha-mivt (The Eloquence
of the Commandments) and to two earlier Karaite poetic cycles on the prsht
composed by Moses Dar and Aaron ben Joseph, respectively. He also reviews
the methods of interpretation used by Gibbor, from Rabbanite drsh, remez,
and sd, to the Karaite categories of heqsh and sel ha-yrushsh. Gibbors
exegetical orientation as well as his broad knowledge of Rabbanite sources
in various fields (aggd, halakhah, science and philosophy, and mysticism)
are unparalleled among his Karaite contemporaries, thus attesting to his com-
bined Karaite and Rabbanite education. From the seventeenth century into
the eighteenth century Gibbors exceptional poem became a subject of study
and commentary in Eastern European Karaite scholarly circles.
In the following article, Riikka Tuori (The One Who Defeats the Power
ofthe Stars: Medieval Exegetics in Polish-Lithuanian Karaite Poetry) evaluates
the usage of medieval exegetical terminology in seventeenth- and eighteenth-
century Karaite zmrt from Poland and Lithuania. This corpus of Hebrew
hymns formed the subject of Tuoris Karaite Zmrt in Poland-Lithuania:
A Study of Paraliturgical Poems from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth
Centuries (PhD dissertation from the University of Helsinki, 2013). Against
the backdrop of Polish-Lithuanian Karaite literary culture, Tuori introduces
one poem each from four of their foremost poets: Zera ben Nathan, Ezra ben
Nissan, Joseph ben Isaac, and Joseph ben Samuel. Together with other Polish-
Lithuanian and Crimean Karaite poets, these writers authored a significant por-
tion of the poems collected in the fourth volume of the Karaite prayer book
(in addition to their inclusion in various Eastern European manuscripts). Tuori
identifies literary connections between these poems and well-known medieval
Karaite and Rabbanite Bible commentaries. Despite substantial lacunae in doc-
umentation regarding the transmission of exegetical knowledge, Karaite exe-
getical traditions were indeed transferred from classical Judaeo-Arabic works
into Hebrew translations from the medieval Byzantine Empire, to early modern
Karaite authors (including poets) in Eastern Europe (for instance, Trakai/Troki
in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). Given that a wealth of early modern
poetry was published in the Karaite prayer book, this genre is one of the rare
sources that enables scholars to gauge the role of medieval exegetical knowl-
edge among Karaites in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth and Crimea.
This section closes with an article by Elisabeth Hollender (Berakha ben
Josephs Commentary on the Piyym by Aaron ben Joseph) which examines
12 Hollender and Yeshaya

Sfer aam (A Book of Good Taste), written in mid-eighteenth century


Crimea by Berakha ben Joseph ha-Kohen. This sui generis Karaite commen-
tary on liturgical poetry engages the poetics of Aaron ben Joseph, showcas-
ing the continuity of Karaite tradition in both poetry and exegesis. This paper
thus complements Joachim Yeshayas essay in the prior section and, yet again,
underscores the importance of medieval literature for early modern Karaites.
The absence of references to the formal aspects of Aarons poetry signals that
Berakha did not intend to praise Aaron as a poet but rather as an exegete. On
the basis of Berakhas explanation of his motivation for composing Sfer
aam, Hollender construes his work as a supercommentary, that is to say, a
commentary on Aarons poems that represent a versified commentary on the
biblical text. Berakha thus elevated the status of Aarons liturgical poems to
thelevel of his biblical commentary, Sfer ha-mir, as part of the Karaite cul-
tural heritage which, centuries later, was still deemed authoritative and signifi-
cant enough to be studied, commented upon, and transferred from medieval
Byzantium to early modern Eastern Europe. As such, Sfer aam epito-
mizes the Karaite culture of the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries in both
Crimea and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and it sheds new light on
the understanding of exegesis and poetry among these intellectual elites.
To conclude, the studies collected in this volume, written by experts in
medieval Jewish poetry and biblical exegesis, reveal numerous aspects of the
complex interaction between exegesis and poetry that characterized medieval
and early modern Hebrew and Judaeo-Arabic literature. Together, they present
a mlange of Karaite and Rabbanite approaches to exegesis and poetry, inas-
much as they compare interpretive modes in prose exegesis and in multiple
forms of poetry and rhymed prose that incorporate exegetical interpretations,
techniques, and terminology.

Bibliography

Alfonso, E. Islamic Culture through Jewish Eyes: Al-Andalus from the Tenth to Twelfth
Century. London New York: Routledge, 2008.
van Bekkum, W. Zur Verwendung der Bibel im klassischen Pijjut. In Bibel in jdischer
und christlicher Tradition. Festschrift fr Johann Maier zum 60. Geburtstag, edited
by H. Merklein, K. Mller, and G. Stemberger, 22642. Frankfurt am Main: Anton
Hain, 1993.
Chavel, H. (ed.) Hizqn. Prsh ha-Tr l-R. Hezekiah ben Manoah. Jerusalem:
Mossad HaRav Kook, 1980.
Introduction 13

Cohen, M. and A. Berlin (eds.) Interpreting Scriptures in Judaism, Christianity, and


Islam: Overlapping Inquiries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
Elizur, S. Hazr el ha-mazr, review of Mazr Pesa, edited by J. Fraenkel, Jewish
Studies35 (1995):13740.
Goldin, J. This Song. In Studies in Midrash and Related Literature, edited by B. Eichler
and J. Tigay, 15161. Philadelphia-New York-Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society,
1988.
Grossman, A. Praise for R. Eleazar berabbi Qallir in the Piyyut Commentary of
R.J.Kara [in Hebrew]. In Knesset Ezra: Literature and Life in the Synagogue [in
Hebrew], edited by S. Elizur et al., 293308. Jerusalem: Yad Yitzhaq Ben Zvi, 1994.
. The School of Literal Jewish Exegesis in Northern France. In Hebrew Bible, Old
Testament: The History of its Interpretation, Vol. IFrom the Beginnings to the Middle
Ages (until 1300), Part 2The Middle Ages, edited by M. Sb and C.Brekelmans,
32176. Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000.
Japhet, S. The Pendulum of Exegetical Methodology: From Peshat to Derash and Back.
In Midrash Unbound: Transformations and Innovations, edited by M. Fishbane and
J.Weinberg, 24966. Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2013.
Kanarfogel, E. The Intellectual History and Rabbinic Culture of Medieval Ashkenaz.
Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2013.
Morag, S. Rhyme Patterns of Yemenite Poets and the Question of the Attribution of
Midrash ha-gdl to R. David al-Adani [in Hebrew]. In Msrt ha-lshn ha-irt
v-ha-lshn ha- rmt she-b-f yhd Tmn, edited by Y. Tobi, 26166. Tel Aviv:
Afikim, 2002.
Otten, W. and K. Pollmann (eds.) Poetry and Exegesis in Premodern Latin Christianity:
The Encounter between Classical and Christian Strategies of Interpretation. Leiden
Boston: Brill, 2007.
Szpiech R. (ed.) Medieval Exegesis & Religious Difference: Commentary, Conflict, and
Community in the Premodern Mediterranean. New York: Fordham University
Press,2015.
Part 1
From Jerusalem to Alexandria


Singing Songs about Songs: Biblical and
Exegetical Interconnections in Three Hebrew
Hymns for Ym Vayysha (the Seventh Day
ofPassover)

Wout van Bekkum and Naoya Katsumata

Abstract

In this paper we focus on three lengthy Hebrew compositions (sdrm) for the
Seventh Day of Passover that commemorate the divine salvation of the people of
Israel from the Egyptians. These works draw on the closing verses of Exod 14, start-
ing with the word vayysha and [God] delivered, and continuing through the Song
of the Sea (Exod 15). The requisite biblical verses, mainly openings from the Song
of Songs, are identical in each sder, thus framing many parallels for the investiga-
tion of piyyic compliance with form, structure, and frequently shared themes. The
common liturgical context of these compositions justifies an exploration of these
themes, with some having been drawn from rabbinic sources and others represent-
ing innovations by the poets themselves. These thematic similarities prompt us to
investigate the extent to which their authors were familiar with one anothers writ-
ings. Furthermore, the very existence of these elaborate sdrm for Ym Vayysha
suggests that this occasion had been marked with distinctive liturgical customs.
Thus, in this essay, we aim to demonstrate that these three composers (Samuel the
Third among them) were linked by their transmission of common exegetical per-
spectives on the themes of this festival day, while each of them was also committed
to expressing a unique voice by applying his own rhetorical and lyrical skills in these
liturgical songs.

In A Miscellany of Poems by Several Hands (1731), John Husbands articulates his


interest in developing liturgical poetry in English as follows:

To praise God however in the worthiest manner, we must copy after those
representations we have of Him in the Holy Bibles, where He has been
pleased to descend in some measure to human eyes, and is become more
familiar to mankind. There the inspired authors have left us the noblest
examples of this divine kind of writing. We have not only a religion but

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004334786_003


18 VAN Bekkum and Katsumata

also a language from heaven. There poetry is the handmaid of piety, and
eloquence sits beside the throne of truth.1

When creating hymns for Jewish liturgy, paynm (Hebrew liturgical poets)
were united by a commitment to the Bible in its primary contextual sense.2
Paynm throughout the generations maintained their allegiance to the con-
ventions of that rich tradition while composing poetry on its basis. Each of
them embraced the principle that their hymns should praise God with maxi-
mal dignity. This devotion to God is represented in their distinctive choice of
language, a poetic Hebrew that was considered suitable for compositions to be
read and recited as elements of synagogue prayer. However, the shift from the
biblical original to poetic rephrasing inevitably touched on differing under-
standings of biblical texts and their authority. Over the centuries, piyyic
Hebrew usage met with varying degrees of approval and criticism, yet such
expressions of Jewish hymnology should not be read as a complete break with
biblical tradition. Both the language and content of individual compositions
imply a sophisticated intertextual relationship with the underlying biblical
sources and their conventional interpretations.3 In all genres of piyy, ver-
batim biblical quotations are incorporated with regard to the themes of the
Sabbath or festival for which a given poem was written. These explicit quota-
tions often have a designated place within each poetic framework: for exam-
ple, in the qdsht, chains of biblical versesdirect references to the Torah
and hafr portions of that specific dayimmediately follow the strophes
of its three initial piyym. This pattern offers a salient demonstration of the

1 Oxford: Leon Lichfield, 1731. On the biography of John Husbands, see R. Crane, An Early
Eighteenth-Century Enthusiast for Primitive Poetry: John Husbands, Modern Language
Notes 37/1 (1922): 2736. Like many of his predecessors, Husbands presents biblical Hebrew
poetics as a form of primitive poetry for which English religious verse should compensate:
D. Norton, A History of the English Bible as Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2000), 202.
2 For an early example of a similar study, see A. Feldman, The Bible in Neo-Hebraic Poetry,
The Jewish Quarterly Review 11/4 (1899): 56984.
3 See D. Boyarin, Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash (Bloomington-Indianapolis:
Indiana University Press, 1994), esp. pp. 10515; R. Hays, S. Alkier, and L. Huizenga, Reading
the Bible Intertextually (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009), 4147; P. Lehnardt, Studies in the
Emergence of the Tradition of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry in Italy (Ph.D. Ben-Gurion University
of the Negev, 2006), 181260; idem, Redactions of the Prayer Book according to the Italian
Rite: First Reconsiderations on the Basis of the Different Outlines of the Liturgical Poetry,
Italia20 (2010): 3166; E. Hollender, Piyyut Commentary in Medieval Ashkenaz (Berlin: Walter
de Gruyter, 2008), 81104.
Singing Songs about Songs 19

connection between Bible and piyy.4 Elsewhere in the qdsht, biblical


terminology may supply the opening words for poetic sections. Beyond these
discrete insertions, the contents of these poetic texts are replete with allusions
to biblical phrases and terms. Specific knnym (appellations) are consis-
tently used to represent personal and geographic names. While their degree of
adherence to Bible texts varies with the culture, we see similar approaches to
continuity with and renewal of the biblical heritage in Byzantine and Islamic
Palestine, Babylonia, Andalusia, Italy, and Ashkenaz. Paynm relied strongly
on the Bible and Midrash for poetic inspiration and for authority, in addition
to the rabbis, translators, and commentators of the late antique and medieval
synagogue.5 This preoccupation with the Hebrew Bible is a vital element of
both traditionalism and convention in piyy which, naturally, are major fac-
tors in each literary genre in Jewish religious life.6
However, the Jewish hymnist was hardly an automaton who followed rab-
binic instructions and communal preferences without regard for his own
artistic or aesthetic principles. Piyym were often recited with signature mel-
odies, although we know little of their performance in the early Middle Ages.7
Undoubtedly, piyym would have been cherished by congregants who looked
forward to hearing them in synagogue on an annual basis. This repertoire was
also made popular through its introduction to other communities and its
inclusion in liturgical codices and mazrm. We are able to chart the histori-
cal trajectory of certain piyym as they traveled from community to commu-
nity and influenced local composers who would add these newly encountered

4 S. Elizur, Series of Biblical Verses in Hebrew Prayers and Liturgical Poetry [in Hebrew],
Ginzei Qedem, Genizah Research Annual 5 (2009): 963, esp. pp. 4757.
5 W. van Bekkum, Zur Verwendung der Bibel im klassischen Pijjut, in Bibel in jdischer
und christlicher Tradition. Festschrift fr Johann Maier zum 60. Geburtstag, ed. H. Merklein,
K.Mller, and G. Stemberger, 22642 (Frankfurt am Main: Anton Hain, 1993).
6 The Hebrew Bible itself may have been the catalyst for the development of Jewish hym-
nography given its abundance of poetic texts, including entire books (such as Psalms and
Song of Songs); cf. J. Kugel, The Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallellism and Its History (Baltimore:
John Hopkins University Press, 1981), 149256. Josephus, Eusebius, and Jerome discuss bibli-
cal books that are written partially or entirely in verse. Curtius believed that recognition of
poetic books in the Bible allowed for the activity of new Christian poets in late Antiquity.
Jerome envisioned a type of Christian poetics that would be considered a form of biblical
exegesis. These and similar considerations pertain to this analysis of these three Hebrew
hymns for the Seventh Day of Passover.
7 Yannais compositions include refrains that may have been sung by choirs: E. Fleischer,
Hebrew Liturgical Poetry in the Middle Ages [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Keter, 1975; repr.
Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2007), 18893.
20 VAN Bekkum and Katsumata

poems to an existing collection. Some of these compositions are outstanding


for their poetic qualities and their abiding roles in various liturgical traditions.
Such exemplars include piyym by Eleazar birabbi Qillir (first half of the sev-
enth century; Palestine), whose tfillat al for Passover and qdsht for Yom
Kippur each have an enduring place in Ashkenazic rites. Judah Halevis
( Zion, Will You Not Inquire?) holds a similar status in Sefardic tradition,
although soon after crossing the religious-cultural boundary into Ashkenaz
this most famous song established itself in this liturgical realm as well; it has
been imitated by numerous poets and hymnists through the present.8
Nevertheless, it is not always possible to trace the popularity of specific
piyym. The compositions by Yannai (sixth century; Palestine) serve as a case
in point. From the Cairo Geniza, we know that his oeuvre numbered over one
thousand hymns. We can safely infer its major influence on the piyyuic stan-
dards of Byzantine Judaism and, as his Judaeo-Arabic appellation the well-
known Yannai (Yannai al-marf) attests, that effect extended into theIslamic
period.9 The reverse pattern seems to have occurred in the case of Saadya
Gaon (tenth century; near Baghdad), the great philosopher and scholar who
standardized prayer traditions in his community to far-reaching effect. Few
of his piyym were incorporated into the Babylonian liturgy; moreover, his
renowned composition ( I Shall Take Up My Discourse) reveals
Saadyas ambivalence toward poetics. We have little evidence of the extent
to which this treatise was accepted as poetry or recited as liturgical poetry,
but, given Saadyas standing during his own lifetime and across Jewish history,
scholars may have felt compelled to accept as a poetic-linguistic
work of art.10

8 E. Hollender, Zion, Will you not Inquire after the Well-being of your Miserable Ones?:
Medieval Qinot from Ashkenaz, in Das kulturelle Profil der SCHUM-Gemeinden, ed.
K.Grzinger, 26174 (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 2014); J. Yahalom, Yehuda
Halevi, Poetry and Pilgrimage (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2009), 8597.
9 M. Zulay, Eretz Israel and Its Poetry: Studies in Piyyutim from the Cairo Genizah [in Hebrew],
ed. E. azan (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1995), 94; Y. Tobi, The Poetics and Linguistics of
Rav Saadyah Gaon in his Grammatical Compositions [in Hebrew], Sfnt 2 (17): 313:
( The poetry of the well-known Yannai); idem, Proximity and Distance,
Medieval Hebrew and Arabic Poetry (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2004), 15860.
10 
W. van Bekkum and N. Katsumata, Importance of Saadia Gaons Poetry for the
Construction of a Dictionary of Early Medieval Piyyut: The Example of Essa Meshali,
Journal of Semitic Studies 56/1 (2011): 14565.
Singing Songs about Songs 21

1 Three Hebrew Hymns: Forms and Patterns

The three lengthy Hebrew hymns that are the focus of this studyfrom a genre
known as sder lm (or sder, as throughout this paper)were written close
to Saadyas lifetime. Let us first consider their authors. While the composers of
the first two sdrm ( and

, henceforth referred to as Sder One and Sder Two) are unknown, extant
manuscripts convey general information regarding their identities: these poets
may bear the names Yehudah and Eli, respectively.11 By contrast, the author of
( henceforth referred to as Sder Three) is Samuel
the Third (late-tenth to early-eleventh century; Palestine), whose biography as
a prominent literary figure and leader of Palestinian Jewry has been relatively
well preserved.12
Despite our overall knowledge of the biography of Samuel the Third, we lack
conclusive indications for the dating of this works composition or its appear-
ance in Jewish liturgy; evidence from his career, moreover, offers limited sup-
port for our query. However, this analysis of the order of composition for these
sdrm for Vayysha draws from palaeographical arguments that emerged
from the reconstruction of Mazr Ere Yisrl. Recent research has estab-
lished that a fragment from Sder One appears in this mazr, which has been
dated to circa the ninth or early-tenth century.
From this starting point, we may infer that Sder One was authored prior to
Sder Three on the basis of Samuels signed compositions: in lines 571599 of
his sder Samuel incorporated an onomastic
(Samuel, the Fourth in the Academy, son of Hoshana). Since Samuel signed
a document from November 10, 1004 as ( Samuel,
the Third in the Academy Birabbi)a demonstration that Samuels elevation
in the ranks of the gaonic academy had taken place by 1004his acrostic sig-
nature in Sder Three alludes to an earlier stage in his career, closer to 1001.
Some scholarly discussions are rooted in the assumption that Sder Two was

11 For more on Sder One, cf. W. van Bekkum, Shir Ha-Shirim, a Medieval Hebrew Poem
for the Seventh Day of Passover, Dutch Studies in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures
1 (1995): 2184; idem, Additions to Seder Shir Ha-Shirim, a Medieval Hebrew Poem for
the Seventh Day of Passover, Dutch Studies in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures 4
(1999): 8794; for more on Sder Two, cf. W. van Bekkum and N. Katsumata, Divine Love
and the Salvation of Israel: A New Composition for the Seventh Day of Passover, Ginzei
Qedem, Genizah Research Annual 10 (2014): 4597.
12 J. Yahalom and N. Katsumata (eds.), Yotserot for Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Festivals
Indices [in Hebrew] (vol. 2 of The Yotserot of R. Samuel the Third, A Leading Figure in
Jerusalem of the Tenth Century, Jerusalem: Yad Itzhak Ben-Zvi, 2014), 84992.
22 VAN Bekkum and Katsumata

composed by a later copyist and poet, Eli ben Yeezkel (eleventh century). This
would imply that Sder Two was composed after Samuel the Third wrote Sder
Three, a hypothesis that seems unlikely in our estimation. Rather, the consid-
erable presence of direct parallels between Sder Two and SderOne supports
the notion that these anonymous sdrm have closer links to oneanother
than either shares with Samuels sder. Therefore, our numeric label for these
sdrm probably reflects the chronology of their composition and, thus, offers
the best option for this study.
Now that scholarly editions of these three hymns for the Seventh Day of
Passover have been published, this is an opportune time to explore their simi-
larities and contrasts. We lack documentation of when the writers and edi-
tors of the synagogue liturgy designated the Song of the Sea (Exod 15) as the
scriptural reading for the Seventh Day of Passover, prefaced by the preceding
pair of narrative verses (Exod 14: 3031): Thus God delivered (vayysha) Israel
on that day out of the hand of Egypt, and Israel saw Egypt lying dead upon
the seashore. Israel saw the great work which God did upon Egypt, and the
people feared God, and believed in God and in His servant Moses. In Geniza
manuscripts that day is explicitly referred to as Ym Vayysha ( , the
day [whose] Torah reading begins with and God delivered [Israel]). The liter-
ary qualities of the Song of the Sea and synagogue hymnology may have moti-
vated paynm to engage the narrative of this miraculous rescue of Israel from
Egyptian rule.
By the sixth century, Byzantine piyy demonstrates usage of the Song of
Songs as a verse-by-verse framework for lengthy poems wherein predomi-
nantly midrashic elements are combined to form rhyming strophes. Much
as scholars have been unable to confirm a decisive connection between the
liturgical reading of the Song of the Sea and the Seventh Day of Passover, so
too the reading and subsequent exposition of the Song of Songs pertainto
the general themes of Passover without conveying a distinct relationship
toits seventh day. Over the centuries, the connection between the liturgy for
Passover (and, especially for Vayysha) and the Song of Songs seems to have
become strengthened and extended. Thus, in the oeuvre of Joseph ben ayyim
al-Baradn (tenth century; Baghdad), we find four yr compositions based
on the Song of Songs: two for the first day of Passover and one for the seventh
day (the fourth one is for Shabbt Rsh desh).13 The tenth century seems to

13 T. Beeri, The Great Cantor of Baghdad: The Liturgical Poems of Joseph ben Hayyim
al-Baradani [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute-Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
2002), 2812, 4068, 436.
Singing Songs about Songs 23

mark the period when paynm in Palestine and neighboring countries honed
their poetic skills by authoring lengthy Hebrew compositions based on the
Torah reading for Vayysha.
Although several earlier poems also address this biblical portion for
Passover, why the composers of these three hymns chose to follow a model
with such structural rigidity remains an open question. This poetic form seems
to have been derived from a prototype that is characterized by the division of
four-and three-line strophes with full alphabetical acrostics (in sequential or
reverse order). Even more striking is its consistent pattern of positioning Bible
quotations as headings and endings within each strophe. The combination of
strophes establishes a distinctive pattern of fifteen-line stanzaic units that are
repeated forty times, comprising a six-hundred line composition:

........./ >Song<
........./
........./ >quote<
>quote<

........./ >Song<
........./
........./ >quote<
>quote<

........./ >Song<
........./
........./ >quote<
>anadiplosis> <quote<

........./> anadiplosis<
........./
>quote Exod / quote Judg<

The particular form of this stanza and the consistent presence of Bible quota-
tions may have been viewed by these three poets as both authoritative and
inspirational. The stanzas in this composition are interconnected by headings
that are comprised of consecutive verses from the Song of Songs. The final
three-line strophe is linked to the previous quatrain via anadiplosis (Hebrew
): the concluding word of the biblical quotation is immediately repeated
as the first word of the final strophe. Additionally, the third line of each strophe
24 VAN Bekkum and Katsumata

cites a heading from one of ten biblical songs that echo midrashic traditions.14
The series of verses differ slightly in each sder, but they all share the key words
or ( the feminine and masculine forms of song), terms that form the
foundational terms in the midrashic canon of biblical songs.15 Two of these Ten
Songs, the Song of the Sea and the Song of Deborah, have augmented roles due
to their liturgical tie to this holy day. Each of the forty fifteen-line stanzas ends
with a heading from either the Song of the Sea plus its aforementioned narra-
tive preface (Exod 14:3031; 15:118) or Judg 5:120; the headings from these two
biblical passages appear in alternating stanzas. Beyond their thematic links,
each heading defines the rhyme scheme for its stanza.
The Song of the Sea has been integral to Jewish liturgy from the nascent
stages of its development. The third blessing in the Shmawhich imme-
diately follows its biblical sections and speaks of God as the redeemer of
Israelincludes Exod 15:11 and 18; these two verses have appeared in this

14 Mkhlt de-rabbi Yishml b-shalla, Massekht de-shr 1; Tanm b-shalla 10; for
more on the number ten in midrashic literature, see M. Lavee, The Rise of the Story of
the Descent of the Shechinah, Ginzei Qedem, Genizah Research Annual 6 (2010): 13595,
esp.p. 165.
15 Cf. S. Elizur, Series of Biblical Verses, 56, in a shiat for Vayysha by Eleazar birabbi
Qilir:
, Then Ten Songs were sung by the chil-
dren of the one who was tested ten times (mAt 5:3: Abraham); in the fourth piyy
of a qdsht (or sder rhtm) by Pinchas ha-Kohen, based on the Song of the Sea:


, Then (Exod 15:1) I have said Ten
Songs; My strength (Exod 15:2), when He made me king over poets and singers, cf.
S.Elizur, The Liturgical Poems of Rabbi Pinhas ha-Kohen, Critical Edition, Introduction and
Commentaries [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 2004), 21315,
333. Some songs begin with incipits that resemble those discussed by Saadya and Hay
Gaon. Also al-Baradn in the fifth piyy for Vayysha: ,
Verily [these] Ten Songs are [among those] that were
sung for generations among the people [Israel] who study the law of rejoice [Torah], cf.
T.Beeri, The Great Cantor of Baghdad, 44951. Shlomo Suleiman enumerates Ten Songs
in each pizmn of the fifth piyy, cf. W. Padvah, V-ere ahl b-shrt mnshshqt,
Qove al Yad (1989): 161, esp. pp. 3037. Ibn Abitur also included the tradition of Ten
Songs in his poetry: E. Fleischer, Yosef Ibn Abitur: A Qedushta for Yom Wayyosha [in
Hebrew], Jerusalem Studies in Hebrew Literature 21 (1997): 13370 (reprint in Hebrew
Poetry in Spain and Communities under its Influence [Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 2010],
2:484521, esp.p.513): ,
,



, . The number ten is typological but not fixed:
seven songs are listed in Aggdat Brsht 59.
Singing Songs about Songs 25

position, without exception, starting with the earliest versions of this prayer.16
The artistic qualities of the Song of the Sea served as stimuli for early hym-
nists at the crossroads of liturgy and poetry: the contents of the third blessing
and the Song informed two major piyyic genres, the qdsht and the yr,
underscoring their connection with the Seventh Day of Passover. For instance,
in his qdsht for Ym Vayysha, Joseph birabbi Nissan (sixth or seventh
century) demonstrates that the verses of the Song of the Sea are interwoven
with the central motifs of that holiday.17 This same poet juxtaposes verses from
the Song of Deborah with the Song of the Sea as two base-verses in a chain
of biblical references. Joseph seems to be one of the first hymnists to combine
these two biblical songs in a single liturgical composition. His incorporation of
theSong of Deborah is rooted in the approach to this biblical poem as a victory
song(Triumphlied) or battle ballad, especially since the root can also have
the connotation of attacking or moving out.18
An examination of the three compositions from a structural perspective
underscores the stringent features of this poetic model with its abundance
of biblical references which, at first sight, seems to constrict the composers
opportunities for self-expression. Rather than attributing these works to obliga-
tory traditionalism, it may be posited that these structural characteristics were
not only adopted, but taken one step further by the authors of these sdrm
in a deliberate attempt to distinguish their works from earlier compositions
for Ym Vayysha. The choice of this poetic model may have been received
as a welcome variation from the norm by a group of hymnists, probably
within a relatively brief period of time. In a sense, these poets were introduc-
ing a structural novelty that is reminiscent of the approach chosen by earlier
paynm who also enriched Jewish liturgy with poetry for Vayysha; though,

16 E. Fleischer, Hebrew Liturgical Poetry in the Middle Ages, 2930; idem, The Yotzer, Its
Emergence and Development [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1984), 36, 60.
17 Oxford, Bodleian Library, e.50 (2687), fol. 5968, published by M. Zulay, L-tldt
ha-piyy be-ere Yisrl, Studies of the Research Institute for Hebrew Poetry 5 (1939):
10780.
18 There is little doubt regarding the early origins of the Song of Deborah: G. Moore,
A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Judges (New York: Charles Scribner, 1895).
Targumic texts and interpretations of Judg 5 are described in W. Smelik, The Targum of
Judges (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 44068. For the divisions of this song into stanzas and for
analyses of its parallelism and other poetic devices: T. McDaniel, The Song of Deborah:
Poetry in Dialect, A Philological Study of Judges 5 with Translation and Commentary (Saint
Davids, 1999), 160; T. Sasaki, The Concept of War in the Book of Judges (Tokyo: Gakujutsu
Tosho Shuppansa, 2001); N. LaMontagne, The Song of Deborah ( Judges 5): Meaning and
Poetry in the Septuagint (Ph.D. Catholic University of America, 2013), 15960.
26 VAN Bekkum and Katsumata

admittedly, we continue to search for a precise parallel. To some degree, Yannai


is a predecessor whose poetry might be considered in our discussion of these
three sdrm: in one of his compositions for Passover, a qdsht apparently
intended for the first day rather than the seventh, he elaborates on each verse
in the Song of Songs by quoting its opening words and integrating them into
a poetic line.19 Other examples from Yannais oeuvre confirm an earlier ten-
dency to organize poems strictly according to the sequence of verses in the
Song of Songs.

2 The Prominence and Significance of the Song of Songs

The Song of Songs has had an unparalleled influence on the structure, lan-
guage, and content of Jewish liturgical poetry. The history of its allegorical
imperative has been studied extensively.20 Researchers of Jewish exegesis
have unequivocally concluded that the midrashic approach to the Song of
Songs, with a propensity toward historical allegory, was especially preserved
and expanded in medieval Ashkenaz, as exemplified by Rashi.21 Additionally,
philosophical and mystical interpretations of the Song of Songs abounded
throughout the medieval period;22 its mystical reading is illustrated by thekiss
(Song 1:2) being seen as a metaphor for the souls union with God or the

19 Z. Rabinovitz, The Liturgical Poems of Rabbi Yannai according to the Triennial Cycle of the
Pentateuch and the Holidays [in Hebrew], vol. 2 (Jerusalem: The Bialik Institute, 1987),
27487; L. Lieber, A Vocabulary of Desire, The Song of Songs in the Early Synagogue (Leiden-
Boston: Brill, 2014), 21063.
20 For instance, H. Fisch, Song of Solomon: The Allegorical Imperative, in Poetry with a
Purpose: Biblical Poetics and Interpretation, 80103 (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1988).
21 Even in contemporaneous piyym; see E. Hakohen, Shr ha-shrm v-shrv: Iyyn
b-piyy shr ha-shrm b-ashknaz, in Jubilee Volume for Rav Mordechai Breuer, ed.
M. Ahrend and M. Bar-Asher, 399416 (Jerusalem: Akademon, 1992). Hakohen argues
that a strictly linear, historical interpretation of Song of Songs first appears in the yr
for Pesa by Simon bar Isaac, following the less exactingly ordered piyy by Solomon
ha-Bavli. See also S. Kamin and A. Saltman, Secundum Salomonem: A Thirteenth-Century
Latin Commentary on the Song of Songs (Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1989),
3537; S. Japhet, Rashis Commentary on the Song of Songs: The Revolution of the
Peshat and Its Aftermath, in Mein Haus wird ein Bethaus fr alle Vlker genannt warden
( Jes56,7): Judentum seit der Zeit des Zweiten Tempels in Geschichte, Literatur und Kult, ed.
J. Mnnchen, 199219 (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 2007).
22 M. Kozodoy, Messianic Interpretation of the Song of Songs, in The Hebrew Bible in
Fifteenth-Century Spain, Exegesis, Literature, Philosophy, and the Arts, ed. A. Prats and
Singing Songs about Songs 27

Shkhn (Gods immanent presence). Although Hebrew synagogue poetry


is not characterized by the explicit eroticism associated with ecstatic spiri-
tuality, this motif is certainly present (as per the works of Eleazar ha-Bavli).23
On this theme, the parallel developments in medieval Christian poetry are
pertinent: the vernacular songs of Rupert of Deutz (twelfth century) provide
representative examples of mystical literature and poetry based on Song of
Songs. Prompted by the verse Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth
(Song1:2), he wrote:

Mit sicherheit, ich schlief bi drin, dess wart ich fruchtig, voller gute, suezemit
sueze mir do sneit, mir alter vriedel kuste mich, daz si geseit, ich sach in an,
do wart er junc, Most certainly, I slept with three, till I grew pregnant
with Gods goodness, pierced by sweetness upon sweetness, my ancient
lover kissed me, let this be said, I gazed at him, he was young.

Several lines later, Rupert notes:

Merket wie der goetlichen minnen diep, sleich mitten in die sele min, Mark
how divine love has slipped into the midst of my soul.24

Jewish exegetes associate these kisses with the revelation at Mount Sinai by
envisioning the words issued from Gods mouth as kisses from the angels who
delivered those divine utterances to the Israelites. Similarly, Shr ha-shrm
rabb on Song 1:2 (above):25

Where was this said? Rabbi Hinena bar Pappa said: It was said by the Red
Sea. Rabbi Johanan said: It was said at Sinai. Rabbi Meir said: It was
said in the Tent of Assembly. The Rabbis said: It was said in the Temple.

J.Decter, 11750 (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2012); L. Feldman, Abraham b. Isaac ha-Levi


TaMaKH, Commentary on the Song of Songs (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1970).
23 W. van Bekkum, Pietism and Poetry in Thirteenth-Century Baghdad: A Soul Poem by
Eleazar ben Jacob ha-Bavli, Zutot: Perspectives on Jewish Culture 5/1 (2008): 4350.
24 Rupert of Deutz, Commentaria in Canticum Canticorum (Turnhout: Brepols, 1974), 3132;
cf. B. Newman, Frauenlobs Song of Songs, A Medieval German Poet and His Masterpiece
(Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 9495. On Rupert of Deutzs
biography: J. van Engen, Rupert of Deutz (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983).
25  ...' ... '
... .
28 VAN Bekkum and Katsumata

Each of these four responses provides a distinct interpretive key to under-


standing this verse via its allusion to a specific event. Additionally, rabbinic
tradition holds that the Song of Songs was given at that very moment, assum-
ing that allegorism developed at a specific time. Obviously the rabbis were
not referring to Philo of Alexandria, whose elaborate allegorical reading of
the Torah influenced subsequent Christian hermeneutics; nevertheless,
Jewish allegorism was surely influenced by Alexandrian Jewish scholarship,
as supported by the description of the Song of Songs as conveying a sensus
spiritualis.26
Daniel Boyarins assertion that a darshn would consider a verse from the
Song of Songs as a gloss on a verse from Exodus seems apt indeed. However,
Boyarin does not define this biblical intertextuality as allegorism per se, but
as the establishment of an intertextual connection between two signifiers
which mutually read each other.27 We can safely assert that, for the early
rabbis, the significance of the Song of Songs resided in its utility for under-
standing theTorahin casu Exoduswhether we accept Boyarins position
that these texts were seen as having a reciprocal relationship or whether we
presume that they were viewed asymmetrically. From our earliest records,
synagogue liturgy has upheld a hierarchical relationship by reading from the
Torah on a weekly basis (with its main reading on the Sabbath) and reserving
the Song of Songs for synagogue services during Passover. The significance of
this liturgical placement for the Song of Songs is articulated in early and later
midrashm (such as Mkhlt de-rabbi Yishml and Shr ha-shrm rabb,
respectively).
The connection with the Song of Songs is the most striking feature of the
sdrm examined in this study; by contrast, the Song of the Sea has a far less
prominent role in the structure of piyym.28 Could this contrast have been
influenced by an implicit hierarchy of themes for the Seventh Day of Passover?
Whereas the Song of the Sea was a central component of daily prayer, perhaps

26 E. Matter, The Voice of My Beloved: The Song of Songs in Western Medieval Christianity
(Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press, 1990), 71; F. Martin, Spiritual Understanding
of Scripture, in Verbum Domini and the Complementarity of Exegesis and Theology, ed.
F.Carl, 1225 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015).
27 D. Boyarin, Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash, 2238.
28 Lieber, A Vocabulary of Desire, 2444; cf. T. Kadari, Friends Hearken to Your Voice:
Rabbinic Interpretations of the Song of Songs, in Approaches to Literary Readings
of Ancient Jewish Writings, ed. K. Smelik and K. Vermeulen, 183209 (Leiden-Boston:
Brill,2014).
Singing Songs about Songs 29

the Song of Songs, as a more peripheral component of the prayer service, had
to be elevated for this liturgical occasion? Despite these contrasting roles,
both of these biblical songs touch upon ancient poetic sensibilities and, thus,
inspired the hymnists who brought their own creativity to these revered verses.
Targumists and early paynm (like Yannai) situate the Song of Songs, as well
as the Song of the Sea, within the midrashic tradition of the Ten Songs, illumi-
nating the divine-human relationship in general and the bond between God
and the people of Israel in particular.

3 A Comparison of Content

The overall design of the three Hebrew sdrm for Vayysha provides suffi-
cient reason to compare their content. As mentioned above, we have scant
evidence of the circumstances of their composition and their audience. By
way of contextualizing these three works within earlier piyyic conventions,
we can only reiterate that these poets imposed a high degree of structural
uniformity on themselves with regard to both form and content. These three
paynm were presumably contemporaries with unusually strong interests
in the themes of Ym Vayysha who were also poet-narrators that compiled
exegetical and midrashic materials according to their personal preferences.
Undoubtedly, they each possessed an easy familiarity with the Hebrew Bible
that was supported by their knowledge of biblical poetry. Let us now exam-
ine the introductory quatrain of each sder for an initial comparison of their
features:

Sder One







)Exod 15:1(

Sder Two




] ... [

)Ps 33:4(
30 VAN Bekkum and Katsumata

Sder Three





)Exod 15:1(

These quatrains share opening words of Song 1:1 and a common rhyme end-
ing that ultimately leads to the quotation of Exod 14:30, which concludes
the first stanza by introducing the Torah reading for this holiday () .
Each poem presents the opening word from one of the ten biblical songs
which is incorporated throughout that sderat the start of its third line:
from Ps 92:1 in Sder One; from Deut 32:1 in Sder Two; and
from Isa 30:29 in Sder Three. The composer of Sder Two departs from the
standard insertion of biblical songs in this poetic model: rather than alter-
nating between songs, he exclusively cites the opening words of eachverse
from the Song of Moses (Deut 32:142); he follows this same verse-by-
verse pattern forthe Song of Deborah (Judg 5:131), for the Song of the Sea
(Exod14:3015:19), then Davids Song of Prayer (Ps 18:129). Sder One and
Sder Three quote the same biblical verse in line four. These two sdrm also
refer explicitly tothe holiday itself: Sder One mentions deliverance ( )on
the final day of Passover, following Palestinian rite; Samuel the Third refers
to the Seventh Day of Passover as . Lexical congruity can be
found in the expressions and with the meaning of screaming and
praying in reference to Exod 14:10 (The people of Israel cried out [ ]to
God). Similarly, in Sdrm Two and Three, we see shared language in their
use of / ( my singing) and the term ( my redeemed people).
Furthermore, the noun appears in the two anonymous sdrm. Given
that mutual influence may be indicated by lexical parallels, the choice of
in the opening line of these sdrm apparently sig-
nals such a relationship. It seems, however, that these three composers were
also linked by their exegetical perspectives regarding the themes of that day;
although this factor constrained them to some extent, each poet asserted his
distinctive voice by applying his rhetorical and lyrical skills. With regard to
the above-mentioned motif of kisses (Song 1:2), we find parallel exegetical
patterns in the second quatrain of each sder:

Sder One



Singing Songs about Songs 31





) Ps 126:2(

Sder Two








)Ps 35:9(
Sder Three





)Ps 135:5(

In these quatrains all three composers clearly demonstrate their acceptance


of the Song of Songs as an allegory of the love between God and Israel. These
lines, based on Song 1:2, reflect a remarkable cohesion of themes with exegeti-
cal works that include Shmt rabb 30:9:
, Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth, hence, His stat-
utes and His ordinances [would be transmitted] to Israel; Shr ha-shrm rabb
1:24: ...
...
, Rabbi Johanan said: This was uttered on Sinai. [...] Rabbi Johanan
interpreted the verse [that applies to] Israel at the time when they ascended
Mount Sinai [...] If only God might be revealed to us a second time; if only He
would kiss me with kisses from his mouth; if only He would fix knowledge of
the Torah in our hearts as it had been; and Sifr drm par. 306:
, May my
teaching fall like rain: so are the words of the Torah all one, comprising Bible,
Mishnah, midrash, hlkht and aggdt.
Not only is this explanation of Song 1:2 as a reference to the holy writings
of Judaism well established in exegetical writings, it is also represented in ear-
lier piyym. In his yr for Passover Eleazar birabbi Qillir phrased this inter-
pretation as follows: ,
,


, In love, affection and yearning; in Torah and in Mishnah united,
let him kiss me with kisses.29 We also find in a yr for Passover by Shlomo

29 From a famous yr for Pesa, that opens with the phrase , Oxford,
Bodleian Library, e.54 (2744), fol. 33; see the description of this yr in E. Fleischer, The
32 VAN Bekkum and Katsumata

Suleiman:
,
,
The pleasantness of two Torahs (written and oral), loved in [song], the Lover
[God] will kiss me in two worlds (this world and the World to Come) with
His kisses.30 Similarly, Joseph al-Baradn, in his yr for Ym Vayysha:
,
, Let him kiss me,
,
[God] who repairs breaches for me, He offered me help and admonished me
with the counsel of the Law, and you shall observe the commandments.31
Such resonance between poetry and exegesis, combining the biblical and
midrashic contexts with original poetic phrasing, typify these three sdrm.
Again, the use of appellations like in Sdrm Two and Three, which
echoes the Song of Songs, may at first seem surprising; in each case, how-
ever, the second quatrain reconfigures familiar themes in its own style. Each
poet engages these patterns in different ways with varying levels of figurative
language, thereby revealing an awareness of his choices vis--vis earlier and
contemporary colleagues. When comparing this group of sdrm, that of
Samuel the Thirda dominant literary and intellectual figure of his timeis
usually themost impressive of these three authors for his exceptional literary
and linguistic strategies. We have ample evidence for Samuels popularity in
Palestinian liturgy, particularly by his full cycle of yr compositions based on
the weekly Torah readings. He was also renowned among the intellectual elite
of Jerusalem and Cairo for his multifaceted integration of traditional narratives
from biblical and rabbinic literature in his own works through his use of eru-
dite and obscure Hebrew (and Aramaic) terminology.32 His sder for Vayysha
encompasses a striking confluence of qualities: along with his adherence to
the literary and interpretive traditions of this holiday and the standards for this
composition, Samuel demonstrates rhetorical originality while incorporating
subtle variations on prosodic features, such as rhyme endings that are derived
from the fifteenth (and closing) line of each stanza. Furthermore, the quota-
tions from Exod 1415 and Judg 5 end in abrupt ways that are at odds with the
grammatical and syntactical logic of the biblical verses being cited.33 This con-

Poems of Shelomo ha-Bavli [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and
Humanities, 1973), 5354.
30 Padvah, V-ere ahl b-shrt mnshshqt, 25.
31 Beeri, The Great Cantor of Baghdad, 406.
32 J. Yahalom and N. Katsumata (eds.), IntroductionYotserot for Genesis, Exodus, and
Leviticus [in Hebrew] (vol. 1 of The Yotserot of R. Samuel the Third, A Leading Figure in
Jerusalem of the Tenth Century, Jerusalem: Yad Itzhak Ben-Zvi, 2014), 84104.
33 For instance, line 15 of stanza 13 quotes Exod 15:5: , thus fixing the
rhyme ending -m rather than -lt, which results from the addition of the word
in the other two sdrm. Similarly, line 15 of stanza 28 cites Judg 5:14: ,
Singing Songs about Songs 33

fluence of features prompts us to wonder to what extent Samuel was familiar


with the two anonymous sdrm and, by extension, whether he might have
deliberately deviated from their expected rhyme endings for the sake of poetic
creativity and professional rivalry.

4 Thematic Compliance and Poetic Expressiveness

Words are like bodies, meanings are like souls.34 This adage by the Spanish
polymath Abraham ibn Ezra is relevant to the use of Hebrew language in
our three sdrm. In recent years piyyic Hebrew and Aramaic have begun
to enjoy greater appreciation and increasing levels of scholarly attention.35
Undoubtedly, the majority of lexical items and grammatical forms in Sdrm
One and Two are attested in other piyym but, to a certain degree, individual
choices of phraseology and syntactic constructs have been retained. The lin-
guistic effect of Sder Three by Samuel the Third is outstanding for the numer-
ous innovations that challenge a listeners (or readers) ability to access his
poetics. However, these novel piyyic approaches to language and syntax are
applied to a limited set of themes that relate to midrashic interpretations of
standard biblical verses for this occasion; for instance, in the quatrains that
begin with the opening phrase from Song 1:7, Tell me:

Sder One






)Num 35:34(

which fixes its rhyme ending as -shm, in contrast to the other two sdrm, which rhyme
on -leq due to their inclusion of the word , cf. W. van Bekkum and N. Katsumata,
Divine Love and the Salvation of Israel, 5455.
34 Abraham ibn Ezra in his treatise on grammar f brr, par. 4b: cf. W. van Bekkum et al.,
The Emergence of Semantics in Four Linguistic Traditions: Hebrew, Sanskrit, Greek, Arabic
(Amsterdam-Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1997), 2728.
35 J. Yahalom, Poetic Language in the Early Piyyut [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Magnes Press,
1985); M. Rand, Introduction to the Grammar of Hebrew Poetry in Byzantine Palestine
(Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2006); idem, New Data on Aramaic in Classical Piyyut
, a Silluq for Shabbat Shimu by Yohanan ha-Kohen, Aramaic
Studies 13 (2015): 12860.
34 VAN Bekkum and Katsumata

Sder Two




) (

)1 Kgs 18:36(

Sder Three








)Ps 77:4(

All three poets are concerned with addressing midrashic interpretations of


Song 1:7,
, Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock,
where you make it lie down at noon, for why should I be like one who veils
herself beside the flocks of your companions? Their allusions to midrashic lit-
erature are predominantly drawn from Shr ha-shrm rabb 1:7, Shr ha-shrm
zt 1:7, and Midrash leqa v (ed. Buber) 24. In these and similar midrashic
traditions this biblical verse is related to Moses; in Sder One this connection
is made by explicitly mentioning Moses in a quotation from Exod 15:1 which
begins the third line. The midrashic typology of Moses as a shepherd, who
shows his sense of responsibility by asking God about the future of Israel, has
poetically been reframed as a plea for the protection of Israel against enmity
and for Israels ultimate redemption. Moses prayer for the salvation of Israel
can be understood as one of the major motifs for Vayysha, even though Samuel
stresses a more general form of redemption as conveyed by the concluding
quotation from Ps 77:4, where he underscores the semantic affinities between
the expression ( [] and [my spirit] faints) and ( veiling or
covering) in Song 1:7. The term is applied to the protraction of exile and
the consequent deferral of redemption, as an explanation of why the people
of Israel sits in silence, unable to respond adequately to reproaches by other
nations (Midrash leqa v 2425). Samuel therefore associates guidance for
Israel and defeat of the enemy (symbolized by Egypt) with future deliverance.
Contrary to Samuels elaborate expressions, the composer of Sder Two adopts
a minimalist position through his use of a nominal clause in each of the first
three lines, articulating the anticipation of a rebuilt Jerusalem, the oath of
Gabriel, and the prayer of Moses. The oath of Gabriel alludes to the archangels
Singing Songs about Songs 35

defense of the patriarchs, and therefore the people of Israel, from destruction
(b. Shabb. 55a). The composer of Sder One shapes this midrashic tradition into
a quasi-dialogue between Moses and God, emphasizing Gods role in providing
direction for Israel through a series of verba sententiae:
. These quatrains offer poetic reflections on contemporaneous readings
of Song 1:7, though via differing lexical and syntactical strategies. Yet again,
Samuels approach is exceptional for having innovated the tradition of piyyic
language for his own creative purposes, not just in this sder for Vayysha, but
throughout his oeuvre. His neologisms, often derived from biblical roots, are
frequently unique, though they are sometimes shared by his illustrious prede-
cessor Eleazar birabbi Qillir, as in ( not to be forgotten), (it is
desired), ( and [the walls] were heightened), ( to despise me);
and ( you encircled [it]). Samuels originality, as demonstrated by his
figurative language and literary style, reveals his ambition to creatively engage
the rich heritage of conventional interpretations of Vayysha, consistently
revisiting the balance of form and content.

5 Conclusion

The three sdrm for Vayysha examined here provide a significant sample
of biblical and exegetical interconnections in piyy that may be attributed to
their common objective: each composition was crafted as a poetic tribute and
liturgical addition for the Seventh Day of Passover. Their common form was
clear from the outset: every verse from the Song of Songs had to be included in
the structural framework of the sder and, therefore, would guide the choice
of exegetical traditions and interpretive presuppositions. The implications of
these standards probably raised certain problems for these poets, who would
each have served as official representatives of the Jewish communities where
they lived as members, teachers, and leaders, for they appear to have respected
the traditional conventions of its liturgy and faith. Indeed, these three works
share canonical elements that would have made them acceptable for listen-
ers and readers; that is to say, this poetry would not prompt controversy on
the basis of its detailed phraseology or disappointment with the entire com-
position. Nevertheless, piyyic innovation has the capacity to appropriate
biblical texts by building poetry from what is already conceived as poetryin
this instance, singing a song about the Song of Songs. In this regard, piyy
complements the reading and exposition of the Song of Songs by transform-
ing well-established understandings of the biblical text into poetry. However,
further nuances may be identified through the attitudes that the composers of
36 VAN Bekkum and Katsumata

these three sdrm bring to the midrashic dimensions of Exodus and Songof
Songs: Sder One comprises many midrashic interpretations, most of which
can readily be traced to their sources; Sder Two, however, exemplifies close
adherence to the biblical heritage with little explicit employment of midrash;
even Samuel the Third, who expresses his messages with the support of the
Talmud and midrash, can be deemed as an author of poetic lines that are more
stylistically biblical than the Bible itself.36 In sum, each of these sdrm is
unambiguous on the interpretive level, for they all disrupt an overt message of
praise for God in response to the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea.

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Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from
Such a Comparison:1 On the Medieval Interaction
View of Biblical Metaphor
Sivan Nir and Meira Polliack

Abstract

This article aims to demonstrate that the renowned tenth-century Karaite exegete,
Yefet ben Eli, held an interaction view of metaphor, which seems to resemble con-
cepts associated with modern theorists (especially Max Black), where primary and
subsidiary metaphorical subjects interact in a manner that surpasses their individual
literal meanings. Such a perspective differs significantly from the notion of bibli-
cal metaphor as decorative attire for the embellishment of literal meaning that was
standard among medieval Jewish poets and thinkers. We analyze select examples of
Yefets interpretation of biblical metaphors from his edited works on Hosea, Nahum,
Habakkuk, and the Song of Songs, as well as interpretations by other Jewish medieval
exegetes, especially David Qimi, whoas Mordechai Z. Cohen has shownalso sub-
scribed to such an interaction view of metaphor. Three distinct phenomena emerge
from this inquiry: First, Yefet systematically interprets biblical synonymous parallel-
ism to convey two distinct units of meaning, a quality that he applies more consis-
tently than does Qimi. Second, Yefet deems certain metaphors to interact with the
content of other verses in their immediate context, thus highlighting the cohesion of
larger biblical units. Sometimes Yefets translations of specific verses also reflect this
tendency. Third, Yefets comments at times transform semantic fields or primary meta-
phorical subjects due to perceived discrepancies between the primary and subsidiary
subjects of certain metaphors. Yefet therefore developed a view of metaphor that relies
on the interaction of context and metaphor. His treatment of repetition as well as his
method of translation may have influenced this view. Yefets contextual emphasis dis-
tinguishes his interpretive approach from the didactic treatment of metaphor that typ-
ifies midrash; thus, his oeuvre appears to reflect a Karaite innovation. Future study will
concentrate on additional Karaite sources that may further explain this hermeneutical
and poetic development.

1  ' ' 'See J. Alobaidi, Old Jewish Commentaries on the Song of


Songs I: The Commentary of Yefet Ben Eli (Bern: Peter Lang, 2010), 45 (see discussion below).

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004334786_004


Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 41

It is broadly recognized that poetic thoughtespecially during the Middle


Ages, though also up to the Romantic eratended to dichotomize the rela-
tionship between the message being conveyed and the figurative language
expressing it. Figurative language was deemed to be an external factor that
provided an outer layer for a poems abstract essence which was, by definition,
independent of the language that the poet used to articulate it. Therefore, such
imagery could be distinguished from its meaning completely. Poetry was not
conceived as the unique expression of an authors individuality, the fruit of
a creative mind that was infused with original language, but rather as a ves-
sel that had been adorned by a poet to express a particular message. An ideal
poem was one that a reader could decipher and comprehend in its entirety,
despite the effort that would necessarily be required.2 Herein was the heart of
its aesthetic achievement and beauty.
In his seminal work on metaphor, Mordechai Z. Cohen determined that
medieval Arabic and Jewish Andalusian poetics display what Max Black3
defined as a substitution view of metaphor,4 where metaphorical expressions
are understood as substitutes for precise, literal references. From this perspec-
tive, reading a metaphor is akin to deciphering a code: the reader is expected
to identify the literal content that undergirds the non-literal expression. In
this process, the non-literal focus (as Black defines it) is informed by the literal
context of its frame. According to a substitution view, figurative language is

2 See D. Pagis, Secular Poetry and Poetic Theory: Moses Ibn Ezra and his Contemporaries [in
Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1970), 8385. Ibn Ezra expresses this view by stating
that ideas comprise the heart of a text. A prophet must articulate the exact meaning of the
divine oracle that he received; however, he has the agency to choose how to convey that mes-
sage. Cf. Moses ibn Ezra, Kitb al-muara wa-l-mudhkara, transl. [in Hebrew] A. Halkin
(Jerusalem: Mq Nirdmm, 1975), 145. On the dichotomy between form and content in
writings of Moses ibn Ezra and in Arabic poetics, see also the contribution by Mordechai
Cohen in this volume.
3 We find Max Blacks interactionist theory of metaphor to be far better suited to this analysis
than the more current conceptual and cognitive approaches. Black draws a contrast between
metaphors that represent mere style trapping, an approach that is compatible with the medi-
eval form-content dichotomy, and those that serve as filters for commonplace connotations
that introduce a novel dimension to a text (see below). As a result, Blacks categories provide
a prism for identifying when medieval exegetes overstep the standards for figurative lan-
guage in their particular eras.
4 See M. Z. Cohen, Radak vs. Ibn Ezra and MaimonidesA New Approach to Derekh Mashal
in the Bible [in Hebrew], in Proceedings of the Twelfth World Congress of Jewish Studies,
Division A: The Bible and Its World, ed. R. Margolin, 2833 (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish
Studies, 1999); idem, Three Approaches to Biblical Metaphor, From Abraham Ibn Ezra and
Maimonides to David Kimhi (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 1723, 25563.
42 Nir and Polliack

incapable of conveying any notion that literal language alone could not com-
municate more vividly. Thus, the role of metaphor is confined to serving as a
rhetorical aid that expresses abstract concepts using specific words, thereby
delighting its readers with a puzzle-like challenge.5 In this study we attempt to
clarify the medieval Karaite approach to metaphor as reflected in the exegeti-
cal works of the major tenth-century exegete Yefet ben Eli.
A scholarly consensus recognizes that Saadya Gaon (882942) initiated a
biblical focus in Hebrew poetry, one which steered away from the complexi-
ties of piyyic Hebrew to a more transparent modality that became the norm
and was further developed by the Hebrew poets of medieval Spain.6 On the
whole, Karaites appear to be quite receptive to the Saadyan-Andalusian model
of poetry, whose authors use of Biblical Hebrew and intentional reliance on
biblical tropes, themes, and imagery resonated with Karaite sensibilities.7 This
response went beyond appreciation to adoption to such an extent that twelfth-
and thirteenth-century Karaite poetry is nearly indistinguishable in style
from Andalusian Hebrew poetry.8 For instance, the most important medieval
Karaite poet, Moses Dar (second half of the twelfth century; the final version
of his dwn is dated to 1163 or 1171), tends to differ from his Rabbanite coun-
terparts only in matters of content, as when he voices anti-rabbinic polemics
and omits allusions to rabbinic sources from his poetry. Moreover, Dars poet-
ics resemble those of Andalusian Rabbanite poets9 in his use of conventional

5 See M. Black, Metaphor, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 55 (1955): 27882.


6 See R. Drory, The Emergence of Jewish-Arabic Literary Contacts at the Beginning of the Tenth
Century [in Hebrew] (Tel-Aviv: Publications of Porter Institute of Poetics and Semiotics,
Tel-Aviv University, 1988), 5051, 16165; E. Fleischer, The Place of Rav Saadia Gaon in the
History of Hebrew Poetry [in Hebrew], Pmm 54 (1993): 1014.
7 Biblical Hebrew provided the linguistic standard for Andalusian Hebrew poetry. Moreover,
the application of Mussivstil (the extensive allusion to and reworking of complete biblical
phrases) by these Jewish poets is a hallmark of shrat sfrad. See H. Schirmann, The History
of Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain [in Hebrew], ed. E. Fleischer, 3755 (Jerusalem: Magnes
Press, 1995). Laura Lieber tries to establish the term bejeweled for this style, following
Michael Roberts: L. Lieber, A Vocabulary of Desire: The Song of Songs in the Early Synagogue
(Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2014), 5455. Medieval concepts of poetic originality gave greater cre-
dence to the perfection of poetic traditions than to individual achievement; hence, biblical
phrases and images served as building blocks for Jewish Andalusian poets, a role that was
furthered by the limited acceptance of classic Arabic poetic images and phrases. See I. Levin,
Ml Tashb: The Different Types of Secular Hebrew Poetry in Spain [in Hebrew], vol 1. (Tel-
Aviv: Katz Institute for Research in Hebrew Literature, 19801995), 1931; D. Pagis, Change
and Tradition in Secular Poetry: Spain and Italy [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Keter: 1976), 10610.
8 See J. Yeshaya, Medieval Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Egypt: The Secular Poetry of the Karaite Poet
Moses ben Abraham Dar (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2011), 7577.
9 Ibid., 7779.
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 43

Andalusian figurative language10 and, by extension, in his implied approach to


figurative language.
Considering this affinity between Karaite and Rabbanite poetry, one would
assume that, much like other tenth- and eleventh-century Karaites, Yefeta
younger contemporary of Saadya Gaonwould have had no qualms about
adopting a Saadyan (which would become an Andalusian) approach to figu-
rative language; namely, taking a substitution view of metaphor, analogous to
later Karaites integration of Andalusian figurative language (especially Dar,
the Karaite poet par excellence). To date, we have no evidence of Yefet as a
poet. Nonetheless, we find poetics in Yefets systematic Bible commentaries,
where his view of figurative language is articulated. The novel directions that
Yefet and his Karaite peers pioneered in their literal-contextual and literary
readings of the Bible and their distinctive methodology, which also included
a rejection of rabbinic exegesis, may explain (at least in part) why he veered
from a substitution view of metaphor.11 His distinctive approach may be
gleaned, for instance, from his comment on Song 2:3:12 They liken him to an
apple tree because of the many beautiful meanings that can be drawn from
such a comparison.13 Yefet then elaborates on several of these meanings:

10 Ibid., 12528. Even so, Dars oeuvre is not wholly derivative: he reworked traditional
themes to form new ones, and he also drew inspiration from Arabic forms and themes.
Ibid., 14142.
11 On these innovative elements in Karaite exegesis, see recent works by: M. Goldstein,
Arabic Composition 101 and the Early Development of Judaeo-Arabic Bible Exegesis,
Journal of Semitic Studies 55/2 (2010): 45258, 46974; M. Polliack, Major Trends in Karaite
Biblical Exegesis in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries, in Karaite Judaism: A Guide to its
History and Literary Sources, ed. M. Polliack, 36383 (Leiden: Brill, 2003); I. Sasson, The
Book of Proverbs between Saadia and Yefet, Intellectual History of the Islamicate World 1
(2013): 16369, 17376; M. Zawanowska, In the Border-Land of Literalism: Interpretative
Scripture Alterations in Medieval Karaite Translations of the Bible into Arabic, Intellectual
History of the Islamicate World 1 (2013): 18283, 19091, 19699. For a comprehensive sur-
vey of Yefets published works, see eadem, Review of Scholarly Research on Yefet ben Eli
and his Works, Revue des tudes Juives 173/12 (2014): 97138.
12 Song 2:3: As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among
young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
Unless otherwise noted, all English biblical excerpts follow the New Revised Standard
Version (NRSV), Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version: Containing the Old and New
Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Bible
Publishers,1993).
13 ' ' ' ' 'See Alobaidi, Song of Songs,
45. Literally because in it are many elevated meanings, ibid., 17980.
44 Nir and Polliack

One is that the apple tree among leafy trees remains exceptional and des-
tined to persevere.... Another meaning is that the apple trees canopy
casts shade, giving refuge from burning heat.... The apple strengthens
the stomach, contrary to all other fruits...the apple is beneficial, sooner
or later.14

In this allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs, Yefet suggests that this
apple tree is a metaphor for God. Accordingly, he deliberates at length over
the numerous qualities that the apple tree (the subsidiary subject) highlights
about God (the principal subject). The many possible (and simultaneous)
meanings that he mentions signal that his understanding of the relationship
between God and the apple tree does not conform to the substitution view of
metaphor but comes closer to the interaction view of metaphor.
According to Black, an interaction view of metaphor classifies all metaphors
as either the principal subject and one or more subsidiary subjects. The sub-
sidiary elements do not function as stand-ins for a single literal expression;
rather, they encompass, by interacting with the principal element, several pos-
sible meanings. The result is a filter that highlights certain qualities and con-
notations that are particular to the interaction of subjects in that specific text.15
It seems that no single image or paraphrase could capture all of the mean-
ings that Yefet gleans from Song 2:3, nor does he appear concerned with such
a substitution. To the contrary, Yefet emphasizes that many meanings can be
drawn when interpreting figurative language; it would be a mistake to seek just
one. A preliminary assessment of Yefets treatment of figurative language in
his commentary on Hosea further supports his conceptual closeness to what
modern poetics defines as an interaction view.16

14 Ibid.
15 See Black, Metaphor, 28594. Richards was the first to express an interaction view, see
I. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), 93100.
Also, compare Weisss view that separating similes from metaphors is irrelevant since, in
addition to their analogous features, similes convey additional links between the princi-
pal and subsidiary subjects: M. Weiss, The Bible and Modern Literary Theory [in Hebrew],
3rd edition (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1987), 198.
16 For pertinent examples, see his commentary on Hos 8:1,7; 9:10; 10:7; 13:3. On his commen-
tary to Hos 7:46, see the detailed discussion below. In general, Yefet analyzes similes
extensively in order to grasp their exact meaning. He illustrates the poetic density of
similes by delineating their various qualities and possible interpretations. He especially
emphasizes ongoing and recurrent similes in large textual units while highlighting the
cohesion of similes taken from analogous semantic fields. His treatment of metaphor is
similar. See further M. Polliack and E. Schlossberg, Commentary of Yefet ben Eli the Karaite
on the Book of Hosea [in Hebrew] (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2009), 6468.
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 45

Mordechai Z. Cohen has demonstrated a contrast between what he consid-


ers David Qimis (11601235; also known by his acronym Radak, as hereafter)
midrashically-influenced interaction view of metaphorwhich Cohen dem-
onstrates with approximately 100 examples from Qimis oeuvre17and the
substitution view found in the writings of Abraham ibn Ezra and Maimonides,
which were informed by Arabic poetics in their Saadyan-Andalusian context.18
We argue herein that Yefet ben Eli held an interaction view of metaphor two
centuries prior to Radak. A comparison of the interpretations of selected
metaphors and similes in the Song of Songs, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Hosea by
these two exegetes, one Karaite and one Rabbanite, affirms that Yefets view is
at least as systematic, and perhaps even more fully developed, than Radaks.19

1 Interaction as Inherent in Synonymous Parallelism

Synonymous parallelism is among the most prominent features of bibli-


cal poetics.20 A substitution view of metaphor tends away from focusing on
the details and singular meaning associated with parallel images; instead, it
explicates the message of the entire parallelism, supplying a literal substitute.
Abraham ibn Ezra is known for his description of biblical parallelism as an
idea that is repeated using different words (kefel inyn b-millm shnt). If
the messagei.e., the substitutionis at the heart of the idea, any range of

17 This comprises 1015 percent of Radaks exegesis on metaphor, in contrast to Ibn Ezras
dozen or so instances of interaction-oriented exegesis. See, Cohen, Three Approaches,
29295.
18 See Cohen, Radak vs. Ibn Ezra and Maimonides, 2829, 3435.
19 Other comparisons between these two authors have led to the considered conclusion
that Radak may have been familiar with Yefets work, see Polliack and Schlossberg, Hosea,
98100; M. Nadler-Akirav, A Comparative Study of The Commentary of Yefet ben Eli
on the Prophetic Visions in Jeremiah and Amos [in Hebrew], Ginzei Qedem, Genizah
Research Annual 10 (2014): 13637. The subject of whether this conversance also influ-
enced Radaks view of metaphor is better placed in a separate inquiry. Nonetheless, it is
reasonable to assume that his fathers rabbinic milieu served as a primary influence on
Radak, see Cohen, Radak vs. Ibn Ezra and Maimonides, 37, n. 33.
20 Parallelism appears in the Bible in a range of texts, prose and poetry alike, and is not only
a key element in poetry but a pervasive stylistic and rhetorical feature in biblical litera-
ture, see J. Kugel, The Idea of Biblical Poetry (New Haven-London: Yale University Press,
1981), 5995. Parallelism is also a fundamental tool for poetic writing and, thus, is not lim-
ited to biblical Hebrew, see A. Berlin, The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1985), 317.
46 Nir and Polliack

images will do, and there is no need to dwell on the particular one that has
been chosen.21
An interaction view of metaphor treats parallel images not as words that
reiterate a message, but as subsidiary subjects that interact with the primary
subject, combining to convey the richly-layered meaning of the parallelism.
In this sense, Yefets effort to reveal the nuanced qualities of seemingly identi-
cal images in biblical similes and metaphors reflects an understanding which
more closely fits the interaction view. Such interpretations also draw attention
to how each image was chosen to highlight certain aspects over others.22 We
will now show how Yefet not only strives to explain the meanings inherent in
each of the parallel figures, but dedicates his writing to this priority more con-
sistently than does Radak.23

21 Cohen, Radak vs. Ibn Ezra and Maimonides, 3638; idem, Three Approaches, 28084,
308.
22 Ibid.
23 In some cases, Radak and Yefet interpret the details of a parallelism in a similar manner,
for instance, on Hab 1:2, Radak writes: Violence: for the violence being done to Israel I
cry for help, and you will not save. See M. Cohen (ed.), Miqrt Gdlt ha-Keter: The
Twelve Minor Prophets [in Hebrew] (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2012), 219.
Unless otherwise noted, the quotes from exegetes (other than Yefet) herein are original
translations based on the ha-Keter edition. Yefet similarly interprets malicious violence
(ms) as the reason for the prophets outcry. See O. Livne-Kafri, The Commentary on
Habakkuk 13 by the Karaite Yefet ben Eli al-Basri [in Hebrew], Sfnt 6 (21) (1993): 101.
Even in such instances of agreement, Yefet tends to have a more methodical approach
to ascribing unique meaning to details. For example, both exegetes suggest an allegori-
cal interpretation of Nah 1:4. Radak: And even though we interpreted the verse literally,
lo, it is a parable (mshl) about the kings of the nations and the multitude of peoples.
Miqrt Gdlt ha-Keter, 203. Yefet rejects the idea that Lebanon and Bashan (and
other elements in this verse) represent a general allegory for the nations, which he raises
as the view of anonymous scholars who read this verse as parallel to Isa 2:12. However,
unlike Radak, Yefet systematically details what each of the parallel nouns in this verse
symbolize: the sea stands for the Byzantine and Arab armies; the rivers are great Emirs;
Bashan and Carmel are army generals; Lebanon represents princes; and, other moun-
tains represent additional, unspecified kingdoms. See H. Hirschfeld, Jefeth b. Alis Arabic
Commentary on Nahum with Introduction, abridged Translation and Notes (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1911), 54. On such decoding of representational language in Yefets pro-
phetic readings, see M. Polliack, Historicizing Prophetic Literature: Yefets Commentary
on Hosea and Its Relationship to al-Qmiss Pitron, in Pesher Nahum: Texts and Studies in
Jewish History and Literature from Antiquity through the Middle Ages presented to Norman
Golb, ed. J. Kraemer and M. G. Wechsler, 14986 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2011).
While allegory does not inherently provide evidence of an exegetes view on metaphor,
the difference between highlighting a mshl and interpreting the effect of as many of its
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 47

Example 1: Hab 3:6


In his commentary on Hab 3:6, The eternal mountains were shattered,24
Radak explains:

A mshl (parable) of the kings of Canaan and so too the ancient hills:
Were shattered[This is a] matter of breaking through scattering; just
as [Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and] like a hammer that breaks
a rock in pieces (Jer 23:29).... Jonathan translated this verse about the
generation of the flood and the generation of the tower...mountains of
old, everlasting hills[This is presented] by way of a mshl, as we have
interpreted.25

Radak interprets the hills and mountains in this verse as substitutes for the
Canaanite kings. He then cites a similar interpretation following the Targum:
hills and mountains signify the generations of the flood and the tower of
Babel, respectively.
In his commentary on this same verse (Hab 3:6) Yefet too claims that the
hills and mountains represent the kings of Canaan,26 but he also elaborates on
their details, further elaborating on the meanings of these images, as well as
differentiating between them:

details as possible on a verses overall message is striking, particularly when Yefet explic-
itly rejects an allegorical line of interpretation which Radak (later) accepts. Similarly,
Radak on Hab 3:18: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord: The prophet said in the tongue of Israel:
When the camp(s) of Gog will be consumed, I will rejoice in the salvation of Israel; and
he (the prophet) reiterated this matter in different words and said: I will exult in the God
of my salvation. Miqrt Gdlt ha-Keter, 240. Unlike Radak, Yefet supplies three inter-
pretations of the contrast between the two verbs which describe the speakers joy: He
(the prophet) might mean: rejoice in secret and exult outwardly or rejoice in the prestige
and honor he has given me...and rejoice in (the) salvation or exult in (the) salvation and
rejoice in my return to my land and my greatness, Livne-Kafri, Habakkuk, 112.
24  , ; ,- , , .
25  . ,
...),; ' ' ('
. , , ...
26 By reading mountains as figurative depictions of kings, these exegetes are probably fol-
lowing a biblical tendency to do the same (perhaps echoing ancient Near Eastern identi-
fications of mountains and kings as deities). That cultural contextualization is articulated
by Saadya Gaon, see A. Cohen, Metaphor in Saadia Gaons Commentary on Psalms [in
Hebrew], in Mittuv Yosef: Yosef Tobi Jubilee Volume, ed. A. Oettinger and D. Bar-Maoz, 3:55
(Haifa: University of Haifa Press, 2011).
48 Nir and Polliack

And as he said, The eternal mountains were shattered hints at the


thirty-one kings which were struck down by (lit. before) Israel and Joshua.
And by saying The everlasting hills sank low, he means the chiefs (pos-
sibly overlords; ruas).27 And he said mountains [and] hills because
they had been [present] in the land from the days of the generation of
the tower.28

The mountains represent the thirty-one kings of Canaan that Joshua and
Israel defeated; the hills are important Canaanite chieftains. Yefet seems to
base this distinction on the physical details of these images; hills are lower
than mountains, just as chieftains have lower standing than kings. Similarly,
Yefet explains why Canaanite leaders are described with topographical lan-
guage: they have been in this territory since the era of the tower of Babel; thus,
they have been as enduring in Canaan as mountains and hills. Yefet may plau-
sibly be drawing from the Targums association of this image to the period of
the tower of Babel, but he uses this link to further enhance his own interpre-
tation of the peculiarities of this figure, unlike Radak, who presents it as an
alternative interpretation.

Example 2: Hab 3:5


Radak comments on Hab 3:529 as follows:

Before him went pestilence (dever) [and plague (reshef ) followed at his
feet][As] interpreted by my lord, my father, blessed be his memory,
concerning the dead [ones] of the desert [generation]. And the wise
sage, Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra interpreted it concerning the peoples (of
Canaan), when they (i.e., the Israelites) entered the land [of Israel]; as he
(God) said, I will send my terror (mt) before you [and will throw into
confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all

27 See E. Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon (Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1968), 996. Yefets spell-
ing reflects a colloquial spelling that denotes chieftains. Alternatively, Yefet views
the heads as a synecdoche for the kings, though they are quite literally described as
bowing their heads. On instances where Yefet seems to shift between figurative and literal
interpretations, see below.
28  ' '
' , '. ' ' .
; Livne-Kafri, Habakkuk, 108.
29  , ; ,.
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 49

your enemies turn their backs on you] (Exod 23:27).30 Plague (reshef )
[This] is similar to pestilence (dever), [for] the matter is repeated in dif-
ferent words; and also bitter pestilence (Deut 32:24: -lum reshef ).
It is sickness [that results] from fever, which is hot, burns, and kills swiftly.
At his feet (l-raglv)On his account; as [For you had little before I
came, and it has increased abundantly;] and the Lord has blessed you on
his account (l-raglv) (Gen 30:30).31

According to this comment, Radaks father, Joseph Qimi, understood this


verse as a description of the generations of the desert sojourn that died by
divine punishment. Abraham ibn Ezra interpreted this in relation to the peo-
ples of Canaan. Radak himself, however, suggests a more literal view, reading
the words reshef and dever as synonyms. Nonetheless, he clarifies the particu-
lar significance of reshef insofar as this term captures the notion of heati.e.,
the fiery quality of a fever. Radak may also have associated the meteoric sparks
of reshef with a swift death from high fever. Despite his acknowledgment of
synonymous parallelism (v-ha-inyn kfl b-millt shnt), Radak does not
see these terms as semantically identical: thus, he effectively subscribes to an
interaction view of metaphor which is expressed in parallelism; in his reading,
these paired elements each have a separate meaning and contribute distinctly
to the compound message of the verse.32

30 Radaks reiteration of Ibn Ezras opinion ends at this point. From plague onward, Radak
articulates his own perspective.
31  . ''
.), ; ' ' ' ( ,
, .), ; ' ' (' ,
), ; ' ' ' ('
. , ,;
Miqrt Gdlt ha-Keter, 23435.
32 Robert Lowth, the first literary critic to expound on biblical parallelism, observed three
categories: synonymous, antithetical and synthetic. See his Lectures on the Sacred Poetry
of the Hebrews, transl. G. Gregory (Boston: Joseph T. Buckingham, 1815), lecture XIX. James
Kugel has questioned this classification, claiming that it undermines the understanding
of parallelism as a whole unit of distinct meaning and distills a vast range of potential
connections into three options. Kugel, Idea of Biblical Poetry, 1223. He has emphasized
how rabbinic interpretation, which disavowed the possibility of a mere restatement in the
Bible (on the grounds that it is a form of divine language), distinguished the sharpness
of biblical parallelism. Thus, seemingly synonymous expressions were assumed to always
provide an additional meaning. Ibid., 96103. To the early rabbis, parallelism could not
be reduced to a matter of style, for they considered the message of the verse to be para-
mount. This approach, which typified Jewish thought until the 11th century, appears to
have informed Radaks view. Ibid., 1039; cf. Cohens works (note 4 above). Kugel also
50 Nir and Polliack

In his comment on this verse (Hab 3:5) Yefet also mentions two opinions
regarding the time being described. One relates to the conquest of the Land of
Israel (a notion followed by Ibn Ezra, as shown above):

And those who explained it according to [the] seven nations said that
Before him went pestilence means Before, when his power lay hidden.
And they said that (in the verse) [Moreover, the Lord your God will send]
the hornets [against them, until even the survivors and the fugitives are
destroyed] (Deut 7:20), as well as and plague followed close behind
intend to refer by this to their destruction at the hands of Israel, who
were in places where fires blazed [to the point of] conflagration. And [it]
is also said of and plague followed close behind that it went forth like
an arrow that does not err, so too will this [force] depart from the Lord
of the world and kill those people [who are] in hiding, as it is said, until
even the survivors and the fugitives have been destroyed (Deut 7:20).33

In contrast to Radak, Yefet does not explain dever and reshef as synonyms. He
understands dever as a figurative expression for God smiting the seven nations
of Canaan through the various means enumerated in the Bible itself, among
them hornets, and reshef as these same nations destruction at Israels hand,
which follows Gods appearance like fires that cause utter destruction. Yefet
does not elaborate on their semantic connection; however, he obviously views
Israel as a destructive force that follows closely behind God, literally at his

observes that Hellenistic influences may have drawn the rabbis to equate poetry with style
and content but not meter; as a result, the authors of midrashic texts were disinclined to
reduce parallelism to a stylistic, rather than a heuristic, element. This perspective was
later reinforced by the influence of Arabic poetics. Therefore, since the presence of par-
allelism as a stylistic device was insufficient to earn biblical texts the status of poetry,
greater emphasis on their meaning was deemed necessary; ibid., 12734. Starting in the
late Middle Ages, however, exegetes such as Ibn Ezra, Rashbam and Joseph ibn Kaspi,
began to display more Lowthian analytical approaches, ibid., 17281. Berlin has further
elucidated Kugels work, associating the added meanings of synonyms with an ambi-
guity that encourages alternate interpretations and, to some degree, polysemy, Berlin,
Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism, 96102. Thus, Berlin indirectly describes the exegetical
impetus that Radak shares with the rabbis as inherent to parallelism.
33 .' ' , ' '; , ' '
, , ' ' .) , ' ' ('
' ' ,
, ,
) , ; ' ' (Livne-Kafri, Habakkuk, 1078.
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 51

feet (l-raglv), as the center of the metaphorical expressions in this verse. In


his other explanation Yefet further highlights the nuanced meanings of these
parallel terms, with reshef slaying even those in hiding like an arrow that does
not miss.34 Thus, it seems that Yefet interprets reshef as a term that broadens
the meaning of the verse, by adding that even Canaanites in hiding will die.
Yefet arrives at both of these interpretations through an intertextual reading
of Hab 3:5 as parallel to Deut 7:20, which specifies that, due to a joint effort by
Israel and God, enemies in hiding shall also perish.
As this comparison shows, both Yefet and Radak highlight how the term
reshef contributes additional elements to the parallelism, thereby enhancing
its shades of meaning. However, Yefet also provides an interpretation that
explains reshef as an independent metaphor for Israel as a subsidiary mili-
tary force. Yefet effectively reads the verse as a metaphor nested within the
previously established metaphor, and he explains the features of each one.
Furthermore, his intertextual reading also touches on other metaphors and
similes in Hab 3. Thus Yefet identifies cooperation between Israel and God as
a unifying theme throughout the chapter. Within this framework he stresses
several parallel expressions in this chapter as metaphors for Israel (Hab 3:3,
10, 11, 12).35 In other instances we find that Yefet interprets one expression in a

34 Yefet is probably identifying reshef with an arrow, based on Deut 32:2324; specifically, he
interprets reshef as one of the arrows of God mentioned in verse 23.
35 Radak on Hab 3:12 reads: In furyIn your fury against the seven peoples, you trod upon
them in their land; and he (Habakkuk) reiterated the matter in different words and said:
In anger you trampled nations Miqrt Gdlt ha-Keter, 238. Yefet also interprets
these parallel figures to have different meanings, namely the cooperation between Israel
and God, where fury denotes God, and thrashing Israel. Livne-Kafri, Habakkuk, 110.
Additionally, Radak on Hab 3:11: At the light of thine arrows they wentIsrael went at
night, chasing them in the radiance of lightning bolts. And hail and lightning are Gods
arrows and spears; and the enemies fell before them and Israel went [forth] in their
light. And even though he (Habakkuk) does not include lightning in the verse, since he
speaks of hail (as arrows), it is as if he mentioned lightning, for hail does not fall with-
out lightning. Also, hail is white and gleaming, so casts light by night or day. And this
war was at night, for Joshua prayed that the moon also would stand still...there was a
miracle within the miracle, for the moon shone at night [even as] the hail [fell]. Miqrt
Gdlt ha-Keter, 238. Radak understands the arrows and spear mentioned in this verse
as metaphors of lightning and hail. Although the verse explicitly mentions hail, lightning
is not included. His interpretation is based on viewing the hail and lighting almost as
a hendiadys and, more importantly, on the quality of illumination shared by lightning
and the divine weapons mentioned in the verse. By contrast, Yefet states that the arrows
are hail though the spear of God is the sword of Israel, with which they were empow-
ered in battle: And what he said: At the light of thine arrows they went means the hail
52 Nir and Polliack

parallelism as literal and elaborates upon its details, while he treats its parallel
component metaphorically.36

stones that [God] cast at them (the gentiles), like arrows being fired from a distance. And
he [also] said: At the shining of thy glittering spear, and he means the sword of Israel,
which he attributed to the Almighty, for he, may he be exulted, fought for them and it was
not (won) by the strength of their sword. Livne-Kafri, Habakkuk, 110. Compare also to
Radak on Hab 3:3: His glory covered the heavensThose are the torches that they saw
on the day when the Torah was given (see Exod 20:19), that illuminated heaven and earth.
His gloryHis might and splendor. His praiseHis glow, based on When his lamp shone
over my head, [and by his light I walked through darkness] (Job 29:3). Miqrt Gdlt
ha-Keter, 234. Radak views the glory of God as the torches that appeared on Mount Sinai
during the revelation. Gods glory is also a kind of glow. However, Yefet interprets divine
glory (hd) as Gods revelation at Sinai, and glory (thillt) in the land as a metaphor
for Gods glory in the hearts of his followers, both in Israel and monotheists from other
nations. He bases this distinction on the mention of land as ground (re): And he refers,
with (the term) hd to the revelation of (Gods) likeness in the world, for he encountered
the inhabitants of the world during the revelation at Sinai, through glory and splendor.
And as he said: And the earth was full of his praise, meaning, among Israel and all who
believed in the oneness of God among the other nations. Livne-Kafri, Habakkuk, 107.
For another illustration of Yefets tendency to interpret parallel figures in Hab 3 in relation
to Israel rather than God, see his interpretation of Hab 3:10.
36 For example, Radak interprets mt and mrt with identical meanings (Nah 1:13): And
now I will break off his yokeThe yoke and the burden that he would place upon your
neck, now I shall break it; and he repeated this matter in different words by saying his
yoke and your bindingsfor these pronouns come with nouns that have both a verb
and an object; so [These I will bring to my holy mountain], and make them joyful in my
house of prayer; [their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar for
my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples] (Isa 56:7)[The Lord said to
him,] I have heard your prayer and your plea, [which you made before me; I have con-
secrated this house that you have built, and put my name there forever; my eyes and my
heart will be there for all time] (1 Kgs 9:3). Miqrt Gdlt ha-Keter, 207. Yefet however,
understands mrotaykh as a metaphor for financial exploitation: He will break their
yoke, which is upon Israel, and deliver them from paying tribute and tax, Hirschfeld,
Nahum, 35. Similarly, a comparison of Radaks and Yefets exegesis of Hos 5:12 makes evi-
dent the differences in their methods. Yefet emphasizes the specific connections of two
similes to their respective subjects, Judea and Ephraim, with the punishments described
as proportionate to their sins: Ephraim will be consumed slowly, as a moth nibbles on a
garment, whereas Judeas greater sins will lead to a destruction as swift as a tree that rots.
Radak views this pair of similes purely as parallel figures of destruction, see Polliack and
Schlossberg, Hosea, 330 and n. 62. Radak explains the doubling of the word I ()
in Hos 5:14 as a repetition in favor of emphasis. Rather, Yefet understands this repeti-
tion as separate, and thus essential, references to Ephraim and Judea, see Polliack and
Schlossberg, Hosea, 33132, n. 69. The distinctions between these exegetes are further
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 53

In his analysis, Cohen traces some of Radaks interpretations of stylistic rep-


etition in the Hebrew Bible to the rabbinic-midrashic standard of denoting
the second element as a vehicle for introducing new meaning.37 Might Yefets
approach to biblical parallelism be similarly explained by the influence of
rabbinic midrash, or are his inspirations fundamentally different? This query
necessitates an examination of rabbinic hermeneutical sources.
Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer is generally considered a late gaonic midrash, dated to
the Islamic period. It features a compendium of middt (principles) for biblical
interpretation38 in the form of a baraita that has been attributed to the amora
Yosei ha-Gelili (first or second century), followed by a sequential midrash on
Prov 31.39 Its twenty-first exegetical principle discusses similes:

A matter that is derived from two aspects and you give it the meaning
of what is most effective in both of themhow? The righteous flourish

illustrated by their contrasting interpretations of Hos 7:11. Radak views the parallelism
between Egypt and Assyria as an informative description of a routine: (In the era) when
they would petition for help from Assyria or from Egypt. Yefet elicits a narrative from
this parallelism: they first sought help from Egypt, to no avail; only then, did they turn to
Assyria. Here too, Yefet reads parallelism according to his view that it necessarily relates
to the historical context of the prophecy. See Polliack and Schlossberg, Hosea, 35960.
37 Cf. Cohen, Radak vs. Ibn Ezra and Maimonides, 35. On this view as integral to the under-
standing of parallelism in Jewish sources and in general, see Kugel, The Idea of Biblical
Poetry, 4958, 96109.
38 The middt might represent a later eras attempt to theorize about rabbinic interpreta-
tion, since these rules are rarely mentioned in midrashic literature, at least not using this
terminology. See A. Samely, Rabbinic Interpretation of Scripture in the Mishna (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2002), 2628.
39 Enelow believed that Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer was one of the earliest recorded pre-Amoraic
midrashm. He also claimed that the compilers of the later Pirk Rabbi Eliezer and Sder
Eliyahu, as well as Saadya Gaon, might have drawn from that early composition. The 12th-
century Karaite Judah Hadassi was also familiar with Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer, a work that
influenced his Eshkl ha-kfer. See H. Enelow (ed.), The Mishnah of Rabbi Eliezer or The
Midrash of Thirty-Two Hermeneutic Rules (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1933),
2126, 5960. Zunz dated Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer to the time of Pirk Rabbi Eliezer (i.e.,
to the 9th century), L. Zunz, History of the Jewish Sermon [in Hebrew], ed. C. Albeck
(Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1947), 14043. See further discussion M. Polliack, The Unseen
Joints of the Text: On the Medieval Judaeo-Arabic Concept of Elision and its Gap-Filling
Functions in Biblical Interpretation, in Words, Ideas, Worlds: Biblical Essays in Honour of
Yairah Amit, ed. A. Brenner and F. Polak, 18586 (Sheffield: Phoenix Press, 2012). Lists of
hermeneutical principals were au courant during the 9th-and, especially, 10th centuries,
possibly due to the influence of similar compositions that pertained to Koranic exegesis.
54 Nir and Polliack

like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon (Ps 92:13). Can it be
that the palm tree, which has no shade and is used for making contain-
ers, is comparable to the righteous? That is why Scripture says grow like
a cedar in Lebanon. Or, as the cedar bears no fruit neither do the righ-
teous? For that it is said, like the palm. [You should] give it the strength
of [meaning derived from] both of them. And why else were the righ-
teous likened to palms and cedars? Since palms and cedars, if they are
razed, do not [re]generate, so the righteous. If they are cut down, who
can grow in their stead?40

According to this source, in the case of two parallel similes, each contributes a
new meaning to the principal subject of the parallelism. However, the meanings
that stem from these distinct images must also be as appropriate41 as possible.
In other words, each of these subsidiary subjects adds a quality to the common
principal subject. In this case, with the righteous as the principal subject, the
subsidiary subjects must have similarly positive connotations. Thus, the rab-
bis demonstrate an interaction view of metaphor in that subsidiary subjects
must each introduce their own significance to the principal subject. Moreover,
the baraita suggests an interpretive strategy whereby the parallel elements
offer compound contributions to the principal subject. Nevertheless, midrash
tends to emphasize peripheral aspects of subsidiary subjects whose rhetorical
purposes may seem arbitrary.42 In the example cited in this baraita the rab-
bis decision concerning the qualities that the subsidiary subject highlights
in the principal subject is not dependent on the immediate biblical context,
but is primarily driven by the needs of the homilyin this case by emphasiz-
ing a positive depiction of the righteous. While we cannot dismiss the pos-
sibility that this late midrashic source might reflect rabbinic approaches that
were contemporaneous with Yefet and, thus, might have influenced him, this
factor alone cannot account for Yefets interaction view of metaphor which
strongly relies on the biblical context, as distinct from the didactic goals of
midrashic literature. Yet there is no reason to disregard the possibility that this

40 Enelow, The Mishnah of Rabbi Eliezer, 33.


41 The phrase ko yfe, refers to a strong legal prerogative. See M. Jastrow, Dictionary of
Targumim, Talmud and Midrashic Literature (New York-Berlin: Verlag Choreb; London:
E.Shapiro Vallentine & co, 1926), yfe, 585.
42 Cohen, Three Approaches, 27778, 3023.
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 55

midrashic backdrop might have informed Yefets sensibilities to the nuances of


biblical parallelism, as it did to a more obvious degree for Radak.43
Yefets understanding of metaphor may also be examined via his discus-
sions of biblical narrative. A number of recent studies have shown that Karaite
innovations in narrative exegesis follow Karaite grammarians understanding
of the connection between the explicit written form of the biblical text and
its implicit structurenamely, between form and meaning.44 His embrace
of this principle may explain the attention to structural issues evident in
Yefets exegesis of biblical prose. He identifies various types of narrative gaps
whose semantic functions all have roles in the build-up of meaning. He also
is highly sensitive to the duplication of specific events or information, as may
be presented by the narrator and a biblical character, for example. Its second
appearance may impart details that were not included in the first mention or
it may underscore the veracity of the initial presentation.45 For Yefet, repeti-
tion therefore supports the substructure of the plot; this idea seems to comple-
ment his interaction view of poetic parallelism. On both levels, repetition as
a formal structure serves a semantic functioni.e., when repetition appears
as an explicit feature of a biblical passage, each element adds meaning to the
implicit structure of the text.
We further posit that Yefets approach to commentary was informed by
repetition as a salient structural feature of biblical literature and by the con-
nection that it creates between narrative and poetry. Thus, while adopting
the rabbinic posture toward corresponding expressions in poetic parallel-
ism as imbued with discrete significance, Yefet may also have looked to the
broader context of the poetic verse and the structure of the chapter in which it
appears, along with related plots or texts, to determine the semantic qualities
of parallel i mages.46 Yet again, we see that Yefet is not motivated by a desire to

43 Some versions of this baraita amend the rule mentioned above with a discussion of the
similes in Isa 55:1, which resembles Radaks interpretation of that verse. Cf. M. Margolioth
(ed.), Midrash ha-Gdl: Brsht [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook, 1947), 33
L. 9; Cohen, Radak vs. Ibn Ezra and Maimonides, 2829. Radak probably knew and was
influenced by this baraita; either way, the similarity between these positions on Isa 55:1
confirms the influence of this rabbinic tradition on Radaks perspective on the use of
metaphor.
44 Polliack, Unseen Joints, 186, and the references to Khans work therein.
45 Ibid., 18688, 190.
46 On repetitive content in analogous groups of adjacent verses that address themes in the
Song of Songs, Proverbs, or Isaiah, see Yefet on Song 2:5, Alobaidi, Song of Songs, 185. Yefet
might restrict this analysis to completions of allegorical messages, but those too represent
a plot of sorts.
56 Nir and Polliack

reveal a didactic message embedded in the parallelism, whereas this is often a


midrashic priority.47 In the following section we shall further investigate this
contrast by demonstrating how Yefets interpretations of biblical metaphor
hinge on context, since that framework alone can determine the meaning of
identical images.48

2 The Significance of Context for Highlighting Interaction

Let us now return to Max Blacks understanding of metaphor as a dual-


directional filter that isolates the connotations which are associated with a
subsidiary subject, then applies them to the primary subject, and vice versa.
These subjects highlight certain qualities in one while obscuring others.
Authors of prose and poetry alike may forge their own connections through
the use of implication and repetition in their compositions.49 Therefore, the
immediate context in which a specific metaphor and its extension are embed-
ded is a vital aspect of this dynamic at work. At times Radak explains how the
details and metaphors in an image interact to shape its meaning. In his view,
no image is an autonomous totality that can only be meaningfully explained
as an independent unit, in stark contrast to Maimonides position.50 If these
approaches represent a spectrum, Yefet is clearly more closely aligned with
Radak; in fact, in his exegesis Yefet focuses on certain qualities of metaphor,
such as its relationship to the flow of the text and the context of the verse, with
even greater care than does Radak.
Let us first examine Yefets interpretation of Nah 2:9, which connects the
image of a pool (Nineveh is like a pool whose waters run away. Halt Halt!
They cry; but none turns back) with the subsequent verse (Plunder the sil-
ver, plunder the gold! There is no end of treasure! An abundance of every pre-
cious thing!). Yefet states that the simile like a pool in the first part of verse
9 imparts the quality of fullness51 to a city that abounds with both people and

47 Similarly, in the case of his gap-filling narrative exegesis, Yefet also differs from didactic
midrashic completions and interprets gaps within the limitations imposed by the style
and texture of the biblical text, see Polliack, Unseen Joints, 1978.
48 Weiss, Bible and Modern Literary Theory, 14751.
49 Black, Metaphor, 28990.
50 Cohen, Three Approaches, 2845.
51 See also Isaiah di Tranis interpretation: Ninevehthat was full of all good (things) as
a pool that is filled with water. Miqrt Gdlt ha-Keter, 209. Isaiah di Trani was an
Italian Byzantine exegete who was also conversant in Jewish French exegesis. His inter-
pretations sometimes echo uniquely Byzantine materials and exegetical principles. See
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 57

material wealth: Nineveh is as full of people and wealth as a pool is full of


water.52 He reads the second part of that verse as an explanation of the meta-
phorical significance of these waters: [Nineveh is like a pool]...whose waters
run away. Halt! Halt! But no one turns backi.e., the people in flight are the
waters. Verse 10, however, calls for the citys wealth to be plundered. In his com-
ment on verse 9 Yefet highlights the quality of fullness which the subsidiary
subject, the pool, confers on Nineveh as the principal subject. According to the
immediate context (verse 9) this city is teeming with people, while it is also full
of riches, as portrayed by its extended context (verse 10).
The fact that Yefet does not limit himself to one quality per simile illustrates
that he is not prone to a substitution view of metaphor. The subsidiary subject
communicates more than one quality simultaneously. Even if it is marked as a
simile, the connection between subjects cannot be reduced to a singular sub-
stitution. By comparison, Radak and other medieval Rabbanite exegetes limit
themselves to one quality, usually bounty.53
Our second example, Hos 7:6, contains two similes (oven, fire) and one
metaphor (baker): For they have made ready their heart like an oven, while
they lie in wait: their baker sleepeth all the night; in the morning it burneth
as a flaming fire.54 Rather than reading the baker as a metaphor, however,

G.Brin, Between R. Isaiah di Trani and the Ancient Byzantine Exegetes [in Hebrew], Beit
Mikra 59/2 (2014): 6075. As a result, the emphasis on the fullness of the pool, common to
both di Trani and Yefet, may result from the influence of Byzantine Hebrew translations
of Karaite materials, including Yefets. Similarly, there may be a connection between di
Tranis interpretation of Exod 6:3 and the one composed by Yeshua ben Judah, a Karaite
who was probably known to Rabbanite Byzantine exegetes, ibid., 6162, 65 n. 13.
52 Hirschfeld, Nahum, 38.
53 E.g. Rashi focuses on the continuation of this verse: he contrasts Ninevehs past with the
current flight of its inhabitants. The city had once been like an undisturbed pool of still
water. Miqrt Gdlt ha-Keter, 208. Ibn Ezras other approach to the Minor Prophets
shows a similar interpretation: ibid. Nineveh had been undisturbed from old, like a pool
with a constant supply of water. Kara emphasizes the public nature of the pool: just as
anyone can drink from such a pool, so did Nineveh trade with all visitors for they were safe
from any fear of war. Ibid., 209. Ibn Ezra and Radak highlight Ninevehs wealth, describing
the city to be as full of riches as a pool that is full of water. Radak emphasizes the simile
more empathically than does Ibn Ezra: Nineveh is like a pool(it) was filled from the
days of old with wealth. Radak: Nineveh is like a pool from the daysNinevehfrom
the ancient time of its construction, it was full of all good things, like a pool filled with
water. A pool is that which collects water, rain water or spring water. Ibid.
54 The Hebrew verse reads as follows: , ,
: , -. The translation is based on the English Revised Version
(ERV) because the NSRV eliminates the metaphor of the baker, The Interlinear Bible: The
58 Nir and Polliack

Abraham ibn Ezra interprets this subject literally. According to him, adulterers
engage evil thoughts throughout the night, stoking their hearts like an oven.
He distinguishes this behavior from that of a real baker who sleeps at night and
kindles his oven when morning dawns.55 Thus adulterers are awake when an
actual baker would be sleeping.
Radak, however, views the metaphor of the baker as an allegory about the
evil inclination:56

[For they have made ready their heart like an oven, while they lie in wait:]
their baker sleepeth all the night; [in the morning it burneth as a flaming
fire]The heart is the mind, and the actor that animates [the mind]
is the baker, by way of a mshl, just as the baker kindles the oven
at night and in the morning he finds that the logs have burned and
bakes the loaf [of bread] on it, which is the purpose of the comparison.
And just as the baker sleeps at night after placing wood in the oven,
for he has nothing to do until morning, so [too does] the baker at issue
in the mshlthat is, the active intellect: He sleeps at night, ergo: lies
down and rests, so thought cannot come into action until morning; and
the desirous thinker (i.e., the force motivating the thinking) he refers to
as one who sleepeth, since sleep does not make the body weary. In the
morning it burnethmeaning, that they are eager to carry out the evil
in the morning that they conceived of at night. And [he] also said:
Those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the
morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power (Micah 2:1).57

Authorised Version and the Revised Version; together with the marginal notes of both ver-
sions and central references (Cambridge: University Press, 1907).
55 Ibn Ezra leaves the figurative dimension behind in favor of viewing the baker as an actual
person whose behavior is antithetical to that of an adulterer: The word[s] they lie in
wait [are about] wicked thoughts that they contemplate all night. Lo, their heart is close
(similar) to an oven. Only every baker sleepeth at night and only kindles the oven come
morning, but these [others]their heart[s] do not sleep, but [keep] thinking all night.
Miqrt Gdlt ha-Keter, 38. Unlike Ibn Ezra, Rashi interprets this sleep literally while
viewing the baker as a metaphor for an adulterers lust: their baker sleepeththeir baker
that kindles the oven; ergo until the morning [they] sleep but come morning, they burn
as a flaming fire until they have completed their wicked [deeds]. Ibid.
56 Compare to Joseph Kara, who claims that the baker is the evil inclination that bakes in
ones heart, possibly an elaboration of Rashi on Hos 7:4 where, as in rabbinic tradition, the
evil inclination helps dough to rise. Ibid., 39.
57 . , , -
, , ,
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 59

Radak elaborates on the resonances between his subjects that befit his inter-
action view of metaphor, with the principal being the evil inclination and
the subsidiary being the baker. Neither can act (e.g., bake bread) until the
oven has been heated sufficiently; thus they wait overnight, contemplating
their upcoming actions or stoking the oven in anticipation of the morning.
This interpretation circumvents the literal meaning of sleep in the verse by
interpreting it as a metaphor for physical restoration and mental preparation.
Yefets exegesis of the verse takes another direction altogether:

His saying Their baker sleepeth all the night hints at the baker himself
heating the oven, just as the adulterer thinks about debauchery until lust
burns in his body as fire burns in an oven. His statement that he [the
baker] sleeps at night hints at a time when he (the adulterer) is overcome
[by drunkenness] and sleeps. He indicated that time by saying: does
not need to stir the fire (mr) (Hos 7:4: They all adulterers; they are
like a heated oven, whose baker does not need to stir the fire, from the
kneading of the dough until it is leavened)...it was the custom of those
people to rise early in the morning, drink wine, be merry and clap [their
hands] after dark, as the prophet Isaiahpeace be upon himsaid of
them: Ah, you who rise early in the morning in pursuit of strong drink,
who linger in the evening to be inflamed by wine, whose feasts consist of
lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine..., [but who do not regard
the deeds of the Lord, or see the work of his hands!] (Isa 5:1112). And
he let it be announced here that they have been [sexually] promiscuous
continuously [lit: and did not stop whoring], but for a [brief] portion of
the night.58

,
, : , : ,
, ;
. , .
), ; ' ' ( ' Ibid., 38.
58  , ' ' :
,] [= .
. [= ] [] ,
, ...) ' ' (' :
, ,
' :
[] .)- ,' ('
;Polliack and Schlossberg, Hosea, 35355.
60 Nir and Polliack

According to Yefet, the adulterers themselves, not merely their mental facul-
ties, are the primary subject of this metaphor. Moreover, their sleep is a literal
sleep into which they enter for a few brief hours each night amid a drunken
stupor. At all other times they stoke their oven (i.e. plot thoughts of adultery).
Yefet relies on verse 4, which describes drunkards; he then transforms the met-
aphor in verse 6 into a narrative corollary of verse 4, in contrast to the abstract
internal state that Radak depicts. Moreover, in his commentary on verse 5 (On
the day of our king the officials became sick with the heat of wine; he stretched
out his hand with mockers) Yefet continues: The ministers made the king
[feverishly] sick by warming his body with excess wine.59 Thus, Yefet inten-
sifies the interaction between verses 4 and 5: the heat of drink is echoed by
the heat of the bakers oven and its fire (verse 6) in an extended metaphorical
image.60 Yefet effectively poses a single primary subject for both the baker and
his sleepnamely, the lust of the adulterer. This reading is driven by Hos 7:47
as a narrative unit, thereby contextualizing the metaphor in the prophecy that
it interprets (and even in other prophecies) so as to decipher the interactive
relationship between the primary and subsidiary subjects.

59 Ibid., 353: .
60 Yefet adds an alternative explanation which compares lust to fire (i.e., drink and fire).
Medieval Jewish exegetes noted that fire and lust were both characterized by heat and,
possibly, eagerness also. Thus, Ibn Ezra: They are all hot (eager) to commit adultery, as
an oven heated to bake bread. The heat of fire is the heat of lust; and its (lusts) eager-
ness to burn and the burning [flames are] adultery. Miqrt Gdlt ha-Keter, 36. Radak:
They are all adulterersThe king and the princes (see verse 3) and also the people who
listen to them. And [he] (metaphorically) likened the warmth of adultery to the warmth
of fire. Ibid., 37. Rashi: heated by the bakerkindled by the hand of the baker, thus
does their lust burn within them. Ibid., 36. Yefet held a similar position: At night, they
(the adulterers) would think about the lust of harlotry and lust burned in their heart[s]
from within, as he says: lie in wait. And he (metaphorically) likened its (lusts) burning to
the burning of the fire that is in an oven. See Polliack and Schlossberg, Hosea, 353. Yefet,
nevertheless, offers a more nuanced interpretation of this image of fire in the context of
verse 6: And he likened the lust of harlotry to fire since fire grows stronger the longer it
burns though without being satisfied by the wood that stokes it, as he says: And the fire
that never says, Enough. (Prov 30:16). So too, the adulterer: the more [he] engages in
adultery, so does lust overcome him, as he says: The leech has two daughters Give, give,
they cry. Ibid., verse 15). Polliack and Schlossberg, Hosea, 355. Hence, Yefet explains that
fire resembles lust in this verse because fire is not sated by kindling but, rather, its desire
to grow only spreads. This quality explains how fire (lust) continues to smolder after the
baker has gone to sleep.
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 61

At times Yefets Arabic translation of specific verses seems to reflect a ten-


dency to cohesively interpret figurative expressions.61 Nah 3:15 reads: There
the fire will devour you; the sword will cut you off, it will devour you like the
locust. Multiply yourselves like the locust, multiply like the grasshopper!
Medieval Jewish exegetes exhibit a consensus that the simile of the voracious
locust signals utter destruction, since the locust is known to devour crops in
their entirety.62 Yefets interpretation is similar, yet, in contrast to most Jewish
exegetes, he renders yeleq (a Hebrew synonym of arbe) as a fly (dhubb) in
Arabic and not as a locust; he explains this choice as follows: The prophet
compares the conflagration of the city and the slaughter of its inhabitants to
the destruction caused by the fly which completely devours everything.63
Since Yefet renders yeleq as fly elsewhere (for example, see his Arabic
translation of Joel 1:464), one could argue that he is following an interpretive
norm that is no longer extant. We contend that he selected this translation of
yeleq because dhubb is better suited to the other appearances of this image in
Nah 3for instance, verse 3 emphasizes the multitude of corpses in Nineveh:
Horsemen charging, flashing sword and glittering spear, piles of dead, heaps
of corpses, dead bodies without endthey stumble over the bodies!; verse
6 describes filthpossibly additional cadavers (shiqqm65)that God shall
inflict upon the city: I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt,

61 On the history of the Karaite tradition of Arabic Bible translations, see M. Polliack, The
Karaite Tradition of Arabic Bible Translation: A Linguistic and Exegetical Study of Karaite
Translations of the Pentateuch from the tenth and eleventh centuries C.E. (Leiden: Brill,
1997). Yefets rigidly literal translations might stem from oral Jewish sources as well as
other Karaite sages, ibid., 4045, 26063. On the whole, Yefets translation is less likely to
heighten the cohesion of its Hebrew source text relative to translations by Yeshua ben
Judah or Saadya, ibid., 26970. Yefets translations of figurative expressions are another
matter, as we demonstrate below.
62 Rashi: Like the locustthat finishes and entirely consumes all vegetation in a field.
Miqrt Gdlt ha-Keter, 214. Radak: Devour you like the locust[just] as the locust
eats the [stalk of] grain until it has been consumed (cf. 2 Kgs 13:17). Ibid., 215. Eliezer of
Beaugency: The enemy shall be heavy upon you, very much like a marauding [swarm of]
locust[s]...to eat and consume everything. Ibid. This last interpretation is unique for its
correlation of two types of nations with two kinds of locusts; however, his interpretation
of the relevant simile (quoted here) is typical. Ibid.
63 Hirschfeld, Nahum, 41.
64 L. Marwick, Retribution and Redemption: Yefet ben Eli on the Minor Prophets: A Lost Work
of Lawrence Marwick (Columbia: SC, 2003), 3.
65 See F. Brown, S. Driver and C. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament,
with an appendix containing the biblical Aramaic: based on the lexicon of William Gesenius,
as translated by Edward Robinson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), 1055 ,. Even if
62 Nir and Polliack

and make you a spectacle;66 and verse 10 speaks of the dismemberment of


infants: even her infants were dashed in pieces. In its remaining appearances
in Nahum the Hebrew root -- denotes the ready destruction of the forts of
Nineveh, which is likened to eating ripe figs (verse 12) and being consumed
by fire (verses 13, 15). Yefets selection of dhubb in his translation of Nah 3:15
therefore seems to reflect an intention to connect two invasive images: veg-
etation being devoured by locusts and corpses being infested with flies. Not
only does the metaphor of consumption in Nah 3:1315 apply to crumbling
buildings and city gates, or decimation of crops and vegetation, but also to the
fly-ridden flesh of the citys inhabitants. At least three images in this chapter
are thus linked via Yefets interactive, contextualizing interpretations of the
extended metaphor of consumption. Yefets exegesis on Song 8:14 further illus-
trates his use of context when interpreting metaphors:

Furthermore, he had said there: on the sharp mountains (Song 2:17); and
here: on the scented mountains (Song 8:14). Here too we have an earlier
phrase that informs a subsequent image. Therefore, if we integrate these
two texts, their meaningthat God inflicts extermination and wrath on
idolatrous nationsis completed.67

When deciphering this image of mountains in Song 8:14, Yefet combines this
verse with what he perceives to be related material in Song 2:17.68 In his alle-
gorical interpretation of the Song of Songs, the full metaphorical meaning of
the mountains takes both their jagged and aromatic qualities into account,
as per this pair of verses. The steep mountains where God will annihilate the
(other) nations at the end of days are also Jerusalem and (the synonymous)
Zion, redolent with the scents of sacrifice from a reconstructed Temple. Yefet
unites both mountain images into a single narrative of messianic salvation in

these objects are not carcasses, they might still represent a type of prohibitedmeat that
could be swarmed by flies and, thus, contribute to the food imagery in Nah 3.
66  , ; , .
67 See Alobaidi, Song of Songs, 32728. The Arabic goes as follows:
' ' '.)8:14 (''.)2:17 (''
' ' [] .
;ibid., 144.
68 Yefet on Song 5:1 claims that this verses contents should be seen within the context of
the plural nouns of 4:1016. Ibid., 248. Yefet then claims that both these images and their
allegorical message in 5:1 are integral for the reading of 4:1016.
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 63

Jerusalem.69 Although Yefets reading is clearly allegorical, it demonstrates that


his interpretation of figurative language requires consideration of its connec-
tions to similar images in the text at hand, irrespective of their proximity to
one another. The complete meaning of a metaphor, whether literal or allegori-
cal, can be determined by an earlier phrase. This observation is supported by
the following statement from Yefets introduction to his commentary on the
Song of Songs:

There is also a level of meaning [in the Bible] which contains no element
[that should be understood] according to its plain meaningsuch as
the Song of Songs, which from beginning to end, connotes things other
than its plain sense. It is a condensed discourse, rich in meanings that no
one can grasp without reference to the books of the prophets. Its writers
intention requires explanation. In fact, much as [the Bible] compares
the ugliness of Israels deeds to [the behaviors of] a prostitute in Ezekiel,
chapters 16 and 23 (namely, the pericope Son of man, cause Jerusalem to
know her abominations and the pericope Son of man, there were two
women), to more vividly impress it on their memory, here too the author
based this Song on the metaphor of a man and a woman at the time of
her return [to him].70

69 Ibid., 2012, 328. Yefet further identifies the message in Song 8:14 as identical to that of
Isa 10:23; 28:22; 34:3, and Dan 9:27. Yefets commentary on Song of Songs is a focal point
of Karaite messianic doctrine. The Karaites believed that their emergence represented a
hallmark of the beginning of salvation and the end of the fourth kingdom, namely Islam.
Its closing would be reached if they led the majority of Jews to turn from the skewed teach-
ings of rabbinic Judaism and to follow the Karaite maklm. See Y. Erder, The Desert and
the Teacher of Righteousness Motifs in the Messianic Doctrine of the Karaite Mourners
of Zion [in Hebrew], Meghillot: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls 56 (2007): 3132. Yefets
commentary on Song of Songs describes the major stages of this messianic process: its
sequence of events would be parallel to the desert sojourn of the exodus while also ful-
filling various prophetic promises, for most of these went unrealized during the Second
Temple period, see Yefets commentary to Song 1: 2,8, ibid., 3335. Moreover, the exiles,
led by Elijah, would recapture the Holy Land by force, Yefet on Song 2:10,1312; 4:8, ibid.,
4142. The messiah, born in exile somewhere in the east, would reappear in Jerusalem,
Yefet on Song 7:1213, ibid., 4546. Thus, in this passage, Yefet outlines the decimation of
the nations and the rebuilding of the Temple that would accompany the campaign that
he presents elsewhere in his commentary on the Song of Songs.
70 See Alobaidi, Song of Songs, 14849. We have modified his translation somewhat. The
Arabic reads: ' ' ' '
' ' '
' .
64 Nir and Polliack

Yefet clearly considers the Song of Songs to require allegorical interpretation,


yet it would seem that apologetic needs are not the foremost consideration
in his understanding of it as such. He remarks on the similar use of man and
woman in Ezekiel (as representative of the prophetic texts) as an extended
metaphor with the imagery in the Song, thus identifying a resemblance
between the figurative styles of these texts. Moreover, Yefet emphasizes that
the prophetic books provide the overall context that informs the allegorical
message of the Songs of Songs. Context determines the use of figurative lan-
guage, be it metaphor or allegory, as well as the vehicle for its comprehension.
Yefets use of context in his exegesis of figurative similes and metaphors dif-
fers starkly not only from classical midrash71 but also from Andalusian Hebrew
poetry. The substitution view held by Spanish and Arabic poets led some poems
to display a mannerist style. These works tend to adorn the primary object with
myriad subsidiary subjects that share few commonalities. These figures often
relate to the characteristics of the poets patron, who served as both primary
subject and recipient.72 By comparison, Yefets exegetical and poetic method
represents an innovative approach that appears to be distinctively Karaite.73

, '
' [] ' ' ,)23:2 ') (16:2 '(
; ' ibid., 26.
71 One could view the rabbinic parable (like those preceded by: mshl l-melekh) as a prec-
edent for interpreting the biblical text in light of the connection between figurative lan-
guage (and extended metaphor) and the broader biblical context. However, this genre lost
many of its contextual qualities in Amoraic midrashm and beyond, cf. D. Stern, Rhetoric
and Midrash: The Case of the Mashal, Prooftexts 1/3 (1981): 26364. With this change, it
grew to serve more as a figurative layer or subsidiary subject to the principal subject of
the biblical verse that it claimed to illuminate, see ibid., 26567. For this reason, a given
parable could be used in conjunction with varying characters and situations, see ibid.,
27475. This rhetorical development resulted in the need for midrash to join an existing
parable with a related verse (or verses), whether whole or partial. There is, therefore, an
interactive dimension to the rabbinic parable that makes such combinations possible.
Yet it seems unlikely that this is the model which influenced Yefets emphasis on con-
text in his interpretation of metaphor, although it may have inspired Radaks contextually
attuned readings of metaphor, such as those preceded by the phrase derekh mshl.
72 Cf. Pagis, Secular Poetry and Poetic Theory, 8385.
73 Saadya Gaon also refers to the broader biblical context when interpreting metaphors, see
Cohen, Metaphor in Saadia Gaons Psalms Commentary, 5254. However, Saadya does
not base his observations on the narrative flow of the text, but rather on what appear to
be more selective or seemingly random comparisons. See H. Ben-Shammai, The Tension
between Literal Interpretation and Exegetical Freedom: Comparative Observations on
Saadias Method, in With Reverence for the Word: Medieval Scriptural Exegesis in Judaism,
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 65

3 Dissimilarity among Metaphorical Subjects

Metaphors need not be based solely upon similarity between tenor and vehicle
(namely, principal and subsidiary subjects). The dissonance between the com-
ponents of a metaphor can also foster its meaning. Moreover, we would suggest
a strong correlation between the distance among the subjects of the metaphor
and the effort required to determine their meanings.74 Tenuous, ambiguous,
or perplexing as metaphors may be, they nonetheless elucidate hidden mean-
ings in a text.75 While such modern insights might seem anachronistic with
regard to medieval poetics, Yefet engages tensions between principal and
subsidiary subjects as hermeneutical cues. This feature further indicates that
his approach to metaphor is interaction based, as the following treatment of
material from Nah 1 illustrates.
In his description of the defeat of the Assyrians, Nahum embeds three simi-
les in a single verse: Like thorns they are entangled, like drunkards they are
drunk; they are consumed like dry straw (Nah 1:10). Medieval Jewish exegetes
typically focused on the resemblance between Assyrians and those three
images: entangled thorns, drunkards, and dry straw.76 Radak elaborates on
these connections at length:

Like thorns they are entangledThese constitute a mshl. Like


thorns they are entangledi.e., the thorns are tangled together, no per-
son can pick them up from their place, as he said: [But the godless are all

Christianity, and Islam, ed. J. Dammen Mcauliffe, B. Walfish, and J. Goering (Oxford-New
York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 3350.
74 Richards, Philosophy of Rhetoric, 1068, 11727.
75 Ibid., 1035; Weiss, Bible and Modern Literary Theory, 163.
76 Rashi contends that the image of straw denotes utter destruction, while the mention of
tangled thorns and drink marks Assyrian merriment and feasting. Miqrt Gdlt ha-
Keter, 204. Abraham ibn Ezra (Ibid.) understands both the drunkenness and thorns to
signal the ease in destroying the Assyrians, who would be burned readily if they were
intertwined and warmed by wine. Eliezer of Beaugency views such similes as further
proof for the miraculous nature of their destruction. Despite being as untouchable as
thorns and wet from drink, the Assyrians will nonetheless be consumed by fire. Ibid, 205.
Al-Qmis emphasizes the similarity between thorns and the timing of their destruction,
which will occur when they are entangled and in bloom, namely, at the height of their
success. He does not view drunkards to denote drink but, rather, as the wicked mixing
with those who have wealth and progeny, ergo a simile much like the intertwisted thorns.
See I. Markon (ed.), Daniel al-Qmis, Pitrn Shnem Asar (Jerusalem: Mq Nirdmm,
1958), 49.
66 Nir and Polliack

like thorns that are thrown away;] for they cannot be picked up with the
hand (2 Sam 23:6). And what shall a man do with them? He shall burn
them with fire where they stand, as he said: [To touch them one uses an
iron bar or the shaft of a spear; and] they are entirely consumed with fire
on the spot (2 Sam 23:7). So the Assyrians will harm other humans77 (who
will feel) like one who touches thorns. And when the time of their (i.e.,
the Assyrians) destruction comes, they shall be consumed until nothing
is left of them, [just] as thorns or dry straw that reach their time of
harvest burns with great speed and ease. Nothing will remain, neither
from the thorns nor the straw, neither coal nor fertilizer, for they will not
turn to coal due to their leanness and what little fertilizer they make; the
wind shall disperse [it] swiftly. So [too] will be the Assyrians. As to what
he said: like drunkards they are drunkThis is to say that they will be
like the intoxicated who fall on the ground, who lack the strength to fight
against their encroaching enemies, for they will be consumed as rapidly
as thorns or dry straw.78

Like thorns the Assyrians inflict injuries without restraint, while they them-
selves are invulnerable to analogous attacks. Their ultimate demise shall be
brought about by the type of fire that consumes dry straw, which burns the
straw without leaving a trace. For Radak the image of drunkenness describes
the Assyrians helplessness before that fate.

77 Hebrew: . This phrase refers to Israelites and non-Israelites alike, as per Radaks
commentaries on: Gen 5:29Noah discovers ploughing and is then copied by all human-
ity; Gen 22:1Radak uses this expression to denote all who accept the account of the
kd, especially non-Jews who accept the biblical stories yet do not follow the Jewish
Law (i.e., Christians and Muslims). See also his interpretation of Ps 136:1, where all
humans are instructed to praise God. This Hebrew expression is first attested from the
Middle Ages. It initially appears in poems by Moses ibn Ezra, where it might stem from
the Aristotelian description of beings that dwell in the sublunar sphere. Alternatively,
this phrase could be a Hebrew translation of an Arabic expression that includes the word
lam (universe) since lm usually signifies eternity in pre-medieval Hebrew.
78 , : ;
); , ' ' ('' ,
, .) , ' ' (,?
, , ;
. ,
, ; ,
, . .
, ,
; Miqrt Gdlt ha-Keter, 205.
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 67

On the other hand, Yefet identifies similar semantic fields that govern thorns
and straw as similes, while finding the mention of drunkenness to be a point
of dissonance. A substitution view of metaphor would anticipate a verse that
would consistently present botanical similes that evoke comparable qualities
of the metaphorical principal subject of this verse, the Assyrians. The mixed
metaphor of intoxicated thorns is neither direct nor natural. This perspective
leads to a fairly artificial interpretation of this image, as with Radaks sugges-
tion regarding the Assyrians helplessness and similar interpretations by other
medieval Jewish exegetes. By comparison, Yefet does not bypass or force this
metaphoric admixture; rather, he sees the apparent dissonance between the
elements of this metaphor as contributors to its particularity, as follows:
First, he suggests a reordering of the verse that aggregates its agricultural
similes and thereby modifies its imagery: The four closing words of the verse
should be connected with the first four.79 This results in a straightforward
explanation that highlights other exegetes notions without altering the
original syntax: For though they be [like] thorns entangled...they will be
destroyed like dry and completely parched stubble...like thorns by fire.80
Furthermore, Yefet does not interpret drunkenness in reference to these
botanical similes: The words drenched in their drink mean: As they mea-
sured out drink to other nations, so will God mete out to them the cup of
intoxication.81 Yefet views the semantic field of this simile as describing an
altogether different imagethe cup of wrath. In this reading, the prophet
uses the imagery of thorns to describe the Assyrians metaphorically. Once
he returns to a human image (i.e., drink), the interpretation must reflect this
change, which is to say that the thorn-straw image should not be superimposed
on the concept of intoxication. Yefet thus understands this shift as a means of
emphasizing the Assyrians punishment through the introduction of another
image (also metaphorical): the cup of wrath. Furthermore, he understands the
preposition k- of k-sm as denoting measure and, thus, as best suited to
the concept of dispensing punishment.82

79 See Hirschfeld, Nahum, 35.


80 Ibid.
81 Ibid.
82 See also Joseph Karas exegesis of this verse. Miqrt Gdlt ha-Keter, 223. Kara also
reads this drunkenness as punishment via a cup of wrath but, unlike Yefet, he does not
separate this figure from the image of dry vegetation. To some degree, Karas exegesis of
this verse could be considered a synthesis of Rashis and Yefets approaches, irrespective
of his lack of familiarity with the latter.
68 Nir and Polliack

Yefets reference to the cup of wrath may be based on the Aramaic Targum.
As Rashi comments on Nah 1:1: An oracle concerning NinevehThe account
of the cup which curses Nineveh to drink (Targm Jonathan). In the eyesof
the Targumist and Rashi, in this opening chapter Nahum invokes a cup
ofprophecy. Thus, Rashi introduces the chapter with a comment concerning
this prophetic genre (i.e., one of gloom and foreboding). Yefet, however, seems
to draw on this tradition to highlight a particular aspect of this verse, which
relates to drinking as a theme. His insight appears to reflect a conviction that
incongruity in the metaphorical plane of the text is consequential and, as such,
should be reflected in its exegesis.83 That is to say, in cases where the bibli-
cal text mixes metaphors, the interpretation should be subordinate to biblical
poetics even if contemporaneous medieval poetic notions objected to such
combinations, for adherence to the integrity and structures of the biblical text
provides the surest path to discovering its meanings.
Another example where Yefet incorporates a level of incompatibility in
aspects of a metaphor is in his exegesis on Hab 1:16: Therefore he sacrificeth
unto his net, and burneth incense unto his drag; because by them his portion
is fat, and his meat plump.84 Once again, let us first turn to Radaks exegesis
as a point of departure for our analysis. When commenting on Hab 1:15 Radak
notes that, since the prophet describes Nebuchadnezzar as a metaphorical
fisherman, verse 16 includes the language of rod and net, which yields an
extended metaphor:

Therefore he sacrificeth unto his netHe does not thank God for this
strength, but [credits] himself and his [own] force; for he said: By the
strength of my hand I have acted (based on Isa 10:13). Or his net means
his god, for he thinks that it is he that gives him the power (based on
Deut 8:18) to hunt and gather, and he is his net and his drag, and to him
he sacrificeth and burneth incense upon his return to his city, always
with vast plunder and a great number of captives. Because by them his
portion is fatby them: by his net and his drag, [etc.] his portion is

83 Another possible reason for Yefets adoption of this targumic tradition may reflect his
tendency to interpret the qualities of metaphorical subjects within a wider context (see
above). Nah 3:11 describes the intoxication of Nineveh as an element of its punishment.
Thus, by emphasizing this same message in chapter 1, Yefet highlights the overall cohe-
sion of Nahums prophecy.
84  , : , -. As in note 54,
here too we quote from the ERV rather than the NSRV since the latter does not reflect the
fatness of the catch, which is integral to this discussion.
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 69

fat. And his meat plump[A] plump lamb; and so [Your teeth are]
like a flock of shorn [(ewes) that have come from up the washing, all of
which bear twins, and not one among them is bereaved] (Song 4:2)
the shorn goats. Or by them (-hmm) can be interpreted without an
ellipsis since eating (khl) is a female form, and food (makhl) is
like eating, similar to [If you take your neighbors cloak in a pawn,] you
shall restore it before the sun sets (Exod 22:25); [Saddle a donkey for
me] so that I may ride on it [and go with the king] (2 Sam 19:27). Plump
(br)fat; and so [Now Eglon was] a very fat man (Judg 3:17); [and
seven cows,] fat and sleek, [came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed
grass] (Gen 41:18).85

Radak notes that by eliminating any mention of lamb as the fishermans fare,
this may be an elliptical statement akin to Song 4:2, with regard to goat. He
also raises the possibility that, rather than including an ellipsis, the female
adjective br (plump) modifies the male noun makhl (food). Radak
seems to imply that it is acceptable to treat food as a female term, since
the gerund khl (eating) is also female, thus these words may be treated
interchangeably. In order to prove that gender may at times be interchange-
able in Biblical Hebrew, Radak claims that this gendered approach represents
a broader pattern by directing the reader to Exod 22:25, where the female noun
cloak is paired with a male possessive pronoun, and to 2 Sam 19:27, where a
male donkey takes a female possessive pronoun.86
Why does Radak consider the addition of lamb to be relevant? Perhaps
this link is related to verse 16, which conveys an uneasy transition from the
image of the fisherman to that of sacrifice within the extended metaphor in
verses 1516. If the Chaldeans perceive their nets as their god or their might,
as per Radak,87 it is rather strange that they would use them to catch lambs.
While lambs are not mentioned in the biblical account, Radak is nevertheless

85  : ; ,()
' ('' , .), ('' '
, ,) ,
. , , .
, .) , ; ' ' (''
;), '' ''; ' ' (' , ''
'); ' ' (,) ; ' ' (' ,' ' (''
), ;Miqrt Gdlt ha-Keter, 223.
86 Radak clearly follows Abraham ibn Ezra on this verse, see Miqrt Gdlt ha-Keter,
22223.
87 See Rashi and Joseph Kara on this verse for a similar perspective, ibid.
70 Nir and Polliack

drawn to the sacrificial terms in this verse. In particular, the use of fat portion
and br (plump) as well as the implicit word-play between b-hmm (by
them) and bhm (beast), which support such a semantic shift. Fish are
never described with such terms in the Bible, whereas beasts are commonly
depicted as fat, healthy, and worthy for sacrifice.88
Yefet, however, builds on this shift from the fisherman to connotations of
sacrifice in order to derive an intricate metaphorical parallel. Unlike Radak, he
is not satisfied with a general acknowledgement of food as the literal frame-
work for the fisherman as metaphor. Rather, he differentiates between the
foods described and their metaphorical counterparts, as follows:89

As to what he said: for by them his portion is fatthis means to say


[that] for these reasons people will join his religion and his people will
grow in number, and his money and welfare shall be increased. And that
which he called plump (br) requires some additional element to
explain its female form, and [hence] it is possible that he meant a plump
meal. And where he said his portion is fat, his reference is to people
joining the religion. And he called them his portion for they would
become subjects to his will, as [in] the sense [of] The Lord will inherit
Judah as his portion [in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem]
(Zech 2:16). And his meat plumpi.e., the state treasury and the con-
tinuous taxes.90

The fat portion denotes the great number of people who converted to the
Chaldean religion; the enlargement, or fattening, of their portion (in further
reference to Zech 2:16) represents the Chaldeans sovereignty over the con-
quered (and converted) peoples; the plump meal, or healthy food, signi-
fies the abundant treasure and continuous inflow of tax revenue that feed
the Chaldeans. Thus Yefet highlights related qualities from the details of this

88 Brown, Driver and Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, 185, . See
also, ibid., 135 , and 1035 ,.
89 Yet again, we see his tendency toward an interaction view of metaphor which empha-
sizes detail; see above and contrast with other exegetes on this verse, such as Eliezer of
Beaugency.
90  , ' '
'' . ,
. ' ' .' ' ,;
' , ''
, ' ' .)16 ' (' .; Livne-Kafri,
Habakkuk, 105.
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 71

extended metaphor: fattening as national growth and feeding as ravenous


taxation.91 What prompts this association with religious subjugation and con-
version? The change in focus within this verse from the figure of a fisherman
to religious worship seems to serve as a springboard for Yefets thinking.92 He
explains this shift organically, whereas Radak responds to it by adding lamb
to its literal message but without addressing its impact on the extended meta-
phor. In Yefets reading, the fisherman captures (subjugates) humans and, as a
result, fattens his regime, whereas for Radak, the fisherman does not catch fat
fish, but lambs for sacrifice. Religious and political oppression, as subjects of
this metaphor, do not appear to preoccupy Radak, who has military and eco-
nomic exploits in mind, whereas Yefet, through his insightful linking of meta-
phors, arrives at the idea of religious subjugation. This may also be due to his
overall tendency to actualize the meanings of prophetic verses for his medieval
readers, who were keenly aware of the Islamic conquests of their time, which
often resulted in large-scale conversions.
In this pair of examples, Yefets interpretation attends to the apparent dis-
parity among components of the extended metaphor or literary structure of
the unit by moving from a literal to a more associative reading. This next exam-
ple, from an allegorical reading of Song 5:16, does not reflect an interaction

91 Yefet similarly interprets feeding the Assyrian conquerors in Nah 2:13 as a form of taxa-
tion. Hirschfeld, Nahum, 39.
92 Yefet also describes the Chaldeans as going on pilgrimage, see Livne-Kafri, Habakkuk,
105. This further suggests that Yefet was influenced by the Muslim milieu of his time,
actualizing the figure of the conqueror in our verse. However, while he provides an
actualized-allegorical meaning to verse 2, ibid., 101, he is explicit to his readers as to the
fisherman metaphor pertaining exclusively to Habakkuk and his era, see Yefet on verses
1213, ibid., 104. Thus, although Yefet typically relates biblical texts to his era, he primarily
reads verse 16 as a description of the historical past. The potential that this interpretation
might have contemporary relevance is inherent in his conception of prophetic literature
at large, as a source that has a current message coupled with historical significance. See
Polliack, Historicizing Prophetic Literature, 15253, 16364, 17880; eadem, Wherein
Lies the Pesher? Re-Questioning the Connection Between the Medieval Karaite and
Qumranic Modes of Biblical Interpretation, JSIJ 4 (2005): 16572. For another example
of Yefets oscillation between actualizing and accounting for context, see M. Sokolow,
The Exegesis of the Song of Moses in the Gaonic Era Based on Yefet ben Elis com-
mentary on Deuteronomy 32:1 and in Comparison to the Commentaries of Saadia Gaon,
Samuel ben Hofni, Aaron ibn Sargado, Judah Hadassi and Abul-Hasan al-Suri, Studies
of ver and rv: The Joshua Blau Festschriften, ed. H. Ben-Shammai, 397413 (Tel-Aviv:
Chaim Rosenberg School of Jewish Studies, 1993). Furthermore, even al-Qumisi, who
is generally more inclined to actualization than Yefet, insists that Hab 1 solely refers to
Nebuchadnezzar, Markon, Pitrn Shnem Asar, 5253.
72 Nir and Polliack

view of metaphor per se, although it too demonstrates that Yefet is aware of a
discrepancy in the imagery which he then utilizes as an interpretive catalyst:

It is well known that she started by describing his head and worked down
to his feet. Here she returns to his mouth for a purpose that differs from
the one designated by [the expression] his lips are like lilies (Song 5:13).
It is likely that the expression His mouth is beautiful (Song 5:16) is a
reference to future events.93

In this context Yefet notes that the description in verses 1115 details the male
lovers features in descending order, from the top of his head to his feet. Verse
16 then brings our attention back to his moutha break in the descriptive
order that Yefet regards as significant. Since Yefet provides literal and allegori-
cal readings for each of these physical features up to this point, the unexpected
return to the mouth must yield an even more pointed allegorical reading which
holds particular relevance for his audience.
As the three textual illustrations in this section demonstrate, Yefets inter-
pretations of metaphorical dissonance are strikingly different from the exten-
sive search for and use of unorthodox aspects of the biblical text in midrash.
The sixteenth principle in Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer is known as a special item in
its place (dr myud bi-mqm):

From an item special in its place, how? O Lord of hosts, if only you
will look on the misery of your servant (1 Sam 1:11). Why was this spe-
cial name (Lord of hosts) used here? Hanna said before the Holy One
blessed be He, Lord of the world, you created two hosts in your world:
the upper ones neither multiply and nor die, [but] the lower ones [both]
multiply and die. If I belong to the lower ones, I shall multiply and die,
but if I do not multiply, I shall belong to the upper ones and [I will] not
die. Similarly, it is said: For he hates divorce, says the Lord, God of
Israel (Mal 2:16). Why is this special name (God of Israel) used here? For
in these three propheciesHaggai, Zechariah, and Malachithere is no
[other] expression except this [one]. Thus they would comfort Israel and
tell them, even though you were despised and divorced everywhere, he is
your God and his name has been [made] special unto you.94

93 See Alobaidi, Song of Songs, 271.


94 Enelow, The Mishnah of Rabbi Eliezer, 29. See also Rashi on 1 Sam 1:11, who explicitly attri-
butes a quote to: ( The legend of Rabbi Eliezer,
son of Rabbi Yosei ha-Gelili).
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 73

The divine appellations (Lord of hosts; the Lord, God of Israel) mentioned in
1 Sam 1:11 and Mal 2:16 are unusual in their respective biblical books; therefore,
the sages conclude, they should be interpreted with reference to their place-
ment. However, these explanations are actually based on factors that are exter-
nal to the verses themselves and lack any direct connection with metaphors
relating to hosts or Israel, i.e., knowledge of angels or comfort for exiles,
respectively. While Yefets approach and medieval hermeneutical standards
(which reflect midrashic norms) both take account of discrepancies in biblical
metaphors and figurative texts, Yefets explanations have a stronger tendency
toward contextualization,95 whereas midrashic interpretations rely on homi-
letical strategies for bridging these gaps, typically with a didactic style. Both
methods appear to meet the expectations of the readership of these genres,
Judaeo-Arabic systematic exegesis and midrashic literature, respectively.

4 Conclusion

In this study we have demonstrated Yefet ben Elis inclination toward an inter-
action view of metaphor. This unparalleled approach in medieval Jewish Bible
exegesis may be explained by the Karaites innovative understanding of the
strong association between textual form and meaning. This link has been dis-
cussed in relation to their linguistic works as well as to their interpretations of
biblical narrative, which place a strong emphasis on syntactical and stylistic
features in the determination of contextual meaning. We further showed how
Yefet reads synonymous parallelism as well as how he builds on the immedi-
ate context to identify interactions in extended metaphors. However, syntax is
but one component of the Karaite linguistic endeavor: the other is lexical. We
close this study with a brief look at how Yefets approach to translation may
also reflect his view of biblical metaphor.
Yefet systematically applies specific Arabic terminology to biblical similes,
namely majz, tamthl, tashbb, and taqrb.96 He considers biblical parables to
be expressions of poetic language. While this view is common among medieval

95 Yefets heightened sensitivity to context is also evident in his recognition that parallelism
might exist among consecutive verses and not only within them. See his exegesis of Song
6:9. The girls in verse 9 are parallel to the maidens in verse 8. Alobaidi, Song of Songs, 280.
96 See Polliack and Schlossberg, Hosea, 6264. Yefets rendering of simile as parable is influ-
enced by the meticulous treatment of simile in Aramaic and Arabic Bible translations.
His differentiation of simile from other figurative forms is not limited to his exegesis on
Hosea; see Yefet on Nah 1:3, 10, for instance.
74 Nir and Polliack

exegetes, Yefet stipulates that parables be accompanied by their interpreta-


tions, as implied by the biblical phrase mshl -ml (Prov 1:6), which he
translates as al-mathl wa-l-tarjama (a parable and its interpretation).97 This
indicates that, in Yefets view, parables (and by extension similes and meta-
phors) cannot be paraphrased; rather, they should be rendered fully through
translation. As is well known, Yefets Bible translations are highly literal,
with few occasional terms added to provide alternative translations or
grammatical aids.98
On a functional level, his translations differ from his exegesis in that, while
he often provides semantic reasoning with regard to translations in his com-
mentary, he considers exegetical texts to be uniquely suited to extended
theological and literary passages. Yefet consciously distinguishes, therefore,
between the purposes of translation and exegesis: translation is motivated by
a desire to emulate the biblical form as accurately as possible by providing
the closest available Arabic lexical equivalent for each Hebrew source word,
whereas commentary is more flexible and fluid.
Yefets comment on Song 1:10 includes this methodological remark:

Let us stay here a while that I might mention the principles needed to
appreciate the attributes mentioned by Solomon in this book. They are
represented by many categories.... As a result, we say that, in each and
every category, he surely intended [to convey] a specific meaning. What he
said about the beauty of the limbs alludes to the Israelites [themselves],
not their actions. Whatever he said about clothing, jewelry, and ointment
indicates [their] actions.99

When interpreting allegories, Yefet contends that parallel similes and meta-
phors should be assigned distinct meanings. We have seen that his treatment

97 Cf. R. Steiner, Linguistic Aspects of the Commentary to Ezekiel and the Minor Prophets
in the Hebrew Scrolls from Byzantium [in Hebrew], Lshnn 59 (19951996): 4345.
The Byzantine Karaite exegete Reuel similarly distinguishes the parable from its interpre-
tation: . Such usage is also attested in sermons attributed to
al- Qmis: ... . Al-Qmis also states that:
. Surprisingly, Saadya Gaon essentially holds the same position:
'.
98 See Polliack, The Karaite tradition of Arabic Bible translation, 4042, 276; exceptions to
Yefets rather literal translations are his renderings of anthropomorphisms and various
minor modifications that improve the presentation of certain biblical patriarchs and
prophets, see Zawanowska, In the Border-Land of Literalism, 19699.
99 Alobaidi, Song of Songs, 16768.
Many Beautiful Meanings Can Be Drawn from Such a Comparison 75

of figurative language in non-allegorical sources reflects similar views. In this


passage Yefet makes clear that he considers the interpretation of parables and
similes to be an act of translation which should be subject to the same literal
and formalistic norms that he applies to his translations. In essence, he strives
to explain the effect of every figurative details broader image (i.e., the subsid-
iary subjects contribution to his understanding of the principal subject). In
his exegesis of metaphor, therefore, Yefet meticulously aims to transpose the
literal milieu into a figurative one, striving, detail by detail, to achieve the full-
est and most vivid semantic picture possible.100 Through his consistent use of
this approach Yefet demonstrates an interaction view of metaphor.
The range of features examined here each merit exhaustive analysis, espe-
cially in the works of other tenth- and eleventh-century Karaite exegetes.
Naturally, these are desiderata whose scope exceeds the bounds of the current
article; nevertheless, we hope that this study offers an initial foray toward fuller
awareness of the invaluable Karaite contribution to medieval Jewish poetics,
one which has significant implications for the study of biblical exegesis and
Hebrew poetry at large.
Important avenues of future research in this area include: To what extent do
Yefets translations and exegesis distinguish between biblical genres? A com-
parison between Yefets discussion of synonymous parallelism in biblical prose
versus poetry could clarify this issue.101 Does Saadya Gaons understanding of
metaphor tend more toward a substitution or interaction view? Preliminary
observations concerning his treatment of synonymous parallelism indicate
a degree of closeness to Yefet.102 Moreover, both Saadya and Moses ibn Ezra

100 Yefet also saw the parable more as a rhetorical means to an end than as a communicative
aid. A parable aims to convince: But he speaks [to the prophets] in parables in order
to augment the influence on the people. J. Andruss, The Judaeo-Arabic Commentary on
Jonah by the Karaite Japheth ben Eli: Introduction and Translation (MA thesis Ohio State
University, 2007), 7576. For a similar view, see Yefets introduction to his exegesis on
Song of Songs, which asserts that Ezekiel compared Israel to a prostitute to heighten the
impression of his message upon the memory of his listeners, Alobaidi, Song of Songs, 149.
Cf. Moses ibn Ezra who sees the parable as a persuasive, albeit inferior, trope intended for
the sense-driven masses, see Halkin, Kitb al-muara wa al-mudhkara, 287.
101 Such as in Gen 11:31; 21:1; 24:3, 7 or Esth 1:4; 2:7; 5:6; 8:11. On Yefets classifications of genres,
see M. Polliack, Biblical Narrative and the Textualization of Oral Tradition: Innovations
in Medieval Judaeo-Arabic Biblical Exegesis [in Hebrew], in Bn ver la-rv: Contacts
between Arabic Literature and Jewish literature in the Middle Ages and Modern Times, ed.
A.Hussein and A. Oettinger, vol. 5, A Collection of Studies dedicated to Prof. Yosef Tobi on
the Occasion of His Retirement, 10952 (Haifa: The University of Haifa, 2014).
102 See Cohen, Metaphor in Saadia Gaons Psalms Commentary, 5051.
76 Nir and Polliack

associate strong resonance between principal and subsidiary subjects with


poetic excellence.103 Having shown that Yefet is aware of dissonance between
subjects, how does he assess the relationship between parity and poetic aes-
thetics? Does Yefets engagement with allegorical interpretation also reflect his
interaction view of metaphor? Also, do Christian Syriac sources communicate
similar tendencies and notions?
In sum, literal and allegorical interpretations, and, of course, more nuanced
literary observations about figurative language, rely on an exegetes view of
metaphor and, therefore, reflect that view in various ways.104 Future research
will lead to a more robust understanding of medieval Karaite and Rabbanite
views of biblical metaphor in the Islamic milieu. We eagerly anticipate these
scholarly developments, which will prove immediately relevant to topics in
medieval Bible exegesis, such as those mentioned above, and will contribute
to our knowledge of issues further afielda prime example of this latter being
investigations into whether an interaction view of metaphor may be com-
pared to that held by the eleventh-century literary theorist and grammarian
al-Jurjn,105 and how such a view may have influenced the writing of medi-
eval Hebrew poetry, including the oeuvre of the exemplary Karaite poet Moses
Dar.

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Alobaidi, J. Old Jewish Commentaries on the Song of Songs I: The commentary of Yefet
Ben Eli. Bern: Peter Lang, 2010.

103 Cf. Halkin, Kitb al-muara wa al-mudhkara, 259, 285. Their perceptions might resem-
ble what Black termed the comparison view, which he deemed a special category of the
substitution view, see Black, Metaphor, 28285.
104 See Richards, Philosophy of Rhetoric, 135.
105 See Cohen, Three Approaches, 281. Al-Jurjn emphasizes that metaphor is not merely
the transfer of traits but a fusion of metaphorical subjects in the readers mind; thus, his
understanding is comparable to Blacks interaction view and to Yefets approach, as pre-
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Part 2
From Granada to Sanaa


The Distinction of Creative Ability (Fal al-ibd):
From Poetics to Legal Hermeneutics in
Moses Ibn Ezra1
Mordechai Cohen

Abstract

The Andalusian Hebrew poet and literary critic Moses ibn Ezra (ca.10551138) inter-
prets the talmudic dictum that a sage is greater than a prophet to mean that the lat-
ter merely serves as a conduit to convey the word of God, whereas the former uses his
intellect to engage in creative legal interpretation and thereby augment the divine law
as originally stated in the Torah. This chapter examines the complexities in Moses ibn
Ezras thought expressed in this contrast. To begin with, elsewhere in his writings
Ibn Ezra actually assigns a creative rhetorical role to the ancient prophets, arguing that
theyand not Godselected the wording of their prophecies in order to maximize
their impact on the audience. It would seem, though, that this sort of creativity is less
important in Ibn Ezras estimation than the legal creative authority that the sages apply
in modifying the law of God Himself, manifesting the distinction of creative ability. Ibn
Ezras conception of this legal process, which he formulates using terminology drawn
from Muslim jurisprudence, is illuminated by comparison with its fuller development
by the jurist-philosopher Moses Maimonides (11381204), who devises a comprehensive
system of Jewish legal theory using terms and concepts from Muslim jurisprudence to
differentiate between the core laws initially given to Moses at Sinaii.e., the original

1 Initial research for this essay was conducted during a fellowship I held at the Israel Institute
for Advanced Studies (IIAS) in Jerusalem in fall 2010 within the framework of a fourteen-
member international research group entitled Encountering Scripture in Overlapping
Cultures: Early Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Strategies of Reading and Their Contemporary
Implications, which I directed for that semester together with Meir Bar-Asher of the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem. I gratefully acknowledge the support of the IIAS, which provided
optimal conditions for the interdisciplinary research necessary for the current study.
Subsequent work on this essay was conducted in spring 2011, when I was a Research Fellow
at the Center for the Study of Rationality at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, directed by
Prof. Eyal Winter. I also wish to acknowledge the support of a Research Fellowship Grant
by the Lady Davis Foundation during that semester. I am deeply grateful to Meir Bar-Asher
and Robert Gleave who shared with me their expertise in Muslim interpretation and juris-
prudence, which proved invaluable for understanding Moses ibn Ezra and other Judaeo-
Arabic authors within their broader intellectual milieu.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004334786_005


84 cohen

613 commandments (the roots)and their augmentation (branches) by the sages


through creative legal interpretation, as recorded in the Talmud.

Though best known as a Hebrew poet and literary critic, Moses ibn Ezra
(ca.10551138; Granada) mastered multiple areas of learning on the spectrum
of Andalusian Jewish scholarship. Immersed in the Muslim intellectual cul-
ture of his day, which included Arabic poetics and Graeco-Arabic science and
philosophy, Ibn Ezra achieved greatest acclaim for his secular poetry. But he
also was engaged with Hebrew grammar and philology, Bible exegesis, piyy
(liturgical poetry), and rabbinic literatureall of which he presumably learned
from his teacher, Isaac ibn Ghiyyth (10381089), head of the Lucena rabbinic
academy.2 A similarly broad range can be seen, for example, in Ibn Ezras pro-
tg Judah ha-Levi (10751141; Toledo, Jerusalem), renowned in Jewish tradi-
tion both for his religious and secular poetry as well as his philosophical opus,
the Kzr, which itself encompasses discussions relating to Hebrew grammar
and philology, Bible exegesis, and halakhah. As a young, aspiring poet, ha-Levi
began a correspondence with Moses ibn Ezra, the leading Andalusian Jewish
poet of his day, and he emigrated from Castile to Granada in search of a literary
society.3 Ha-Levi went on to develop a nationalistic philosophy that celebrated
the unique characteristics of the Jewish people, the Hebrew language, and the
Holy Land of Israel, ultimately prompting him to renounce the intellectual
pretensions of Andalusian Judaeo-Arabic culture and resettle in Jerusalem at
the end of his life.4 By contrast, Moses ibn Ezra always remained committed
to the intellectual ideals of Judaeo-Arabic learning, even tacitly accepting some
of the tenets of arabiyya (Arabism)i.e., the superiority and excellence of
Arabic language and culturea doctrine that ha-Levi rejected vociferously.5
Moses ibn Ezras richly diverse Andalusian heritageand the tensions it
engenderedis especially evident throughout his Kitb al-muara wa-l-
mudhkara (The Book of Discussion and Conversation), a poetics penned in his

2 See n. 10 below.
3 See R. Brann, The Compunctious Poet: Cultural Ambiguity and Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), 5960.
4 Brann, Compunctious Poet, 8489. See also the following note.
5 Brann, Compunctious Poet, 69, 88. On this contrast between Moses ibn Ezra and Judah
ha-Levi, see E. Alfonso, Islamic Culture Through Jewish Eyes: Al-Andalus from the Tenth to
Twelfth Century (London: Routledge, 2008), 1922.
The Distinction of Creative Ability 85

old age while in exile in the northern, Christian sector of Spain.6 The work is
primarily a handbook for composing Hebrew verse according to the rules of
Arabic poetics, as was the practice of the great authors of the Golden Age
of Hebrew poetry in Spain, who fused biblical language and themes into their
Arabic-style verse. But the book also reflects a set of competing intellectual
values and spiritual passions that characterized Judaeo-Arabic culture at its
height.7 Much as Muslims sought to demonstrate the Qurns excellence and
stylistic inimitability (ijz),8 Ibn Ezra endeavored to document the aesthetic
qualities of the Hebrew Bible. Rather than turning to indigenous, traditional
Jewish learning for this purpose, Ibn Ezra harnessed the well-developed art of
Arabic poetics, using it as a yardstick by which to evaluate the literary achieve-
ments of the ancient biblical prophets. While this move opens him to the accu-
sation of accepting the foreign dominion of arabiyya, it provided him with
useful tools of literary analysis that enabled him to create an aesthetic exege-
sis of Hebrew Scripture. In other words, he demonstrated the elegance of the
Bible by showing that it manifests many of the literary techniques and refine-
ments celebrated by Arab experts on poetry.9
Whereas the study of halakhah and rabbinic literature traditionally held
highest prestige in Jewish culture, Moses ibn Ezras valuations are colored by
his poetic perspective, itself heavily influenced by Arabic literary norms. Ibn
Ezras panegyric for his esteemed teacher thus includes a tinge of criticism:

6 This Judaeo-Arabic work was not translated in the medieval period. In the 20th century it
was translated into Hebrew and Spanish; see the bibliography below. On the contents of
this work, see J. Dana, Poetics of Medieval Hebrew Literature According to Moshe Ibn Ezra [in
Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Dvir, 1982); R. Scheindlin, Rabbi Moshe Ibn Ezra on the Legitimacy
of Poetry, Medievalia et Humanistica 7 (1976): 10115. There are other possible translations
for the Arabic title of this work. J. Dana has recently suggested that it should be rendered
The Book of Lectures and Discussions, or perhaps even Lectures and Recollections (i.e., lec-
ture notes) and that the work was actually composed by Ibn Ezras students to preserve the
great poets oral presentations. See J. Dana, Why did R.Moses Ibn Ezra refrain from men-
tioning his name in his book Kitb al-muara wa-l-mudhkara (Sfer ha-iyynm v-ha-
diyynm)? [in Hebrew], Al Sfer 2425 (2015): 43.
7 See Brann, Compunctious Poet, 958.
8 On this Muslim doctrine and its implications, see M. Bar-Asher, We have made it an Arabic
Qurn: The Permissibility of Translating Scripture in Islam in contrast with Judaism and
Christianity, in Interpreting Scriptures in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Overlapping
Inquiries, ed. M. Cohen and A. Berlin, 6583 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016),
with further references.
9 See M. Cohen, The Aesthetic Exegesis of Moses Ibn Ezra, in Hebrew Bible, Old Testament: The
History of its Interpretation, Vol. IFrom the Beginnings to the Middle Ages (until 1300), Part 2
The Middle Ages, ed. M. Sb et al., 282301 (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000).
86 cohen

The elder and master...Rabbi Isaac ibn Ghiyyth, of blessed memory,


of Lucena, the city of poetry...wrote drafts of many compositions in
legal praxis (fiqh) and language (lugha), and did not rest until he pol-
ished them.... He was greater than all who came before him with respect
to matters of asceticism and prayers..., but he was beneath them in
metered poetry because of his lack of Arabic learning. I read before him
(i.e., was tutored by him) and received [wisdom] from him. And the insig-
nificant [learning] that is with me is but a drop of his ocean, and the little
that is with me is but a spark of his fire.10

Ibn Ezra offers a contemporaneous portrait of the influential rabbinic legal


scholars of his day, including Isaac al-Fs (10131103; Kairouan, Fez, Lucena)
and his successor Joseph ibn Megas (10771103; Seville, Lucena).11 He notes that
the latter was among the poets of Seville; yet, with respect to the former, who
was undoubtedly the leading talmudist on the Andalusian landscape in the
eleventh century, Ibn Ezra remarks:

The exalted Rabbi Isaac of Fez, God rest his grave and the dust from his
remains, was a man of profound religiosity...firm intellect...manifest
wisdom...and prolific pen...But he did not take up the way of poetry
at all.12

Even while celebrating al-Fss towering standing in the realm of halakhah,


Ibn Ezra notes his lack of poetic achievement. For his part, Moses ibn Ezra was
not a talmudist or legal scholar of note. But in a suggestive passage appear-
ing in his Book of Discussion he touches upon fundamental issues relating to
Jewish legal hermeneutics. This passage, which will be the focus of the current
study, compares the intellectual prowess of the sagesi.e., the legal scholars
responsible for the system of Jewish law (halakhah)with that of the ancient
biblical prophets, boldly valuing the former over the latter. Interpreting a tal-
mudic adage, he remarks:

A sage is greater than a prophet (b. B Batr 12a)this is because


the prophet [merely] transmits the communication (risla)...or proph-
ecy (nubwa)...as revealed to him, whereas the sagespeaking on the
authority of the prophetsextrapolates laws (yafrau) [from Scripture]
in accordance with what the Law allows him to extrapolate (tafr), and

10 
Book of Discussion, 39a.
11 
Book of Discussion, 41a.
12 
Book of Discussion, 39b40a.
The Distinction of Creative Ability 87

he utilizes his own mental capacity, and draws conclusions (yuntiju) from
his intellectual premises. He has the distinction (fal) of creative ability
(al-ibd).13

Although, as we shall see, this interpretation of the talmudic adage is drawn


from Ibn Ghiyyth, it has special resonance within the work of Ibn Ezra
and his unique poetic perspective, in turn, sheds special light on Jewish legal
hermeneutical theory as it developed in the eleventh and twelfth century
Andalusian tradition.
There are three major issues that must be addressed regarding this passage,
taking into consideration discussions by Moses ibn Ezra elsewhere in his writ-
ings, as well as those of other authors within the Andalusian school, and his
broader Muslim intellectual milieu:

A. According to what Moses ibn Ezra writes in this passage, the ancient bibli-
cal prophet was a passive transmitter of a communication or prophecy, for
which he is Gods messenger (rasl). However, elsewhere in his writings (as
we shall see below), Ibn Ezra characterizes the prophets as experts in rhetoric
and poetics who used their oratory and literary skills to convey Gods message
in a way that would be most effective. In other words, in his view, the proph-
ets creatively and skillfully fashioned their speechesorally and in writing
according to well-defined aesthetic principles.
B. The activity of the sages is described here using terms from Muslim
jurisprudencetafr and tantjrather than indigenous talmudic terms. To
understand their usage by Ibn Ezra, it is helpful to consult the writings of Moses
Maimonides (11381204; Cordoba, Fus), a great scion of the Andalusian
school who avidly drew upon Muslim jurisprudence (ul al-fiqh) to develop
his bold legal hermeneutical system that emphasizes the interpretive creativ-
ity of the sages within the halakhic process. While useful for the sake of com-
parison, the Maimonidean system was, of course, unknown to Moses ibn Ezra,
who died the year Maimonides was born. However, given its sophistication,
it is reasonable to suppose that precedents for Maimonides system had been
circulating among earlier Andalusian Jewish scholars who adapted Muslim
terms and concepts to describe the halakhic process. To date, brief discus-
sions of this nature have been identified in the writings of Baya ibn Paqda,
Judah ha-Levi, and in newly discovered fragmentary writings of the eleventh-
century Granadan dayyn (religious judge) David ben Saadya ha-Ger, as will be
detailed in this essay. But our chief intention here will be to place Moses ibn
Ezra within this trajectory.

13 
Book of Discussion, 20a.
88 cohen

C. Finally, the distinction of creative ability (fal al-ibd) that Moses ibn
Ezra ascribes to the sages carries with it complex overtones, fraught with a
measure of tension. The Arabic root b-d-, signifying the creation of something
new and unprecedented, had its share of negative connotations in Ibn Ezras
medieval Muslim milieu. Vincent Cornell, a modern scholar of Islam, has
observed that the term ibd, used in contemporary Arabic to connote artistic
creativity in a positive sense, in classical times carried the negative connota-
tion of refashioning of tradition in illegitimate ways.14 In the literary realm,
for instance, the term bad (the passive form; i.e., discovered) signified the
new style of poetic artifice that emerged in the Abbsid era and departed
from earlier, classical Arabic norms. Disparagement of this innovative style
prompted the poet and literary critic Ibn al-Mutazz(861908)to compose
Kitb al-bad to justify this style by showing its roots in earlier Arabic litera-
ture and even in the Qurn.15 Ibn Ezra, who knew the work of Ibn al-Mutazz
well and draws upon it, engages in a similar defense of the bad poetic style by
illustrating its roots in biblical literatureevidently to show that the style
itself is not entirely invented but rather has a venerable lineage.16 Religious
innovationi.e., heretical changes made to Islamwas termed bida.17
While there was a special category of allowable innovation (bida muba),
in the context of religious practice and doctrine the term bida, used alone,
generally carried the negative connotation of deviation from the original will
of God.18 It is therefore surprising that Ibn Ezra would use the term ibd in
a tribute to the sageswho presumably sought to determine the unaltered
will of God. The resolution to this quandary depends on a clarification of
the first two issues enumerated above: precisely how Ibn Ezra understood

14 V. Cornell, Beauty, Culture, and Creativity in Islam, in Voices of Islam, Volume Four: Voices
of Art, Beauty, and Science, ed. V. Cornell, xxiv (Westport, Conn: Praeger Publishers, 2007).
15 See Encyclopedia of Islam, second edition, Bad.
16 See J. Tobi, Kitb Al-Muarah Wa-Al-Mudhkarah by Moshe Ibn Ezra compared with
Kitb al-Bad by Ibn Al-Mutazz, in Studies in Medieval Jewish Poetry: A Message Upon
the Garden, ed. A. Guetta and M. Itzhaki, 1738 (Leiden: Brill, 2009). To be sure, by Moses
ibn Ezras time the term bad had become the standard appellation of ornate style and
did not necessarily bear strong negative connotations in literary circles. But his intimate
familiarity with Ibn al-Mutazzs work would have made him sensitive to the earlier ten-
sions associated with the primary sense of the term, i.e., innovation, departure from
tradition.
17 See U. Abd-Allah, Creativity, Innovation, and Heresy in Islam, in Voices of Islam, Volume
Five: Voices of Change, ed. V. Cornell, 121 (Westport, Conn: Praeger Publishers, 2007).
18 See Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, b-d-.
The Distinction of Creative Ability 89

(1) the nature of the prophets literary creativity and (2) the parameters of the
legal authority granted to the sages to interpret Gods will creatively.
This chapter will be divided into three sections. (A) We begin by outlining
Moses ibn Ezras theory of the rhetorical-poetic nature of biblical prophecy.
(B) We then consider the implications of his account of the legal interpretive
work of the sages against the backdrop of Muslim jurisprudence (ul al-fiqh)
as it was adapted by others in the Jewish Andalusian school. (C) Finally, draw-
ing upon those two discussions, we will seek to understand precisely the dis-
tinction of creative ability that Ibn Ezra ascribes to the sages as opposed to the
prophets, a distinction best understood in light of Maimonides Jewish version
of ul al-fiqh.

1 The Rhetoric and Poetics of Prophecy

Moses ibn Ezras conception of prophecyboth in its original oral setting and
in its written form recorded in the Hebrew Bibleis intricately connected
with his conceptions of rhetoric and poetics. As he remarks early in The Book
of Discussion:

The art of rhetoric (khiba) is called rhetorica in Greek...According


to the philosopher Aristotle it is speech that persuades...And rhetoric[al
addresses] are found in our sacred prophetic books...The art of poetry
(shir) is called poetica in Greek...The term for poet (shir) in our
[Hebrew] language is n (= prophet)...[For example:] a group of
nm (1 Sam 10:5): a gathering of poets; you shall engage in n with
them (1 Sam 10:6): you shall extemporize poetry.19

In addition to presenting these ancient Greek concepts with their Arabic


equivalents, Ibn Ezra finds it necessary to establish that these forms are rep-
resented in the Hebrew Bible. Most strikingly, he equated the Arabic term for
poet (shir) with the Hebrew term for prophet (n), thereby reinforcing the
central role that poetics played in the Hebrew Bible.20

19 Book of Discussion 9b15a.


20 Medieval Hebrew poets regarded biblical prophecy as a precedent for their own verse
compositions, and some claimed to have been inspired by the prophetic Holy Spirit. See
D. Pagis, The Poet as Prophet in Medieval Hebrew Literature, in Poetry and Prophecy: The
Beginnings of a Literary Tradition, ed. J. Kugel, 14050 (Ithaca-London: Cornell University
Press, 1990).
90 cohen

Within the long tradition of Bible interpretation, Ibn Ezra was not alone in
arguing that the Biblical Hebrew term n actually means a poet. This claim
would be made once again by the distinguished eighteenth-century English
Hebraist Robert Lowth (171087) in his influential Lectures On the Sacred Poetry
of the Hebrews:

...the wordNabiwas used by the Hebrews in an ambiguous sense..., it


equally denoted a Prophet, a Poet, or a Musician, under the influence
of divine inspiration...Nor is it reasonable to suppose, that Prophecy
admitted Poetry and Music to a participation in the name alone. The
example of Elisha is remarkable (2 Kgs 3:15), who, when about to pro-
nounce the answer of the Most High to the inquiry of the two kings of
Israel and Judah, orders a minstrel to be brought to him, and uponhis
striking the harp, is immediately agitated by the Holy Spirit...[T]he pro-
phetic office had a most strict connexion with the poetic art. They had
one common name, one common origin, one common author, the Holy
Spirit. Those in particular were called to the exercise of the prophetic
office, who were previously conversant with the sacred poetry.21

As Stephen Prickett has shown, Lowths conception of poetry developed over


the course of his intensive involvement with biblical literature. Though his
starting point was Neoclassical theory and its rigid, ornamentalist view of
poetry, Lowth moved toward a more free-flowing, personally creative concep-
tion of poetrythat would later characterize Romantic theory.22 Ultimately,
the Romantics would view the poet as a modern-day prophet, divinely
inspired.23 Ibn Ezra, of course, was quite distant from Romantic poetics. But,
like Lowth, he regards the prophet as an active participant in the formulation
of Gods word, rather than merely a passive recipient. As he remarks:

21 R. Lowth, Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, transl. G. Gregory (Boston: Joseph
T. Buckingham, 1815), volume II: 1418. See also S. Prickett, Words and the Word: Language,
Poetics and Biblical Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 41.
22 See S. Prickett, Robert Lowths Biblical Poetics and Romantic Theory, in Interpreting
Scriptures in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Overlapping Inquiries, ed. M. Cohen and
A. Berlin, 30925 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).
23 See I. Balfour,The Rhetoric of Romantic Prophecy (Stanford: Stanford University Press,
2002).
The Distinction of Creative Ability 91

The prophet cannot fulfill his mission except through wording with
which he can be understood, even if it differs from the wording that he
heard. But what does not change is the idea.24

For Moses ibn Ezra, the prophet was responsible for conveying the idea received
from God in language that will be most rhetorically effective and poetically ele-
gant. It is for this reason that the prophets had to be talented in the language
arts of rhetoric and poetics. Also similar to Lowth, Ibn Ezra regarded music as
a key to prophetic-poetic inspirationwhich allows for more meaningful cre-
ativity. In his other major expository work, Maqlat al-adqa f mana l-majz
wa-l-aqiqa (The Treatise of the Garden on Figurative and Literal Language),
which is dedicated to Bible interpretation,25 Ibn Ezra accounts for the role of
music in the spiritual life of ancient Israel. Citing 1 Chr 25:15, which recounts
how King David assigned the Levite singers to chant psalms in the Holy Temple
with musical accompaniment, Ibn Ezra discusses the capacity of music to ele-
vate mans soul. For the same reason, he explains, the biblical prophets at times
required musical inspiration, as is evident from Elishas request for a minstrel
(2 Kgs 3:15).26 Citing ancient philosophers, Ibn Ezra describes how music
stir[s] up the noble forces of the soul by awakening mans unique aesthetic
sensibilities, which were implanted in his nature when God attached the
individual souls to animals bodies. Music, he writes, corresponds to [man]s
four temperaments and harmonize[s] their differences; he thus analyzes how
each musical tone produces a distinct spiritual effect on the listener.27 Ibn Ezra
describes the effects of poetry on mans spirit in similar terms. Stimulating his
aesthetic sense, poetry captivates mans soul and becomes indelibly absorbed
into his heart like engraving in a stone. Its melodic rhythm, uniform meter,
clever sound-plays, noble diction, beautiful imagery, and other ornaments all
cause poetry to be most strongly fastened to the ears and most closely attached

24 Book of Discussion, 77b.


25 On this Judaeo-Arabic work, see P. Fenton, Philosophie et exgse dans le Jardin de la mta-
phore de Mose Ibn Ezra (Leiden: Brill, 1997). See also below, n. 41.
26 See A. Shiloah, The Musical Passage in Ibn Ezras Book of the Garden, Yuval: Studies of
the Jewish Music Research Center 4 (1982): 21124.
27 Shiloah, Musical Passage, 21819 (Arabic), 22122 (English). Judah ha-Levi also speaks of
music as a revered art that transfer[s] the soul from one mood to its opposite (Kzr
II: 6465). Biblical evidence for this assessment can be brought, of course, for the thera-
peutic effects of Davids harp playing to cure Sauls melancholy, as described in 1 Sam
16:23.
92 cohen

to mans nature.28 Ibn Ezra thus believed that the Bibles poetic language stirs
mans aesthetic sense and fastens Gods word to his soul, much like the Temple
music inspired worshippers and enhanced their divine service.
It is important to distinguish between Moses ibn Ezras nuanced aesthetic
perspective on the Hebrew Bible and the pronouncements of others in the
Andalusian tradition regarding its literary excellence. Ibn Ezra, for example,
resisted the tendency of other Jewish scholars to automatically grant the ele-
vated literary status of shir (the Arabic term for poetry) to every biblical pas-
sage labeled shr().29 As he remarks:

Some biblical shrt depart from prose: Then Moses uttered this shr
(Exod 15:1ff.); Give ear, O heavens (Deut 32:1ff.); David uttered the
words of this shr (2 Sam 22:1ff.). I say some of the shrt because prose
[texts] also are called shre.g., the Song of Songs (shr ha-shrm), the
Song (shr) of the Well (Num 21:1718), and others.30

Adopting the Arabic definition of poetry (shir) as rhymed, metrical verse


(nam; lit. string of pearls)which is superior to prose (nathr; lit. scatter-
ing)Ibn Ezra inquires whether metrical verse was known to our Israelite
nation in [ancient times].31 Citing the biblical evidence, he concludes:

We have found nothing in [Scripture] departing from prose save these


three books: Psalms, Job, and Proverbs. And these...employ neither
meter nor rhyme in the manner of the Arabs.32

Echoes of alternatives to this harsh verdict can be heard in the Book of


Discussion. Ibn Ezra refers to the opinion of Ibn Ghiyyth that 1 Kgs 5:12,
[Solomon]s poetry (shr) was one thousand and five, refers to lost poetry
comparable to the highest Arabic poetic forms, but Ibn Ezra himself is skepti-
cal that these differed from existing biblical poetry.33

28 Book of Discussion 14b15a. The connection between music and poetry is further devel-
oped by later medieval authors. See A. Berlin, Biblical Poetry Through Medieval Jewish Eyes
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 8889.
29 See Berlin, Poetry, 3334.
30 Book of Discussion 25a.
31 Book of Discussion 5a, 10a, 14a15a. See also V. Cantarino, Arabic Poetics in the Golden Age:
Selection of Texts Accompanied by a Preliminary Study (Leiden: Brill, 1975), 4145.
32 Book of Discussion 24a.
33 Book of Discussion 25ab. Compare with the introduction to Ibn Ghiyyths commentary
on Ecclesiastes, ed. Qafi, 168.
The Distinction of Creative Ability 93

While his protg Judah ha-Levi, who resisted the currents of arabiyya,
would see no need to support his bold assertion that the biblical authors were
capable of the highest literary excellence,34 Moses ibn Ezra insisted on estab-
lishing an empirical basis for this assessment. And whereas ha-Levi implies
that the pure and authentic biblical literary style (which he did not, in fact,
define) is superior to all foreign models,35 Ibn Ezra acknowledged his debt to
Graeco-Arabic aesthetics. As he remarks:

In the eighth of his books on logic (the Poetics),36 the Philosopher


(Aristotle) enumerated the matters in which poetry excels and is beau-
tified [including]...strength of the words, pleasantness of the matters,
incorporating many matters in few words, beauty of the comparisons,
quality of the metaphors, strength of the correspondence, repetition of
the ends and the openings...Now the Arabs divided them into many
more than this number and scrutinized this matter deeply, as you shall
see in this composition when you reach the appropriate place.37

Although he regards Aristotle as a primary authority, it is in fact the Arabic


embellishments of poetry that he uses to define this art form in his Book
of Discussion. In the preface to the section of that work devoted to illustrat-
ing twenty key embellishments defined by Arab experts on poetry, Ibn Ezra
writes:

For each...I cite an example from Arabic verse and juxtapose with it
what I find in the Holy [Hebrew] Scriptures, lest...it be said that the
Arabic language is unique in these [twenty] embellishments...and that
our language is devoid of them.38

In Ibn Ezras opinion, the poetic techniques defined by Arabic theorists had
already been applied by the ancient Hebrew authors whose words have come

34 See Berlin, Poetry, 6166.


35 See Kzr II: 70, 74, 78. See also M. Cohen, The Best of Poetry: Literary Approaches to
the Bible in the Spanish Peshat Tradition, The Torah U-Madda Journal 6 (1995/6): 2324.
36 In its Arabic version, Aristotles Rhetoric and Poetics were classified under the rubric
of logic. See D. Black, Logic and Aristotles Rhetoric and Poetics in MedievalArabic
Philosophy (Leiden: Brill, 1990).
37 Book of Discussion 76a.
38 Book of Discussion 116b.
94 cohen

down to us in the Bible.39 Ibn Ezras discussion of metaphor, the first of the
twenty such poetic techniques that he enumerates, is a prime example:

The first category of the embellishments of poetry is metaphor


(istira)...Even though precise [i.e., non-metaphorical] language
(mukam) is most reliable, in that it is fundamental (al), and metaphor
is merely [derived] from it, nonetheless [metaphor] has grace. When
a composition is enrobed in the cloak of metaphor, its silken garment
becomes beautiful and its glaze refined. And the difference between met-
aphorical speech (kalm) and bare [speech] is like the difference between
the stammering (ayy) and the eloquent (bayn). Those among the intel-
ligent people of our time who disavow metaphor resist the plainly mani-
fest truth and turn aside from the straight path, for metaphor is manifold
in our Scriptures.40

Istira was considered the primary type of majz (non-literal, figurative


language), and it is conceivable that the intelligent people...who disavow
metaphor to whom Ibn Ezra refers here were among the Muslim deniers of
majz.41 Like Muslim opponents of that view, Ibn Ezra concedes some points
raised by the deniers. He acknowledges that metaphor is less accurate than
literal language, and that it is a derivative rather than essential form of speech.42
Yet he argues that metaphorical expression is more elegant and thus necessary,

39 In embracing Arabic poetics so explicitly, Moses ibn Ezra limited the influence of his Book
of Discussion, which was tied to the fate of a particular Andalusian Judaeo-Arabic outlook
that would fade away as the Reconquista progressed in Spain, forcing Jewish learning to
be transplanted to Christian lands. While much of Judaeo-Arabic scholarship was lost
during this often tumultuous transition, the activities of assiduous translators salvaged
some of the most important Judaeo-Arabic linguistic, theological, philosophical and legal
works, preserving them in Hebrew for the benefit of later generations of Jewish read-
ers. But the Book of Discussion remained untranslated in the medieval period. Ibn Ezras
Treatise of the Garden (see above, at n. 25), on the other hand, being of a more philosophi-
cal nature, was translated by the great Hebrew poet Judah al-arz (11651225; Toledo[?],
Aleppo). See Fenton, Jardin, 4757.
40 Book of Discussion, 118a119a.
41 On the definition of majz and on the deniers of majz, see W. Heinrichs, On the
Figurative (Majz) in Muslim Interpretation and Legal Hermeneutics, in Interpreting
Scriptures in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Overlapping Inquiries, ed. M. Cohen and
A. Berlin, 24965 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).
42 The implications of these defects are discussed in M. Cohen, Imagination, Logic, Truth
and Falsehood: Moses Ibn Ezra and Moses Maimonides on Biblical Metaphor in Light of
Arabic Poetics and Philosophy [in Hebrew], Tarb 73 (2005): 43940.
The Distinction of Creative Ability 95

something his own language here demonstrates, as he speaks imaginatively of


metaphorical language enrobing a naked idea to beautify it. To uphold the
legitimacy of metaphor, he notes that it is manifold in our Scriptures, as he
goes on to demonstrate with a list of forty biblical examples.43
Taking stock of what we have seen of Moses ibn Ezras account of proph-
ecy until now, it is clear thatin his viewthe ancient prophets were actu-
ally quite creative in fashioning the word of God in the most rhetorically
effective and poetically elegant way. In other words, they were not passive
conduits of Gods word, as one might infer from his above-cited remark that
the prophetas opposed to the sagesimply transmits the communica-
tion (risla)...or prophecy (nubwa)...as revealed to him. How are we to
reconcile these seemingly contradictory characterizations of prophecy? The
resolution of this seeming contradiction is dependent on the sharp form-
content dichotomy to which Ibn Ezraadhering to a tenet of Arabic poetics
subscribes.44 Indeed, in the very passage (cited above) in which Ibn Ezra argues
for the creative role of the prophet, he emphasizes this dichotomy:

The wording (laf) is a vessel for the idea (or: content, meaning; man)...
[T]he idea is the spirit (r) and the word is the body (badan).... And
the prophet cannot fulfill his mission except through wording with which
he can be understood, even if it differs from the wording that he heard.
But what does not change is the idea. Now speech (or: language; kalm) is
made up of a husk (qishr) and a kernel (lubb). The husk is...perceived by
the ear..., but [sense] perception is not understanding...which occurs
only in the heart...[when] the idea is received by the intellect.... The
[biblical] sage [says], Incline your ear and listen to the words of the wise
/ Direct your heart to my wisdom (Prov22:17).... He specifies the ear for
hearing the husk...and the heart for [understanding] the kerneli.e.,
the idea.45

43 For an analysis of these examples, see Cohen, Moses Ibn Ezra vs. Maimonides: Argument
for a Poetic Definition of Metaphor (Istira), Edebiyt: Journal of Middle Eastern and
Comparative Literature 11 (2000): 616.
44 On this dichotomy in Arabic poetics, see, e.g., Cantarino, Arabic Poetics, 4651; J. Sadan,
Maidens Hair and Starry Skies: Imagery System and Man Guides: The Practical Side
of Arabic Poetics as Demonstrated in Two Manuscripts, in Studies in Medieval Arabic
and Hebrew Poetics, ed. S. Somekh, 5867 (Leiden: Brill, 1991); see also van G. van Gelder,
Beyond the Line: Classical Arabic Literary Critics on the Coherence and Unity of the Poem
(Leiden: Brill, 1982), 13.
45 Book of Discussion, 77b.
96 cohen

Applying the Arabic dichotomy between laf (wording) and man (idea), lik-
ened to the relation between body and spirit, husk (qishr) and kernel (lubb),46
Ibn Ezra implies that the formulation of prophecy is incidental to the divine
message. And so, even though the prophet independently and skillfully selects
the wording of his prophetic address, ultimately his creativity does not alter the
divine message fundamentally. The notion that the language of poetry is inci-
dental to its content (quite at odds with the twentieth-century New Critical
notion that they are linked essentially47) is, in fact, a central theme in the Book
of Discussion, where it serves to resolve other, related difficulties on Ibn Ezras
theoretical literary horizon. For example, the problem of unreliability raised
by metaphor reflects the more fundamental objection that the best of poetry
is its most false (akdhabuhu).48 As Ibn Ezra notes, the Muslim disdain for the
falsehood of poetry can be traced to the Qurn, and is echoed by the great
Aristotelian Arab philosopher al-Frb, who remarked that the poet is like
one who makes a design that is visually splendid, but has no truth (aqqa) to
it.49 To counter these criticisms Ibn Ezra relies on the form-content dichot-
omy, as is evident from the following remark:

If a poem were devoid of falsehood, it would not be a poem..., as one of


the early [poet]s said [of his patron]: He is the sea, from whichever side
you approach him; for goodness is his wave and generosity his shore.
Now all of these are false comparisons (tashbiht; i.e., metaphorical
expressions), but the intention (murd) is that he is magnanimous.50

In other words, Ibn Ezra distinguishes between the content (murd) of poetry,
which may be true, and its artistic form, which is imaginative and false.
One might have expected that the Bible, being the word of God, would be
entirely true, and exclude poetic expression, thereby falling under the general
rule the best of speech is its most true (adaquhu), as opposed to poetry, the
best of which is the most false.51 Indeed, a claim like this seems to have been

46 This distinction was common in Christian writings. See, e.g., Augustine, De doctrina
Christiana III: xii.
47 See, e.g., C. Brooks, The Heresy of Paraphrase, inThe Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the
Structure of Poetry, 192214 (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1947).
48 Book of Discussion, 62a. On this adage in the Arabic tradition, see S. Bonebakker, Aspects
of the History of Literary Rhetoric and Poetics in Arabic Literature, Viator: Medieval and
Renaissance Studies 1 (1970): 91.
49 Book of Discussion, 62ab, 64a.
50 Book of Discussion, 62b.
51 Book of Discussion, 62b.
The Distinction of Creative Ability 97

made by the Muslim deniers of majz, who deemed metaphor and poetic
languagefalse by definitioninconsistent with Holy Scripture (i.e., the
Qurn). But Ibn Ezra, as we have seen, makes the point that metaphor is
ubiquitous in the Bible. This leads to a striking dichotomy in his perception of
the sacred text, as is evident from the following remark regarding the Song
of Songs, a book interpreted allegorically in Jewish (as in Christian) tradition,
though read literally it seems to be a collection of love lyrics. Addressing a criti-
cism leveled against the Hebrew poetry of his day that salaciously expressed
love and passion, Ibn Ezra responds:

The love and passion...[depicted by] the poets of our people are not
repugnant since this is found in the Holy Writings, even though the
apparent sense (hir) is not the meaning hidden in that speech (man
bin dhlika l-kalm).52

Referring to the often erotic depictions in the Song of Songs, Ibn Ezra invokes
the standard dichotomy in qurnic hermeneutics between the hir (appar-
ent sense) and bin (hidden, inner meaning).53 And so, the love poetry in
the Song is merely a veneer (worthy of emulation for its poetic beauty); but
in truth the Song conveys lofty mattersthe relationship between God and
Israel.54 In other words, for Ibn Ezra, the husk of scripture is poetic, beautiful,
and false, whereas its kernel is prosaic and sacredbut true.
As a poet, then, Moses ibn Ezra prized the Bibles aesthetic exterior, not-
withstanding its inherent falsehood. This is evident in a striking anecdote
that he records from his early years in the great Muslim metropolis of Granada:

In my youth, in my hometown, a Muslim scholar...asked me to recite


the Ten Commandments in Arabic. I understood his intention, to dem-
onstrate the paucity of its literary elegance (fasa). I therefore asked
him to recite the opening (al-ftia) of his Qurn in Latin...but when
he set out to translate it into that language its words became ugly and its

52 Book of Discussion, 143a.


53 See R. Gleave, Islam and Literalism: Literal Meaning and Interpretation in Islamic Legal
Theory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), 64.
54 Moses ibn Ezra does not specify this meaning of the Song. But it was a standard view in
11th-century al-Andalus, as reflected, e.g., in the commentary of Abraham ibn Ezra, and
the one attributed to Saadya Gaon. See M. Cohen, Opening the Gates of Interpretation:
Maimonides Biblical Hermeneutics in Light of His Geonic-Andalusian Heritage and Muslim
Milieu (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 2038.
98 cohen

beauty tarnished. He understood my intention and released me from his


request.55

Both Ibn Ezra and his Muslim interlocutor recognized that an accurate trans-
lation of Scripturethe Bible into Arabic, the Qurn into Latinnaturally
results in the loss of its literary elegance.56 As a sort of converse, Ibn Ezra else-
where commends the literary beauty of the versified Arabic Psalms translation
by the ninth-century Christian Haf al-Q (the Goth), though he criticizes
its inaccuracy.57 Perhaps he believed that a translation can be either accurate
or beautiful, but not bothanother reflection of the distinction between the
poetic exterior (style) and the prosaic intention (content), and the choice
that translators must often make between them. The broader interpretive
implications of Ibn Ezras rhetorical-poetic outlook emerge in his Treatise of
the Garden, where, in speaking of the Bibles anthropomorphic depictions
of God, he remarks:

The true idea (Arab. al-man al-aqq; Heb. ha-inyn ha-mitt) that is
intended is too wondrous and exalted to be understood precisely. The
wise man must [therefore] divest the [true] ideas of their garb of gross
figurative expressions (Arab. majzt; Heb. havrt;) and [re]clothe
them in pleasant garb, so that he will reach through them the intended
idea, to the extent of human capacity to comprehend.58

Whereas literary composition entails enrobing plain ideas in beautiful lan-


guage, interpretationaccording to the rationalist tradition going back to
Saadya Gaon (882942; Fayyum, Baghdad) that Moses ibn Ezra adopts in
his Treatise of the Gardenreverses this process, uncovering the true idea
underlying Scriptures figurative language by stripping away its ornamental
husk and re-clothing it in the garb of language that is more acceptable from
a rationalist perspective.59 Though Ibn Ezra here speaks about a special case

55 Book of Discussion 24a.


56 The literary elegance of the Qurn was a favorite theme in Muslim thoughtand is
noted by Moses ibn Ezra. See Book of Discussion, 20b (ascribing faa and balgha to the
Qurn).
57 Book of Discussion, 23b, 128a. See also M. Urvoy, Le Psautier Mozarabe de Hafs le Goth
(Toulouse: Presses Universitaires Du Mirail, 1994).
58 The text cited here follows the Hebrew translation of Judah al-arz (p.137), which
brings out the imagery of this passage most sharply. On the slight differences in the origi-
nal Arabic text, see Cohen, Three Approaches to Biblical Metaphor (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 63.
59 See Fenton, Jardin, 266314; Cohen, Aesthetic Exegesis, 28788; idem, Gates, 7374.
The Distinction of Creative Ability 99

(language depicting God, which entails particular theological challenges), this


perspective pervades his treatise, in which he decodes the majz in scripture
to reveal its inner truth (aqqa). And so, while Ibn Ezra rejects the position
of the deniers of majz, he does contend with their suspicions regarding its
falsehood.
Moses ibn Ezras poetic-rhetorical outlook upon Scripture, together with the
associated form-content dichotomy, played an important role in the unfold-
ing Andalusian exegetical traditioneven as it was transplanted to Christian
lands, where Jews did not read Arabic. Judah ha-Levi reflects the thinking of
his master in discussing the vision of Micaiah ben Imlah in 1 Kgs 22. As part
of that prophets endeavor to dissuade King Ahab from doing battle at Ramoth
Gileada course of action encouraged by four hundred prophets and the
charismatic Zedekiah ben ChenaanahMicaiah proclaims that he saw
the Lord seated upon His throne, with all the host of heaven standing in
attendance to the right and to the left of Him. In this elaborate vision, the
Lord seeks a volunteer to entice Ahab to march to his death, whereupon a
lying spirit proposes to enter the mouth of all his prophets (1 Kgs 22:1923)
and mislead Ahab. Regarding this episode, Judah ha-Levi remarks in his theo-
logical work, the Kzr:

There was no truth (or: literally true language; Arab. aqqa; Heb. met) in
this vision beyond what he said: So the Lord has put a lying spirit in the
mouth of all these prophets of yours. All the rest is simply an introduc-
tion and rhetorical preparation (Arab. muqaddima wa-tawia khibiyya;
Heb. haqdm v-ha hliyyt) to confirm and emphasize that this
utterance is true.60

Originally composed in Judaeo-Arabic, the Kzr was translated into Hebrew


by Judah ibn Tibbon (ca.112090) and influenced the Provenal exegete David
Qimi (Radak; 11601235), who prefaces his commentary on this biblical pas-
sage with the following remark:

This matter poses a great perplexity to one who takes it literally


(k-mashm). Now the truth (met) is that God induced the false proph-
ets to mislead Ahab..., not that any of them attained prophecy.

60 
Kzr 3:73, ed. Baneth and Ben-Shammai, 144; trans. [in Hebrew] by Ibn Tibbon, ed.
Zifroni, 212.
100 cohen

As for Micaiahs elaborate vision, he explains:

All of these are [merely] words of eloquence (or: rhetoric; dir ml),
which Micaiah formulated as an oratory technique (derekh haat
drm; lit. by way of presenting [his] words), not that Micaiah saw any
of these things, nor heard them, since prophecy from God must be true.61

Radak argues that Micaiahs purported vision is a fabrication, a rhetorical


dramatization of the message he received from God. Ironically, the tactic to
denounce the false prophets employed by Micaiah himself is described by
Radak using the mishnaic definition of a false prophet: one who prophecies
what he did not see or did not hear (m. Sanhedrn 11:5). For Radak, of course,
one must judge this prophets words by the kernel of truth they possess: that the
prophets are lying, as expressed in his final verse. Indeed, this point is referred
to as the truth (ha-met) of Micaiahs vision in the first line of Radaks gloss.
As he often does for the lovers of drsh,62 Radak notes the traditional
alternative to his psh interpretation, according to which the spirit was
actually that of Naboth the Jezrelite, who was murdered by Ahab and finds
an opportunity here to settle the score. Radaks citation of this approach high-
lights the revolutionary nature of his psh reading: Radak posits, by way of
psh, that a prophetic depiction is not intended literally, by contrast with
the midrashic approach which assumes a factual-literal reading.63 In this
respect he is representative of the Andalusian school,64 in which psh was
not simply a literal or even purely philological-contextual reading, but rather
an attempt to understand the Bible in light of the key role played by rhetoric in
ancient prophecy.65 As ha-Levi before him argued, Radak posits that Micaiah
sought to fulfill his task of persuading Ahab through the art of oratory (khiba
/ ml), which entails the use of false imaginative language. In the spirit of

61 Radak, commentary on 1 Kgs 22:19.


62 Introduction to his commentary on The Former Prophets. See M. Cohen, The Qimhi
Family, in Hebrew Bible, Old Testament: The History of its Interpretation, Vol. IFrom the
Beginnings to the Middle Ages (until 1300), Part 2The Middle Ages, ed. M. Sb et al.,
39698 (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000).
63 This occurs elsewhere; see, e.g., Radak on Jer 31:14, Hos 1:2.
64 See, e.g., Abraham ibn Ezra on Hos 1:2; Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, II: 46.
65 See M. Cohen, Emergence of the Rule ofPeshatin Jewish Bible Exegesis, and Words of
Eloquence: Rhetoric and Poetics in Jewish Peshat Exegesis in its Muslim and Christian
Contexts, in Interpreting Scriptures in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Overlapping
Inquiries, ed. M. Cohen and A. Berlin, 20523, 26684 (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2016).
The Distinction of Creative Ability 101

Moses ibn Ezras conceptualization, ha-Levi and Radak believed that one gets
at the truth (aqqa / met) of the prophets words by stripping away the
rhetorical elaboration that had been added for its emotive effect.

2 Legal Interpretation by the Sages

Notwithstanding Ibn Ezras high regard for the rhetorical and poetic capabili-
ties of the prophets, in the passage cited at the outset of this chapter (above,
at n. 13) he displays even greater respect for the legal interpretive work of the
sages. The source of that assessment, linked to the talmudic adage A sage is
greater than a prophet, is Ibn Ghiyyth, who writes in his commentary on
Ecclesiastes:

The sages have greater distinction than the prophets, because they draw
upon their innate instinct and their hard thinking and they draw forth
conclusions (natij) from their sources, and they draw the derivative
laws (fur; lit. branches) from the principle laws (ul; lit. roots). But [the
prophets] merely follow the divine revelation and are guided by the sub-
stance of the prophecy...and this was the intention of the one who said,
A sage is greater than a prophet.66

Both Ibn Ghiyyth and Ibn Ezra interpret the talmudic adage A sage is greater
than a prophet in terms of the interpretive creativity of the former, by contrast
to the relative passivity of the latter. Given that the expertise of Ibn Ghiyyth
was greater in halakhah than in poetry, it is not surprising that he shows spe-
cial favor to the sages represented in the Talmud. It is more surprising that
Ibn Ezra would subscribe to the same hierarchy. After all, it was Ibn Ezra who
lauded and detailed the literary creativity of the prophets in embellishing the
message that they received from God.
As we have seen, however, Ibn Ezra subscribes to a form-content dichotomy
that renders the prophets poetic embellishment a merely incidental garb.
Therefore, even he could embrace the notion that true creativity lies with the
scholars of halakhah, the fuqah. Yet the claim that the sages manifested cre-
ativity in the procedure referred to as tafr (derivation)i.e., producing the
derivative laws (fur) from the principle laws (ul)is not to be taken for
granted. Saadya Gaon, a towering jurist revered in the Andalusian school, had
specifically denied that any human input played a role in the production of

66 Ibn Ghiyyth, Commentary on Ecclesiastes, ed. Qafi, 16263.


102 cohen

the fur, and argued instead that they were all given as part of the original rev-
elation at Sinai.67 By his account, the authentic system of halakhah, embody-
ing the will of God, is founded entirely upon a one-time Sinaitic revelation,
with little room for human interpretive creativity. In adopting a more dynamic
model that allows for legal interpretive innovation, Ibn Ghiyyth and Moses
ibn Ezra would seem to reflect the currents of contemporaneous Muslim juris-
prudence (ul al-fiqh), as characterized by Bernard Weiss:

The Arabic term ul literally means roots. The rules that the jurists pro-
duce are called, on the other hand, branches (fur) or fruit (thamar).
The extraction of rules from the sources is often called harvesting
(istithmr). The work of the jurists is thus described by means of agri-
cultural metaphors. Only the roots (that is, the sources) are given; the
branches, or fruit, are not [given,] but rather must be made to appear;
and for this human husbandry is required. The jurist is the husbandman
who must facilitate the growth of the law...out of the roots.68

On this account, the roots are the laws that were given initiallyas repre-
sented in the foundational texts (nu) of Muslim lawi.e., the Qurn and
the sunna (traditions regarding the practices of the Prophet Muhammad
and his companions).69 Accordingly,

The jurist must first explore...the meaning of the texts in order to deter-
mine what rules are contained within that meaning. This task requires
him to employ the skills of a philologist and to be well versed in Arabic
lexicography, morphology, syntax and stylistics.70

This was known as tafsr in Arabici.e., determining the direct meaning of


the sacred text. The derivation of the branches, on the other hand, is based
on a different mechanism that is specific to the experts on religious law (the
fuqah):

67 See D. Sklare, Samuel ben Hofni and His Cultural World (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 16061. See also
M. Halbertal, People of the Book: Canon, Meaning and Authority (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1997), 59.
68 B. Weiss, The Spirit of Islamic Law (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998), 2223.
69 See Weiss, Spirit, 38; W. Hallaq, The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2005), 119.
70 Weiss, Spirit, 23.
The Distinction of Creative Ability 103

When he is satisfied that he has harvested whatever rules of law lie within
the texts meaning thus conceived, [the jurist] may then...attempt to see
what further rules may be gleaned by way of qiys (analogy, legal syllo-
gism) with rules already determined.71

The notion of qiys became central in Muslim jurisprudence as a way of for-


malizing the more hazy notion of independent legal opinion (ray) commonly
applied by Muslim jurists where the foundational texts were silent.72 Within
Muslim jurisprudence, qiysa term also used in the discipline of logic to
connote demonstrative syllogismwas characterized as a well-defined legal
hermeneutical mechanism for the extraction of derivative laws (fur) from
the principal laws (ul) stated explicitly in the texts.
Saadya was well aware of the Muslim notion of qiys, but explicitly denied
that it played a role in the halakhic system, which, in his view, is based entirely
on the comprehensive Sinaitic tradition transmitted by the Rabbis of the
Talmud. He argued that the apparent derivations of laws from Scripture in
rabbinic literature, through the various midrashic middt (hermeneutical
rules), were merely ex-post-facto supports for laws known through the Sinaitic
tradition.73 Saadya thus criticized the Karaites for their reliance upon qiys.74
Indeed, since the Karaites rejected the authority of the Oral Law transmit-
ted by the Rabbis, it was essential for them to use the mechanism of qiys to
supplement the often meager legal guidelines given explicitly in the Bible.75
This sharp debate would become blurred in al-Andalus, where even Rabbanite
jurists acknowledged that qiys was a key component of the development of

71 Weiss, Spirit, 2223.


72 See Hallaq, Origins, 5354, 76, 11320, 12228.
73 See J. Harris, How Do We Know This? Midrash and the Fragmentation of Modern Judaism
(Albany: SUNY Press, 1995), 7681; Cohen, Gates, 24351.
74 See Saadya, Genesis Commentary, Introduction, 1617 (Arab.); 188189 (Heb.); M. Zucker,
Fragments of the Kitb Tal al-Shari al-Samyah [in Hebrew], Tarb 41 (1972):
373410.
75 See Y. Erder, Methods in Early Karaite Halakha [in Hebrew] (Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz
Hameuchad, 2012), 4954; Frank, Search Scripture, 2425.
104 cohen

the halakhah.76 Tacitly accepting an objection raised by the Karaites,77 Saadyas


Andalusian Rabbanite successors were well-aware that his position is difficult
to square with the tenor of talmudic discussions, which imply that the sages,
in fact, derived entirely new laws from the biblical text using the midrashic
middt, which they likened to qiys.78 This development is attested in the ethi-
cal work Ht ha-lt (Duties of the Heart) by Baya ibn Paqda, the elev-
enth-century dayyn of Saragossa, who writes:

When a question occurred regarding the applications (fur) of the laws


and their peculiarities (i.e., unusual cases), the [sages] reflected (naar)
upon them (i.e., the laws) at that time with their analogical reasoning
(qiys), and they extracted (istanba) the law from the principles (ul)
that they safeguarded [i.e., as part of the sacred tradition].... When the
need arose to implement the law, if the law was plainly clear from
the principles (ul) transmitted by the Prophets, peace be upon them,
then they would implement the law accordingly. And if the question was
[a matter] of the applications (fur), the laws of which are to be extracted
from the principles (ul) of the transmitted tradition, they applied their
ray (legal reasoning) and qiys to them.79

As a religious judge, Baya presumably was quite familiar with this halakhic
process himself. But since he evidently did not write works of legal theory
or even positive law (i.e., halakhah), we do not get much further detail from
him. In fact, it is reasonable to assume that Baya did not depart from Saadyas
static, tradition-based model on his own authority, since he was not known as
a particularly distinguished or innovative talmudist.

76 Some Rabbanite authors in the Andalusian school sought to uphold Saadyas anti-Karaite
position regarding qiys, though it became increasingly difficult to do so because of the
developments in Andalusian Rabbanite jurisprudence, as outlined below. Ha-Levis cri-
tique of the Karaite use of qiys is a good illustration of this tension. See Lobel, Between
Mysticism and Philosophy: Sufi Language of Religious Experience in Judah ha-Levis Kuzari
(New York: SUNY Press, 2000), 5868; Cohen, Gates, 25457. Even Moses ibn Ezra cites
Saadyas critique of the Karaite reliance on qiys. See Book of Discussion, 108b.
77 It is possible that there was a Karaite community in Spain. See Lasker, Karaism in
twelfth-century Spain. Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 1/2 (1992): 17995. But
Andalusian Rabbanites were well-aware of Karaite doctrines from the extensive Karaite
literature produced in the Muslim East.
78 See G. Blidstein, Tradition and Institutional Authority: On Oral Law in Maimonides [in
Hebrew], Daat 16 (1986): 1520.
79 Duties of the Heart, introduction, ed. Qafi, 2829; see also Sklare, Samuel ben Hofni, 161n.
The Distinction of Creative Ability 105

Until recently, it was difficult to clarify this matter further due to the fragmen-
tary nature of the extant halakhic literature from eleventh-century al-Andalus.
However, from the riches of the Cairo Geniza a fresh outlook on this ques-
tion has emerged in recently discovered (and soon to be published) fragments
of Kitb al-w (The Comprehensive Book) by David ben Saadya ha-Ger (the
Proselyte), who served as a dayyn in Granada in the mid-eleventh century.80
This work, which was evidently influential for over a century in the Judaeo-
Arabic world, included substantial discussions of both positive law (halakhah)
and jurisprudencei.e., the sources of the law in the spirit of ul al-fiqh.81
David ben Saadya outlines three major sources of Rabbanite halakhah:

(1) the text of Scripture (lit. the revealed book; na al-kitb al-manzl);
(2) the transmitted tradition (al-adth al-manql);
(3) interpretation of the matters (shar al-mani) by the Sages (lit. folk) of
the Talmud.82

This tripartite division seems to be based on the talmudic dictum A person


must always divide his years [for study] into three: a third in Scripture, a third
in Mishnah, and a third in Talmud (b. Qiddshn 30a).83 David ben Saadya
identifies Mishnah with the category of adth (reports)i.e., the oral narra-
tives of the practices (sunna) of the Prophet and his companions which were
subsequently committed to writing.84 The Talmud, which is cast here as an
interpretation of the Mishnah and perhaps Scripture, is regarded by David ben
Saadya as being composite:

And as for the interpretations of the matters by the Sages (lit. folk) of
the Talmud, this occurs in two ways: some of them are (a) interpreta-
tions transmitted (manql) explicitly, and others are (b) interpretations
extrapolated (mustakhraj) through unadulterated judgment (ray) and
sound analogy (qiys).85

80 D. Sklare, David ben Saadya al-Ger and his Work al-Hw [in Hebrew], Td 14 (1998):
10923. The extant fragments of this work, edited and translated by Y. Stampfer, will be
published by the Ben-Zvi Institute. Cf. Y. Stampfer, Jewish Law in Eleventh-Century
Spain: The Kitab al-Hawi of Rabbi David Ben Saadia [in Hebrew], Shenaton ha-Mishpat
ha-Ivry 25 (1998): 21718.
81 On the content and influence of this work, see Sklare, Hw, 1039.
82 Stampfer, Jewish Law, 221.
83 Maimonides, likewise, would draw upon this Talmudic tripartite division. See I. Twersky,
Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980), 489.
84 See Hallaq, Origins, 6976, 12834.
85 Stampfer, Jewish Law, 223.
106 cohen

This clear statement by David ben Saadya, coupled with Bayas remarks, sug-
gest that the dynamic model of halakhah, powered by concepts from Muslim
jurisprudence, had largely replaced Saadya Gaons static model in al-Andalus
by the end of the eleventh centurywhich explains its prominence in the
thought of Ibn Ghiyyth and Moses ibn Ezra.86
The implications of the dynamic, creative model of legal interpretation
and the distinction between what is stated in the foundational texts and the
subsequent extrapolations by the sageswere most fully developed by
Moses Maimonides, the most celebrated scion of the Andalusian tradition.
As Gerald Blidstein notes,

The Oral Law revealed at Sinai possesses, for Maimonides, a realistic,


factual, historical existence. It was transmitted down the generations....
Subsequent interpretation and legislation [on the other hand] are not
termed Oral Law.... That which is Oral Law is historically Sinaitic, but
rabbinic interpretation and legislation are no less historically mans
deed.... Maimonides...[thus] anchors much of the Talmudic tradition
in objective human creativity.87

In the introduction to his commentary on the Mishnah, Maimonides describes


the process by which the full halakhic systemas presented in the Talmud
was produced from the initial laws given to Moses at Sinai. The most basic
component of this legal system, which he refers to using the Arabic term
our sharai.e., our laware the 613 mivt recorded in the text of the
Pentateuch. As he writes:

Know that every law (shara) that God revealed to Moses our master was
only revealed to him with its interpretation. God told him the text (na),
and then told him its tafsr and tawl.... And they (i.e., Israel) would
write the text and commit the [interpretive] tradition (naql) to memory.
And thus the Sages, peace be upon them, say: the Written Law and the
Oral Law, and...[that] all of the commandments (mivt), their gen-
eral principles, their details and their particulars, were said at Sinai,....
[Thus it is for all] six hundred and thirteen laws, each one and its
interpretation (tafsr)the laws written in scrolls, and the interpretation
transmitted [orally].88

86 As mentioned above (see n. 76), the anti-Karaite element of Saadyas opposition to qiys
continued to reverberate even in the Andalusian school.
87 G. Blidstein, Maimonides on Oral Law, Jewish Law Annual 1 (1978): 11011.
88 Introduction to the Mishnah, ed. Shailat, 32728 (Arab.); 2728 (Heb.).
The Distinction of Creative Ability 107

This original core, which was conveyed by God through the unique prophecy
of Moses,89 was faithfully and precisely transmitted throughout the genera-
tions. These are the ul, the laws stated in the foundational texts (nu), as
described by Weiss. On the other hand, the many debates over the law recorded
in the Talmudaccording to Maimonidesrepresent a subsequent stage in
the halakhic process:

Whatever the elders received [from Moses] was not subject to discus-
sion or disagreement. But the applications (fur) not heard from the
Prophet were subject to discussion (i.e., debate and disagreement), as
the laws were extrapolated (tustakhraju) through qiys, with the thirteen
rules given to him at Sinai, and they are the thirteen middt by which
the Torah is interpreted.... And when Joshua, peace be on him, died, he
transmitted to the Elders the interpretation (tafsr) that he had received,
what was extrapolated (ustukhrija) in his time...and what was subject
to disagreement.... And there was no time lacking deep study of hal-
akhah (tafaqquh)90 and drawing new conclusions (tantj). And the peo-
ple of each generation made the words of those who came before them
a principle (al), and [laws] would be extrapolated (yustakhraju) from
it, and new conclusions would be drawn (yuntaju natij); and [as for]
the [original] transmitted principles (lit. roots; al-ul al-marwiyya) [i.e.,
from Moses], there was no disagreement about them.91

For Maimonides, echoing Baya, the laws stated in Scriptureaccording


to its transmitted interpretationare the ul, from which further laws are
derived using the middt. He refers to this process as extrapolation (istikhrj;
lit. bringing out, extracting92), but not tafsr, indicating that it was not used to
simply explain the words of the biblical text (what we might call interpretation
in its most restricted sense). Indeed, for Maimonides that would be superflu-
ous because, by his account, the written Torah was given at Sinai already with a
comprehensive oral interpretation that did exactly that. Rather, the middt are
principles of inference from the laws (ul) stated in the biblical text, by which

89 See below, n. 97 and 100.


90 On the meaning and implications of the term tafaqquh, see Cohen, Gates, 266n.
91 Introduction to the Mishnah, ed. Shailat, 328, 335 (Arab.); 2829, 3637 (Heb.).
92 Al-arz, who translated the introduction to the Mishnah, renders istikhrj using the
Hebrew root y-- in hifl ( ;ed. Rabinowitz, 13, 28).
108 cohen

new laws (fur) not specified therein are extrapolated.93 Maimonides calls
this process tantji.e., bringing forth new laws.
In making this distinction, Maimonides finds a powerful new solution to
an old dilemma. The midrashic hermeneutical rules (middt) applied by the
Rabbis of the Talmud do not seem to conform to standard exegetical practice;
i.e., they seem ill-suited for determining the meaning of the biblical text. This
was an especially acute problem for Judaeo-Arabic Rabbanite scholars, who
were faced with the Karaite challenge that focused on precisely this point.
Judah ha-Levi, in fact, cites this criticism in his Kzr, and offers the following
solution:

They [must have] had secrets hidden from us in their ways of interpreting
(tafsr) the Torah, which came to them as a tradition in the application of
the thirteen middt.94

In other words, he proposes to define the middt as a mysterious cipher entrusted


to the Rabbis for interpreting (tafsr) the biblical text. Maimonidesa superior
talmudist with a better understanding of rabbinic legal hermeneuticsallevi-
ates the problem in a more rational way by distinguishing between two types of
interpretation, which correspond to the legal-hermeneutical dichotomy char-
acteristic of ul al-fiqh as described by Bernard Weiss: (a) determining the
original intent of the languagei.e., tafsras opposed to (b) inferring new
laws from those stated explicitly, i.e., istikhrj, tantj and tafaqquh. By viewing
the middt as a counterpart to qiys in ul al-fiqh, Maimonides removes them
from the first category altogether. In his view, when the Rabbis applied the
middt, they never thought that they were engaging in textual exegesis and
uncovering the original meaning of the text; instead they were drawing infer-
ences from it to create new legislation.95

3 Creative Interpretation and the Will of God

While Maimonides does not explicitly cite the talmudic adage (cited by Ibn
Ghiyyth and Moses ibn Ezra) that the sage is greater than the prophet, he does
make a similar point of distinguishing between the work of prophecy, which is

93 On this distinction between interpretation and inference, see Cohen, Gates, 27374;
3078.
94 Kzr III: 73, ed. Baneth and Ben-Shammai, 143.
95 See Harris, Fragmentation, 8690.
The Distinction of Creative Ability 109

a matter of transmitting Gods word, and the legal interpretive creativity mani-
fested by the sages. This distinction was not accepted universally in Jewish tra-
dition: Judah ha-Levi, for example, emphasized the superiority of the ancient
rabbis in terms of the prophetic spirit that guided them.96 Maimonides, on the
other hand, writes:

Know that prophecy is of no utility in speculation (naar) regarding


the interpretation (tafsr) of the Torah, and extrapolating (istikhrj) the
derivative laws (fur) through the thirteen middt.97

The great talmudist derives this separation of powers from a biblical verse:

And this is the dictum [of Scripture about the law]: It is not in the heav-
ens...[No, the thing is very close to you,] in your mouth and in your
heart (Deut 30:1214). The meaning is: the texts (nus) preserved [i.e.,
committed to memory] in the mouth, and the [legal] syllogisms (qiyst)
extrapolated through speculation, which...originates in the heart.98

Maimonides goes on to explain that the prophetinvested with divine


authorityis empowered to make ad hoc religious, military, political, or social
decisions with legal implications, as is evident throughout Scripture. The great
codifier regards these as extra-judicial decrees for a moment of need alone. It
does not, however, imply that a prophet has any special judicial status, for

...in this respect alone [i.e., prophecy], he is different from other peo-
ple...for God did not direct us to the Prophets [for determining the law],
but rather directed us to none other than the Sages (ulam), [who are]
the folk of qiys.99

96 See Kzr III: 39, ed. Baneth and Ben-Shammai, 122; Lobel, Mysticism, 132133. This
seems to have been part of ha-Levis anti-Karaite polemic. See n. 76 above.
97 Introduction to the Mishnah, ed. Shailat, 329 (Arab.); 29 (Heb.). The singular revelation of
the Torah, through the prophetic agency of Moses, is, of course, an exception to the rule.
For Maimonides, this instance of prophecy was fundamentally different from all others,
being a direct revelation of Gods word, as opposed to the divine message conveyed by
subsequent prophets, which was mediated through their imagination. See n. 100 below.
98 Ibid., 330 (Arab.), 31 (Heb.).
99 Ibid., 335 (Arab.); 36 (Heb.).
110 cohen

Maimonides, by contrast (and perhaps reacting) to ha-Levi, emerges as a deci-


sive rationalist: the original body of halakhah is based on a one-time revelation
to Moses100one which included the text of the Pentateuch itself (Written
Law) and its oral interpretation (Oral Law), both transmitted through the
channel of traditionbut this original core of laws was then subject to aug-
mentation through purely human exegetical and legal reasoning.
Maimonides boldly draws a strong conclusion from this sharp separation
between prophecy and legal interpretationin which he acknowledges the
critical importance of creativity: what Moses ibn Ezra termed fal al-ibd. As
a master codifier of the talmudic legal system it was critical for Maimonides to
distinguish between laws that are d-ryti.e., of biblical authorityand
those that are d-rabbnni.e., of rabbinic authority only. This basic dichot-
omy appears in the Talmud, and is one of the most important legal distinctions
for any jurist or halakhic codifier to make with respect to any given law or case.101
While halakhically observant Jews regard both laws of biblical and rabbinic
authority as binding, there are significant theoretical differences between the
two categories that at times manifest themselves in practice.102 But Maimonides
was the first to endeavor to establish a systematic way of determining which
laws belong to each of these two categories. In the introduction to his Sfer
ha-mivt (The Book of the Commandments, which he composed after complet-
ing his Mishnah Commentary in 1168), he refits the talmudic maxim a biblical

100 On the unique nature of Mosaic prophecy in Maimonides view, see H. Kreisel, Prophecy:
The History of an Idea in Medieval Jewish Philosophy (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic
Publishers, 2001), 23063.
101 See M. Elon, The Principles of Jewish Law, in Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter,
1975), 910.
102 Violation of biblical law may incur the most severe punishmentssuch as death, whether
execution by the court or death at the hands of heaven (mt bi-yd shmayim; krt
[lit. cutting off]); but the violation of rabbinic law never incurs more than flogging for
rebelliousness (makkat mardt). Although Jewish courts in the Diaspora, as a rule, did
not actually dispense these punishments, this stratification signaled the demand for more
stringent observance of biblical law, and the permissibility of leniency with respect to
rabbinic law in extenuating circumstances. A Talmudic rule of thumb, regularly invoked
by halakhic decisors throughout the middle ages and beyond, is that where a doubt arises,
one rules stringently in the case of a biblical law, but leniently in the case of a rabbinic
law. See bB 3b, vd Zr 7a. Accordingly, within responsa literature, establishing
whether a law is rabbinic or biblical is foundational and will often determine the direc-
tion of the decision ultimately rendered. See, e.g., Maimonides, Responsa #308, ed. Blau,
II: 567.
The Distinction of Creative Ability 111

verse does not leave the realm (lit. hands) of its psh,103 for this codificatory
purpose, making a categorical distinction between hlkht that stem from
the text of the Pentateuch itself, (i.e., psh shel miqr) which are d-ryt,
and those that resulted from the Rabbis midrashic extrapolation, which have
the lower d-rabbnn (rabbinic) status.
Maimonides aim in Sfer ha-mivt was to enumerate the 613 command-
ments traditionally believed to form the basis of Jewish law as conceived
by the Talmud.104 In his introduction to the work, Maimonides clarifies his
methodology of enumeration in fourteen principles by which he determined
which hlkht are to be enumerated as commandments, and which are to
be excluded. He had to justify his enumeration because it differed from that
found in the introduction to the Hlkht gdlt, an enumeration influential
in his day.105
Maimonides first principle, It is not proper to count...laws that are
rabbinic (d-rabbnn),106 is directed against gaonic-era enumerations
including the one in Hlkht gdltthat included rabbinically-instituted
laws such as kindling the anukkah lights and reading the scroll of Esther.107
As David Sklare has noted, the emphasis the Geonim placed on the role of
the Rabbis as faithful transmitters of the oral tradition rather than indepen-
dent legislators caused them to blur the line between rabbinic and biblical
commandments.108 Maimonides, on the other hand, makes this distinction
sharply:

103 See bShabbt 63a; Ymt 12a, 24a.


104 See b. Makkt 23b. The Talmud does not provide a list of the 613 commandments, and
this prompted a number of medieval authors to compose such lists. Some authors in
the Andalusian tradition came to question the exactness of this number, e.g., Judah ibn
Balam and Abraham ibn Ezra. See U. Simon and J. Cohen, Ysd Mr v-Sd Tr (The
Foundation of Piety and the Secret of the Torah), (Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press,
2007), 3233.
105 This list of the 613 commandmentspublished as Haqdmat sfer hlkht gdlt
may have been written by another author and later appended to Hlkht gdlt, a work
by the 9th-century author Simon Qayyara. See Sklare, Samuel ben Hofni, 183n, 222n.
106 Ed. Qafi, 9.
107 This is attested not only in Hlkht gdlt, but also in the enumerations of Saadya,
Hefe ben Yalia (late 10th century) and Solomon ibn Gabirol (11th century). See
M. Zucker, Studies and Notes [in Hebrew]. PAAJR 49 (1982): 97100.
108 Sklare, Samuel ben Hofni, 159160n.
112 cohen

Nothing rabbinic may be counted in the sum of 613 commandments


because this sum [consists] entirely [of] the texts (nu) of the Torah.109

Maimonides focus on the texts of the Torah signals a revolutionary bibli-


cal orientation that emerges with full force in Principle #2: It is not proper
to count everything known through one of the thirteen middt by which the
Torah is interpreted or a redundancy (ribby).110 As he goes on to clarify:

We have already explained in the introduction to our commentary on


the Mishnah that most of the precepts of the Law (shara) are derived
through the thirteen middt by which the Torah is interpreted.111

As a talmudist, Maimonides understood well that the vast majority of the laws
that make up the intricate system of the halakhah are derived midrashically.
However, Maimonides goes on to state that, as a rule, laws so derived are of
rabbinic authority only, and that biblical authority stems only from the biblical
text itself:

Anything for which you do not find a [source-]text (na) in the Torah
and you find that the Talmud deduces it through one of the thirteen
middt112...[you must conclude that] it is a rabbinic law (d-rabbnn),
since there is no [biblical] text (na) indicating (yadullu) it.113

This rule is aimed at the enumeration in the Hlkht gdlt and works of
like-minded authors:

When they found a drash on a verse that...requires performing certain


actions or avoiding certain things, all of which are undoubtedly rabbinic
(d-rabbnn), they counted them in the sum of the commandments,
even though the psh of Scripture (pshh di-qr) does not indicate
any of those things.114

109 Ed. Qafi, 12.


110 Ed. Qafi, 12.
111 Ed. Qafi, 12.
112 In the part of the passage that has been omitted here, Maimonides acknowledges that
in some cases the middt were used to confirm laws actually known from transmitted
interpretations. In that case, the law should be considered d-ryt and included in the
enumeration. See Cohen, Gates, 28889.
113 Ed. Qafi, 13.
114 Ed. Qafi, 14. The expression pshh di-qr is the Aramaic form of Hebrew psh shel
miqr.
The Distinction of Creative Ability 113

Consequently, according to Maimonides, those authors violated the teaching


of the Rabbis:

The principle that the [Sages], peace be upon them, taught us in their
dictum: a biblical verse does not leave the realm of its psh, and the
Talmud in many places inquires, when they [i.e., the Rabbis] found
a verse from which many matters are deduced by way of commen-
tary and inference (istidll): the verse itself (gfh di-qr), of what
does it speak?115...And had he [i.e., the author of Hlkht gdlt]
counted...everything known through one of the thirteen middt by
which the Torah is interpreted, the number of commandments would
reach many thousands.116

Based on the talmudic rule of psh, Maimonides argues that the Rabbis
ascribed biblical (d-ryt) authority only to that of which the verse itself
speaks, and not to further inferences from it by way of drash or any of the
thirteen middt. He construed the psh principle to mean that the [biblical]
authority of a verse does not go beyond its pshi.e., pshh di-qr is the
sole indicator (Arab. dall) of biblical law.
The radical nature of this Maimonidean position was not lost on the great
Catalan talmudist Namanides (11941270), who remarks:

The second principle...is shockingly beyond my comprehension, and I


cannot bear it, for...if so..., then the truth is the psh of Scripture
alone, not the matters derived midrashically, as he mentions from their
dictum, a biblical verse does not leave the realm of its psh. And as a
result we would uproot the thirteen middt by which the Torah is inter-
preted, as well as the bulk of the Talmud, which is based on them.117

Maimonides was not insensitive to the disparity between his novel approach
and the spirit of talmudic thought highlighted by Namanides. Indeed, fur-
ther in Principle #2 he emphasizes the binding authority of laws derived
midrashically:

115 As Qafi here notes, this expression is a paraphrase rather than a precise quote of any
specific expression in rabbinic literature.
116 Ed. Qafi, 14.
117 Hassgt Ramban, critique of Principle #2, ed. Chavel, 4445. See also Harris,
Fragmentation, 9091.
114 cohen

Do not think that we refrain from counting them because they are not
certain (mutayaqqina; i.e., authoritative), or that we question whether
the law derived from such a midd is valid (a) or not. Rather, the
reason is that all of the laws [so] derived are derivatives from the prin-
ciple [law]s (fur min al-ul; lit. branches from the roots) that were told
explicitly to Moses at Sinai, and they are the 613 commandments.118

For Maimonides, the derivation of new lawsbranches from the roots


through legal inference (istidll) is essential to the halakhic system. Yet, since
such derivatives are based on inference rather than pshh di-qr, their
authority is rabbinic rather than biblical. Notwithstanding his demotion of
laws derived midrashically to d-rabbnn status, the creative interpretive
mechanism of talmudic-midrashic interpretation remained paramount for
Maimonides, whose bold application of Principle #2 can be illustrated with
two examples.
(1) The legal sections of the Pentateuch never address the laws of marriage
as such. This institution is taken for granted in two legal passages dealing with
specific cases, both of which begin in the following way: If a man marries
(lit. takes) a woman and cohabits with her (Deut 22:13, 24:1). The Mishnah
records that a woman is betrothed (lit. acquired) in three ways...by money,
by a document, or by intercourse (m. Qiddshn 1:1). The Talmud (b. Qiddshn
4b5a) derives all three from biblical verses midrashically, making no differ-
entiation among them. By contrast, Maimonides, in his commentary on this
mishnaic passage, stratifies them, noting that betrothal by money and by doc-
ument are derived midrashically, by way of gzr shv and heqqsh. On the
other hand,

betrothal by intercourse is the type stated most clearly...[and is] explicit


in the Torah, and this is the most binding of them, and this is the one
considered [lit. called] betrothal from the Torah (d-ryt), as it says
[If a man marries a woman] and cohabits with her (Deut 22:13, 24:1)
with intercourse she becomes a married woman.119

118 Ed. Qafi, 15.


119 Mishnah Commentary, ed. Qafi, III: 28081. Qafi, in his notes here, records that
Maimonidesin his autograph copy of the Mishnah commentarylater crossed out the
words ( called betrothal from the Torah) and added the words
( stated in the Torah) in the margin, evidently to reflect his later modified
view. See the following note.
The Distinction of Creative Ability 115

Talmudists had traditionally assumed all three types of betrothal to be bibli-


cal. Indeed, this novel position would be harshly criticized by other talmud-
ists, including Rabad of Posquires (ca.11201197/8) and Namanides, and
Maimonides himself would later modify it.120 But his initial position demon-
strates the radical implications of Principle #2 and its potential impact on the
talmudic system of law. As Maimonides understands this case, the Rabbis of
the Talmud engaged in creative legal interpretation to expand the halakhic
principle stated explicitly in the text of the Pentateuch.
(2) The prohibition in Exod 22:30, You shall not eat flesh that is rf
(lit. torn up / to pieces by beasts) in the field, was taken in the Talmud as the
source prohibiting the eating of a diseased animal. The Mishnah (m. ulln
3:1) thus lists the defects referred to as rft and gives the following general
rule: If an animal with this defect could not continue to live, it is a rf.
In Biblical Hebrew, however, the root -r-f denotes an animal tearing another
animal to pieces; hence, this verse prohibits explicitly the eating of an ani-
mal mortally wounded (torn to pieces) by beasts.121 In his Book of the
Commandments, Negative Commandment #181, Maimonides thus writes:

We were prohibited from eating an animal torn up by beasts, and that is


His dictum: You shall not eat flesh torn up by beasts in the field...[which
is] the obvious sense of the text (hir al-na).122

Maimonides goes on to address the standard way in which the term rf is


used in the Talmud:

As for an animal suffering from (lit. in which occurred) one of the rft
[i.e., defects, illnesses] derived though qiys (al-muqyasa), it is prohib-
ited to eat even if slaughtered properly, and one who slaughters it prop-
erly and eats of its flesh is given lashes for violating a rabbinic law.123

120 See Maimonides, Responsa #355 and Hilkht ishsht 1:2 with the critical gloss (hassg) of
Rabad ad loc.; see also Hassgt Ramban on Principle #2, ed. Chavel, 3435, and Cohen,
Gates, 41417.
121 Saadya renders rf using the Arabic word muftaras (an animal torn up by beasts) in
his Tafsr on this verse (ed. Derenbourg, 114). Namanides, likewise, defines rf as an
animal torn up by a lion or bear, killed by them in the field (commentary on Lev 22:8, ed.
Chavel, II: 13839).
122 Negative Commandment #181, ed. Qafi, 270.
123 Ed. Qafi, 27071. On the textual complexities of this passage of the Book of the
Commandments, see Cohen, Gates, 419n.
116 cohen

The prohibition stated explicitly in Exod 22:30 is to eat the flesh of an ani-
mal attacked (torn up) by beasts; but the flesh of animals suffering from the
defects classified in the Mishnah as rft are forbidden only rabbinically
because that prohibition is derived through qiys.124 Maimonides was not
alone in his philological construal of the biblical word rf, which follows
Saadya before him and was adopted by Namanides after him. Yet his halakhic
ruling is unique and unexpected, since it is difficult to square with the tenor of
the many talmudic discussions of the rft, which always seem to be treated
as a d-ryt prohibition, as Namanides points out in his critique of the
Book of the Commandments.125 In demoting the talmudic category of rf
to d-rabbnn status, Maimonides emphasizes that it is the result of human
(rather than divine) legal interpretive creativity.
Maimonides frank, robust acknowledgment of the role of human legal
interpretive reasoning in the process of tafr, and the concomitant demotion
of the derivative laws (fur) to d-rabbnn status, represents a high-water
mark in the Andalusian halakhic tradition. Controversial when introduced,
it was ultimately rejected in the subsequent tradition.126 The older position
taken by Saadya that the fur, like the ul, were part of the original Sinaitic
revelation and not the product of human legal reasoning has much in com-
mon with Muslim suspicion of bida in the realm of lawwhich ultimately
must be rooted in the will of God (murd allh). Maimonides was building on
the dynamic model that emerged in al-Andalus, as reflected in the views of
David ben Saadya ha-Ger, Baya ibn Paqda, Isaac ibn Ghiyyth, and Moses
ibn Ezra. Indeed, in a number of places in his writings Maimonides notes that
the process of tafrderiving the fur (branches) from the ul (roots)
is, de facto, the basis of the vast system of halakhah.127 While controversial,
Maimonides demotion of such midrashically derived laws to d-rabbnn
status makes sense because he emphasizes that they do not reflect the origi-
nal intent of God stated in Scripture. Rather, they are the product of human
legal reasoning and interpretive creativitywhat he refers to as deep study
of halakhah (tafaqquh) and drawing new conclusions (tantj).128 This bold

124 For reasoning behind the qiys process here, see Hilkht makhlt srt 4: 69.
Gersonides applies this reasoning in his commentary on this verse (ed. Levy, 294).
125 See Hassgt, ed. Chavel, 4647. It is possible that Maimonides eventually retracted this
extraordinary position. See D. Henshke, The Basis of Maimonides Concept of Halakhah
[in Hebrew], Shenaton ha-Mishpat ha-Ivry 20 (19951997): 10349.
126 See Cohen, Gates, 304, 41617.
127 See, e.g., Book of the Commandments, Principle #2, ed. Qafi, 12, 14; Cohen, Gates, 288, 301.
128 See above, n. 91.
The Distinction of Creative Ability 117

position of Maimonides sheds special light on Moses ibn Ezra, who used
similar terms to characterize the intellectual creativity of the sages of the hal-
akhah: the sage...extrapolates laws (yafrau) [from Scripture] in accordance
with what the Law allows him to extrapolate (tafr), and he utilizes his own
mental capacity, and draws conclusions (yuntiju) from his intellectual prem-
ises (above, at n. 13). However, unlike Maimonides, Ibn Ezra does not demote
the furthough derived through human legal reasoningto the lower
d-rabbnn status. This is highly significant because it means that the sages
actually shape the halakhah on a d-ryt level. The Sages did not change the
wording of Gods revelationas the prophets were empowered to do; yet they
have the distinction of creative ability (fal al-ibd) because they determine,
through their creative analysis, how the will of God itself embodied in the hal-
akhah is defined and applied.

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The Biblical Exegesis of Abraham Ibn Ezra as
a Hermeneutical Device: A Literary Riddle
as a Case Study
Haviva Ishay

Abstract

Biblical exegesis and poetry are two separate and distinct domains. Only rarely do we
find artists who produce acclaimed works in both of these realms. The most successful
example of such a scholar is Abraham ibn Ezra (10891167). This unusual combination
justifiably led researchers to elucidate Ibn Ezras poems according to his biblical exege-
sis. One of Ibn Ezras favorite genres was the riddle, and he composed numerous riddles
of all types and categories: grammatical riddles, onomastic riddles, and long literary
riddles on various subjects. The literary riddle, by its very nature, requires at least two
stages in its reading: decipherment followed by interpretation. In this article I seek to
demonstrate how Ibn Ezras biblical exegesis serves as an effective tool for both decod-
ing and interpreting his literary riddles. I also attempt to elucidate the hermeneutical
essence (doctrine of interpretation) of the literary riddle; when the artistic work being
considered is a literary riddle, readers must shift their attention from decipherment to
interpretation. I discuss this process in Ibn Ezras most popular riddle, which has been
published and deciphered numerous times but has not yet been a subject of literary
interpretation.

Biblical exegesis and poetry are two distinct domains. Rarely do we find artists
who are accomplished in both of these realms. The most renowned example of
such a scholar is Abraham ibn Ezra (10891167), who blazed new, daring trails
in biblical exegesis.1 Ibn Ezras exegesis is acclaimed for its attention to psh
and rationalism. Yet Ibn Ezra also wielded the poets quill with tremendous
skill that informed his oeuvre. This outstanding combination has justifiably
prompted researchers to elucidate Ibn Ezras poems through the lens of his
biblical exegesis.2

1 See U. Simon, The Ear Discerns Words: Studies in Ibn Ezras Exegetical Methodology [in
Hebrew] (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2013).
2 See I. Levin, The Religious Poems of Abraham Ibn Ezra [in Hebrew], 2 vols. (Jerusalem: Israeli
Academy For Science, 1975).

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004334786_006


The Biblical Exegesis of Abraham Ibn Ezra 123

One of Ibn Ezras preferred poetic genres was the riddle, as evidenced by
the wide-ranging categories of riddles that he composed: riddles focusing on
grammar or names, and long literary riddles on various subjects.3 Ibn Ezra was
even privileged to earn the appellation The Knight of the Hebrew Riddle.4
The literary riddle, by its very nature, requires at least a two-stage reading: once
it has been deciphered, it may then be interpreted. In this article I demonstrate
how Ibn Ezras biblical exegesis provides an effective tool for both decoding
and interpreting his literary riddles.

1 Interpreting Literary Riddles

Interpretation is often characterized as the attempt to discern the underly-


ing meaning of a text. There may be differences of opinion over the source,
or even the existence of a certain meaning, and whether it is the only mean-
ing; perhaps several legitimate meanings are possible. Scholars tend to harness
intertextuality to hermeneutics when seeking to decipher a text and tackling
the very concept of meaning. Indeed, even after it has been shaped, an inter-
pretation need not be a static entity; a newer reading of a text can dismantle its
previously understood meaning and suggest other, even contradictory inter-
pretations. And these, in turn, may themselves later be proven temporary.
How are these insights affected when the text at hand is a riddle which, by
definition, has a single solution, as intended by its author? In that case, the
text has one correct meaning and, therefore, only one solution can be correct
and any others erroneous. If there is but one, absolute meaning, how might
we re-read a riddle and enjoy it after we have successfully solved it? How can
readers be active partners, not just passive observers, when they know where
the process will ultimately lead them? How can readers achieve a multi-level
interpretive process for a text that is designed with a singular answer in mind?
In this article I attempt to elucidate the hermeneutical essence (that is to
say, the interpretive framework) of the literary riddle. The existence of vari-
ous forms of interpretation is hardly surprising. It is obvious that legal inter-
pretation is distinct from historical interpretation, much as interpreting the
performance of a play differs greatly from interpreting a philosophical text or
a dream, and these all differ substantially from the interpretation of sensory

3 This article is part of a research study on Abraham ibn Ezras riddles that was generously
funded by the National Science Foundation (no. 212/11). I am grateful for that support for this
work.
4 A. Habermann, Stmm va-tmm (Tel-Aviv, 1945), 56.
124 Ishay

perceptions. What, then, does this act of interpretation entail? What are we
doing when we interpret, and when we explain, elucidate, translate, decipher,
and assess? Perhaps we should place these forms of analysis in one category,
without differentiating among them? If so, why were separate terms coined
for each of them? Or perhaps none of these verbs fully capture the fullness of
interpretive activity?5

2 What is Interpretation?

Hermes, the Greek god whose name forms the root of the term hermeneutics,
conveyed messages from the other gods to humanity, though he would some-
times lead humans astray through lies, false promises, and deceit. If silence
would suddenly reign in the midst of a conversation, ancient Greeks would
say, This is Hermes at work.6 Heidegger considered Hermes to be a cata-
lyst for interpretationin other words, one who facilitated understanding.7
Schleiermacher, who extended the scope of hermeneutics to include all forms
of textual interpretation, defined hermeneutics as the art of understanding
verbal communication.8 In On Interpretation and Understanding, Ruth Lorand
states that, although the general consensus equates understanding with inter-
pretation, this is inaccurate. She asserts: Understanding is a pre-condition for
interpretation, because we cannot interpret something that we dont under-
stand. But that doesnt mean that every understanding is interpretation.9 Thus
interpretation is a cognitive activity, whereas understanding is a state of con-
sciousness. Interpretation not only assists the reader in understanding a text,
but it also infuses that text with a meaning which it did not necessarily have
from the start. The significance of interpretation not only stems from the writ-
ten words, but from the readers ability to create meaning that extends beyond
the text and results from an intertextual, inter-lingual, inter-cultural, intertem-
poral, and interdisciplinary process.

5 R. Lorand, On Interpretation and Understanding [in Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: Tel-Aviv University
Press, 2010), 11.
6 R. Willis (ed.), World Mythology [in Hebrew] (Or Yehuda: Dvir, 1999), 145.
7 M. Heidegger, The Origin of the Work of Art [in Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1968), 37.
8 F. Schleiermacher, Hermeneutics and Criticism, transl. A. Bowie (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1988), 5.
9 Lorand, On Interpretation and Understanding, 16.
The Biblical Exegesis of Abraham Ibn Ezra 125

All understanding is interpretation, Gadamer claimed.10 This concept


can explain how different facets of the interpretive process emerge. However,
according to Gadamer, interpretation is not limited to understanding; rather, it
is an act that is re-constructed with every reading of a text. In contradistinction
to theoreticians who argue that the structure and components of an artistic
work are its defining features, Gadamer posited that the meaning of a text is
not limited to the text itself. Rather the interpretive process is central to the
ongoing dialogue that takes place between the reader and the text (both of
which are intrinsically related to a given readers prior knowledge and tradi-
tions). I use this Gadamerian interpretive approach to explore the questions
regarding the hermeneutics of the literary riddle raised above.
According to Gadamer, the dialogue between the reader and the text is a
necessary foundation for any interpretive process. This dialogue allows vari-
ous types of interpretive processes to emerge, which each involve a series of
decisions made on their basis. The dialogue between the reader and the text
activates traditions that exist in the language of the text, the consciousness
of its author and its reader, respectively, and in the time when this dialogue
occurs. The process of selecting which options the reader will use depends
on the starting point for the readers conscious process.11 This interpretive
approach presupposes three necessary conditions: the reader as a partici-
pant in the interpretive dialogue, language as part of the interpretive process,
and the generation of connections to other texts by the reader. An interpre-
tive process can take place in any space that helps readers to understand and
reveal meaning in a text with which they conduct a dialogue. Readers bring
their traditions and prior knowledge to this encounter and the text contributes
the traditions and knowledge that it transmits. In the next stage, the readers
and the texts respective knowledge horizons combine to form a knowledge
space where the reader can engage in a meaningful interpretive process known
as the merging of horizons.12 At this point, readers address the traditions and
knowledge found in the text and choose those elements that they can relate
to their own knowledge horizons. Time can be an influential element in the
merging of horizons; for instance, when a reader enters a dialogue with a text
from the past, this spurs a reflexive process in which readers examine the
relevance of the information that they encounter in the text. Intra-textual

10 H. G. Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd revised edition (London-New York: Continuum,
2004), 16669.
11 Ibid., Text and Interpretation, in Dialogue and Deconstruction: The Gadamer-Derrida
Encounter, ed. D. Michelfelder and R. Palmer, 3739 (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989).
12 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 302, n. 7.
126 Ishay

reflexivity is found within the text whereas extra-textual reflexivity occurs in


the dialogue that takes place when the reader engages with a text. Both con-
stitute an integral part of the Gadamerian interpretive process that generates
meaning. According to Gadamer, meaning is created by the integration of three
elements: understanding, interpretation, and application.13 All understanding
and interpretation are forms of application in the present, where application is
defined as the creative act conducted by readers who actualize and realize the
text in their own way. In other words, as a function of their distinctive merging
of horizons, each reader will necessarily interpret a specific text in a differ-
ent way; in fact, even one reader may apply a given text differently at various
points in their life. The richer the linguistic and figurative stratification of a
text, the more a reader will be able to conduct an ongoing dialogue with it, to
extract additional meanings.
Thus, the interpretation of a text includes the readers space of conscious-
ness, which is no less important than the space of consciousness of the text
(and its author). The goal of a commentator is not only to understand or
explain a creative work, but to uncover its various effects. Both the commen-
tator and the text come to this encounter with entire worlds that provide an
interpretive dimension. A text is resurrected in the interpretive process, even
when its meaning is so outmoded that it no longer touches its readers. In the
case of the literary riddle, it can be argued that the text is revived even when
the riddle has been solved, thereby eliminating the need to decipher it.
The literary riddle (in contrast to the folk riddle), as Dan Pagis asserts,

...has a specific author, often a poet who is also known for his or her
other works. The author often emphasizes his ownership of the riddle:
he signs his name, includes the work in his collection of poems, etc.
The literary riddle generally appears in writing, and in a fixed format. The
Hebrew literary riddle tends to be much longer than folk-tale riddles
and varies in length from two strophes (in the Spanish version) to two
hundred strophes or more (mainly in the structural riddles). It is almost
always based on several coding schemes, and if it is long, it includes sev-
eral types of coding schemes.14

Such riddles are composed in the elevated style of scholarly poetry; further-
more, they are designed for social settings rather than for solitary reading.
Shulamit Elizur explains:

13 Ibid., 369.
14 D. Pagis, A Secret Sealed [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1986), 38.
The Biblical Exegesis of Abraham Ibn Ezra 127

Since literary riddles are based on rich, picturesque language, they do not
lose their literary value even after they are solved. While originally they
are challenging poems based on an unknown subject, once the subject
is identified they become descriptive epigrams with great metaphoric
quality.15

Since these riddles are also literary works of art, they can be re-read many times,
even after having been solved. The Gadamerian approach to interpretation,
which suggests that a text can be read time and again, enables us to access the
latent world behind the literary text. This dialogical interpretive process does
not cease when that hidden world is revealed, much as the readers conscious-
ness is not rendered inactive when the riddle is solved. With each reading, new
horizons are revealed that spark additional dialogues with the texts horizons.
Gadamer claimed that his method differs from normative approaches in other
fields of research. Whereas it is possible to replicate experiments under spe-
cific conditions in the sciences, for example, the reader engaged in re-reading
a text may discover a new web of connections, meanings, or relationships that
had not been noticed in prior readings. Thus, seeking the resolution of a liter-
ary riddle represents one stage in its interpretive process, but this is not its
ultimate goal.
The Gadamerian approach views the reader as a dynamic partner. Without
presupposing the outcome of that interpretive process, this approach aspires to
reach the broadest gamut of possible meanings. Therefore, after solving the lit-
erary riddle, the interpretive process continues to encounter further expanses
of understanding. The meaning of a literary riddle is not automatically associ-
ated with its solution, and so readers are required to continually re-examine the
space of understanding and their interpretation of the world revealed in
the text, even after the decoding phase. Thus, at each juncture, readers are able
to consider how their horizon merges with the horizon of the text, establishing
the conditions for re-igniting the interpretive process at any given moment.
This reading of a text does not presuppose that the hermeneutical process will
deliver the goods (in the case of a riddle that awaits resolution), but instead
allows for the discovery of a wide range of interpretations. This is a multi-
level interpretive process that simultaneously strives to depict the reader who
attempts to solve the riddle as well as the one who engages it as poetry.
This application of Gadamerian theory to poetics would suggest that herme-
neutics is not the activity of uncovering a solution (deciphering), but rather an

15 S. Elizur, Secular Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain [in Hebrew] (Ramat Aviv: The Open
University, 2004), 2: 137.
128 Ishay

encounter between horizons. This does not refer to the revelation of truth as
mandated by Heidegger, but the disclosure of a method of aesthetic obser-
vation. Once a literary riddle is solved, it leaves the domain of the individual
reader-solver and enters the realm of a broader audience; as its readership
expands, so too does a texts number of possible readings. Interpretation is an
active process whose goal is to ask what the text can become, not what it is; in
this case, what the literary riddle can be, not what its solution is. Gadamerian
poetics enlarges the interpretive space to extend beyond the original message
of a literary riddle (i.e., its solution) to what it can actually convey to us. This
is the space between the initial deciphering reading and subsequent aesthetic
readings. Like every riddle, the literary riddle awaits a solution, but, unlike its
other forms, as a literary work this type of riddle is characterized by an aes-
thetic quality.

3 The Aesthetics of the Literary Riddle

Researchers and critics throughout the generations have attempted to show-


case the value of aesthetics beyond merely understanding the meaning of a
text.16 Aesthetics involves the external texture of the work: rhythm, tone,
rhyme, and effect. When the act of deciphering a literary riddle takes prece-
dence, aesthetics automatically takes a secondary role. As a result of this effort,
the reader finds the solution by untangling the riddle, but loses out on the
outstanding artistic side, the organization of the works texture that cries out
for aesthetic impression and appreciation.17
According to Mukaovsk, a central feature of aesthetics is that it finds
favor in our eyes.18 Thus aesthetics increases the pleasure involved in reading
a text. Mukaovsk then refers to a well-documented, affiliated phenomenon:
texts that have an aesthetic function that complements its primary intellectual
purpose tend, on the basis of their aesthetic appeal, to remain in circulation
longer than comparable texts which lack that ancillary feature.19 Thus, this

16 See, for example, comments by author and critic Susan Sontag, who protests the surfeit
of discussions on meaning in literary works, in Against Interpretation (New York: Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, 1996). See also Menaem Brinkers viewpoint in, Esthetic and Non-
Esthetic in Artistic works [in Hebrew], Biqqoret v-parshnt 42 (2009): 713.
17 Brinker, Esthetic and Non-Esthetic, 12. Note that Brinker does not refer specifically to
literary riddles but, rather, to artistic works in general.
18 J. Mukaovsk, Aesthetic Function, Norm and Value as Social Facts, transl. M. Suino
(AnnArbor: Michigan Slavic Contributions, 1970).
19 Ibid., 2324.
The Biblical Exegesis of Abraham Ibn Ezra 129

aesthetic aspect which is, admittedly, secondary to the intellectual core that
invites readers to decode the puzzle being conveyed, has been instrumental
in the preservation of these riddles for centuries as literary works. The act of
deciphering is, of course, the primary and inherent goal for any riddle (literary
or not), but aesthetic interpretation is what facilitates its repeated use.
According to Mukaovsk,

...the aesthetic function which compensates for the loss of other func-
tions occasionally turns into a cultural factor in that it preserves for future
generations worlds that lost their original, practical function. Thus [these
worlds] may be re-visited.20

The various practical functions of artistic works have prompted structuralists21


to consider the splitting of attention experienced by their audience. The com-
plex encounter between the observer with a work of art demands a splitting of
attention between intellectual understanding of the non-aesthetic elements
of the work and the perception of its aesthetic organization.22 In the case of
a literary riddle, readers must shift their attention from deciphering (the non-
aesthetic aspect of this work) to interpretation (of its aesthetic structure). Let
us further consider the application of this process to medieval literary riddles:
once a literary work is recognized as a riddle, the reader understands that the
text conveys encoded information and, therefore, demands significant effort
to discern its coding principles and, ultimately, to engage those principles to
reveal the hidden information whose discovery they enable. The riddle below
serves as an exemplar of such a literary work and the process of split atten-
tion: as Abraham ibn Ezras most popular riddle, this text has been published,
referenced, or deciphered in various treatises from the fifteenth century to the
present. Nevertheless, this work has not yet been subject to even a single liter-
ary interpretation:23

20 Ibid., 24.
21 Jakobson and Mukaovsk, for example, and, later, Brinker. See Brinker, Esthetic and
Non-Esthetic, 12.
22 Ibid.
23 This riddle appears in 37 publications. For more on its structure, its prosodic qualities,
and attempts to decode it, see C. del Valle Rodriguez, The Riddle of the Four Quiescent
Letters of Abraham Ibn Ezra, in Shar Lshn: Studies in Hebrew, Aramaic and Jewish
Languages Presented to Moshe Bar-Asher [in Hebrew], ed. A. Maman, S. Fassberg, and
Y.Breuer, 1:88100 (Jerusalem: Mossad Bialik, 2007). For an earlier version, based on five
manuscripts, see M. Itzhaki, Quatre lettres de lalphabet: une devinette dIbn Ezra, YOD
12 (1996): 99102.
130 Ishay

Learned wondrous men, hear the


words of my riddle, but know that all
[previous] scholars have tried in vain
to find its solution.

Strophe 1
On the earth, one father begot four
brothers, [they] are neither heavy
nor light, neither dry nor wet. With


them run their wheels, though they
are quiet and at rest. In them is the
image of the four living beings that
were created in the sky, that some-
times are hidden and at other times
manifest.

Strophe 2
Your eyes can see, if my word is made

perceptible, how surprising this is:

the firstborn took for himself a por-

tion and great renown through pri-
mogeniture. Also, his name is added
to [the name of] the second, though
when pronounced it is hidden. The
third, wise ones, is doubled when
pronouncing its name. The fourth
they also find doubled in value.

Strophe 3
The firstborn is male and female; the
second brother [who] follows him

indicates the feminine; the third you

will recognize by his masculinity. The

fourth, at the beginning of the word,
indicates the masculine; in the final
position, the feminine. Come quickly,
learned men, perhaps you will find
[the solution].
Ask the king of Israel, and you will
not err.
The Biblical Exegesis of Abraham Ibn Ezra 131

Strophe 4
The firstborn resides in six spheres;

after him comes the second which is

reputed [to reside] in three [spheres].
The dwellings of the [next] two

[brothers] are in two [spheres], and
their reputation is bad. Search for this
in the divine book and read: on the
day when man was created [so too]
were these four [brothers] created.

Strophe 5
The numerical value of the fourth


surpasses that of the third. Equally,
[the numerical value of] the sec-
ond surpasses that of the first. When
added, the numerical value of the two

intermediate brothers equals that of
the first with the last. If the weights
of the four were placed together
on scales, they would be like all the
[remaining] letters [of the alphabet].

Strophe 6
The first [brother] has a head, feet

and arms with a body, the second has
two forms; his brother [i.e., the third]
is like a cane. The fourth is [like] a half
sphere, exponent of plurality. Wash
yourselves with the waters of wisdom,
within deep waters. Do not try to solve
my riddle until you are purified.

Ibn Ezra advises those who study his riddle to bathe first in the waters of wis-
dom, within deep waters to purify themselves given that many wise prede-
cessors, despite their exhaustive efforts, were incapable of solving it. Thus, he
suggests, immersion in those waters would better prepare them.
This poem is framed by synonymous biblical terminologyopening with
and closing that means to reveal something hidden and to
explicate. In modern terminology, we use the verbs to solve, to reveal, and
132 Ishay

to decipher in such contexts. This is, indeed, the primary objective that all
writers of riddles craft for their readers. Of course, each has its distinct prin-
ciple that applies to the specific text. The process of decoding, determined by
the semiotic systems at play, is facilitated by the decipherers general knowl-
edge of a given riddles context, in addition to familiarity with basic patterns
of human logic and linguistic rules (grammatical, mathematical, and hal-
akhic, among others). Deciphering is required when common vocabulary is
employed in unusual ways that render a private language that was devised by
its author. Over the generations many have tried to decipher this most famous
of Ibn Ezras riddles by referring to his other compositions, in hopes of gaining
insight from these manifestations of this same private language. For example,
Profiat Duran24 consulted Ibn Ezras grammatical treatises Sfer ht (The
Book of [Linguistic] Purity)25 and Sfer ha-shm (The Book of the Name)26 in his
attempts to decipher this riddle.

4 Deciphering the Riddle

Once decoded, the two first strophes reveal that the four brothers are the
letters lf-h-vv-yd, those that lend motion to consonants while they
themselves rest, thus: With them run their wheels, though they are quiet and
at rest. These four letters each appear in their quiescent form in the words
: yd at the end of the word , h at the end of the word ,

the letter vv is the second character in the word and lf is at its end.
As the firstborn of these brothers (and the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet),
lf carries twice the load of its siblings, for its name has two syllables whereas
the others names have but one. His name is added to [the name of] the sec-
ond draws our attention to the next brother, h, which is greater than that
firstborn because lf appears in the Hebrew spelling of its name though it is
not pronounced. In other words, lf, the firstborn, appears in quiescent form
at the end of the spelling of the letter h. The third letter, vv, is described as

24 Profiat Duran (late-14th to the first third of the 15th century; Provence)also known by
the sobriquet of Efodiauthored a brief interpretation of this riddle prior to the advent
of the printing press. His interpretation was published by Mordechai Mortari, who added
an introduction and comments in: Beit Talmud, B (1882): 17983.
25 C. del Valle Rodriguez, Sfer ht de Abraham Ibn Ezra, I, Edicion critic y version castel-
lana (Salamanca: Universidad Pontificia, 1977).
26 G. Lipman, Sfer ha-shm of Rabbi Avraham ben Rabbi Meir the Sephardi called Ibn Ezra
[in Hebrew] (Frth: D. I. Zrndorff, 1834).
The Biblical Exegesis of Abraham Ibn Ezra 133

double when pronouncing its name, since it appears twice in its own name.
The fourth letter, yd, is also doubled in value, but not in its name: in gematria
(calculations based on the numerical values of Hebrew letters), yd equals 10.
The sum of the consonants that comprise the Hebrew spelling of its name (i.e.,
yd + vv + dlet, the equivalent of 10 + 6 + 4) equals 20, double the numeric
value of the letter yd itself.
Now, having revealed the identities of these mysterious brothers, we are
ready to consider the third strophe, which describes their grammatical roles
one by one. In the future tense lf serves as a prefix in the common singu-
lar form for male and female subjects alike. At the end of a verbal form, h
signifies the feminine voice. As a pronominal suffix, the third letter, vv, sig-
nifies the masculine voice. When it introduces a verb, the letter yd signals
the masculine voice, whereas in the concluding position it indicates the femi-
nine voice. With regard to the plural imperative forms: , these refer
to Joel4:11: Hasten and come, all you nations, and gather yourselves together
round about. In other words, hurry to check with the king of Israel, for the sake
of certitude, to confirm that your discovery is accurate; the phrase, the king of
Israel, which exemplifies the technique known as immd nelm that was
favored by medieval poets and, especially, by Abraham ibn Ezra,27 refers to
Jehu ben Nimshi, who was anointed king of Israel (according to 1 Kgs 19:16).
This namewhich is comprised of the letters yd-h-vv-lfis evidently
an adaptation of the the Tetragrammaton, yd-h-vv-h.28 In his commen-
tary on Eccl 12:5 Ibn Ezra writes, no letter shall be substituted for another,
except letters in the series: yd-h-vv-lf. This use of immd nelm pres-
ents further evidence that Ibn Ezra is signaling that the letters lf-h-vv-yd
are the solution of this riddle.
The grammatical functions of lf-h-vv-yd as a category of letters are
articulated in the fourth strophe. Ibn Ezra uses the word galgallm (spheres)
to allude to movements (a literal translation of tnt, the Hebrew term for
vowels), discussing each letter in order: lf (the eldest brother) rests after
six spheres: kma, pat, rq ml/sr, lm ml/sr. The letter h,
rests after three spheres: kma, pat, and sgol. The two remaining brothers
rest after the two spheres that directly involve them: vv rests after lm and
shruq, and yd after re and rq ml. Moreover, their reputation is bad,

27 M. Itzhaki, The immd nelm Method in the Riddles of Abraham Ibn Ezra [in Hebrew],
Td 19 (2002): 87. Itzhaki describes three methods of encryption that were commonly
used by Ibn Ezra; one of those is the immd nelm method.
28 Y. Kiel, Commentary on the Book of Kings [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook,
1989), 338.
134 Ishay

which is to say, these latter three letters are not interchangeable: h and vv
cannot follow re or rq, nor can h and yd follow shruq or lm. This
group of brothers was birthed at the creation of the first human.
The fifth strophe enlists gematria to further verify the solution to this rid-
dle. With its numerical value of 10, yd exceeds the third brother, vv (whose
numeric value is 6), by 4. Similarly, the value of the second brother, h (that
equals 5), is 4 greater than the first brother (lf, which is 1). The line the
numerical value of the two intermediate brothers equals that of the first with
the last indicates that the numerical sum of the middle pair (h + vv = 11) is
identical to that of the first and last in this series (lf + yd = 11). The numeri-
cal value of these four brothers totals 22, the remaining letters of the alphabet.
The sixth strophe highlights the geometric shapes of these four letters:
lf, the first brother, here called qadmn,29 is formed by a diagonal line and
two additional lines, one above and one below that axis. The letter h is com-
prised of two forms.30 The letter vv is shaped like a cane (agmn; cf. Job 40:26,
where it appears as a bent hook at the end of a fishing rod). The letter yd
resembles a half-sphere in crescent and is an exponent of plurality. This lat-
ter description might refer to yds numerical value (10, as mentioned above),
which is a whole or perfect number that can be divided evenly without a
remainder. Alternatively, in Abraham ibn Ezras Sfer ha-shm,31 exponent of
plurality is used to describe 10 as a number that includes all of the brothers
(the numerals 19) and as the beginning of the tens (1090).
The solution to this riddle is featured in various texts. Many individuals
have analyzed this riddle due to the linguistic challenge that it poses and its
innovative qualities. This riddle is unusual for having been written as a girdle
poem with six strophes; by contrast, most medieval Hebrew riddles were writ-
ten as epigrams or miniatures. Expertise in grammatical rules and familiarity
with writers who sign their names as acrostics at the heads of poetic columns
(the name of the author, Abraham, appears at the heads of the strophes), as
is common in piyy, are requisite for solving this riddle and ascertaining its
author. More than fifty copies of this riddle were printed from the fifteenth
century onward, and numerous attempts to decipher it have appeared under

29 In Sfer ha-ed (The Book of the One), his book on theoretical mathematics, Ibn Ezra
refers to the number one as qadmn, see S. Pinsker (ed.), Sfer ha-ed of the Philosopher
Abraham Ibn Ezra zl [in Hebrew] (Odessa, 1867; repr. Jerusalem: Makor, 1970).
30 del Valle Rodriguez, Sfer ht, 53.
31 Lipman, Sfer ha-shm, 910.
The Biblical Exegesis of Abraham Ibn Ezra 135

rubrics such as: Interpretation of the riddle from Sfer nisynt Arhm;32
A lovely, clear interpretation of the riddle by Ibn Ezra;33 Others have
already interpreted on this meaning, what he wrote in his riddle on the letters
lf-h-vv-yd;34 [A guide] to make it easier for all readers to understand
the secrets of the author;35 and The solution to this magnificent riddle.36
As these titles suggest, the terms interpretation, explanation, understand-
ing, and providing a solution are all used as synonyms for deciphering.37
This process was facilitated by unraveling the dense textual web conveyed in
the diverse writings by the riddles author, namely Ibn Ezras Sfer ha-shm,
Sfer ha-ed, Sfer ht and his commentaries on the Bible. At this point,
we might wonder whether this is more than an intellectual game between the
text, its creator, and the reader.

5 Intellectual Word-Play between the Text, Its Author, and the Reader

The subject of this riddle and its solution become almost obvious once this tex-
tual network has been untangled. Shouldnt we find that surprising? Wouldnt
it have been more logical to further entangle this dense network so as to con-
ceal the solution? A similar question has been raised about other Golden Age
Hebrew riddles.38 The subjects of these riddles were relatively straightforward:
pen, sword, candle, apple, olives, grapes, or personal names. This quality is nei-
ther obvious nor expected: it seems that a riddle would be more successful if it
had a less commonplace resolution.
The same answer pertains in each instance: the artistry of the poem is
revealed in its lyrical, figurative form, not necessarily in its theme. The literal

32 A. N. Luria (ed.) R. Avraham ben Hadayan: Sfer nisynt Arhm (Vilna: Menahem ben
Barukh, 1821), 2430.
33 Y. Zvizmir, Sfer am ha-msr (Amsterdam, 1651), 7.
34 Y. Moscato, Ql Yhd, commentary on the Kzr by Judah ha-Levi (Venice, 1594),
2:12829.
35 Y. Askhenazi, Sfer margliyyt v (Amsterdam, 1721), 3.
36 M. Letteris, Tldt Gershon ha-Levi Letteris (Vienna, 1864), 17.
37 Ibn Ezra fastidiously avoided using the word pitrn (solution) with regard to riddles.
In Gen 40:12, Joseph uses this word to describe his interpretation of the dreams that
Pharoahs ministers had. Ibn Ezra comments on this verse that the word pitrn is only
used in conjunction with a dream. In fact, in the Hebrew Bible, the word pitrn only
appears in the context of dream interpretation.
38 T. Rosen, Testing with Riddles: The Hebrew Riddle of the Middle Ages [in Hebrew],
Hasifrt 3031 (1981): 172.
136 Ishay

subject of the riddle (its solution) is not of utmost importance and its pro-
cess of being deciphered represents an intellectual game between the poet
and the reader. When a reader discovers the solution and connects it to the
text, the tension dissipates and the text ceases to be a riddle. This elimination
of the riddle upon being deciphered (for the one who solves it) does not negate
the text as a poem. The solution reveals a riddles subject and serves, at most,
as a first, most basic stage of hermeneutics, but little more. The resolution of a
riddle transforms the enigma into a poem that has been opened for additional
interpretations. This is evidenced by the fact that, once its answer is featured
as the title of the text (or even integrated into the body of the riddle), a full-
fledged poem emerges.
In her article Testing with Riddles, Tova Rosen was the first scholar to sub-
ject Hebrew literary riddles from medieval Spain to structural analysis.39 She
argues that, in literary riddles, great importance is ascribed to the text itself
(in contrast to folkloric riddles, where the event is the focal message). As she
states, The riddle is a subset of poetry in a given period, and it meets all poetic
norms.40 According to Dan Pagis, in his book A Secret Sealed, riddles emerge
as impressive poems once their solutions are revealed precisely because their
metaphoric texture is now visible and accepted in its own right, and not only as
a system of encryption and mystification.41 This quality may be attributed, at
least in part, to medieval poets understanding that the literary riddle was sub-
ject to the rules of high poetry. One who deciphers a riddle will be rewarded for
that effort, but another, perhaps even greater, reward awaits when the poem
emerges as a universal parable or allegory, a meditation in verse, or an intricate
aesthetic work. Thus even today we can suggest new meanings for ancient rid-
dles. Even if that interpretation has contemporary tropes, it will not be anach-
ronistic if it arises after the riddle has been deciphered or resolved, reiterating
that its sole binding solution has been found. If there is more than one possible
resolution, either the author is not credible, or the solver is not credible, or the
text does not fit the genre.42
Resolution of the riddle attempts to capture its encrypted factswhich is
to say, to reveal the truth within the semiotic system. Various solutions may
be entertained, but Ibn Ezra leads the reader in a clear direction and weaves
hints into the text. Presumably Ibn Ezras worldview and target audience dif-
fered from ours; therefore, what appears difficult to us may have been readily

39 Ibid., 16883.
40 Ibid., 169.
41 Pagis, A Secret Sealed, 38.
42 Ibid., 51.
The Biblical Exegesis of Abraham Ibn Ezra 137

accessible to those who shared that perspective. We often attempt to recon-


struct conceptions of the world to grasp the original meaning of this text.
While such an investigation is appropriate for solving (or resolving) a riddle, it
is less so for approaching it as a poem.
The answer to a riddle supplies its reader with the key to connecting the
situations and images in the poem. The solution provides access to the poems
contextual framework and establishes a firm reference point that facilitates the
interpretive stage. At first, readers may be baffled by the text if they do not yet
grasp the principle that unites its poetic sequence. Once the riddle is solved,
that feeling subsides and readers are ready to continue with the interpretive
process. Thus, resolution is a necessary stage toward interpretation because it
provides context or an external point of reference. One of the common tech-
niques for creating such a reference point is the use of allusion, which gives the
poem an external context through which its details are explained and light is
cast on their relevance. Allusions engender associations beyond what appears
in the poem itself (beyond the solution to the riddle, for example). Thus, these
are elicited simultaneously when the reader compares the two contextsthe
implied context (hermeneutic) and the given content (the result of the deci-
phering process)in diverse ways. Whether the riddle-solution is enlighten-
ing or banal, the value of the deciphering process is always determined by the
value of the information that it reveals. After the solution has been uncovered,
the conundrum is understood. What then would prompt further investigation
of its poetic presentation?

6 Do Riddles Need Interpretation? Isnt Resolution Sufficient?

By contrast with finding a solution, interpretation is not a transition from


a lack of understanding to apprehension, but rather from one type of com-
prehension to another, which is deeper and broader. When a riddle has been
deciphered and its readers know the solution, they can then turn their atten-
tion to the poem itself. At that stage they can view the solution as a contrib-
uting factor to the poems interpretation, not as means to understanding it.
This situation can be compared to that of audience members who see a play
without having previously read the script. They cannot differentiate between
the written text of the play and the performance on stage; therefore, they
cannot discern the interpretive elements of that production from its written
original. By contrast, a viewer who is familiar with the play has tools that
make it possible to notice and develop an opinion with regard to the staging
and acting.
138 Ishay

S. H. Kook commented on one of Ibn Ezras riddles whose solution refers to


the tongue:

Here we see how, though the sages who dealt with the riddle already
knew that Ibn Ezra insinuated that the tongue is the solution, they were
still unable to correctly [interpret] all the details and allusions in the rid-
dle, and some indecipherable sections remained. Although they groped,
they were unable to find the doorway.43

Decoding a riddle does not guarantee the successful interpretation of its tex-
tual challenges; yet such difficulties stimulate the interpretive process. The
very formulation of a persuasive interpretation of a literary work is a creative
venture; readers across time may participate in this process and discover var-
iegated aspects of the text through their own understandings of the work. This
endeavor is equally applicable to literary riddles, even if they each have a sin-
gular solution that has been determined by an author who peppered the text
with clues that direct the reader to that answer.
If we reread the riddle under discussion here, with full awareness that the
letters lf-h-vv-yd form its subject, we are free to focus on its literary quali-
ties; for example, we may turn our attention to the merk (divine chariot),
the image from Ezek 1:5, alluded to in the first strophe. Ezekiels prophecy
opens with the vision of a royal chariot, essentially a throne on four wheels, to
which four hybrid creatures are harnessed. The vivid hues and precise details
of this chariot drawn by these creatures inform the simpler sketch of the four
brothers in the poem. In the religious literature of the sages, prophecy of the
divine chariot is known as dr gdl (a great thing or important subject).44
The Bible states,

...a stormy wind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire flar-
ing up, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst of it, as it
were the color of electrum, out of the midst of the fire...out of the midst
of it came the likeness of four living creatures.... As for the likeness of
the creatures, their appearance was like coals of fire, burning like the
appearance of torches...and out of the fire went forth lightning, and
the creatures ran and returned like the appearance of a flash of lightning
(Ezek1:415).

43 S. H. Kook, Iyynm v-meqrm (Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook, 1963), 2: 190.
44 Y. Moskowitz, Commentary to the Book of Ezekiel [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav
Kook, 1985), 9.
The Biblical Exegesis of Abraham Ibn Ezra 139

The prophet painstakingly describes the features and movements of the crea-
tures and chariot, whose visual effect is dominated by fire and brightness. Out
of its blazing glow Ezekiel sees the aura, within which he views the figures of
these creatures, which themselves are composed of burning coals of fire. The
fire is in a state of constant motion from which lightning (lit: tongues of fire)
emanates outward.

Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel was upon
the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces. The appearance
of the wheels and their work was like the color of an emerald.... And
when the creatures moved, the wheels went by them; and when the crea-
tures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up...; for the
spirit of the creature was in the wheels (Ezek 1:1621).

When in motion, these wheels generate fire and appear like emeralds. Their
form is especially impressive, for they correspond to the creatures move-
ments; when those creatures become airborne, the wheels also soar (despite
the absence of wings that would render them capable of independent flight,
they are carried aloft by these creatures).
This dynamic description of coordinated forms of ascent, motion, and
stillness takes center stage in the first strophe of the poem. A comparison of
the four quiescent letters to the creatures of the chariot represents a type
of textual disruption: the components of this metaphor are neither logical nor
intuitive. This disruption engenders interpretive activity: these four quiescent
letters resemble the creatures of the chariot, the four heavenly creatures that
each share a commonality with lightning. They move in rapid flashes, so some-
times they are visible, and at other times they are hidden from view. The same
is true with the quiescent letters: sometimes they are pronounced, sometimes
not. This interpretation is also consistent with the opening poem of Ibn Ezras
Sfer ht, where he writes: Like a bird migrating from its nest / he repaired a
grammatical foundation / and explicated..., providing a good commentary /
on the two forms of vowels [resting and moving]; / the secret of [these] letters
is that they are sometimes visible, sometimes hidden.45 In this same book Ibn
Ezra states that: The letters lf-h-vv-yd are interchangeable [since] they
are [sometimes] visible and [at] time[s] invisible).46 As in the riddle, here too
he refers to them as the yd-h-vv-lf [cluster of] letters. In his commentary

45
 / / ...
/ /

/ ;del Valle Rodrigues, Sfer ht, 7.
46  ; ; ibid., 17.
140 Ishay

on Eccl 12:5 Ibn Ezra writes: The only letters that may be exchanged are the
yd-h-vv-lf [cluster of] letters because they are sometimes visible and
sometimes invisible.
It is hermeneutics, not the deciphering process, that addresses textual dis-
ruptions; anything that threatens the completeness and unity of a text consti-
tutes a disruption (e.g., omissions, contradictions, and signs that do not clearly
indicate their signifiers). Whereas such disruptions do not impede the process
of decoding, they do foster interpretations insofar as the commentator pre-
sumes that they convey meaning that contributes to the work as a whole.
In Sfer ha-shm47 Ibn Ezra writes that God creates letters that grant human-
ity the power of speech through their ability to express themselves via twenty-
two letters, including four concepts akin to the brothers. The line [they] are
neither heavy nor light, neither dry nor wet might lure readers to see a ref-
erence to the four universal elements: water, earth, fire, and wind. After the
puzzle has been solved, however, hermeneutics can be brought into play to
connect this description to Ibn Ezras book Ysd mr (Foundation of Awe),
where he states, Water and earthnot heavy...; fire and windnot light.48
After eliminating the possibility of an intertextual association with these uni-
versal elements, the holiness of brothers coincides with the holiness of crea-
tures, and the textual completeness (that had ostensibly been violated) is now
affirmed on a stronger foundation. Thus, the hermeneutical process involves
toggling between texts, tracing the connections between them, and mapping
the insights gleaned from this exploration.
An additional disruption appears in the second strophe. The sequential use
of the terms and ( the eldest male, who receives a double portion of
the inheritance), propels the text from focusing on the father who begot four
(seemingly equal) brothers to the special privileges and obligations that pri-
mogeniture grants firstborn sons. Jacob says to his firstborn, Reuben, you are
my first-born, my might and the first fruit of my vigor, exceeding in rank and
exceeding in honor (Gen 49:3). According to Ibn Ezra, the first fruit of my
vigor is the firstborn of his father who, due to his inherent valor, has an advan-
tage over all others. This applies irrespective of the fathers relationship to the
mother of that firstborn, particularly if he has more than one wife: when he
wills his property to his sons, he may not treat as first-born the son of the loved
one in disregard of the son of the unloved one who is older. Instead, he must
accept the first-born, the son of the unloved one, and allot to him a double

47 Lipman, Sfer ha-shm, 7.


48 Y. Cohen and U. Simon, Abraham Ibn Ezra, Ysd mr v-sd Tr (Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan
University Press, 2007), 47.
The Biblical Exegesis of Abraham Ibn Ezra 141

portion of all he possesses; since he is the first fruit of his vigor, the birthright is
his due (Deut 21:1617). Ibn Ezra also refers his readers to this double portion
in his commentary on the biblical narrative where Esau sells his birthright to
Jacob (Gen 25:31). Ibn Ezra explained this verse as follows: And the birthright
[means] that he should take a double portion of his fathers wealth. And some
say that the firstborn always takes precedence over the younger, who must rise
in his presence and serve him like a son to [his] father. Thus the hermeneuti-
cal process is instrumental to analyzing this strophe as well, and particularly
for tracking the textual disruption between the Hebrew Bible and Ibn Ezras
commentary in each instance.
The spelling of the following words, the latter of which appears in the third
strophe, is nearly identical except for one letter: Midianites49 and
learned men. A hermeneutical analysis of the word Midianites enables
us to connect the third strophe to the second. The first biblical mention of the
Midianites occurs in the selling of Joseph: When Midianite traders passed by,
they pulled Joseph up out of the pit. They sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver
to the Ishmaelites, who brought Joseph to Egypt (Gen 37:28). Ibn Ezra explains
When Midianite traders passed by as follows: The Midianites were called
Ishmaelites. It says [in the Torah] that the Midianite kings were Ishmaelites
(see Judg 8:24). Here Ibn Ezra refers to Gideons plea after Israels victory over
the Midianites: I have a request to make of you: each of you give me the earring
he received as booty. (They had golden earrings, for they were Ishmaelites.)
According to Gen 25:16, Midian was one of the six sons of Keturah, Abrahams
concubine. These sons were all dispatched eastward by Abraham, to the desert
of northwest Mesopotamia, to avert their claim for an inheritance along with
Isaac. In this passage Abraham violated the biblical commandment concern-
ing the birthright mentioned earlier. The laws of that era maintained that a
father had the right to transfer his eldest sons birthright to another son only if
the former went astray or sinned; however, the eldest son could reallocate his
birthright to another brother of his own volition.50 This suggests that Ishmael
was entitled to the birthright. Biblical researchers have associated Keturahs

49 Admittedly, one solution features the Midianites, but I consider it overly convoluted;
therefore, I did not include it in the relevant section of the article. This solution refers
to Num 31: 8, Along with their other victims, they slew the kings of Midian: Evi, Rekem,
Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. The name Evi, king of Midian, contains only
three of the four letters in this riddle. Cf. Letteris, Tldt Gershon ha-Levi Letteris, 29.
50 Y. Grinitz, The Uniqueness and Antiquity of the Book of Genesis [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem,
1983), 5455.
142 Ishay

sons, including the Midianites, with the sons of Ishmael.51 Thus, the appeal to
the Midianites can be interpreted as a reference to the law of primogeniture.
Alternatively, the cry in haste can be interpreted as a call to the king of Israel:
Come quickly, learned men, perhaps you will find [the solution]. Ask the king
of Israel, and you will not err (as above). The process of deciphering this riddle
brought the name of King Jehu to the surface. Jehu ben Nimshiwho founded
a new dynasty and reigned for approximately three decadesis recorded
in the annals of Israel as the king who killed Jezebel (2 Kgs 9:3037), decimated
the house of Ahab, and uprooted idol worship among Israelites (2 Kgs 10:111;
10:1829). The editor of the book of Kings praises Jehu as one who did that
which is right in [Gods] eyes (2 Kgs 10:30). Therefore, the appeal to Jehu (Ask
the king of Israel) in this poem underscores its goal (and you will not err).
The disruptive phrase in the fourth strophe is and their reputation is
bad, which leads the reader to a choice between two salient biblical narra-
tives that feature the noun dibb (slander) and the adjective r (evil): Those
who spread such calumnies about the land died of plague, by the will of the
Lord (Num 14:37); And Joseph brought bad reports of them to their father
(Gen 37:2). These stories of the spies and, more famously, of Joseph are bibli-
cal cornerstones that demand any interpreters attention. The Israelite spies
in Numbers who sinned via speech, therefore with their tongues, were not
forgiven because they deliberately caused others to transgress. Joseph also
used his tongue to bring his father news of his brothers evil actions; on this
passage Ibn Ezra commented that for accepting those evil reports, Jacob was
condemned to grieve for his son for twenty-two years (until he learned that
Joseph was actually alive).52 The leap from one seemingly unrelated biblical
story to another and tracking their connections (as aforementioned) occupies
the heart of this interpretation.
To this we add another interpretive dimension that suggests the first four
beings which were created in the world: On the day when man was created [so
too] were these four [brothers] created. The names of the first four humans
Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abeleach contain at least one of this four-letter cluster
(lf-h-vv-yd) while they also encapsulate a familiar narrative that poses a
disruption in the text that, as in the previous examples, can be repaired via
a hermeneutical process.
The words that of the first with the last directs our attention to the fifth
strophe. This phrase evokes two verses that appear in Isaiah: Thus said the

51 See Y. Hoffman (ed.), The Israeli Encyclopedia of the Bible [in Hebrew] (Ramat-Gan:
Massada, 1989), 2:436.
52 C. Albeck, Midrash brsht rabbt (Jerusalem: Mq Nirdmm, 1967), 186.
The Biblical Exegesis of Abraham Ibn Ezra 143

Lord...I am the first and I am the last (Isa 44:6), and Listen to me...
I am the first, and I the last as well (Isa 48:12). As Ibn Ezra remarks on these
verses, God is the only being that always exists, the One (who was, is, and will
be), who preceded all else and will continue after all else is gone. He is the
One who weighs the balance (Dan 5:27), who counts and measures kingdoms
and human beings, with favor (kindness) or the rod (of punishment). The out-
come of this weighing of balances is mentioned as follows in the riddle: If the
weights of the four were placed together on scales, they would be like the let-
ters [of the alphabet]. The word khem appears five times in the Bible, some-
times indicating favor, sometimes punishment. For example, 2 Kgs 17:16 uses
this term when cautioning Israel against idolatry, the gravest transgression.53
In contrast, 2 Chr 9:11 uses khem to praise the musical instruments (lyres
and harps) that were created for the musicians in the house of King Solomon,
whose like had never before been seen in the land of Judah.
The hermeneutical journey launched in the sixth strophe begins with the
words exponent of plurality. This phrase only appears once in the Bible:
Solomon had a vineyard in Baal-hmn (Song 8:11). Many commentators
maintain that Baal-hmn is a place name, but no specific site has been
convincingly suggested. Some scholars consider hmn to indicate a large
group of people while others suggest that it means wealthy man (since
hn can refer to wealth). Given that the word baal signifies ownership,
perhaps the name of this vineyard implies a critique that has been aimed
at Solomon: Solomon had numerous wives. This is implied with the word
hmn...Solomons relationship with his wives and vineyard-workers is
rooted in his stature as a man of means, of wealth..., part of being an dn
(master), a baal (owner).54
Perhaps, therefore, the continuation of our poem, which instructs the
reader to bathe within deep waters points to a stream that magically became
deeper, as per the fourth vision by prophet Ezekiel: for the water swelled into
a stream that could not be crossed except by swimming (Ezek 47:5). As the
water rose, the stream inexplicably deepened; while the water had previously
been shallow enough to pass through with ease, it could now be traversed
only by swimming. Purification is effected by bathing in deep waters, since
these are special waters, representing the waters of wisdom (okhmat l).
This phrase has been interpreted as the rare wisdom bestowed upon Bezalel

53 Cf. Rashi on Exod 23:13: Do not mention the name of other gods, comes to teach you that
idol-worship is equal [in severity] to all [other] precepts in their entirety, and that one
who scrupulously avoids this transgression is equal to one who observes them all.
54 E. Assis, Ahat lm hatkh (Tel Aviv: Ydt Arnt, 2009, 196.
144 Ishay

and Oholiab, craftsmen of the sanctuary. In his commentary on Exod 35:35,


the biblical verse which describes these two craftsmen as endowed with the
skill to do any work, Ibn Ezra specifies: wisdom, insight, and knowledge of all
craftsmanship.
This poems contextual frameworks expand and swell within the hermeneu-
tical process. They require ongoing examination of the formats that unify its
contents. The poem exploits the meanings of its phrases drawn from biblical
texts and imagery on all levels; thus, the reader must occasionally move from
one plane to another, to weave together a system of connections and navigate
within it. As a result, the act of reading a literary riddle is dynamic and requires
more of its readership than other literary texts.

7 The Act of Reading a Literary Riddle

The riddle creates a gap that the reader is induced to fill. In a literary riddle,
perhaps more than any other literary genre, an explicit interaction is created
between the text and the reader. This engagement, as Iser states,

...both limits and empowers what is stated expressly and what is implied,
between what is revealed and what is hidden. That which is hidden goads
the reader into action, but this activity is also governed by what has been
revealed. The overt information itself changes, when the concealed infor-
mation is revealed.55

After the concealed information is revealed (or the riddle is solved), sections
of the text take on a different meaning. As such, these disparities serve to moti-
vate the reader into communicating with the text in an effort to coordinate,
bridge, connect, decipherand understand. I will conclude as I started, with
the Gadamerian approach: interpretation is not an act of revealing the truth,
but a merging of horizons. In our case, revelation of the truth is synonymous
with deciphering the riddle. If so, then interpretation is not deciphering, but
the merging of horizons.

55 W. Iser, The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response (Baltimore-London: The Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1978).
The Biblical Exegesis of Abraham Ibn Ezra 145

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The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hirs
Sfer ha-msr

Adena Tanenbaum

Abstract

An accomplished sixteenth-century polymath, Zechariah al-hir was one of Yemenite


Jewrys two outstanding poets in the late medieval period. His Sfer ha-msr (The Book
of Moral Instruction) is a maqma, or rhymed prose narrative interspersed with formal
verse. Composed in a rich biblical idiom, Sfer ha-msr comprises forty-five self-
contained chapters whose subject matter ranges from travel accounts and preposterous
stories to interreligious polemics, philosophical speculations, and mystical meditations.
Its narrative sequences use scriptural language to achieve a striking array of effects,
some stylistic and ornamental, others implicitly or even explicitly exegetical. Al-hir
was also a biblical exegete whose esoteric commentary on the Pentateuch, Sfer d
la-derekh (A Book of Provisions for the Road), is both philosophically informed and suf-
fused with theosophical notions drawn from classical Kabbalah. At key junctures in
Sfer ha-msr, his invented characters refer us explicitly to exegetical cruxes discussed
in Sfer d la-derekh. In these instances, al-hirs exegetical work helps to illuminate
laconic or arcane references embedded in the far more lighthearted narratives of Sfer
ha-msr. Additionally, Sfer ha-msr makes use of exegetical traditions preserved
elsewhere. In his portrayal of an imaginary religious disputation between a Muslim and
a Jew, al-hir draws on verses from the standard medieval arsenal of interreligious
polemics, while also adducing a less well-known tradition of homiletical exegesis. It is
clear that al-hir was active in the production and transmission of exegetical tradi-
tions not only via his formal work of biblical exegesis, but alsomore indirectlyby
means of his belletristic magnum opus, Sfer ha-msr.

Although little-known today outside of a small scholarly circle, Zechariah


al-hir was an accomplished sixteenth-century polymath. One of Yemenite
Jewrys two outstanding poets in the late medieval period (the other being
Shalem Shabbazi), al-hir was also an exegete, a respected religious scholar,
and a presumptive traveler. His prolific literary output includes formal,
Andalusian-style Hebrew poetry and animated, witty rhymed prose, as well
as esoteric biblical exegesis and halakhic writing in several genres. Attuned
to spiritual developments elsewhere in the Jewish world, al-hir played a

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004334786_007


148 Tanenbaum

seminal role in transmitting Kabbalah to Yemen; his commentary on the


Pentateuch, Sfer d la-derekh (A Book of Provisions for the Road), is both
philosophically informed and suffused with theosophical notions drawn from
classical kabbalah. But the jewel in the crown of al-hirs literary oeuvre is
his maqma collection, Sfer ha-msr (The Book of Moral Instruction).1 As the
only extant belletristic work from sixteenth-century Yemen, Sfer ha-msr
stands out from a corpus otherwise devoted almost entirely to biblical com-
mentary, halakhic, midrashic, liturgical, philosophical, and scientific writings.2
Sfer ha-msr is arguably the most impressive assemblage of Hebrew rhymed
prose narratives to emerge anywhere in the centuries following the Takmn
of Judah al-arz (d. 1225) and the Mabrt of Immanuel of Rome (d. 1335).
A literary maqma with a long and rich pedigree, Sfer ha-msr is a colorful
confection of travel accounts, folk tales, and preposterous stories of quackery
interwoven with pious admonitions, interreligious polemics, praise for books
and their authors, messianic speculations, philosophical disquisitions, and
mystical meditations. True to maqma form, the work intersperses metri-
cal poems with its rhymed prose and features a peripatetic narrator named
Mordechai the Sidonian and a shape-shifting hero called Abner ben Helek the
Yemenite, whose escapades unfold over forty-five self-contained chapters.
Scholars have long commented on intertextuality and biblical allusion in
medieval Hebrew poetry, but less so in rhymed prose. Yet, in the narrative
sequences of Sfer ha-msr, al-hir uses scriptural language to achieve a
striking array of effects, some stylistic and ornamental, others implicitly, or
even explicitly exegetical. In keeping with the aesthetic conventions of the
Hebrew maqma, the work is composed in a rich biblical idiom, and its dense
weave of scriptural phrases and verse fragments often serves decorative, rhe-
torical, or humorous purposes. These outcomes are achieved by lodging bits
of canonical diction, whether verbatim or slightly altered, in new and some-
times surprising contexts, but the process does not necessarily imply any sig-
nificant reinterpretation of the original. However, elsewhere in his rhymed
prose and interleaved poems, al-hirs biblical allusions and verbatim cita-
tions take on more than ornamental or rhetorical significance. Often, his

1 Y. Ratzaby (ed.), Sfer ha-msr: Mabrt Rabbi Zekhariah al-hir (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi
Institute, 1965). For a bibliography of al-hirs poems see Y. Amir, Shr Rabbi Zekharyah
al-hir, Tema 9 (2006/7): 13548.
2 For the types of works preserved in Yemenite manuscripts, see Y. Tobi, Yemenite Jewish
Manuscripts in the Ben-Zvi Institute [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 1982). See also
Y. Langermann, The Jews of Yemen and the Exact Sciences [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Misgav
Yerushalayim Institute for Research on the Sefardi and Oriental Heritage, 1987).
The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 149

interpretations derive from identifiable exegetical traditions, whether polemi-


cal, philosophical, or kabbalistic. Equally if not more intriguing are the less
recognizable exegeses which may stem from specifically Yemenite Jewish
interpretive practices. As befits a literary work intended to entertain and edify,
al-hirs exegetical methods are eclectic, though not indiscriminately so.
When portraying an imaginary religious disputation between a Muslim and a
Jew, he draws on the standard arsenal of verses deployed in medieval Jewish
anti-Muslim polemics, although he also incorporates lesser-known polemical
exegeses. Elsewhere, a biblical verse may serve as a springboard for a philo-
sophical discourse.3 Al-hirs kabbalistically-informed stories and poems
reflect interpretations characteristic of the medieval Jewish mystical tradi-
tion, and at key junctures his invented characters even refer us explicitly to
exegetical cruxes in his Sfer d la-derekh (which is fancifully attributed
to one of them, rather than to al-hir). We must exercise caution, however, in
drawing conclusions from Sfer d la-derekh: close to a quarter of the work
in its extant form consists of learned interpolations by another author who
identifies himself only as I, the desirous one (n ha-shq).4 We must also
bear in mind that there is never any pretense to turn Sfer ha-msr into a
purely exegetical work; whether tacit or overt, its scriptural interpretations are
intermittent at best, and even though there is some overlap in philosophical
and kabbalistic content between the two works, there is a marked distinction
between the earnest theoretical exposition and frequently prescriptive tone of

3 See A. Tanenbaum, Didacticism or Literary Legerdemain? Philosophical and Ethical Themes


in Zechariah al-hirs Sfer ha-msr, in Adaptations and Innovations: Studies on the
Interaction between Jewish and Islamic Thought and Literature from the Early Middle Ages
to the Late Twentieth Century, Dedicated to Professor Joel L. Kraemer, ed. Y. Langermann and
J.Stern, 35579 (Leuven: Peeters Publishers, 2008).
4 These additions may have begun as handwritten marginalia which gradually crept into the
body of the text when it was printed. On this common medieval Jewish phenomenon see
M.Beit-Ary, Publication and Reproduction of Literary Texts in Medieval Jewish Civilization:
Jewish Scribality and Its Impact on the Texts Transmitted, in Transmitting Jewish Traditions:
Orality, Textuality, and Cultural Diffusion, ed. Y. Elman and I. Gershoni, 22547 (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 2000). For the printed text of Sfer d la-derekh as we currently have
it, see Taj mish umsh Tr im prshm v-sfer aqat rkhl, 2 vols. (Jerusalem: Y.Hasid,
1964; repr. 1991). A critical edition is being prepared under U. Melammeds supervision.
On the work, see Ratzabys introduction to Sfer ha-msr, 44; S. Medina, d la-derekh
l-al-hir, Afikim 22 (1968): 7, 10; and M. Zadock, Masheet Yisrl b-Tmn (Tel Aviv:
Am Oved, 1987), 5960. Medina concludes that the interpolations are those of the copy-
ist of the earliest manuscript, Judah Aljazi. For other identifications see Y. Ratzaby, Trtn
shelin Tmn (Kiryat Ono: Makhon Moshe, 1995), 45.
150 Tanenbaum

al-hirs Torah commentary and the imaginative, often whimsical nature


of his belletristic maqma collection.
Mindful of these caveats, this paper examines some of the uses and inter-
pretations of scriptural language in the rhymed prose and poetry of Sfer
ha-msr. It also explores the way al-hirs literary maqma relates to his
Torah commentary, and touches on his broader Yemenite Jewish exegetical
context. The fourteenth to sixteenth centuries saw a flourishing of Yemenite
Bible commentary, particularly in the form of midrash, much of it philosophi-
cally informed.5 Some authors of Yemenite midrashm expressed another facet
of their literary creativity by prefacing a rsht, or introductory poem, to their
comments on particular scriptural pericopes. Generally used in a liturgical set-
ting, this type of poem derives ultimately from early piyy, which itself had
exegetical roots.6 These rshyt differ stylistically and even substantively
from much of al-hirs Andalusian-style Hebrew verse. Yet the linkage testi-
fies to a close association between poetry and exegesis in what was one of the
most fertile genres of Yemenite Jewish literature in al-hirs day.7

5 See Y. Langermann, Yemenite Midrash: Philosophical Commentaries on the Torah (San


Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996), xvii: Philosophical midrash is the richest and most endur-
ing literary accomplishment of Yemenite Jewry during the 14th to early 16th centuries, the
golden age in the intellectual history of that community. Most of these midrashmwith
the important exception of Midrash ha-gdl (The Great Midrash)were composed in
Judaeo-Arabic.
6 J. Kugel has observed that, in a sense, early piyy is a genre of midrash, a liturgical poetry of
public exegesis whose very language is infused with the conventions of rabbinic exposition;
see p. 212 of his On All of Hebrew Poetry (review of The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse by
T.Carmi), Prooftexts 2 (1982): 20921. See also A. Mirskys extensive study of the relationship
between piyy and midrash, The Origins of the Forms of Liturgical Poetry [in Hebrew],
Studies of the Research Institute for Hebrew Poetry in Jerusalem 7 (1958): 1129.
7 See Y. Halevy, tr l-yoshnh: Iyyn bi-rshyt midrash ha-gdl, in Studies in Hebrew
Literature and Yemenite Culture: Jubilee Volume Presented to Yehuda Ratzaby, ed. J. Dishon
and E. azan, 91109 (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1991); idem, Rshyt midrash
ha-gdl v-ziqtn li-tfillat ha-md, Tema 1 (1990): 3748; M. Havatzelet, Ysdt
piyyiyym b-midrsh Tmn, in L-rsh Yosef: Texts and Studies in Judaism Dedicated to
Rabbi Yosef Qfi, ed. Y. Tobi, 34561 (Jerusalem: Afikim, 1995); G. Shapira, Midrash ha-gdl
l-Rabbi David Adanibn midrash l-yalq, in Mittuv Yosef: Yosef Tobi Jubilee Volume,
ed. A. Oettinger and D. Bar-Maoz, 2:2336 (Haifa: University of Haifa Press, 2011). The inter-
play of exegesis and poetry is evident in other Jewish cultures as well, e.g., among Byzantine
Karaites, where Judah Hadassi composed Eshkl ha-kfer in poetic form, see Daniel Laskers
contribution to this volume and see also Philip Millers contribution on Judah Gibbor (who
lived second half of the 15th century through the first or second decade of the 16th century,
i.e., very close to al-hir).
The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 151

1 Scriptural Language in the Maqma

The literary maqma, whether in Hebrew or Arabic, is a collection of episodic,


self-contained texts written in elevated and effervescent rhymed prose (Arabic:
saj) with metrical poems inserted at key junctures. In his Introduction to Sfer
ha-msr, al-hir acknowledges his indebtedness to the Takmn of Judah
al-arz, as well as to the Maqmt of Abu l-asan al-arr (d. 1122), who
gave the Arabic maqma its definitive form. Al-arz was not only an original
poet, but also a seasoned translator who had been so taken with the artful and
exuberant flow of language in al-arrs Arabic maqmt that he had initially
rendered that work into a suitably elegant and clever Hebrew.8 But he then
regretted neglecting his own sacred tongue for a translation from Arabic and
was driven to produce the Takmn, his original Hebrew maqma, in large
measure to prove that the Holy Tongue was equal to the task.9 It is al-arzs
exquisite and resonant language, with its aural effects and archaizing biblical
diction that al-hir adopted as his principal model. The language of Sfer
ha-msr is largely biblical Hebrew, though al-hir is not constrained by the
earlier Andalusian ideal of strict biblical classicism. In his search for a suitably
flexible and evocative linguistic medium, he makes occasional brief forays into
rabbinic and medieval Hebrew and talmudic Aramaic as well. As a result, his
fluid prose is full of classical resonances recognizable to a pre-modern audi-
ence immersed in Scripture and post-biblical sources.

2 Decorative Uses

The mosaic style of scriptural allusion goes back to the Andalusian Hebrew
poetry of the tenth through twelfth centuries, which served as a model for
al-hirs formal verse. But al-hirs decorative use of scriptural locutions
and verse fragments is equally evident in his narrative sequences, which can

8 Judah al-arz, Mabrt Itil, ed. Y. Peretz (Tel Aviv: Mabrt l-sifrt, 1950). Al-arz was
active in three hubs of medieval Jewish creativity: Spain, Provence, and the East. J. Yahalom
and N. Katsumata have correlated his movements with different stages of his career: in
Spain he wrote mainly Hebrew poetry, while in Provence he translated Arabic prose into
Hebrew and in the East he composed the Takmn; see Takmn or The Tales of Heman
the Ezraite by Judah Alharizi, ed. J. Yahalom and N. Katsumata (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute-
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2010).
9 See Takmn, ed. Yahalom and Katsumata, 7080 and Judah al-arz, Takmn,
ed. I. Toporowsky (Tel Aviv: Mabrt l-sifrt-Mossad HaRav Kook, 1952), 818.
152 Tanenbaum

stretch the language to ornamental extremes. In these segments he tells his


stories by deftly stringing together pairs of short, rhymed prose phrases in such
close proximity that the scriptural citations become part of the very fabric of
the tale. At times, his choice of biblical language is determined by the rhyme,
which can leave the meaning somewhat obscure. Here is the opening frame
story of chapter fourteen, which sets the episode in the Syrian city of Hadrach:

Said Mordechai the Sidonian: Driven to ruin and rack, I went to the land
of Hadrach (Zech 9:1), on a tip that cheap wares were to be had there.
Since their purchase might free one from penury and squalor, a little folly
is dearer than wisdom and honor (Eccl 10:1). So I hastened to buy the
goods whose value was vessels of gold (Job 28:17); I came to that town
and behold, its wares were set out, on show. But there was no gain in
their attainment; there was nothing to be earned; just like a cake that
cannot be turned (Hos 7:8). Perplexed, I took a meandering way, wan-
dering through the markets all day. My thoughts beset me; in the Valley
of Decision my fate was etched (Joel 4:14); it oppressed me: to all these
honored traders (Isa 23:8) I was but a stranger, not one of them a mate for
me, to converse intimately, to give me rest from sorrow and distress (Isa
14:3). Dispirited, I remained grief-ridden (Dan 10:17) till the sun set and
the light was hidden. I sought lodging in the Valley of Ayalon (Josh 10:12);
I was drawn to an inn, but it proved dark and forlorn. So I slept rough, in
the dust (Isa 29:5), just outsideWhat could I say? How justify my way?
(Gen 44:16). Fidgeting, I lay now on my side, now on my face in this for-
saken place. Sleep fled from my eyes (Gen 31:40) till the third watch of the
night and a sultry east wind sighed (Jonah 4:8).10

The roving protagonists wander throughout the Muslim East, and al-hir
maintains the Hebrew maqma convention of biblicizing place names (as well
as the names of his characters).11 In quite a few instances biblical toponyms are
invoked purely to preserve a rhyming format, while elsewhere biblical place
names are used in their lexical sense, without any pretense to geographical

10 On this episode, see A. Tanenbaum, Of a Pietist Gone Bad and Des(s)erts Not Had:
The Fourteenth Chapter of Zechariah Alahiris Sfer ha-msr, Prooftexts 23/3 (2003):
297319.
11 Cf. A. Lavi, The Rationale of al-arz in Biblicizing the Maqmt of al-arr, JQR
n.s. 74(1984): 28093.
The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 153

accuracy (e.g., Qiryat Sfer for a community of scholars and scribes along the
Euphrates).12

3 Rhetorical Uses: Paratextual

Al-hir also exploits biblical allusion to achieve a number of rhetorical ends,


including the humorous and what we might call the paratextual. The term
paratext (coined in 1981 by the French literary critic Grard Genette) is used
here to refer to ancillary material that mediates between text and reader and
thereby shapes a book to present it in a certain light.13 In his authors introduc-
tion, al-hir informs us that he wrote his work against the background of the
tumultuous Ottoman conquest of Yemen in 1569 and the ensuing persecution
of the Jewish community of Sanaa by the indigenous Muslim Zayd authorities.
He entitled it Sfer ha-msr (The Book of Moral Instruction) in the hopes that
the reader would derive a moral or lesson (msr) from the tribulations suffered
by the Jews of Sanaa on account of their many sins. He thus explicitly endorses
a pious, didactic reading of his work. But implicit in what he says subsequently
is the suggestion that the msr of the title also be understood as the Hebrew
equivalent of the Arabic adab, a term that acquired multiple senses over the
course of time, including the urbane, genteel, and wittily literate culture of
the adbthe medieval courtier or gentleman or professional secretary.14 The
dual meaning of al-hirs chosen title intimates the twin aims, but also
the internal tensions and moral ambiguity, of his maqma collection, which is
at once a belletristic narrative brimming with entertaining energy and occa-
sionally transgressive content, as well as a staid and morally edifying book.
It is here that his paratextual use of biblical allusion comes into play, for the

12 The biblical Qiryat Sfer was a city in Judah; see Josh 15:15. It is used in its literal sense
(The City of the Book) in Sfer ha-msr #33, which is based on a text by al-arr. Cf. the
opening of Sfer ha-msr #17.
13 See G. Genette, Palimpsestes (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1981), 9; idem, Seuils (Paris: Editions
du Seuil, 1987); idem, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, transl. J. Lewin (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1997).
14 For this more restricted definition of the term see S. Bonebakker, Adab and the Concept
of Belles-Lettres, in The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: Abbasid Belles Lettres, ed.
J. Ashtiany et al., 1630 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). On the generic
classification of adab by medieval Arabic literary critics, see A. Arazi, Ladab, les critiques
et les genres littraires dans la culture arabe mdivale, Israel Oriental Studies 19 (1999):
22138.
154 Tanenbaum

language of his introduction supports an apologetic presentation of his work.


In a string of verse fragments he laments the suffering of his people:

We were like the dung for the field (Ps 83:11), we all became like an unclean
thing (Isa 64:5); we were hotly pursued; exhausted, we were given no rest
(Lam 5:5). Our hope was almost gone (Ezek 37:11); we despaired, there
was no one to remove our disgrace (Gen 30:23).

The introduction is particularly dense with interwoven phrases from Job and
Lamentations. This evocative scriptural diction and imagery allows al-hir
to assimilate the particular persecution and forbearance of his people to famil-
iar biblical tropes, which suggests that they are part of a long cycle of suffering,
but also of redemption. In light of the ambiguity at the heart of al-hirs
enterprise, these allusions also serve to frame the work as a Book of Moral
Instruction, more so than as an irreverent Book of Belles Lettres, although
al-hir does not go so far as to claimas some belletristic authors didthat
Sfer ha-msr is an allegory whose surface meaning consistently points to a
higher truth.15 As Devin Stewart has noted, the frivolity of the classical Arabic
maqma created a moral tension which neither escaped, nor sat very eas-
ily with, many medieval authors, hence their tendency to apologize in some
fashion for the morally questionable material and duplicitous use of scriptural

15 Note that right at the beginning of his prefatory poem to the Takmn, al-arz
describes the work as fifty mabrt msr (maqmt offering moral instruction); see
Takmn, ed. Yahalom and Katsumata, 63, line 7. But while he makes didactic claims
for the work, he does not suggest that it be read allegorically. On Jacob ben Eleazars alle-
gorical maqma on the body-soul-intellect triangle, see T. Rosen, Unveiling Eve: Reading
Gender in Medieval Hebrew Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
2003), 95102. On Don Vidal Benvenists (15th-century) allegorical interpretation of
his Romance of Epher and Dinah, see F. Talmage, Apples of Gold: The Inner Meaning
of Sacred Texts in Medieval Judaism, in Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver: Studies in
Medieval Jewish Exegesis and Polemics, ed. B. Walfish, 110 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of
Mediaeval Studies, 1999); for a detailed discussion see M. Huss, Don Vidal Benvenistes
Melitsat Efer ve-Dinah: Studies and Critical Edition [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Magnes Press,
2003), 68126. Already in the 11th century Joseph ibn Naghrila prefaced his fathers dwn
with the caveat that his erotic poems were to be understood as an allegory of the love
between God and Israel; see Diwan of Shemuel Hannaghid, ed. D. Sassoon (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1934), 1; and M. Huss, Secular Poetry or Religious Allegory: The Love
Poems of Samuel Ha-Nagid [in Hebrew], Jerusalem Studies in Hebrew Literature 15 (1995):
3573.
The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 155

language in their texts.16 Al-hir too seems to have been keenly aware of the
apparent discrepancy between his sober, stated goals and his heros immod-
erate and morally indefensible behavior, conveyed through the language of
Scripture. Through a deliberate use of biblical allusion, he sought to soften the
blow by presenting his work in a pious light.

4 Humorous Uses: Misplaced Allusions and Willful Misreadings

In other instances, al-hir can be subtly playful in his use of biblical quo-
tation. Deployed in a new setting, a verse fragment can acquire humorous
overtones that were completely absent from its original context. In al-hirs
eleventh maqma, the narrator reports that one day, while in his native city
of Sidon, he noticed groups of penitents rushing to hear a fire-and-brimstone
preacher from the land of Yemen whose spellbinding oratory had earned
him great repute. Elbowing his way into the innermost circle of spectators,
Mordechai discerns an elderly man in tattered clothes delivering a rousing
homily in repudiation of worldly desires and pursuits. Taking these warnings to
heart, the audience resolves to repent and banish backsliding from their midst.
Meanwhile, the itinerant preacher betrays a hint of the mercenary and, when
he returns to his lodgings with his entourage, reveals his true colors by crowing
about the effectiveness of his sermon. The narrator pursues him and discovers
that the preacher is none other than Abner ben Helek, who has aged prema-
turely due to his imprisonment by the Muslim authorities. Mordechaiwho
is himself often quite gullible and credulousis so impressed that he identi-
fies Abner with no less a prophet than Moses: His eyes were undimmed and
his vigor unabated (cf. Deut 34:7).17 But in light of what the audience knows
about Abners repeated ruses and deceits, the allusion is so misplaced that it
has a comic effect. Read against the grain of the plain meaning of the verse, the
quote actually suggests that the wily Abner is unchanged, which is to say, unre-
pentant. At the chapters end, Mordechais closing remark to Abner achieves
additional irony by alluding to Josephs self-disclosure to his brothers in Egypt,
and by invoking prophets known for their censure of the ungodly: Blessed is

16 See D. Stewart, The Maqma, in The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: Arabic
Literature in the Post-Classical Period, ed. R. Allen and D. Richards, 14558, esp. pp. 15457
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
17 Sfer ha-msr, 161, line 65.
156 Tanenbaum

He who sent you to sustain us (Gen 45:5); we shall have no further need for
Isaiah and Jeremiah.18
Intentional misreadings of biblical phrases result from al-hirs love of
punning and wordplay. Lev 11:4 forbids the consumption of animals that have
only one of the two signs required to make them permissible: ...the camel,
although it chews the cud, has no true hoofs (pars nenn mafrs); it is unclean
for you. But in a convoluted folktale that Mordechai tells Abner about a prince
who became an ascetic, the phrase pars nenn mafrs is lifted completely
out of its original context to mean that the ascetic would not travel another
parasang (pars) once night had fallen.19 Conversely, hyper-literal readings
can also have a humorous effect. In chapter 19 (an unattributed adaptation
of al-arrs thirty-ninth maqma), Abner recounts a fabulous tale of quack-
ery which takes place on an island where he had been shipwrecked. There he
learns that the lady of the palacethe only one of the kings many wives to
conceiveis in the midst of a difficult childbirth, which neither she nor the
child may survive. With great ceremoniousness, Abner writes a series of amu-
lets and whispers incantations over her. After a moment, the baby emerges
and the lord of the palace, overcome with joy and gratitude, plies Abner with
jewels and other emoluments. Abners inscription on one of the amulets (zor
rshm m-rem) plays with the plain sense of Ps 58:4, The wicked are defi-
ant from birth; the liars go astray from the womb, to conjure the emergence of
the baby from the womb, rather than the innate defects of the wicked, which
are present from birth.20

5 Polemical Uses

In the seventh chapter of Sfer ha-msr, al-hir depicts a Muslim and a


Jew engaged in an imaginary religious disputation in one of the teeming mar-
kets of Cairo.21 The unnamed Muslim opens the exchange with a politico-

18 
Sfer ha-msr, 163, line 109.
19 
Sfer ha-msr, 95, line 122.
20 
Sfer ha-msr, 223, lines 7173. Abners perverse sense of humor is perhaps in evidence
here, as taken literally, the citation would seem to imply that the baby is wicked. He
also inscribes an old gourd with Exod 11:8, a verse commonly used in amulets to lighten
childbirth; see T. Schrire, Hebrew Magic Amulets: Their Decipherment and Interpretation
(London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1966; repr. New York: Behrman House, Inc., 1982), 132,
no.52.
21 
Sfer ha-msr, 12429. On this episode, see A. Tanenbaum, Polemics Real and Imagined
in Zechariah Alhirs Sfer ha-msr, in Giving a Diamond: Essays in Honor of Joseph
The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 157

theological argument drawn from the standard medieval repertoire of Muslim


anti-Jewish polemics: the Jews dispersion, humiliation, political subjugation,
and lack of a sovereign are all proof of their divine rejection, while the worldly
success of Islam (and even Christianity) is a sign of divine favor. Adopting a
strident tone, he emphasizes the enduring veracity of Muammads prophecy
and charges that Moses promises of redemption are empty and that the Jews
trust in them is false, thereby insinuating that Muammad has supplanted
Moses. His dispute hinges on several central cruxes of the Muslim anti-Jewish
argument: Jewish political powerlessness and abasement (dhull) as proof of
divine rejection; the superiority of Muammads prophecy to that of Moses;
and, by implication, the abrogation or supersession (naskh) of the Torah by
the subsequent revelation of the Qurn.22 At the same time, he omits several
other polemical exegeses and critiques of the Hebrew Bible routinely found
in Muslim anti-Jewish writings. There is no mention of the notion that the
Scriptures currently possessed by Jews are a post-exilic forgery (tarf ); or of
the charge that Jewish revealed texts are invalidated by their lack of a reliable,
unbroken chain of transmission (tawtur); or that particular verses (alm) in
the Hebrew Scriptures adumbrate Muammads prophecy (such as Gen 17:20;
Deut 18:15, 18; and Deut 33:2).23

Yahalom on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. W. van Bekkum and N. Katsumata,
24363 (Leiden: Brill, 2011).
22 In leveling the first charge, Muslims regularly adduced a qurnic verse (2:61) which
states that wretchedness and baseness (dhilla wa-maskana) were stamped upon the
Jews for their rejection of Islam. This notion of abasement figures in the subtitle to Judah
Halevis Kzr: Kitb al-radd wa-l-dall f-l-dn al-dhall (The Book of Refutation and Proof
in Defense of the Despised Faith); see also Kzr 1:113. On the abrogation of the Torah,
see H. Lazarus-Yafeh, Intertwined Worlds: Medieval Islam and Bible Criticism (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1992), 3541; C. Adang, Muslim Writers on Judaism and the
Hebrew Bible: From Ibn Rabban to Ibn Hazm (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 192222; idem, A Jewish
Reply to Ibn Hazm: Solomon b. Adrets Polemic against Islam, in Judios y musulmanes en
al-Andalus y el Magreb, ed. M. Fierro, 179209 (Madrid: Casa de Velazquez, 2002).
23 For the entire range of Muslim arguments against the Bible see Lazarus-Yafeh, Intertwined
Worlds, 1949. On the verses said to prefigure Muammads prophecy and the rise of Islam
see D. Frank, Search Scripture Well: Karaite Exegetes and the Origins of the Jewish Bible
Commentary in the Islamic East (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 22847; M. Perlmann, The Medieval
Polemics between Judaism and Islam, in Religion in a Religious Age, ed. S. D. Goitein,
10338, esp. p. 114 (Cambridge, Mass.: Association for Jewish Studies, 1974); Lazarus-Yafeh,
Intertwined Worlds, 75110; Adang, Muslim Writers, 13991 and 26466. In Gen 17:20 the
numerical value of bmd md (92) was observed to be identical to the value of the let-
ters MMD, Muammad. Deut 18:15, The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet
from among your own people, like myself, was taken to refer to Muammad. In Deut
158 Tanenbaum

Al-hir has his Jewish disputant counter these polemical claims with the
Maimonidean argument that Christianity and Islam are merely transitional
phases, ordained by God to wean mankind from idolatry in its progression
toward true monotheism. He argues that divine sanction for these highly
imperfect dispensations was intended to prepare the world for the advent of
the true messiah, who will restore Jerusalem and the Temple, and that the ulti-
mate sign of divine favor is the restoration of Zion, not the temporal power of
the Muslims.24 In delivering this salvo, the Jew does not shy away from using
disparaging epithets for Muammad (customarily invoked in medieval Jewish
literary polemics against Muslims), calling him the foolish prophet and
madman (vl ha-n mshugg; cf. Hos 9:7) who invented lies and false-
hoods, claiming that he had prophesied.25 Similarly, he asserts that one of the

33:2, the progression Sinai-Seir-Paran was seen to refer to the three successive mono-
theistic dispensations. On the question of the authenticity of the Jewish Scriptures see
Adang, Muslim Writers, 22348. On the lack of reliable transmission, see Lazarus-Yafeh,
Intertwined Worlds, 4147. See also E. Schlossberg, Anti-Muslim Polemics in Medieval
Yemenite Midrashm [in Hebrew], Td 14 (1998): 20524.
24 In Mishn Tr, Mlkhm (Kings and Wars) 11:4, a passage regularly deleted by the
censors, Maimonides writes that all these matters relating to Jesus of Nazareth and
the Ishmaelite [Muammad] who came after him only served to clear the way for King
Messiah, to prepare the whole world to worship God with one accord. See I. Twersky,
Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah) (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1980), 45253. See also Crisis and Leadership: Epistles of Maimonides, transl.
A. Halkin, discussions by David Hartman (Philadelphia-New York-Jerusalem: Jewish
Publication Society of America, 1985), 18690; and Y. Shamir, Allusions to Muammad in
Maimonides Theory of Prophecy in his Guide of the Perplexed, JQR 64 (1974): 21224.
In a responsum to Obadiah the Proselyte, Maimonides writes that contemporary Muslims
are not idolators, even though earlier stages of their religion involved idolatrous practices;
see R. Moses b. Maimon, Responsa [in Hebrew], ed. J. Blau (Jerusalem: Mq Nirdmm,
1960), 2:7257, #448. Cf. Guide, 3:2930.
25 Mshugg (madman) was apparently inspired by the Arabic epithet majnn (pos-
sessed, insane, madman), used in the Qurn by the enemies of Muammad. Jewish
authors found scriptural support for the usage in Hos 9:7: the prophet was distraught,
the inspired man was driven mad. The Hebrew psl (unfit, disqualified), which was
used to dismiss Mummad as a false prophet, played on the Arabic rasl allh, meaning
the messenger or apostle of God. See, e.g., Moses Maimonides Epistle to Yemen: The Arabic
Original and the Three Hebrew Versions, ed. A. Halkin, transl. B. Cohen, 3839 (New York:
American Academy for Jewish Research, 1952). The earliest attestations are apparently in
Karaite texts; see H. Ben-Shammai, The Attitude of Some Early Karaites Towards Islam,
in Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature, vol. 2, ed. I. Twersky, 340, esp. p. 14,
n. 47 and p. 21 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984); Frank, Search Scripture
Well, 20447 passim; Y. Avishur, Kinny gnay ivriyym la-gym v-lhdm ba-rt-
The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 159

preconditions for prophecy is that a man be intellectually superior, not like


the mad prophet who every day possesses another maiden.26 He also insists
that prophecy shall go forth out of Zion, and that anyone who says otherwise
speaks falsely, for prophecy only ever arose in the Land of Israel; it is not found
in Seir or Ishmael. His assertion that true prophecy arose only in the Land
of Israel harks back to Judah Ha-Levis Kzr (2:14, 5:22), while the require-
ment that the prophet be intellectually superior recalls Maimonides various
discussions of intellectual perfection as a prerequisite for prophecy.27 But he
is presumably also responding to Muslim polemical exegesis of Deut 33:2, in
which the progression Sinai-Seir-Paran was taken to refer to the three succes-
sive monotheistic dispensations.
One of the most striking aspects of the anti-Jewish attacks leveled by the
otherwise stereotypical Muslim disputant is that they are delivered in rhymed
Biblical Hebrew. In his discussion of Judah al-arzs Tale of the Astrologer
(Takmn, chap. 22), Ross Brann has highlighted this narrative technique
called impersonated artistry, which allows non-Jewish figures in rhymed
prose narratives to behave and speak as members of their confessional com-
munity even though their discourse is rendered in perfectly elegant medieval
Hebrew.28 There is a wonderful irony in the fact that the anti-Jewish diatribe
in our tale is couched in a dense pastiche of biblical phrases, even if some
of the verse fragments are cited purely for rhyming effect (lost, alas, in this
translation):

For years they [the Muslims] have had support from heaven: Truthful
speech endures forever (Prov 12:19). But you are like morning clouds
(Hos 6:4, 13:3), your decline cannot be fathomed. Let lying lips be stilled!
(Ps31:19). It is nine hundred and seventy-seven years since [the advent

yhdt bm ha-bnaym v-gilglhem, in Shay le-Hadassah, ed. Y. Bentolila, 97116,


esp. pp. 1035 (Beer-Sheva, 1997); and M. Steinschneider, Polemische und apologetische
Literatur in arabischer Sprache zwischen Muslimen, Christen und Juden, nebst Anhangen
verwandten Inhalts (Leipzig, 1877; repr. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1966), 302, 349,
356, 366, 383. See also the citations from Midrash ha-gdl in E. Schlossberg, Ha-plms
im ha-islm b-midrash mor ha-fl, Tema 3 (1993): 5766, esp. p. 60.
26 On Jewish responses to Muammads Haremsverhltnisse, see Steinschneider,
Polemische und apologetische Literatur, 3035.
27 See, e.g., Mishn Tr, Ysd ha-Tr (Foundations of the Torah), 7:1 and Guide 3:51.
28 See R. Brann, Power in the Portrayal: Representations of Jews and Muslims in Eleventh-
and Twelfth-Century Islamic Spain (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 147 and
n.35, citing H. Marshall Leicester Jr., The Disenchanted Self: Representing the Subject in the
Canterbury Tales (Berkeley: UC Press, 1990), 4.
160 Tanenbaum

of] our Prophet, who satisfies us with good things in the prime of life
(Ps103:5). To our advantage, he continues to grow in stature, while you are
like grass on the roof that withers in a moment (Ps 129:6). Your Temples
stood eight hundred and thirty years; from the day they were destroyed
you have been silenced.29 Every day you decline further, while the merit
of the Prophet is a testament to our [superiority]. Where is your king,
who goes out at your head to fight your battles? (1 Sam 8:20). If you cry
out, no one will pay heed. In our presence, you are like sheep that have
no shepherd (Num 27:17).30

It is worth noting that none of the verse fragments employed here is drawn
from the corpus of scriptural verses regularly adduced by Muslims in support
of their anti-Jewish arguments.31 For example, in connection with Jewish king-
ship, one might have expected to find an allusion to Gen 49:10 (the scepter shall
not depart from Judah), but there is no intimation of this verse anywhere in
the chapter. So while the Muslim character raises extremely pertinent polemi-
cal concernsthe significance of the downtrodden political status of the Jews
and questions of prophetic veracityhe is made to do so using scriptural lan-
guage that is generally not included in the arsenal of the medieval Muslim-
Jewish debate. In this respect, the phrasing of his speech is akin to that of the
narrative sequences in which scriptural citations become part of the very fab-
ric of the tale. But the passage is so steeped in biblical imagery and tropes that
al-hir actually seems to be reformulating Muslim anti-Jewish claims and
couching them in a familiar idiom for the benefit of an internal Jewish audi-
ence. Verses which in their original scriptural contexts rebuke Israel for disre-
garding Gods will (Hos 6:4, 13:3), or contrast human evanescence with divine
eternity, or which plead for the destruction of all who hate Zion (Ps 129:6) or
for a king to go out at our head and fight our battles so that we may be like
all the other nations (1 Sam 8:20) are here used to contrast Jewish political
powerlessness with Muslim superiority. Only readers steeped in the Hebrew
Scriptures could fully appreciate such teasing twists of meaning. But these

29 Note that the Muslim employs the standard rabbinic chronology of the two Temples,
found in Sder lm rabb: the first temple stood for 410 years and the second for 420.
30 Sfer ha-msr, 1245.
31 For a list of biblical verses cited by Muslim polemicists see Lazarus-Yafeh, Intertwined
Worlds, 16163. Adang notes that it was only when Jews and Christians began to demand
that Muammads prophethood be authenticated with biblical testimonies that Muslims
began to show some interest in the allegorical interpretation of the Torah and the remain-
der of the Hebrew Bible; see Adang, Muslim Writers, 192, n. 3.
The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 161

ironic usages presumably also reflect concerns internal to the Jewish commu-
nity and project anxieties regarding Jewish vulnerability in Yemeni Muslim
society. Certainly, we know from much earlier accounts from tenth-century
Baghdad that, even under the best of circumstances, Jewish participants in
actual scholarly sessions (majlis) featuring inter-faith debates were suscepti-
ble to being swayed by Muslim arguments for the authenticity of Muammads
prophecy.32 Moreover, al-hirs open, forthright criticism of Islam and unre-
strained use of derogatory epithets for Muammad would have been far too
inflammatory were they intended for anyone other than a Jewish audience.
Although in recent years new manuscript material has come to light that may
cause us to revise the scholarly consensus, the current view is that the Jews
in the Islamic world produced few books devoted in their entirety to anti-
Muslim attacks.33 Instead, they tended to incorporate their refutations of
Muslim doctrinal claims into less-obviously polemical contexts, such as exe-
getical, homiletical, legal, philosophical, or literary works.34 Scholars have
remarked on the relative circumspection of these critiques, which were often
implicit or veiled, rather than brazenly direct. The rationales offered for this
reticence are generally twofold. On a pragmatic level, there was a fear of
offending the ruling Muslims who might then exact collective retribution.
On a theological level, the restraint was due to the lack of a shared Scripture.
Whereas medieval Christians felt compelled to combat the erroneous Jewish
exegesis of Scripture which willfully denied the christological reading, Muslims
were rather less concerned with biblical interpretation. As a result, the Jewish
polemical response to Christianity was far more acrimonious and extensive.35

32 See D. Sklare, Responses to Islamic Polemics by Jewish Mutakallimn in the Tenth


Century, in The Majlis: Interreligious Encounters in Medieval Islam, ed. H. Lazarus-Yafeh
et al., 13761, esp. pp. 14143 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1999).
33 See Sklare, ibid. Sklare notes that a small corpus of Judaeo-Arabic manuals for partici-
pants in polemical debates was produced by Jews living in 10th-century Baghdad.
34 See Steinschneider, Polemische und apologetische Literatur, 244388 passim; Perlmann,
The Medieval Polemics between Judaism and Islam; Lazarus-Yafeh, Intertwined Worlds,
610; and S. Stroumsa, Jewish Polemics Against Islam and Christianity in the Light of
Judaeo-Arabic Texts, in Judaeo-Arabic Studies: Proceedings of the Founding Conference
of the Society for Judaeo-Arabic, ed. N. Golb, 24150 (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic
Publishers, 1997). Jews in Islamic lands also wrote critiques of Eastern Christianity in
Arabic; for an overview of the relatively small extant corpus, see D. Lasker, The Jewish
Critique of Christianity under Islam in the Middle Ages, PAAJR 57 (199091): 12153.
35 See Lazarus-Yafeh, ibid.; Stroumsa, ibid., 2426; and M. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross:
The Jews in the Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 13961. Early
Karaites were less inhibited about committing anti-Muslim remarks to writing, despite
162 Tanenbaum

Yemenite Jewish texts vary in their degree of antipathy to Islam, but their
responses to doctrinal critiques are couched in non-polemical genres such
as Nethanel ibn al-Fayyms theological compendium, Bustn al-uql (The
Garden of Wisdom; twelfth century) or Nethanel ben Yeshas philosophical
midrash, Nr al-alm (Illumination of the Darkness; 1329)both in Judaeo-
Arabicor, indeed, Zechariah al-hirs belletristic Sfer ha-msr.36
In our passage from Sfer ha-msr, al-hir achieves additional subtle iro-
nies with individual lexical items. The Muslim opens with a question (What
do you [pl.] think of the penitent Muslims who sanctify and purify themselves,
and who pray morning and evening?), in which the term used to evoke his
coreligionists piety may actually be read as a double entendre: ha-yishmlm
ha-shm is both the penitent Muslims and the wild, unruly Muslims.37
The latter meaning picks up on the standard anti-Muslim polemical epithet,

their frequent use of Arabic characters; see Ben-Shammai, The Attitude of Some Early
Karaites Towards Islam. The first Jewish books of anti-Christian polemics appear in
Christian Europe in the late 11th century in response to increased missionary pressure;
see, e.g., D. Lasker, Jewish Philosophical Polemics Against Christianity in the Middle Ages
(New York: Ktav, 1977; 2nd ed. Oxford-Portland: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization,
2007) and D. Berger, The Jewish-Christian Debate in the High Middle Ages (Philadelphia:
Jewish Publication Society of America, 1979). But Lasker also notes that the first two
works drew upon the earlier Jewish critique of Christianity from Islamic lands; see his
The Jewish-Christian Debate in Transition: From the Lands of Ishmael to the Lands of
Edom, in Judaism and Islam: Boundaries, Communication and Interaction: Essays in Honor
of William M. Brinner, ed. B. Hary, J. Hayes, and F. Astren, 5365 (Leiden: Brill, 2000).
36 See Nathanel ibn al-Fayym, Bustn al-uql (Gan ha-skhlm), ed. and transl. J. Qafi
(Jerusalem, 1984); The Bustan al-ukul (The Garden of Wisdom), ed. and transl. D. Levine
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1908; repr. AMS Press, 1966); Nethanel ben Yesha,
Nr al-alm (Mor ha-fl), ed. and transl. J. Qafi (Jerusalem, 1957); English excerpts
in Langermann, Yemenite Midrash, 16077. See also Schlossberg, Anti-Muslim Polemics
in Medieval Yemenite Midrashm.
37 Shm as penitents derives from an acronym designating the eight successive Torah
portions in the book of Exodus. In a medieval Germano-Polish custom that spread to
16th-century kabbalistic circles in Turkey and Safed, pious Jews fasted in leap years on
the Mondays and Thursdays before the Sabbaths when these portions were read, hence
mt shm are the fasts of the penitent. Certain customs of the Safed circle reached
Yemen during al-hirs lifetime, and while it is not clear that this one did, al-hir
may have had some knowledge of it through literary channels or from his visit to Safed.
See Y. Cohen, Sources and History [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass, 1982), 10729;
R. Werblowsky, Joseph Karo, Lawyer and Mystic (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication
Society of America, 1977), 184; D. Sperber, Minhg Yisrl: mqrt v-tldt (Jerusalem:
Mossad HaRav Kook, 1994), 3:21617; and J. Eisenstein, ar dnm -minhgm (New York:
Hebrew Publishing Company, 1938), 4034.
The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 163

pere dm, a wild ass of a man, derived from the prophecy of Ishmaels
birth in Gen 16:12 and used freely in Hebrew poetic complaints about Muslim
oppression.38 In a text intended for an internal Jewish readership, such word-
play could again be used to great effect without increasing the risk of religious
confrontation with the authorities. Implicit rebuttals of the claims that both
Moses and the Torah have been superseded can be seen in the opening of the
Jews rejoinder. Here the language resonates with great immediacy by alluding
to verses which emphasize the unique role of Moses as Gods anointed prophet
and conduit for unmediated divine revelation, as well as Israels status as Gods
chosen people:

If you want to distinguish between truth and falsehood, heed my


words.... Know that God gave his Torah to his people through his
trusted servant, Moses (Num 12:7). He called them his treasured posses-
sion (Exod 19:5), but they sinned against Him and his Torah. He looked
down from his dwelling place and chastised them as a father disciplines
his son (Deut8:5). He will take them back in everlasting repentance and
bear them, as he once did, on eagles wings (Exod 19:4) by means of his
anointed prophet.

Al-hir returns much more forcefully to these refutations in the chapters


closing poem, which dismisses Muammad as a raging fool for supposing that
the Qurn, in all its deficiency, could compare with the Torah, whose truth is
more precious than gold.39
Prior to the poemand to the Muslims pained outcry which sets off an
irate Muslim mobthe Jewish disputant sets forth one final, rather recondite
proof which hinges on several biblical verses grouped together on the basis
of ancient Jewish scribal tradition. Each of these verses has an oversized letter
ayin that serves as the peg for this polemical interpretation. The verses are
Deut 6:4 (shma Yisrl; the word shma ends with an enlarged ayin), Ps 80:14

38 On the use of pere dm as a derogatory epithet for Islam see, e.g., Steinschneider,
Polemische und apologetische Literatur, 300. See also Schlossberg, Anti-Muslim Polemics
in Medieval Yemenite Midrashm, 2089. The continuation of Gen 16:12, his hand will be
against every man was taken by Muslim authors as a blessing, referring to Muammad
and the early conquests of Islam; see Lazarus-Yafeh, Intertwined Worlds, 9293.
39 See Sfer ha-msr, 12829. The poem invokes a series of paired metaphors, some of
them drawn from Yemeni realia, to convey the audacity and preposterousness of the
comparison: crooked/straight paths; valley/mountains (cf. Isa 40:4); meat of locusts/fat-
tened swan meat; copper/pure gold; metallic powder used to glaze a vessel/suns; bridle/
mantles; asses reins/ornaments.
164 Tanenbaum

(ykharsmenn zr mi-yar [wild boars gnaw at it]; the ayin in mi-yar is


suspended), and Job 38:15 (v-yimmna m-rshm rm [their light is with-
held from the wicked]; the ayin in rshm is suspended, leaving the word
rshm, poor, or destitute40):

The first ayin is ordered in line with the letters...while the two others
are suspended. The first alludes to the religion of Israel, and the two sus-
pended ones allude to Esau and Ishmael [Christianity and Islam]. For
they are now insolent and proud [they, like the letters above the line, are
currently superior to Israel], lording it over the pleasant nation, but in
the end they will fall and their carcasses will be burnt in flames, may it
be speedily and soon! To this the knowing prophet [King David] alluded,
Allthe horns of the wicked I will cut (Ps 75:11). The end of the verse
refers to Israel, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up. About
them it is said from the hidden heavens, For every eye shall behold the
Lords return to Zion (Isa 52:8; ayin b-ayin yir b-shv dony iyyn
[the word for eye is taken as an allusion to the letter ayin]).

This clever little homily likely belongs to a medieval contemplative tradi-


tion which interpreted the forms of the Hebrew letters symbolically. Tzvi
Langermann has reconstructed portions of an unpublished speculative work
from Yemen, composed in a heavily Arabicized Hebrew and entitled f or
ha-f ha-loht (The Divine Will), which apparently included a long chap-
ter on the symbolism of the forms of the Hebrew letters. (The section devoted
to the letter ayin is unfortunately not extant.) Non-literal interpretations of
creation and the Garden of Eden ascribed to f are cited by the Yemenite
scholars Aluel (David) ben Yesha in al-Wajz al-mughn (late fifteenth century)
and Shalem Shabbazi in his midrash, emdat ha-ymm (seventeenth cen-
tury). The author of f also discusses the fate of the soul after death, and
in general draws on three strands of speculative thought: the Maimonidean,
the Neoplatonic scheme of emanation, and the Pythagorean approach to num-
bers and letters articulated by the Ikhwn al-Saf or Sincere Brethren (a group
of Muslim philosophers active in Basra during the second half of the tenth
century). While clearly not averse to non-literal readings of biblical verses,
the author of f is highly critical of extreme allegorical interpretation.

40 See, e.g., b. Sanhedrn 103b.


The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 165

Langermann notes that the controversy over the limits of allegorical exegesis
was central to the deliberations of Jewish scholars in medieval Yemen.41

6 Sfer d la-derekh: Philosophical and Kabbalistic Exegesis

Of the three verses marshaled in the polemical homily quoted above, only
Deut 6:4 falls directly within the purview of al-hirs commentary on the
Pentateuch. But in his gloss on this verse in Sfer d la-derekh, there is no
sign of the above-mentioned symbolic interpretation of the enlarged ayin at
the end of the word shma. Instead, the verse is treated as part of a lengthy
discussion of prshat V-etannan (Deut 3:237:11). The literary form of
this discussion derives from the homiletical proem or ptt of classical
midrash, insofar as it opens with a verse from the Hagiographa and gradually
works its way back to the first verse of the lection.42 Immediately following
the lemma, V-etannan el dony (I pleaded with the Lord), al-hir cites
Prov 15:24, ra ayym l-mal l-makl, lmaan sr mi-shl m (For an
intelligent man the path of life leads upward, in order to avoid Sheol below).
He then applies a philosophical interpretation to this verse, on the assumption
that it envelops a deeper meaning beyond its surface sense. (As Frank Talmage
noted, the Book of Proverbs, or mishl [parables], held a special appeal for
philosophical allegorists, who read it on two levelsone exoteric, that is, as a

41 See Y. Langermann, The Yemeni Treatise Known as f [in Hebrew], Qiryat Sfer 61
(1986/7): 36367; repr. in A. David (ed.), From the Collections of the Institute of Microfilmed
Hebrew Manuscripts (Jerusalem: The Jewish National and University Library, 1995), 5357;
idem, d al ha-ibbr ha-tmn f, in L-rsh Yosef, 36369. For non-Yemenite
scientific or philosophical works that apply symbolic interpretations to the letters of
the alphabet, cf. idem, From my Notebooks: Two Treatises on the Letters of the Hebrew
Alphabet, Aleph: Historical Studies in Science & Judaism 3 (2003): 29399; and, idem, Some
Remarks on Judah ben Solomon Ha-Cohen and his Encyclopedia, Midrash ha-okhm,
in The Medieval Hebrew Encyclopedias of Science and Philosophy, ed. S. Harvey, 37189,
esp. pp. 38085 (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000).
42 On the ptt, see, e.g., J. Heinemann, The Proem in the Aggadic Midrashim, in Studies
in Aggadah and Folk-Literature, Scripta Hierosolymitana 22, 10022 (Jerusalem: Magnes
Press, 1971); A. Shinan, L-trat ha-ptt, Jerusalem Studies in Hebrew Literature 1
(1981): 13343. Al-hir employs a similar literary format in his comments on Gen 1:1
where he opens with a citation of Eccl 7:19 (Wisdom is more of a stronghold to a wise
man than ten magnates that a city may contain). Note that the proem form is found
in the Yemenite Midrash ha-gdl (14th c.), where the rsht poems prefacing particular
pericopes generally close with a verse that serves as a ptt to the commentary that
follows.
166 Tanenbaum

book of practical wisdom, and one esoteric, as intended only for the elite who
could benefit from its inner meaning without being harmed by it.43) Indeed,
al-hir understands the phrase ra ayym in his chosen verse to refer to
philosophical wisdom, attainable only by a select few, whereas the authors
of Midrash vayyiqr rabb, for example, read ra ayym as a reference to
the Torah.44 Nevertheless, al-hir does not advocate abandoning the actual
performance of mivt mandated by the Torah, and clearly assumes that their
inner, esoteric meanings obtain only when the commandments are observed
according to the letter of the law. Tzvi Langermann has written that the legiti-
macy and limits of non-literal interpretation were among the most controver-
sial issues within medieval Yemeni Jewry. Consequently, Yemenite exegetes
took measures to ensure that their philosophical interpretations deepen[ed],
but [did] not supplant, the plain meaning of Scripture or lead to antinomian-
ism. This was accomplished by adhering to the notion that Scripture embodies
multiple layers of meaning simultaneously: the plain meaning of the com-
mandment, whose binding, obligatory nature is never in doubt; and a pro-
found philosophical message.45 The ideal of praxis ennobled by philosophical
quest is apparent already in al-hirs opening remarks. He writes that with
the verse cited above (Prov 15:24), King Solomon conveyed to us that:

...all of a mans deeds should be for the sake of heaven, and he should not
turn his thoughts from our Father in heaven even brieflythat is borne
out by the term upward. And the perfect man should ascend gradually
in fulfilling precepts that present themselves to him..., for the proper
fulfillment of a miv enables a man to enter the precincts of the Holy

43 Talmage, Apples of Gold, 116. The terminology al-hir uses to distinguish between
ora as a concealed path (dvr nelm) and derekh as a way that is revealed (glyy)
recalls the Judaeo-Arabic hermeneutical distinction between bin (the inner, hid-
den level of meaning) and hir (the surface, revealed level of meaning) adapted from
qurnic exegesis; see, e.g., P. Walker, Biniyya, Encyclopaedia of Islam 3 (http://refer-
enceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-3/batiniyya-COM_22745). On
the application of these concepts in earlier Jewish exegesis, both Karaite and Rabbanite,
see, e.g., H. Ben-Shammai, The Tension Between Literal Interpretation and Exegetical
Freedom: Comparative Observations on Saadias Method, in With Reverence for the Word:
Medieval Scriptural Exegesis in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, ed. J. McAuliffe, B. Walfish,
and J. Goering, 3350 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); and M. Z. Cohen, Opening
the Gates of Interpretation: Maimonides Biblical Hermeneutics in Light of His Geonic-
Andalusian Heritage and Muslim Milieu (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2011), 31239 passim.
44 Cf. Lev Rabb 29:5.
45 See Langermann, Yemenite Midrash, xxiiixxv.
The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 167

One, blessed be He...that is the throne of glory.... The verse uses the
term ra (path) to teach us that it is something hidden (dvr nelm),
unlike the term derekh, which signifies a way that is revealed (glyy) to
men. ra, however, is only attained by the enlightened, thinking per-
son from among the treasured few (ha-ra n mseget el la-makl
mi-yd sgull), therefore the verse says, For an intelligent man the
path of life leads upward. And it says in order to avoid Sheol below as
explained in [Maimonides] Guide, part two, at the end of chapter 10, to
save oneself from the decree of Hell.46 Similarly, Scripture says, [Who
knows if a mans lifebreath (r bn ha-dm) does rise upward and if]
a beasts breath (r ha-bhm) does sink down into earth (Eccl 3:21),
by which it means the lesser type of man, who is like a beast that pursues
its appetites.47 And if you say, Have we not found that the greatest of all
the prophets pleaded to be allowed to enter the Landwhich is what we
read in the [first] verse [of V-etannan], I pleaded with the Lord at that
time...[It should be] all the more so for other [ordinary] men.

Al-hir links Prov 15:24 to Eccl 3:21, which medieval exegetes read philo
sophically. Following in the footsteps of his gaonic and Andalusian predeces-
sors, Saadya Gaon, Abraham ibn Ezra, and Isaac ibn Ghiyyth, he construes
r in Eccl 3:21 as soul in order to contrast the nobility of the rational soul,
unique to man, with the less noble functions of the intermediate aspect of the
soul, common to human beings and animals. These thinkers believed that
the bodily passions, if unchecked, might lower a human being into beastlike
behavior and the pursuit of meaningless, transient goals. For al-hir, both
Prov 15:24 and Eccl 3:21 distinguish between a higher intellectual capacity
which enables a man to rise upward to the celestial realms and a lower, baser,
unreflective capacity which not only pulls one down to the material world, but
is also not susceptible of intellectual perfection. This ranking is of a piece with
the ontological hierarchy outlined in the introduction to Sfer d la-derekh
which ascends from inanimate objects to plants to beasts, to the human spe-
cies, and then to the perfect man whose intellect sets him apart from the rest.
Having set the stage, al-hir then begins his comments on V-etannan
proper by construing the opening of the lection in epistemological terms. His
remarks reflect the Maimonidean assumption that human perfection con-
sists of attainingwithin limitsknowledge of the Divine, and that such

46 There is nothing directly corresponding to this at the end of Guide, II:10 as we have it.
47 Note that the text of Sfer d la-derekh as printed in the Taj actually has nefesh
ha-bhm (in place of r).
168 Tanenbaum

metaphysical knowledge is what constitutes an individuals ultimate felic-


ity. He asks why Moses, who had attained intellectual perfection (hagt
ha-shlm; hig mittat ha-mul) and was thus entitled to great recom-
pense, was denied entry to the Land of Israel, especially seeing as the prom-
ise of that reward was extended to the entire people of Israel, few of whom
had attained a comparable degree of intellectual refinement. Al-hir reads
this paradox as Gods way of conveying the principle that the true reward lies
not in this world, in a land flowing with milk and honey, but in the World to
Come: the land of the living, which is the good, concealed (fn) land with-
out end.48 But since the mind of the common man does not tolerate such a
stark truth from the outset, one has to build up to it gradually, hence the rest of
Israel required the good things of this world as a step toward comprehending
the life of the World to Come. Having set forth this rather Maimonidean posi-
tion, al-hir refers the reader to an explanation of Prov 15:24 in the Zohar
(prshat Shla-lkh), without registering any sense of tension between his
rationalist and mystical commitments. From there he moves to his gloss on
the Ten Commandments (Deut 5:618) which delineates a correspondence
between each of the commandments in sequential order and each of the con-
centric celestial spheres of medieval cosmology (beginning with the second
commandment, as the first corresponds to God), from the outermost diur-
nal sphere down to that of the moon, which is the lowest of all the spheres,
so explained [Abraham] Ibn Ezra. Following these comments, al-hir
addresses the Shma, again by way of a verse from Proverbs:

48 
Ha-fn implies concealment, but the root .f.n. also has the sense of making internal
something (e.g., the love of God) which has external manifestations as well, perhaps sug-
gesting the incorporeal aspect of mans ultimate reward. It is this sense of the root .f.n.
which is conveyed by Ibn Tibbons rendering of amr (heart, mind or conscience)
as mapn in his translation of Baya ibn Paqdas Hidya; see, e.g., Baya ben Joseph
ibn Paqda, Kitb al-hidya il fari al-qulb (Trat t ha-lt), ed. and transl.
J. Qafi (Jerusalem, 1973), 8:3, p. 343, 4 lines from the bottom; and Sfer t ha-lt
(transl. by Judah ibn Tibbon), ed. A. Zifroni (Tel Aviv: Mabrt l-sifrt-Mossad HaRav
Kook, 1949), top of p. 472. Al-hirs description of the World to Come as ha-re ha-t
ha-fn she-n lh qib echoes Ibn Gabirols evocation of the World to Come in canto
27 of Keter Malkht; see H. Schirmann, Hebrew Poetry in Spain and Provence [in Hebrew],
2 vols. (Jerusalem-Tel Aviv: Bialik Institute-Dvir Company, 195456), 1:273, lines 25762.
A similar formulation is found in Sfer ha-msr, 21:248, lines 152 ff.: that is the good
without end, the World to Come...; it is concealed, to be attained only after death...not
every believer can grasp this matter; only a select few. (Cited below).
The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 169

That which Scripture said (Prov 22:20), Indeed, I wrote down for you a
threefold lore, wise counsel was said by King Solomon to inform you
that everything he wrote with the divine spirit bears three interpreta-
tions psh, drsh, and sd, as I have written above, Like golden
apples in silver filigrees is a phrase well turned (Prov 25:11). This verse
[i.e., Prov22:20] must be discussed according to its midrashic meaning
(al derekh ha-midrash); its plain meaning (al derekh ha-psh), and its
esoteric meaning (al derekh ha-sd).

Underlying this statement is the medieval fourfold scheme of interpretation


known by its acronym, pards (psh, remez, drsh, sd).49 While remez gen-
erally referred to philosophical allegory, al-hir compresses the scheme by
taking sd as a more broadly esoteric mode of exegesis encompassing both
philosophical and kabbalistic interpretation. In support of reading esoteri-
cally he cites Prov 25:11, the Maimonidean prooftext for penetrating beyond
the surface meaning of a text (the silver filigree casing) to elucidate its inner
meaning (the apples of gold).50 Again, it is worth noting that al-hir clearly
assumes that the inner, esoteric meaning obtains only when the obligation to
recite the Shma is literally fulfilled:

It seems to me that what is intended is the true proclamation of Gods


unity (ha-yid ha-mitt), which is engraved in the heart of every intel-
ligent, thinking person (makl)...to inform you that the one who pro-
claims the unity of the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, must direct
his meditation to the ten sfrt and their names and the ranks of the ten
[classes of] angels.

After enumerating the ten classes of angels, al-hir invokes the Aristotelian
hierarchy of supernal incorporeal beings or intellects which Maimonides
had identified with the angels.51 These emanate successively from, and are

49 See Talmage, Apples of Gold, 11416.


50 See Introduction to Guide Pt. I, transl. S. Pines, Moses Maimonides: The Guide of the
Perplexed (Chicago-London: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 1112; Talmage, Apples
of Gold, 110; J. Diamond, Concepts of Scripture in Maimonides, in Jewish Concepts of
Scripture: A Comparative Introduction, ed. B. Sommer, 12338 (New York-London: NYU
Press, 2012).
51 In Guide 2:10, the very chapter to which al-hir directs the reader above, Maimonides
states explicitly, the separate intellects are the angels. See also Guide I: 49. On
Maimonides depersonification of angels, see M. Kellner, Maimonides Confrontation
with Mysticism (Oxford-Portland: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2006), 27285.
170 Tanenbaum

subordinate to God, the First Cause of the universe, and they parallel and
maintain the celestial spheres in motion.52 According to Maimonides, the
celestial spheres are living beings endowed with intellect. In what follows,
al-hir sees in the traditional proclamation of Gods unity the Neoplatonic
notion of the transcendent One whose unity and simplicity are unaffected by
the multiplicity and composite nature of the created world emanating from it:

Here you have these matters...ten sfrt and ten ranks of the angels and
ten intellects in each of the spheres, and this is what should be set in the
heart of the one who proclaims the unity of Gods name. And...even
though there is multiplicity here, everything is emanated from the One
who is absolutely simple, Blessed be He and blessed be His name. How do
we know? From what we read in Scripture on the matter of shma yisrl
dony lohn dony ed.

Next he establishes a one-to-one correspondence between the ten sfrt of


the kabbalistic Godhead and the ten celestial spheres (keterdiurnal sphere;
okhmsphere of the zodiac; down to malkhtthe sublunary world), reit-
erating that these lofty matters should be the subject of ones meditation when
reciting the shma:53

Thus, all ten sfrt correspond to the spheres, and since that is the
case, it is obligatory and fitting for the one who proclaims the unity of
Gods blessed name to direct his thoughts also to the spheres; and it is
impossible to have spheres without angels, as noted above. And if you
concentrate intensively on the word One (ed)...and believe in your
thought that He is the One who causes the overflow to these threefold
mattersangel and sphere and fan,...how good and how pleasant that
all of existence should be enveloped in your thought...and the wise will

52 On God as the principle and the efficient cause of all things other than himself, see
Guide I:16, transl. Pines, 42. Kellner writes that Aristotle (as Maimonides understood
him) teaches that the separate intellects are intermediaries between God and the rest
of the created world. It is thanks to them that the spheres revolve, and it is revolution
of the spheres that brings about all change in the sublunar world; see Maimonides
Confrontation with Mysticism, 277.
53 Medieval kabbalists spoke of the emanation of ten sfrt from n sfthe infinite, con-
cealed, and unknowable aspect of the divinityto convey the unfolding or progressive
self-revelation of the divine in the cosmos. While God in himself is beyond compre-
hension, the sfrt emanating in successive stages from n sf represent aspects of the
Godhead that can be known through contemplation.
The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 171

understand. But this requires preparatory study, for language is insuffi-


cient to convey the details of these mattersthis is merely a summary
for the one who studies this book...so that this important miv, neces-
sary for one possessing knowledge of the divine, would not be lacking.

Al-hirs extensive comments on prshat V-etannan and the shma in


particular illustrate not only the highly speculative nature of his exegetical
approach in Sfer d la-derekh, but also its eclecticism. Alongside the Zohar
and other classical kabbalistic works, al-hir draws on Moses Maimonides
rationalistic magnum opus, The Guide of the Perplexed, a work which, ironi-
cally, has been characterized as having formulated a vision of Judaism in
conscious opposition to proto-kabbalistic elements in Judaism.54 Like other
Yemenite Jewish scholars of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, al-hir
revered Maimonides, and took for granted that philosophical discourse was
an accepted and desirable mode of expressing religious thought. These think-
ers read Maimonides injunction to seek out the truth as a mandate for ratio-
nal inquiry, allowing them to draw on a wide range of speculative sources.
Al-hir did not consider mysticism and rationalism to be incompatible;
rather, he viewed both as valid approaches to uncovering sacred truths.55
Following Maimonides, he views the ideal of intellectual perfection as the

54 See Kellner, Maimonides Confrontation with Mysticism, 232. On pp. 23 Kellner writes
that an overlooked part of Maimonides program was the use of philosophy to purify
a corrupted and paganized Torah, and that the world of the Zohar is so unlike that of
Maimonides that at times it appears impossible that it and Maimonides Guide of the
Perplexed should both be accepted as authoritative in the same religious tradition.
Al-hirs sources are enumerated in the editorial preface to Sfer d la-derekh; see
Taj mish umsh Tr, vol. 1, Authors Introduction, p. 10. The kabbalistic portion of
this bibliography dovetails closely with the titles that al-hirs invented characters sin-
gle out as formative in chapters 3 and 23 of Sfer ha-msr: the Zohar; Sfer marekhet
ha-loht (an influential anonymous treatise that attempts to systematize the theory of
the sfrt); and Joseph Gikatillas Shar r (a commentary on the ten sfrt and their
symbolism).
55 See, e.g., al-hirs statements to this effect quoted in Zadock, Masheet Yisrl
b-Tmn, 58. On the diversity of genres considered legitimate sources of sublime truth,
see Langermann, Yemenite Midrash, xviixxx. On philosophy and Kabbalah, see ibid.,
279. Maimonides was venerated in Yemen to an extent unparalleled elsewhere and
his writings achieved canonical status in the Yemen and were universally regarded as
authoritative; Y. Langermann, Yemenite Philosophical Midrash as a Source for the
Intellectual History of the Jews of Yemen, in The Jews of Medieval Islam: Community,
Society, and Identity, ed. D. Frank, 33547, esp. p. 336 (Leiden: Brill, 1995). Nevertheless,
[f]rom the mid-sixteenth century onwards, the Kabbalah increasingly displaced philoso-
172 Tanenbaum

highest of philosophic virtues. And while he too endows the recitation of the
Shma with a speculative dimension, he prescribes meditation on not only
Maimonidean/Aristotelian constructs, but also on the Neoplatonic scheme
of emanation and the kabbalistic sfrt.56 Though the cosmic correspon-
dences he establishes may at times seem artificial, they are all based on the
number ten (the Decalogue, the concentric celestial spheres of medieval cos-
mology, the supernal incorporeal intellects, the ten classes of angels, and the
ten sfrt), which he characterizes elsewhere as a round number that signifies
completeness and perfection.57 Al-hir thus draws a subtle but deliberate
connection between the intellectual refinement and perfection exemplified by
Moses, the paragon of prophets; the perfection of the mivt as embodied in
the Ten Commandments (by means of whose fulfillment the perfect man grad-
ually ascends); and the perfection and completeness of the divinely-authored
cosmic schema on which one should meditate when reciting the Shma to
proclaim Gods unity.

7 Kabbalistic Exegesis in Sfer ha-msr

Unlike Sfer d la-derekh, Sfer ha-msr is a quasi-fictional literary text, yet


it too offers intriguing evidence of the transmission of kabbalistic thought to
Yemen in the sixteenth century. It must be said that the scholarly literature
is somewhat tentative about the variety of Kabbalah that informs al-hirs
writings, and the question of his familiarity with the poetry of the Safed mys-
tics also remains largely unresolved. Most studies describe the author of Sfer
ha-msr as the first to import the Kabbalah of Safed to Yemen without spec-
ifying whether what is meant is Lurianic or pre-Lurianic mysticism, or some
amalgam of the two. Al-hirs travel narratives have long been viewed as
reliable records of actual journeys, and most scholars, identifying the author
with his fictional characters, have maintained that he visited Safed prior to

phy as the framework within which Jews expressed and developed religious thought. See
Langermann, Yemenite Midrash, 279.
56 Cf. Langermann, ibid., 276: the Yemeni attitude was that Maimonides, the Neoplatonists,
and representatives of other ancient and medieval traditions all drew upon and strove
toward, one and the same Wisdom.
57 See Sfer d la-derekh on Gen 1:1, where he glosses ten magnates in Eccl 7:19 as signify-
ing many magnates, rather than precisely ten, insofar as Scriptural numbers are not to
be taken at face value, but as round numbers. Also on Gen 1:1 he remarks that the Ten
Commandments are the root of all the commandments in the Torah and that they com-
prise 613 letters, which indicates that they are the archetypes of all 613 commandments.
The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 173

Isaac Lurias arrival there, and therefore had no firsthand exposure to Lurianic
Kabbalah.58 Whether or not this chronology can be established, the theosophi-
cal content of d la-derekh and the kabbalistic chapters in Sfer ha-msr
seems to be pre-Lurianic. There does not appear to be any evidence of the hall-
mark myths of Lurias dramatic cosmogony, and the mystical works al-hir
explicitly acknowledges as sources all antedate Lurias monumental reworking
of classical Kabbalah.59 Additional support for this argument, though admit-
tedly less compelling, is the fact that al-hir mentions Joseph Karo and
Moses Cordovero with great admiration, but makes no reference to Luria or
his disciples in Sfer ha-msr. On the other hand, we do know that al-hir
eagerly subscribed to a liturgical innovation associated with the Lurianic circle
which over time gained universal acceptance. Perhaps, therefore, it is safest to
say that al-hirs kabbalistic doctrines are largely pre-Lurianic, but that this
did not preclude his receptivity to new liturgical customs originating in the
Safed circles of Cordovero and Luria.
I have argued elsewhere that al-hir used the lighthearted belletristic
framework of Sfer ha-msr to bring kabbalistic theosophy, literature, and
liturgical customs to the attention of a largely uninitiated public in Yemen,
but not without some ambivalence about exploiting poetry and belles-lettres
for this popularizing purpose.60 Here I would simply like to adduce several
instances in which al-hirs comments in d la-derekh can help to illu-
minate laconic or arcane kabbalistic references embedded in the poems and
rhymed prose narratives of Sfer ha-msr. Al-hir refers explicitly to d
la-derekh twice in Sfer ha-msr, once in chapter 21 and once in chapter 45
(the final maqma of the book). This suggests that at least some portion, if not

58 For this view, see, e.g., Y. Tobi, Sder qiddsh ll shabbt l-rabb Zechariah al-hir,
Afikim 68 (1978): 1011; idem, The Jews of Yemen: Studies in their History and Culture (Leiden-
Boston-Kln: Brill, 1999), 5455; idem, Rabbi Yitzhaq Wannah and the Intensification
of Kabbalah Learning in Yemen [in Hebrew], Daat 38 (1997): 1731, esp. p. 21, n. 21;
Y. Ratzaby, Sfer ha-msr, 3032 and 4344; R. Ahroni, Yemenite Jewry: Origins, Culture,
and Literature (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 86; M. Wagner, Arabic
Influence on Shabazian Poetry in Yemen, Journal of Semitic Studies 51/1 (2006): 11736.
59 There is no evidence, e.g., of imm (the divine contraction or withdrawal that allows the
universe to come into being), with its attendant notions of shvrat ha-klm (the breaking
of the vessels unable to contain the divine light that flows into primordial space follow-
ing imm) and the klpt (the shells or cosmic forces of evil that cause the vessels to
fracture). See G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 3rd revised edition (New York:
Schocken Books, 1954), 24486.
60 A. Tanenbaum, Kabbalah in a Literary Key: Mystical Motifs in Zechariah Aldahiris Sfer
ha-msr, The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 17/1 (2009): 4799.
174 Tanenbaum

all, of his Torah commentary was complete when he wrote these two maqmt,
the first of which refers to a specific exegetical crux, and the second of which
refers to the work as a whole. In chapter 21 Abner appears as a prognosticator
predicting the Messiahs imminent arrival. As a result, he is inundated with
requests for dream interpretation, medical cures, and the solutions to a series
of clever riddle poems on mundane topics such as a door, fire, and a brush for
applying kohl to the eyes. Having acceded, Abner then somewhat abruptly pro-
poses that he and his audience abandon such lighthearted fare, the utility of
which is really only to produce a sharp intellect and shrewd ingenuity, in favor
of probing a much weightier and far more enigmatic matter: the nature of the
summum bonum or, in rabbinic terms, mans reward in the World to Come.

That is the good without end, the World to Come; it is concealed, to be


attained only after death...not every believer can grasp this matter; only
a select few. Since I have mentioned it, I will compare it to something
concrete, both revealed and hidden.61

He cautions that one must speak of such eschatological truths only in veiled
and esoteric fashion, lest they be disclosed to the intellectually unsophisti-
cated or unprepared, who might be harmed by exposure to them or misinter-
pret them (to conceal it is wise; to reveal ita crime; therefore, I will speak
in parables [lkhn adabbr b-mshl qr el ha-daat]). Subtle hints at the
truth will be enough for the discerning auditor or reader.62 Accordingly, he
presents a riddling poem of a different order, comparing this world to grapes
and the next world to wine. When pressed by Mordechai to interpret his mys-
terious verses, his friend demurs that this is not the place to expand upon such
arcana, but for a fuller exposition he should consult Abners (!) book entitled
d la-derekh on the verse beginning va-ykhull ha-shmayim (Gen 2:1).
There, in an excursus on Gen 2:13 (the verses prefaced to the blessing over the

; see Sfer ha-msr, 248, lines 152 ff.


61 
. This last phrase echoes Maimonides
62 
caveat in his Introduction to Part One of the Guide, Hence you should not ask of me
here anything beyond the chapter headings; see Pines p. 6. Moshe Idel has noted that,
in contrast with the more conservative form of Kabbalah represented by the school of
Namanides, the ecstatic Kabbalah embodied by Abraham Abulafia employed the notion
of chapter headings to disseminate general principles but not enter into details. In this
conception, Kabbalah became an invitation more to decode, to elaborate, to expand,
than to repeat faithfully [esoteric teachings handed down from master to disciple].
M. Idel, Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (New Haven-London: Yale
University Press, 2002), 4024.
The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 175

wine on Sabbath eve) al-hir indeed develops this analogy, which hinges on
mans inability to imagine the incorporeal rewards of the World to Come (the
wine) while still in this life.63 In a slight variation, he suggests that this is like
someone who does not recognize a grapevine when he sees it denuded in win-
ter and therefore, when given grapes to eat, cannot believe that they are the
fruit of this plant until summer arrives and he actually sees the vine laden with
clusters of grapes. Thus, if you tell a man enjoying the good things of this world
that a far greater reward awaits him after death, he cannot imagine it until he
has grasped these ideas a little at a time, and ultimately attains the final goal of
his contemplation. Then he will understand that the next world has been com-
pared to a vine. Many important rituals (the libations in the Temple, qiddsh
for Sabbath and festivals, marriage, and circumcision) are observed and sancti-
fied by means of wine, for wine alludes to the World to Come.
At the end of Abners peroration in chapter 21 of Sfer ha-msr, Mordechai
asks his friend to recite a poem in praise of d la-derekh for the assembled
audience, as they are not familiar with the work. Abner complies with sher
dr bi-mrm (The One who dwells in His heavens [and perfected His uni-
verse]), each of whose fourteen lines end in a rhyme with derekh. The poem
conveys the nature of al-hirs Torah commentary in only the most oblique
way, however, by praising God for having perfected the cosmos and for hav-
ing established the profound wisdom (possibly the Torah, or cosmological, or
metaphysical wisdom, or all of these) that is the subject of d la-derekh, from
which work the intelligent may benefit and gradually ascend toward greater
enlightenment. One could say that the poet refrains from addressing the works
actual content for fear of disclosing its non-literal interpretations and esoteric
secrets to an unsophisticated audience. But the truth is that, throughout Sfer
ha-msr, the poems in praise of books of all types tend not to engage with the
contents of those books in any profound or sustained fashion. That said, there
are several poems in Sfer ha-msr that do weave intricate webs of kabbalistic
symbolism. One of these, Li-qrat pn Shabbt (I greet the Sabbath with joy
and delight), is recited in the twenty-third maqma by Abner while officiating
as precentor on the Sabbath eve in the Yeshivah of Tiberias.
Li-qrat pn Shabbt reflects a distinctly kabbalistic view of the Sabbath
as the fulcrum of the week: a day of spiritual regeneration and the occasion
of a mystical marriage within the divine world.64 On a formal plane, this last

63 This is reminiscent of his above-cited comment on V-etannan that the mind of the
common man does not tolerate the notion that true reward lies not in this world but in
the World to Come.
64 For a full translation and discussion see my Kabbalah in a Literary Key, 7482.
176 Tanenbaum

idea is reinforced by the rhymes that echo the word kall (bride) at the end of
each stanza.65 Written in resonant Biblical Hebrew, the poem mines and chan-
nels the richly layered, associative symbolism of the classical Kabbalah which
enabled its proponents to forge creative, multifaceted connections between
the drama unfolding on the theosophical plane and earthly Sabbath obser-
vance, both communal and individual. The opening stanza speaks of welcom-
ing the Sabbath with the rapture and delectation of a groom delighting in his
bride. Its amatory tropes and decidedly erotic resonances are in keeping with
the kabbalistic myth of Sacred Marriage (hieros gamos), in which the mascu-
line and feminine aspects of the Godhead unite on the Sabbath, producing
a state of divine harmony that overflows into the created world on the sev-
enth day. In the second stanza the speaker catalogues the special customs
and aesthetically pleasing rituals that he observes in honor of the Sabbath.66
The theme of ritual also figures in the next stanza, which evokes the divine
chariot, made up of myriad angels who carry the speakers prayers upward to
the throne of God.67 At the same time the angels watch as down below the
speaker participates in the public recitation of the Zohar (the mystic myster-
ies of Ben Yoai) as part of the Sabbath liturgy.68 At the center of the fourth

65 In this and other respects, Li-qrat pn Shabbt bears a certain resemblance to Solomon
Alqabe kabbalistic hymn Lkh dd; see R. Kimelman, The Mystical Meaning of Lekhah
Dodi and Kabbalat Shabbat [in Hebrew] (Los Angeles: Cherub Press-Jerusalem: Magnes
Press, 2003), 2325 and n. 153. While there are several points of contact between the two
poems (their opening couplets, the final rhyme of each of their stanzas, and their use
of kabbalistic symbolism to celebrate the Sabbath), the liturgical function of al-hirs
poem is not identical to that of Lkh dd as we know it. Nevertheless, its association
with the Sabbath eve liturgy suggests that al-hir may have been aware of Alqabe
poem or others like it.
66 See E. Ginsburg, The Sabbath in the Classical Kabbalah (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989),
186276.
67 The line literally says that the angels fly with the prayers to the cherub. On the identi-
fication of the cherubim with the throne, an ancient motif that goes back to Scripture,
see E. Wolfson, Along the Path: Studies in Kabbalistic Myth, Symbolism, and Hermeneutics
(Albany: SUNY Press, 1995), 157, n. 227.
68 Ratzaby notes that in Yemen it was customary to read the Zohar in unison at certain
appointed times: on the eve of the Sabbath before the recitation of the Song of Songs,
Friday night, and on Saturday afternoon before the min prayer. The custom is men-
tioned in Y. ali, Tikhll ayym (Jerusalem: Y. Hasid, 1961), 1:144a. His remark is reveal-
ing: The pious men of old used to first [before min on Shabbat] read a little from the
books of the Kabbalah, such as the Zohar, or the tiqqnm, or [Judah] ayya, and even if
one didnt understand, there is a precious, apotropaic quality (sgull) in doing so, which
cannot be achieved with thousands of non-literal or contextual readings of Scripture
The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 177

stanza lies the idea of mystical union, whether between the male and female
aspects of the Godhead, the two halves of the Tetragrammaton, or the human
soul and the divine world. And the final stanza again affords a direct point
of contact with the excursus on Gen 2:1 in d la-derekh. Here the poems
speaker invokes the custom of prefacing the two words ym ha-shishsh (the
sixth day; Gen 1:31) to the paragraph beginning va-ykhull ha-shmayim
(The heaven and the earth were finished; Gen 2:13) which opens the sanc-
tification over the wine for Sabbath eve. The purpose of this liturgical inno-
vation, apparently of Lurianic origin, was to encode the Tetragrammaton in
the qiddsh, as the resulting four-letter acrostic spells out the Divine Name
(YHWH).69 The way in which al-hir calls attention to this practice (Behold,
two words I preface to va-ykhull) suggests that it was still not entirely famil-
iar to, or customary among, his intended readership. (On the other hand, he
does not specify the two words to which he is referring, conceivably because
they were already common knowledge).70 Either way, his prescriptive com-
ments in d la-derekh provide the missing rationale for the new custom:
One must say ym ha-shishsh va-ykhull ha-shmayim to include that Name,

(drshm/pshm). Abraham Shtal discusses a similar phenomenon among 19th- and


20th-century Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin who regularly gathered to
read portions of the Zohar without necessarily understanding the texts; see his Ritual
Reading of the Zohar [in Hebrew], Pmm 5 (1980): 7786. On the role of Simeon Bar
Yoai in the Zohar, see Ginsburg, The Sabbath in the Classical Kabbalah, 1718. For a
detailed study of his messianic image see Y. Liebes, Ha-Mshi shel ha-Zohar: lidmt
ha-msht shel Rabbi Shimon bar Yoai, in Ha-rayn ha-msh be-Yisrl, 87236
(Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1982).
69 See . Vital, Shaar ha-kavvnt (Tel Aviv: Eshel, 1961), 2:79, Drsh qiddsh ll shabbt,
drsh #1. See also the sources cited in M. Hallamish, Kabbalistic Customs of Shabbat [in
Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Orot, 2005), 3078. Hallamish notes that the practice is already
taken for granted in the glosses of Moses Isserles (1525/301572) on the Shlan rkh;
see ra ayym, Hilkht shabbt, 271:15. But the custom was not yet universal among
Lurias immediate successors; see Moses ibn Makhir, Sder ha-ym (Jerusalem, 1996), s.v.
:
... .
70 Hallamish notes that even in one of the manuscripts of Isaac Wannahs 17th-century
tikhllwhich is otherwise full of kabbalistic referencesthe Sabbath eve service
appears in two recensions: initially, as it used to be in the older Yemenite prayerbooks
and, further on, in its Lurianic incarnation as Qabblat shabbt. See M. Hallamish,
Ha-Qabbl b-siddr shel Rabbi Yihaq Wannah, Tema 5 (1996): 6582 (esp. p. 7273).
According to Ratzaby, the older Yemenite prayerbooks prefaced only Ps 92 to the Friday
evening service, and even that was not universal; see Y. Ratzaby, Iyynm b-hitpatt
mazr Tmn, Al sfer 9 (1981): 99114 (esp. p. 102).
178 Tanenbaum

from which all the other [divine] names are derived. The congruence between
the poem and his exegetical work confirms that al-hir eagerly subscribed to
this liturgical innovation associated with the Lurianic circle, even though his
kabbalistic doctrines are largely pre-Lurianic. But where the poetic allusion
is relatively laconic, d la-derekh helps to illuminate the authors intention.
In the forty-fifth and final chapter of Sfer ha-msr, Mordechai is preoc-
cupied with his posthumous reputation and convinces Abner to compose his
epitaph. The main portion of Abners lament traces Mordechais life journey,
specifies the rich array of disciplines in which he excelled, and names the
enduring works he composed in these fields. Among the titles ascribed to
Mordechai are Sfer ha-msr and Sfer d la-derekh. This fanciful attribu-
tion suggests not only that al-hir has conflated his authorial identity with
the personae of his characters to a striking degree, but also that his Torah com-
mentary must already have been completed or at least well-mapped out by the
time he wrote this maqma. When Mordechai reciprocates with an elegy for
Abner, he mourns the irretrievable loss of his friends superlative literary and
linguistic gifts. But he also celebrates Abners prowess in the fields of biblical
exegesis, oral law, and esoteric study. A series of moving rhetorical questions
capture Abners (and al-hirs) penetrating exegetical skill:

Who will illuminate the Torah for us? Who will know how to draw legal
conclusions through reasoning? Who will bring us out from darkness to
light? Who will reveal to us all that is obscure? Who will explain to us all
that is impenetrable? Who will resolve every difficult question for us?....
Who will reconcile the scriptural verses for us?71

Even the most cursory glance at these epitaphs suggests that, with charming
indirection, al-hir has managed to immortalize his own achievements,
including his gift for illuminating the Torah. Attuned to the most delicate reso-
nances of Biblical Hebrew, and alive to intellectual developments elsewhere in
the Jewish world as well as at home in Yemen, al-hir relished the challenge
of interpreting all that is obscure through a variety of channels. Whether by
means of his Torah commentary or his elegant poetry and evocative rhymed
prose narratives, al-hir was clearly committed to the production and trans-
mission of a rich array of exegetical traditions.

71 
Sfer ha-msr, 467, lines 14851. On this episode, see A. Tanenbaum, The Urge to be
Immortalized: Zechariah Aldahiris Poetic Epitaphs for Himself, in Studies in Arabic
and Hebrew Letters in Honor of Raymond P. Scheindlin, ed. J. Decter and M. Rand, 181210
(Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2007).
The Uses of Scripture in Zechariah al-hir s Sfer ha-msr 179

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Part 3
From Constantinople to Candia


The Interplay of Poetry and Exegesis in Judah
Hadassis Eshkl ha-kfer1

Daniel J. Lasker

Abstract

The Karaite Judah Hadassi wrote his monumental Eshkl ha-kfer (Cluster of Henna
Blossoms) in mid-twelfth-century Byzantium. It is in the form of over 379 rhyming
acrostics, most of which are alphabetical, either from the beginning of the alphabet
forward or from the end of the alphabet backward. Stanzas are characterized by inter-
nal rhymes of each line, but every single stanza ends with the syllable -kh. Although
the form is ostensibly poetry, it is more accurate to call it rhymed prose since, other
than the rhymes, there are almost no other poetic conventions. Hadassi expends great
efforts at maintaining this style, including the use of rare expressions and the rework-
ing of biblical verses. The book itself is replete with biblical interpretations and dis-
cussions of exegetical methodologies, one purpose of which is to distinguish Karaite
understanding of Scripture from Rabbanite exegesis. Ultimately the poetic framework
is highly artificial and interferes with the presentation of Hadassis views more than it
advances them. Nonetheless, Hadassis mastery of Hebrew and his dedication to the
unique style of the book, in addition to its encyclopedic nature, make Eshkl ha-kfer
one of the classics of Hebrew literature.

The mid-twelfth-century Byzantine Karaite sage, Judah ben Elijah Hadassi,


saw himself as a poet. His massive summa of Karaite law and theology, Eshkl
ha-kfer (Cluster of Henna Blossoms; cf. Song 1:14),2 is composed of rhymed

1 This research has been supported by a grant from the German-Israeli Foundation No. 1179
212.4/2011: Editing Theology at a Crossroad: A Preliminary Edition of Judah Hadassis Eshkol
ha-kofer, First Commandment, and Studies of the Books Judaeo-Arabic and Byzantine Contexts.
2 The only dates known concerning the life of Judah Hadassi are the ones mentioned in his
book, 1148 and 1149. The first edition of Eshkl ha-kfer was produced under the auspices of
Abraham Firkovichs publishing house in Eupatoria (Gzleve) in the Crimea, in 1836. This
edition is severely lacking, having censored all anti-Christian passages and references, as
well as omitting almost all the Judaeo-Greek of the original. It has been reprinted a number
of times, most notably in Westmead: Gregg International Publishers Limited, 1971, with an
introduction by L. Nemoy and two articles: A. Scheiber, omer she-bi-kht yd la-vdt
ha-sifrtt shel Yehudah Hadassi, in Jubilee Volume in Honour of Prof. Bernhard Heller on

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004334786_008


188 Lasker

acrostics, in which each stanza of the acrostic has its own internal rhyme and
then concludes with the syllable -kh. There is some internal rhythm in the
stanzas as well, but it is not consistent. In some aspects, Hadassis rhymed prose
is reminiscent of the Arabic saj style which is found in the Qurn and other
Arabic writings.3 In the Jewish world, there may be an affinity to the rhymed
prose style of Mgllat maa, written in eleventh-century Byzantine Italy,4
and to some genres of piyy (Hebrew religious hymns). Hadassi composed
standard poetry as well, such as the twenty anti-Rabbanite polemical poems
included in Eshkl ha-kfer and at least one penitential poem.5
Although he wrote no biblical commentaries, Hadassi also undoubtedly saw
himself as an exegete. His rhymed acrostics are suffused with biblical allusions
and expressions as part of their literary technique and are often interpretive.
His legal discussions which justify the Karaite practices and criticize rabbinic
law are overwhelmingly based on exegetical arguments, with close analyses of
multiple verses from the entire Hebrew Bible. Likewise, his theological deliber-
ations, which have much in common with that of his Karaite predecessors who
followed Islamic theological kalm, also make generous use of biblical texts to
support and buttress them. As in the case of most other medieval Jewish ratio-
nalists both before and after him, Hadassi felt constrained to demonstrate that
passages which seem to contradict his theology, such as those containing cor-
poreal anthropomorphisms, were to be interpreted allegorically. In addition,
Hadassi includes long discussions contrasting Rabbanite and Karaite exegeti-
cal methods (middt).
In light of Hadassis poetry and exegesis, it is natural to ask what the relation
is between these two features of this authors intellectual profile. The following

the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday, reprinted as an independent publication with sepa-
rate pagination from ed. A. Scheiber, 10129 [Hebrew section] (Budapest, 1941); W. Bacher,
Inedited Chapters of Jehudah Hadassis Eshkol Hakkofer, JQR o.s. 8 (1896): 43144. The
present article is based on a new edition of Eshkl ha-kfer being prepared in cooperation
with Jannis Niehoff-Panagiotidis, David Sklare, Sandra Grgen, and Saskia Dnitz.
3 See, e.g., D. Stewart, Saj in the Qurn: Prosody and Structure, Journal of Arabic Literature
21/2 (1990): 10139.
4 See R. Bonfil, History and Folklore in a Medieval Jewish Chronicle. The Family Chronicle of
Aimaa ben Paltiel (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2009).
5 I. Davidson, Thesaurus of Mediaeval Hebrew Poetry (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary,
19241933; repr. 1970) records poems at the beginning and end of Eshkl ha-kfer, the 20 anti-
Rabbanite poems in alphabets 105124, and one poem from the Karaite prayer book; see the
index, vol. 4, 392. For a discussion of Hadassis poetry and an edition of the penitential poem,
which is not recorded by Davidson, see Scheiber, omer she-bi-kht yd, 12629 (pp.
3033 in reprinted version).
Judah Hadassi s Eshkl ha-kfer 189

will discuss some aspects of the interplay of poetry and exegesis and the role
played by poetry in Hadassis interpretation of the Bible.

...
A few words of background are in order. It is unclear when the first Karaites
moved to the Byzantine Empire, but by the mid-eleventh century their com-
munity was firmly established. Karaites had their own religious institutions,
yet they still relied upon Judaeo-Arabic Karaite treatises written in the Land of
Israel during the Karaite Golden Age of the ninth to eleventh centuries. These
treatises were soon beyond the linguistic abilities of most Byzantine Karaites,
so it was necessary to translate them into Hebrew. The chief translator was
Tobias ben Moses, who had traveled to study with the Karaite masters in the
Land of Israel during the first half of the eleventh century. His translation proj-
ect included works of law, theology, and exegesis and constituted the first stage
in Byzantine Karaite literary production. Byzantine Translation Hebrew was
not particularly felicitous and the translators often included Judaeo-Arabic
and Judaeo-Greek glosses, presumably in an effort to elucidate the meaning of
difficult words or passages.
The next stage of Byzantine Karaite literature began when some authors,
including Tobias, wrote their own original works, often prcis of longer,
Judaeo-Arabic compositions. These treatises were written in Hebrew, but
their style was very similar to Karaite Translation Hebrew, including the use of
non-Hebrew glosses. Despite the stylistic difficulties, by the time theKaraite
center in the Land of Israel met its final demise with the Crusader conquest
of 1099, Byzantine Karaites were fully equipped to meet all their own com-
munal and religious needs. The community continued to expand in the
twelfth century, although we can name very few Byzantine Karaites of that
period and most of the few surviving literary compositions are anonymous
and difficult to date. The most prominent twelfth-century Karaite is without
a doubt Judah Hadassi.6

6 For Karaite beginnings in Byzantium, see Z. Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium (New York:
Columbia University Press-Jerusalem: The Weizmann Science Press of Israel, 1959). The
Byzantine Karaite literary project is discussed, pp. 41252. For Byzantine Karaite Hebrew,
see, e.g., S. Hopkins, Arabic Elements in the Hebrew of the Byzantine Karaites, in Genizah
Research after Ninety Years, ed. S. Reif and J. Blau, 9399 (Cambridge-New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1992); A. Maman, Karaite Hebrew, in Karaite Judaism: A Guide to its History
and Literary Sources, ed. M. Polliack, 485503 (Leiden: Brill, 2003). In the 12th century, there
was still an active Karaite community in Egypt, including the poet Moses Dar, but it pro-
duced no authors on the level of Hadassi.
190 Lasker

...
Very little is known about Hadassi. His name may indicate that he, or his family,
originally came from Edessa (modern day Urfa in Turkey). He referred to him-
self as ha-vl, the mourner, indicating that he identified with the Mourners of
Zion movement which dominated Golden Age Karaism in the Land of Israel.7
Although his legal rulings advocated some of the strictures of this ascetic
group, he realized that most Karaites would not be able to maintain traditional
Karaite mourning practices, especially not in exile in Byzantium. Hadassi
cites a large number of Karaite authorities by name, from the proto-Karaites
Anan ben David and Benjamin Nahawendi,8 through the giants of the Karaite
Golden Age in the tenth century, such as Yefet ben Eli and Joseph al-Bar, to
some unidentified works which are probably original Karaite Byzantine works
in Hebrew.9 The sole contemporary Karaite whom he mentions is his brother
Nathan, and he also refers to his own book of Hebrew grammar, entitled Trn
b-trn zgn (Two by Two Couplets) which has not survived.10 It is thus difficult
to reconstruct his education and the process by which he assimilated previ-
ous Karaite teachings. From his use of Greek words and expressions, it is clear
that he had direct exposure to Greek philosophical literature in the original
language.11 Hadassis Hebrew shares a few lexicographical features with earlier

7 On the mourners, see, e.g., Y. Erder, The Karaite Mourners of Zion and the Qumran Scrolls
[in Hebrew] (Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2004); idem, The Mourners of Zion: The
Karaites in Jerusalem in the Ten and Eleventh Centuries, in Karaite Judaism: A Guide to
its History and Literary Sources, ed. M. Polliack, 21335 (Leiden: Brill, 2003).
8 Despite popular belief, it is pretty well accepted now that Anan (8th century) was the
founder of Ananism, not of Karaism, but he was later adopted by the Karaites as one of
their own. Benjamin (9th century) was the first to call the movement bn miqr, but
Karaism crystallized only in the late 9th and 10th centuries. By Hadassis day, both Anan
and Benjamin were considered Karaite luminaries.
9 He mentions al-Bars two theological works by name, Sfer ha-nimt al-mutaw,
combining the name of the Hebrew translation with the original Arabic title, and Sfer
makmat pet. Some identified works are r nemd, Tobias ben Mosess commentary
on Leviticus, and the anonymous Marpeh la-aem, whereas other books cited, such as
Sfer matq la-nefesh and Sfer ha-dtt, are unknown. See, e.g., Eshkl ha-kfer, alphabet
33, letter t.
10 Eshkl ha-kfer, alphabet 163, letter yd and lmed; alphabet 168, letter smkh; his brother
is mentioned in letter ayin. In addition, there is a fragment of a Book of Commandments
which survives in one manuscript (St. PetersburgRussian National Library Evr. I 619;
Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts F 51004 [Reel 54]) which may be Hadassis;
see Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium, 30, n. 8.
11 For details concerning Hadassis sources and his exposure to Greek philosophy in the
original, see D. Lasker and J. Niehoff-Panagiotidis, Editing Theology at a Crossroad: A
Judah Hadassi s Eshkl ha-kfer 191

Byzantine Karaite Hebrew, but its style is much more accessible than those
earlier Karaite compositions.
Although Hadassis theology is generally based on the Islamic theologi-
cal kalm which had been adopted by his Karaite predecessors, in a number
of points he departs from the earlier Karaite models to strike off in innova-
tive directions. Hadassis Byzantine Karaite successors eventually abandoned
kalm as a theological system beginning in the late thirteenth century, first with
the exegete and liturgist Aaron ben Joseph (the Elder, ca. 12501320) and then
with Aaron ben Elijah (the Younger, d. 1369), a philosopher, exegete, and legal-
ist. As Karaites assimilated Rabbanite Aristotelian philosophy at the expense
of the classical Karaite theology, they left Hadassi as the last major representa-
tive of traditional Karaite thought. His Eshkl ha-kfer, which, according to his
testimony, he commenced writing in 1148, remains a remarkable witness to all
previous Karaite law and lore.12
Eshkl ha-kfer is organized according to the Ten Commandments, with the
section devoted to each commandment dealing with multiple laws and topics,
many of which have only the slightest connection to its venue (such as long
discussions of Hebrew grammar as well as Rabbanite and Karaite exegetical
principles located in the section devoted to the fourth commandment con-
cerning the observance of the Sabbath13). The work is composed of multiple
acrostics, the vast majority of which are alphabetical, commencing alternately
at the beginning (lef) or the end (tv) of the alphabet. Until alphabet 23, the
acrostic is generally maintained not only for the first letter of the whole stanza,
but also for the first letter of each line in the stanza, perhaps as an adornment
to the opening of the book. At alphabet 23 Hadassi abandons this practice and
reserves the use of the acrostic solely for the first letter of the stanza. Some
acrostics are not alphabetic, following a different pattern or spelling out names
and words. For instance, the initial two alphabetic acrostics both run from lef
to tv, and then are followed by acrostics with the name of the author and dis-
claimers (Judah the insignificant, son of Elijah, known as Hadassi, young and
despised, a worm not a man, a disgrace of men and reviled among people14).

Preliminary Edition of Judah Hadassis Eshkol ha-kofer, First Commandment, and Studies of
the Books Judaeo-Arabic and Byzantine Contexts (forthcoming).
12 On Hadassis thought, see D. Lasker, From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi. Studies
in Late Medieval Karaite Philosophy (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2008), 4159; the changes in
Karaite thought made by the two Aarons is discussed on pp. 6095. For limited analyses
of his legal rulings, see B. Ehrlich, Laws of Sabbath in Yehudah Hadassis Eshkol hak-Kofer
(Ph.D. dissertation Yeshiva University, 1974); I. Botwinick, The Eshkol Hakofer on the Fifth
Commandment and its Relation to Karaitic and Rabbinic Halakha (Jersey City: Ktav, 2004).
13 Alphabets 155175; see below.
14  .
192 Lasker

The standard form of the acrostics starts only after these initial alphabets, the
first one of which is enumerated as alphabet 1. Some sections have more than
one acrostic in them, such as between alphabets 364 and 365, which pres-
ent additional acrostics of the authors name, his claims of his inadequacies,
and the hope to be forgiven (stubborn and rebellious, offender, treacherous,
sinner, transgressor, from my youth the days of my vanity, until this very day,
etc.).15 There are acrostics which omit some of the letters while others double
them.16 The book concludes with additional poetic sections which are not
enumerated and do not follow the alphabetic acrostic. Thus, although the last
alphabet is enumerated as 379, there are obviously more than 379 acrostics in
Eshkl ha-kfer.
The style of the acrostics is generally consistent. The usual pattern is for the
lines of every stanza inside the alphabetic acrostic to conclude with an inter-
nal rhyme, which varies from stanza to stanza, but each stanza itself concludes
with -kh, either as the possessive yours or the direct object you. Yet there
are divergences in the style as well. While most stanzas conclude a sentence,
there are also stanzas which end in the middle of a sentence, which then con-
tinues into the next stanza (a form of enjambment). Some stanzas consist of
three or four lines; others can be the length of a short paragraph and still others
can run on to fill a folio page. The poetic style is highly unusual and artificial,
and in order to conform to it, Hadassi employs a number of techniques, includ-
ing modifying the order or forms of words in biblical verses to fit in to the
rhyme, a common practice in Hebrew poetry, or using unusual Hebrew words
to begin each stanza to conform to the acrostic.

...
As noted above, Hadassi was capable of writing more conventional poetry,
and before turning to exegetical issues as such, it will be helpful to compare
how he deals with a similar topic in both his poetry and in his rhymed prose.
Alphabets 105124 in Eshkl ha-kfer contain anti-Rabbanite polemics, and
each acrostic consists of one short line for each letter of the alphabet, with an
internal rhyme and concluding with the syllable -kh as in all the other acros-
tics of the book. Preceding these poems, the author attacks the Rabbanites for

15  , .
16 It is possible that the missing letters were in the original but were lost over time. The earli-
est extant manuscript was written in 1483.
Judah Hadassi s Eshkl ha-kfer 193

their laxity in matters of holiday observance, forbidden sexual relations, and


the laws of purity. Hadassi then states:17

. .
. .
:

My heart trembled within me concerning all this, since they have sinned
and been evil. They plotted against the Holy One of Israel, writing their
contemptible beliefs, inscribing them to instruct the nation of the Lord
with a language and tongue which they did not understand and did not
know. Therefore I will inscribe [the Rabbanite teachings] with a rhymed
poem so that the reader can easily run through it as in the poems of
your18 singers.

The following is a small selection from this section of Eshkl ha-kfer:19

. /: . . / ][
: .
. . / : . . /
:
. . / : . . /
:
. / ][ : . . /
:
.
. . / : . . /
:
. / : . . /
: .
: . . /

17 Alphabet 104, letter lef. In the following transcriptions, the rhymes, both the internal
ones and the final -kh, are emphasized. A superscripted slash indicates that the follow-
ing letter serves as part of the acrostic.
18 The final -kh is indicated in the translations by expanded letters. Biblical verses will be
indicated by italics.
19 Alphabet 111, letter palphabet 112, letter p.
194 Lasker

[111] ( )The criminal acts of [your] latter sages, the thinkers of the Talmud
of your quarrel,
( )screamed and cried and rejoiced with all their heart when they were
able to distort your verse,
( )the shout of [your] prophet to tell my debt, for with your iniquities,
they led you astray.
( )He [the prophet] declared that between you and your God, [your
iniquities] would separate you.20
( )They ran and hurried, cunningly desired to create a human with the
power of your God.
( )They perfected a human with flesh, blood, sinew, bone, and spirit just
like you.
) )They made him into a man and sent him to a man, to Rabbi Zera, a
sage of your academy.
[112] ) )He caught him and asked him: Who are you? To whom is he?
And whence? And there was no answer in your mouth.
( )He inquired of him and investigated him, and then he recognized
him; he said that this was the creation of the magicians of your magicians.
( )He fought with him and rebuked him: Go return to the dust of your
earth, I decree upon you.
) )Afterwards [your] latter sages rose and said: What benefit is there in
this, your creation?
( )They glanced upon wisdom and created a beast, a calf the age of three
of your years.
( )They caught it with the hand and immediately slaughtered it. They
ate its meat as your delicacy.

The references in these short lines are to a passage found in b. Sanhedrn 65b.
Isa 59:2 is quoted to indicate that sins separate Israel from God, to which Rava
replies that a righteous person could create the world, presumably because the
righteous have no sins which would separate them from God. To demonstrate
this, Rava then proceeded to create a homunculus (golem) which he sent to
Rabbi Zera. The latter quickly discovered that the homunculus was not human
since it could not speak and commanded it to return to the earth. The Talmud
continues with the story of Rav anina and Rav Hoshaya who were said to
have created a calf every Sabbath eve by using the Book of Creation, and then
they slaughtered it and ate it on the Sabbath.
These lines illustrate some of the characteristics of Hadassis style. The
verse from Isaiah is broken up and its order changed to fit the rhyme scheme,

20 The reference is to Isa 59:2, as understood in b. Sanhedrn 65b.


Judah Hadassi s Eshkl ha-kfer 195

a common device among Rabbanite liturgical poets since the sixth or seventh
centuries. There are two consecutive lines which begin with d, since there is
no absolute commitment to an acrostic with one line per letter. The conclud-
ing you or your sometimes distorts the meaning, such as when the homun-
;culus does not have an answer in your mouth, rather than in his mouth
or theflesh is eaten as your delicacy, and not merely as a delicacy. In con-
. trast,the use of rhyme makes the description more vivid, e.g.:
(They ran and hurried, cunningly desired).
Hadassis short poetic summary can be contrasted with his other account of
the same talmudic passage:21

[] / .
. :
. /
:
/ .


/: .
. .
' /:
.
./: .

. /: .
.
. /:

.
. /: .
.
.
/: .
./ :
. .
/:
.
. :

21 Alphabet 56, letters mm-bt. The vocalization of the Aramaic appears in Leiden MS
Warner 17 (OR 4755); Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, National Library of
Israel, Film no.: F 17366.
196 Lasker

[56] ( )Rava said about this: If the righteous desired it, they could be cre-
ators of the world, as it is said: But your iniquities have separated you from
your God, etc.,22 as we said. Rava created a man and sent him to Rabbi
Zera, one of your Shepherds.23 ([ )Rabbi Zera] spoke to him, but he
did not respond. He said to him: You are one of the magicians; return to
your dust. Rabbi anina said to Rabbi Hoshaya, your sages. ( )Every eve
of the Sabbath Rabbi anina and Rabbi Hoshaya would sit and involve
themselves with the Laws of Creation. They would create a third-grown
calf and eat it, Rabbi anina and Rabbi Hoshaya, your Pharisees. ( )The
beauty of his interpretation is this: Rava said, if the righteous desired
it,they could be creators of the worldnamely, if the righteous wished it
they could create like the Creator of His world. But sins prevent us from
this, as it is said: But your iniquities have separated you from your God.24
( )They claimed as well that Rava created a man and sent it to Rabbi
Zerathat is to say, Rava was righteous and holy, and he created a man
and sent it before Rabbi Zera. [Rabbi Zera] spoke to him, but he did not
respond like you. ( )Its intention: Rabbi Zera would ask this man whom
Rava had created and sent to him, but he would not respond to his ques-
tion about him. He said to him: You are from the magicians; return to
your dust. ( )This is what it meansnamely, one of those magicians
created you, go back and lie in your dust, die, be buried, and be dust like
your human beings. Another possible explanation: One of my friends25
created you, and return to your dust. ( )And Rabbi anina and Rabbi
Hoshaya would sit every eve of the Sabbaththat is to say, they would sit
every eve of the Sabbath, namely on Friday, and they would be involved
in the laws concerning creation, before the eve of the Sabbath, being
careful about your laws. ( )At these times they created this third-grown
calf and ate itnamely, every Friday, close to the eve of the Sabbath, they
would create and make with their own hands a calf as if it had the form
of a three-year-old. They ate its flesh with their desire of your soul. ()
There is another interpretation of a third-grown calf:26 This was a soft
and good calf, tasting sweet like a calf which is the third to emerge from
the womb of its mothernamely, a third-grown calf, according to your

22 Isa 59:2.
23 Hadassis standard term for Rabbanites; the Karaites are usually the Enlighteners (cf. Dan
12:3, etc.) or the Good Figs (cf. Jer 24:2ff.).
24 Isa 59:2; last word modified for the rhyme.
25 The root .b.r. can be read either as friend or magician.
26 Heb. gel mshllsh, the exact meaning of which is unclear.
Judah Hadassi s Eshkl ha-kfer 197

interpretation. ( )Its taste is great and sweeter than all those born of the
womb for eating. They also said that someone who tricks the eyes is not
culpable, but it is forbidden. But it is permissible before the act, accord-
ing to Rabbi anina and Rabbi Hoshaya, your sages. ( )They expressed
further that Rabbi anina and Rabbi Hoshaya, every eve of the Sabbath,
would involve themselves in the Laws of Creation, concerning the Six
Days of Genesis, create that third-grown calf, and eat its flesh. All this is
written in the tractate of Sanhedrn, your tractate.

The record of the talmudic account here is not only longer, including direct
Aramaic quotations from the original and translations into Hebrew, but also
extremely repetitious. The story of Rabbi Zera and the homunculus is told
twice, and the creation of the calves by Rav anina and Rav Hoshaya on the
eve of the Sabbath is recalled three times. Instead of stanzas consisting of
half lines with limited rhyme as in the more standard poem, here each stanza
consists of lines of various lengths and with differing numbers of rhyming
elements. Hadassi also engages in talmudic exegesis, suggesting alternative
meanings of the source of the homunculus (either magicians or friends) and
of the three-year-old calf. Although Hadassis references to rabbinic literature
are often faulty, here he correctly cites tractate Sanhedrn as his source.
We see from this example that while Hadassi is capable of expressing him-
self in conventional poetry, his preferred method of exposition is rhymed
prose, which is decidedly less poetic than conventional poetry. The use of the
acrostic and the concluding rhyme forces Hadassi to use non-standard words
(letter yd: yifat, the beauty of), or strange locutions (letter bt: Sanhedrn
masekhtkh, your tractate of Sanhedrn, instead of simply masekhet
Sanhedrn). The second citation of Isa 59:2 modifies the word lohkhem to
lohkh for the sake of the rhyme. Also of note is the fact that Hadassi repeats
himself, often belaboring a point, in the same passage or in different passages,
for no apparent purpose. These characteristics of Eshkl ha-kfer can be seen
throughout the book.

...
We may now turn to Hadassis exegesis, starting with a legal passage. One of
the major differences between Karaites and Rabbanites revolves around the
use of fire on the Sabbath. The Torah says explicitly: You shall not kindle
(tar) any fire in all your habitations on the Sabbath day (Exod 35:3), and
neither Karaism nor Rabbanism permitted the kindling of fire on the Sabbath.
Rabbanites, however, allowed the use of fire kindled before the Sabbath, both
198 Lasker

for illumination (the Sabbath lamps) and for keeping food warm or continuing
the pre-Sabbath cooking process. Karaites, however, saw the use of fire, even
when lit before the Sabbath, as a violation of the Torahs prohibition.
Traditionally, one of the main Karaite proof-texts prohibiting the use of fire
on the Sabbath, even if it were lit before the Sabbath, was Judg 15:5: [Samson]
set fire (va-yaer) to the torches and turned [the foxes] loose among the stand-
ing grain of the Philistines, kindling fire (va-yar) to stacked grain, standing
grain, vineyards, [and] olive trees. Although Samson himself did not set fire
to the fields, the fire which he had lit set them on fire, and the action of setting
fire is attributed to him. Therefore, the early Karaites argued, he who lights a
lamp before the Sabbath and allows it to burn on the Sabbath transgresses the
prohibition of kindling fire even though the candle burns by itself.27
In Eshkl ha-kfer, Hadassi discusses the question of Sabbath lamps and the
use of fire for other purposes on the Sabbath a number of times in the context
of the fourth commandment. In one analysis (alphabet 145), Hadassi begins
by stating that the form tar is similar to other verbs in the imperfect
tense which indicate ongoing actionthat is to say, the prohibition covers
action which begins before the Sabbath and carries on into the Sabbath.Just
as one may not set a net before the Sabbath to catch fish on the Sabbath, one
may not light a fire before the Sabbath for use on the Sabbath. The prohi-
bition b-ym ha-shabbt (on the Sabbath day) includes the previous day
if the action were to continue into the next day. Similarly, the prohibition
against muzzling an ox b-dsh (in its treading; Deut 25:4) means that one
should not muzzle an ox before it treads; the sounding of the shofar b-ym
ha-kipprm (on the Day of Atonement; Lev 25:9) is to be done before the
Day of Atonement to avoid desecrating the day.
Hadassi continues the discussion:28

. / ][
. .


.
. .
.
.
/:

27 From the 15th century on, Karaites generally allowed the kindling of Sabbath lamps (with-
out a blessing) but not the warming of food; see Lasker, From Judah Hadassi to Elijah
Bashyatchi, 18687.
28 Alphabet 145, letters d.
Judah Hadassi s Eshkl ha-kfer 199

.
.
. 29
.


.
:

[145] ( )Further [proofs] of its rightness, as it is written: And the Lord


completed on the seventh day...and He rested on the seventh day, etc. (Gen
2:2); and it is written: On the first day you shall put away leaven out of your
houses (Exod 12:15); and similar [verses] refer to [a time] before the day
which is indicated to me. And the incident of the going out of fire and its
burning indicates all the consequences and the like, whether someone
did them before the day, or he did them on that day and he has to pay
for the damage. Thus it indicates to me, as it is written: He that kindled
the fire shall make full restitution (Exod 22:5), according to the damage
which accrues to me. And the sending forth of foxes with torches of fire
by Gods Nazirite, my savior [Samson], who sent them into the standing
grain of the Philistines; this also will delight me, as it is written: He had set
fire tothe torches, he sent the foxes into the standing grain of the Philistines,
and burned up the shocks and the standing grain, etc. (Judg 15:5); and
it is written: Then the Philistines said, who has done this? And they said,
Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite (Judg 15:6), your Nazirite. ( )The
true intention was that even though his deed was before this, they also
made him responsible in the wisdom of their knowledge, since he was
the burner. Because of this, the Philistines went and burned those who
did evil toSamson, since they were the ones who had originally caused
the evilto the Philistines from Samson the burner, as it is written: Because
he has taken his wife and given her to his companion. And the Philistines
came up, and burned her and her father[s house] with fire (ibid.). This
was in place of the deed which was done to them by Samson the burner.
Although the fire that went out and ate the shocks and the standing corn
was without the knowledge of the one who set the fire, even for this God
made him responsible: the burner shall make full restitution. How much
more so is the case when someone acts with knowledge of your wisdom?30

29 This word is an addition to the Masoretic Text.


30 If Exod 22:5 obligates someone who lit a fire which eventually caused damages, even
unintentionally, to pay for the damage, then the prohibition of Exod 35:3 would cer-
tainly include purposeful kindling of fire before the Sabbath with the intention that it
continues burning on the Sabbath. It might be useful to compare the slogan of Americans
200 Lasker

Like his predecessors, Hadassi could simply have retold the Samson story and
applied its message to the Sabbath prohibition, but his exegesis is presented
with the characteristic aspects of Eshkl ha-kfer: lines and stanzas of vary-
ing length, with variations in the distance between the internal rhymes; forced
rhymes which are understandable but serve little purpose other than provid-
ing the rhyme; choice of initial words of each stanza for the sake of the acrostic
and not necessarily for the meaning (and these consecutive stanzas both begin
with the letter d, demonstrating once again that the alphabetical acrostics
do not necessarily contain only one stanza per letter). The point is clear, but in
order to preserve the poetic form, the presentation is hardly straightforward.

...
The most extended treatment of exegetical method in Judah Hadassis Eshkl
ha-kfer is found in alphabets 155175. He begins with an enumeration of
Rabbanite interpretative methods, citing first the less-well-known 32 exegeti-
cal rules of the Baraita of Rabbi Eliezer (alphabet 155, letter t161).31 This is
followed by the more-familiar thirteen exegetical rules of the Baraita of Rabbi
Ishmael found at the beginning of Sifr (alphabet 162, letters tvgmel), fol-
lowed by the list of Hillels seven rules (alphabet 162, letters btlef). Hadassi
does not criticize these methods at length, and, indeed, incorporates some
of them into his own list of eighty exegetical rules (alphabets 168173, letter
t). Before describing these methods Hadassi provides a long discussion of
the Hebrew vowels (alphabets 163167) and afterwards concludes this section
of the book with a list of 35 Hebrew morphological patterns and a few exam-
ples of the application of the exegetical rules (alphabet 173, letter t175,
letter lef).32

who object to gun control: Guns do not kill people; people kill people. Karaites would
argue that fire does not burn shocks and standing grain; people burn shocks and standing
grain. A person is enjoined against starting a fire before the Sabbath that would continue
on into the Sabbath, because it would be the person who is doing the forbidden act of
combustion.
31 See H. Enelow (ed.), The Mishnah of Rabbi Eliezer or the Midrash of Thirty-Two Hermeneutic
Rules (New York: The Bloch Publishing Company, 1933); H. L. Strack and G. Stemberger,
Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 2534.
32 Hadassi attributes the discussion of morphological patterns to the book Mr nayyim of
a Tiberian grammarian. This is most likely the Byzantine book known as Mr ayin, ed.
M. Zislin (Moscow: Nauka, 1990), based on the classical Karaite grammatical taxonomy
replaced by Hadassi himself with the Rabbanite grammar centered on verbal roots; see
N. Vidro, Verbal Morphology in the Karaite Treatise on Hebrew Grammar Kitb al-uqd f
tarf al-lua al-ibrniyya (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2011), 27.
Judah Hadassi s Eshkl ha-kfer 201

Following his usual practice, Hadassi does not claim originality for his list
of exegetical methods but maintains instead that these eighty exegetical rules
were derived from his Karaite predecessors. If, however, one should find an
error in the list, Hadassi takes upon himself full responsibility:33

.
. /
.
.
.
.

:

( )I have approached this to scrutinize, search, and gather them into


Eshkl ha-kfer, so that it be for us my witness and a crown, as a sachet of
myrrh (Song 1:13),34 so that we not be a disgrace or a shame. According to
Gods gracious hand upon me, I added more than I found in a book. I am
recounting them according to the exactitude of the wise knowledge of
my Enlighteners, their souls in Eden, and not according to my own knowl-
edge. If I make a mistake, I am the mistaken one and not my princes, their
souls in Eden, being splendorous like the beautiful skies. My request of
those who see this book of mine is that they judge me as meritorious like
those who are mistaken and oppressed by the time of your exile.

It is not possible here to review all eighty of Hadassis exegetical rules, but a
few of them can be presented. The first is what might be considered the classi-
cal Karaite reliance on psh, the contextual or literal meaning of thebiblical
text:35

. /
.
. .
. .
/:
.
. .
.
.

33 Alphabet 163, letter gmel.


34 The verse preceding the verse with the expression eshkl ha-kfer.
35 Alphabet 168, letters tv-shn.
202 Lasker

. . .
:

( )I investigated in my heart to collect and explain them in this book of


mine to be a crown on the head of the limping congregation36 of Israel.
And these are they: One: we learn from the known literal meaning that
which is revealed in the writings and needs no investigation or exami-
nation or inquiry. This literal meaning is divided into three types, two
of which require no examination, whereas the third bears investigation
and exact analysis in order to make it known. These are the two: first
that which the text says clearly like the warning concerning the Sabbath,
holiday, and the like about which there is no doubt in your knowledge.
()The second: that which is clearly allowed and about which there is
no doubt among all Israel, like the ritual purity of beast and fish accord-
ing to their outward features, and the like, about which there is no doubt
for all of Israel. These are all clearly learned according to the opinion of
God. The third: matters of doubt in which one permits and one prohib-
its, one declares impure and one declares pure, one is strict and one is
lenient, and both opinions are perceived as possibilities. In these matters
we desire to use logical analogy (heqsh), word analogies (gzr shv),
and all of the exegetical methods. Anything which does not end up being
correct by this method, one should hold fast and make an effort accord-
ing to the power of God; as it is written: The person who holds fast to it
(Isa56:2); and it is written: And those who hold fast to My covenant (Isa
56:4). Therefore, we learn about it that one should hold fast to your proofs.

Hadassi indicates that even the literal meaning (the psh) is not always
easy to determine and, thus, one must use exegetical tools to understand it.
What differentiates Karaism and Rabbanism is not so much attitudes towards
thebiblical text, but the methods of interpreting it.37 Since Karaism does not
have a binding tradition, such as the Rabbanite Oral Torah which is believed to
be Sinaitic, there is more room for individual effort and for personal steadfast-
ness with the interpretations thus derived.

36 Another appellation of the Karaites.


37 The main Karaite tool for legal interpretation has traditionally been logical analogy (qiys/
heqsh), and the debate between Rabbanites and Karaites on this point has a long history;
see, e.g., A. Ravitsky, Saadya Gaon and Yaqb al-Qirqisn on the Logical Structure of
the Rational and Traditional Laws: Logic and Kalm in the Karaite-Rabbanite Controversy
[in Hebrew], Tarb 84/12 (2016): 15994.
Judah Hadassi s Eshkl ha-kfer 203

Many of Hadassis exegetical methods are similar to the Rabbanite ones. For
instance, he offers this definition of a fortiori argument (qal v-mer):38

. /
. .
.
. .
. .
.
:

( )The fifteenth method is an unclear a fortiori, such as that which it


said: They shall send out of the camp every leper, and every one having a
discharge, and every one that is unclean through contact with the dead
(Deut5:2). A fortiori, the dead person himself, as it said: Draw near, carry
your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp (Lev 10:4). And
thus it said: If one of your men is unclean because of a nocturnal emission,
he is to go outside the camp (Deut 23:10). A fortiori, should not a man with a
non-seminal discharge and a leper be sent from the holy camp? And thus
concerning someone who touches a menstruant: He will be impure until
the evening (Lev 15:23); but it does not say that he must wash his clothes.
We understand with a logical analogy that if someone who touches her
bed must wash his clothes,39 a fortiori, he who touches the menstruant
herself must wash and become sanctified. From the more stringent law
we derive the leniency concerning the less stringent law, and from less
stringent to the more stringent in your wisdom.

Another example of a Karaite method which is similar to a Rabbanite method


is the general and the specific (kll u-frt):40

. . /
. .
: .

( )The matter of the twenty-second method which is the general and the
specific, as in the matter which it said: All winged insects that go upon all
fours are an abomination to you (Lev 11:20); this is the general rule. And

38 Alphabet 169, letter lmed.


39 Lev 15:21.
40 Alphabet 170, letter ayin.
204 Lasker

the specific is that which it said: Yet among the winged insects that go
on all fours you may eat those (Lev 11:21); this is the specific. And similar
[examples] in the intellect of your knowledge.

One more example of the relation between the general and the specific:41

. /
. .
.
.
: .

( )The account of the thirtieth out of the eighty methods: Something


which was a general rule but was removed from the general rule in order
to teach something about a different law whose rule is dissimilar, as it
said: You shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer (Num 35:31).
Is not the execution of the murderer part of the general rule of punish-
ments? Why was it removed from its general rule? It was removed only
to teach something concerning all the other punishments. What does it
teach about them? For a murderer one does not take a ransom of his soul,
but if they desire, they can take a ransom for a tooth, an eye, a hand, and
a foot from someone who injures it; and also for a burn, a wound, a stripe,
and all the rest of your injuries.

Not all of Hadassis exegetical methods concern legal issues, and his enumera-
tion of eighty methods includes discussions of such matters as the order of
creation and the angels. Other long exegetical sections in Eshkl ha-kfer are
devoted to divine anthropomorphisms42 or exegetical cruxes such as the sev-
enty weeks of Dan 9:2427.43

41 Alphabet 170, letter t.


42 Many segments in the alphabets devoted to the First Commandment deal with anthropo-
morphisms. Aaron ben Elijah took pride in the fact that Hadassis metaphorical interpre-
tations of biblical terms preceded that of Maimonides, but there is no reason to assume
that Maimonides was influenced by Hadassi since such exegesis in medieval Jewish
thought goes back at least to Saadya Gaon in the 10th century; see Aaron ben Elijah,
ayym. Ahron ben Elias aus Nikomedien des Karers System der Religionsphilosophie, ed.
F. Delitzsch and M. Steinschneider (Leipzig: Johann Ambrosius Barth, 1841), 46.
43 Alphabets 126128.
Judah Hadassi s Eshkl ha-kfer 205

...
As stated at the beginning of this article, Judah Hadassis Eshkl ha-kfer is
replete with both poetry and exegesis. The question remains: are these two
fields of enterprise connected? The few examples given here would argue
against an intrinsic connection between the two. The poetry is artificial; if any-
thing, it interferes with a clear exposition of the exegesis. Because of the style,
the reader has to struggle to understand the exegetical points being made. A
simple declarative literary manner would have been much clearer. The medium
is not the message; the medium sometimes obscures the message.
And, yet, it is Hadassis unique style which gives his Eshkl ha-kfer its attrac-
tion. His Karaite exegesis is not necessarily new, even if his claim that he relied
almost exclusively on his predecessors is somewhat exaggerated. His literary
method, as noted, has parallels in Arabic and in earlier Hebrew compositions.
It is, however, his relentless commitment to the style, his consistent use of one
rhyme for every stanza in all of the more than 379 alphabets, and his encyclo-
pedic knowledge which contribute to the appeal of the book. Hadassi evidently
enjoyed combining his narrative and poetic skills, such in his recounting of
rabbinic midrashm for the purpose of refuting them. Even if there are repeti-
tions, unusual locutions, artificial rhymes, and unclear language, the rhymed
prose charms the readers who are then exposed to the authors exegesis. Many
readers were undoubtedly challenged as well by the difficult style, while enter-
tained by the word games and linguistic innovations. Without the poetic con-
ventions, Judah Hadassis Eshkl ha-kfer might have been perceived as just
another Karaite summa of law, theology, and exegesis. With them, it became a
classic of Hebrew literature.

Bibliography

Aaron ben Elijah. ayym. Ahron ben Elias aus Nikomedien des Karers System der
Religionsphilosophie, edited by F. Delitzsch and M. Steinschneider. Leipzig: Johann
Ambrosius Barth, 1841.
Ankori, Z. Karaites in Byzantium: The Formative Years 9701100. New York: Columbia
University Press-Jerusalem: The Weizmann Science Press of Israel, 1959.
Bacher, W. Inedited Chapters of Jehudah Hadassis Eshkol Hakkofer. Jewish Quarterly
Review o.s. 8 (1896): 43144.
Bonfil, R. History and Folklore in a Medieval Jewish Chronicle. The Family Chronicle of
Aimaa ben Paltiel. Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2009.
206 Lasker

Botwinick, I. The Eshkol Hakofer on the Fifth Commandment and its Relation to Karaitic
and Rabbinic Halakha. Jersey City: Ktav, 2004.
Davidson, I. Thesaurus of Mediaeval Hebrew Poetry, 4 vols. Ktav Publishing House,
reprint 1970.
Ehrlich, B. Laws of Sabbath in Yehudah Hadassis Eshkol hak-Kofer. Ph.D. dissertation
Yeshiva University, 1974.
Enelow, H. (ed.) The Mishnah of Rabbi Eliezer or the Midrash of Thirty-Two Hermeneutic
Rules. New York: The Bloch Publishing Company, 1933.
Erder, Y. The Karaite Mourners of Zion and the Qumran Scrolls [in Hebrew]. Tel-Aviv:
Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2004.
. The Mourners of Zion: The Karaites in Jerusalem in the Ten and Eleventh
Centuries. In Karaite Judaism: A Guide to its History and Literary Sources, edited by
M. Polliack, 21335. Leiden: Brill, 2003.
Hopkins, S. Arabic Elements in the Hebrew of the Byzantine Karaites. In Genizah
Research after Ninety Years, edited by S. Reif and J. Blau, 9399. Cambridge-New
York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Lasker, D. From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi. Studies in Late Medieval Karaite
Philosophy. Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2008.
Lasker, D., and J. Niehoff-Panagiotidis. Editing Theology at a Crossroad: A Preliminary
Edition of Judah Hadassis Eshkol ha-kofer, First Commandment, and Studies of the
Books Judaeo-Arabic and Byzantine Contexts (forthcoming).
Maman, A. Karaite Hebrew. In Karaite Judaism: A Guide to its History and Literary
Sources, edited by M. Polliack, 485503. Leiden: Brill, 2003.
Ravitsky, A. Saadya Gaon and Yaqb al-Qirqisn on the Logical Structure of
the Rational and Traditional Laws: Logic and Kalm in the Karaite-Rabbanite
Controversy [in Hebrew]. Tarb 84/12 (2016): 15994.
Scheiber, A. omer she-bikht yd la-vdt ha-sifrtt shel Yehudah Hadassi. In
Jubilee Volume in Honour of Prof. Bernhard Heller on the Occasion of his Seventieth
Birthday, edited by A. Scheiber, 10129. Budapest: J. Kertsz, 1941.
Stewart, D. Saj in the Qurn: Prosody and Structure. Journal of Arabic Literature 21/1
(1990): 10139.
Strack, H. and G. Stemberger. Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash. Minneapolis:
Fortress Press, 1992.
Vidro, N. Verbal Morphology in the Karaite Treatise on Hebrew Grammar Kitb al-uqd
f tarf al-lua al-ibrniyya. Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2011.
Zislin, M. (ed.) Mr ayin. Moscow: Nauka, 1990.
Aaron ben Josephs Poem for Prshat Yitr
Considered in Light of His Torah Commentary
Sfer ha-mir
Joachim Yeshaya

Abstract

This article examines Aaron ben Josephs working methods as an exegete and as a poet.
His poem for prshat Yitr is assessed in light of the non-liturgical, exegetical materi-
als that it containsnamely, terminology that also appears in his Torah commentary
Sfer ha-mir (The Choice Book). By highlighting this vocabulary in both genres, this
study demonstrates Aarons remarkable success in introducing identical or similar lan-
guage, albeit not from the prsh, in his prose and poetic treatments of the biblical
text. This article is informed by two contextualizing questions: First, what is our cur-
rent understanding of Aarons use of Karaite and Rabbanite sources? Second, how was
Aarons work received in Byzantine, Ottoman, and Eastern European Karaite scholarly
circles?

The Byzantine Karaite scholar Aaron ben Joseph ha-Rofe (ca. 12501320; The
Physician lived for some time in Crimea, where he may have been born)
was primarily active in Constantinople from the late-thirteenth to early-four-
teenth century, a crucial period of Karaite adjustment to the Jewish commu-
nitys majority Rabbanite culture. This innovator in numerous fields, including
exegesis, grammar, and philosophy, is especially recognized for having deter-
mined the Karaite order of prayer and establishing liturgical poetry as one of
its regular elements. In addition to introducing his own poemsmost notably
a cycle of fifty-four poems, one for each of the prsht (weekly Torah read-
ings)into the Karaite prayer book, he also inserted Rabbanite poetry.1 This
chapter is devoted to gaining greater insight on Aaron ben Josephs working

1 Aaron ben Josephs cycle of 54 poems for the prsht appears in: Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag
ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 4 vols. (Ramle, 196164; reprint of Vilna, 1891), 1:26491. For a prelimi-
nary list of Rabbanite liturgical poems that were appropriated by Karaites, see L. Zunz, Die
Ritus des synagogalen Gottesdienstes (Berlin: Springer, 1859), 161. For a list of the paraliturgical
Karaite and Rabbanite poems included in the fourth volume of the Karaite prayer book, see
R. Tuori, Karaite Zmrt in Poland-Lithuania: A Study of Paraliturgical Karaite Hebrew Poems
from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Helsinki: Unigrafia, 2013), 393404.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004334786_009


208 Yeshaya

methods as an exegete and as a poet. For this study, his poem for prshat
Yitr (the full Hebrew text appears in the appendix to this chapter), serving
as an exemplar, is assessed in light of the non-liturgical, exegetical materials
that it incorporatesnamely, wordings and references that also appear in his
Torah commentary Sfer ha-mir (The Choice Book). This analysis bears two
underlying questions in mind, though this framework admittedly can only
provide preliminary answers: First, what can we learn about Aarons Karaite
and Rabbanite sources? In other words: which exegetical traditions from older
Karaite Judaeo-Arabic sources (possibly via Hebrew translations) and from the
western Rabbanite exegetical heritage were available to Byzantine Karaites
of his era? Second, how was Aarons exegetical and poetic oeuvre received in
Byzantine, Ottoman, and Eastern European Karaite scholarly circles? To what
extent do the works of later Karaite scholarssuch as Aaron ben Elijah (four-
teenth century), Judah ben Elijah Gibbor (fifteenth-sixteenth century), Berakha
ben Joseph ha-Kohen and Joseph Solomon ben Moses Lutski (both eighteenth-
nineteenth century) expand our understanding of Aarons approach to exegeti-
cal and poetic composition?2
Aarons poems for the prsht were recited immediately before the Torah
reading during synagogue prayers on Sabbath mornings. Not only do these
poems mirror their biblical source texts, representing what may be considered
versified paraphrases, but they are also directly related to Aarons own exegesis
in Sfer ha-mir. Our case study, the poem for prshat Yitr (Exod 18:1
20:23), is representative of this pattern.3 Its primary role seems to be didactic,
where the poet recounts the narrative of the prsh to his congregation. In
addition to using many quotations, Aaron could notand perhaps did not
wish toavoid integrating interpretive words and phrases, thereby conveying
his reading of the biblical text. It is therefore hardly surprising that this poem
reflects some of the subjects addressed in his commentary on this Torah por-
tion. The analysis that follows concentrates on the exegetical issues that are

2 As both an exegete and a poet, Aaron may be compared to his better known Spanish
Rabbanite predecessor, Abraham ibn Ezra. In his study Three Approaches to Biblical Metaphor:
From Abraham Ibn Ezra and Maimonides to David Kimhi (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 228, Mordechai
Cohen states that, while Maimonides approached the Bible as a philosopher, Abraham ibn
Ezra saw it through a poets eyes as well and, as such, his exegesis conveys his awareness of
the aesthetic role of metaphor in the biblical text. In this paper, a similar approach is con-
sidered, but reversed, from exegesis to poetry; rather than attending to indicators of poetic
creativity in Aaron ben Josephs exegetical works, here the focus is on signs of exegetical
thinking in his poems for the prsht.
3 Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 1:27374.
Aaron ben Joseph s Poem for Prshat Yitr 209

present in both this poem and Sfer ha-mir, considering the poem in six
discrete units, beginning with its first six lines:4

/
/
/
/
/ 5
/

My God, when a distant [people] heard You mentioned, they trembled


and quaked (Deut 2:25);5
[They wished to] abide in Your protection (Ps 91:1)6 and ask for Your
goodness;
Performing Your will, they rejoiced and shouted for joy;
Freewill offerings and tribute[s] would they bring (Isa 18:7);7
5 Glad and joyful would they implore God (Exod 32:11);8
By the strength of this gift of Law, they would delight.

These opening lineswhich draw heavily on biblical quotations from Exodus,


Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Psalmscorrespond to the initial verses of Exod18,
where Moses father-in-law Jethro rejoices upon hearing all that God had
done for the Israelites, after which he praises God and offers sacrifices to Him.
Acomparison with Sfer ha-mir on Exod 18:1 is helpful for identifying the
, distant ones, mentioned in the introductory line of the poem, particu-

larly since this term is not in the biblical source:

4 This poem is rhymed and its first four lines form an acrostic that spells the name Aaron.
However, it does not feature a meter. The text is presented here as it appears in the Karaite
prayer book, including a caesura in each line.
5 Deut 2:25: This day I begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the peoples everywhere
under the heaven, so that they shall tremble and quake because of you whenever they hear
you mentioned.
6 Ps 91:1: O you who dwell in the shelter of the Most High and abide in the protection of
Shaddai.
7 Isa 18:7: Tribute shall be brought to the Lord of Hosts [from] a people far and remote.
8 Exod 32:11: But Moses implored the Lord his God.
210 Yeshaya

. .
9.

The narrative of Jethro was written here to make known [the distinc-
tion] between Amalek, who was closely related to Israel but whose deeds
distanced him and yielded perpetual enmity, and Jethro, who was dis-
tant ) (but whose deeds drew him near to God and His community.
Furthermore, [it was written] because the prophet (Moses) wanted to
recount the exodus from Egypt and the news that he had gone out into the
world, as mentioned in [the scriptural phrase] Jethro heard (Exod18:1).
Since [it] was a minor issue, [Moses] connected [Jethros] rejoicing with
the matter that he had heard [which had prompted him to] come [to
Moses]. For he was going to mention the story of the giving of the Law,
which was one of the [most] amazing wonders.

First, it is significant that this passage is followed by an extended grammatical


excursus on the irregular verb form and [Jethro] rejoiced (Exod 18:9),
in which Aaron ben Joseph refers to Abraham ibn Ezra, thus confirming that
his commentary was attentive to philological questions that were grounded in
Andalusian advances in Hebrew grammar.10 Moreover, this selection under-
scores the importance of Sfer ha-mir for understanding the meanings
embedded in Aarons poems for the prsht; in this case, it is indispensable
for going beyond the plain meaning of as an allusion to distant ones.
Lastly, it seems to reflect exegetical traditions from earlier Karaite Judaeo-
Arabic sources (which would have reached Byzantium via Hebrew translations)
that addressed issues such as chronology, order, and structure in the biblical
text.11 Indeed, time and again, we find important remarks on the chronological
sequence of the biblical narrative in this commentary, where Aaron attempts

9 Aaron ben Joseph, Sfer ha-mir (1293; published in Gozlow-Eupatoria: Finkelman,


1835), Exod 18:1, fol. 28a.
10 Ibid., Exod 18:9, fol. 28b:
there is no desire for the words of [Abraham] Ibn Ezra, who said that it is
necessary to add a shv [at the end of] , and the like. Aarons grammatical
explanations may have been intended for Karaite readers who had not reached his level
of expertise in grammatical matters.
11 For a discussion of such exegetical features in earlier Karaite Judaeo-Arabic sources, see
M. Polliack, The Unseen Joints of the Text: On the Medieval Judaeo-Arabic Concept of
Elision and its Gap-Filling Functions in Biblical Interpretation, in Words, Ideas, Worlds:
Biblical Essays in Honour of Yairah Amit, ed. A. Brenner and F. Polak, 179205 (Sheffield:
Phoenix Press, 2012).
Aaron ben Joseph s Poem for Prshat Yitr 211

to reconstruct the timeline of its plot. As an exegete and a poet, Aaron was
keenly aware of the challenges inherent in each form of composition, as he
remarks in Sfer ha-mir, when writing a narrative, one sometimes needs
to complete a certain passage, then recount another one; therefore, it may be
earlier in writing but later when recounted or vice versa.12 Such attention to
reconstructing the chronological sequence of the biblical account is also evi-
dent in the opening lines of other poems and the corresponding exegesis. For
example, the following portion from lines 12 of Aarons poem for Shla-lkh
(Num 13:115:41), , after Yeshurun
[i.e., Israel] reached Kadesh-barnea, it was said to him: Go up, take possession
(Deut 1:21), is closely related to his explanation of Num 13:2 in Sfer ha-mir:
,13 when Israel
reached Kadesh-barnea, that being the wilderness of Paran, then it was said to
them: Go up, take possession (Deut 1:21).

12 For a representative example of such remarks on the chronological sequence of the


biblical narrative, which includes the translated quote, see Sfer ha-mir, Exod 20:16,
fol.30b31a:
.
.
.
.
.
.
And the passage at the end, but
let not God speak to us, lest we die (Exod20:16) does not come after they heard the Ten
Commandments but rather beforehand, for when they witnessed the thunder and light-
ning, they fell back (Exod 20:15) and the thunder and lightning came in the morning (Exod
19:16) and it was then that the people witnessed it and fell back [and stood] at a distance
(Exod 20:15) from where bounds were set (Exod 19:12) which they were not able to [break
through] (Exod 19:21,23) and only Moses approached the thick cloud (Exod 20:18). Yet it
is known that when writing a narrative, one sometimes needs to complete a certain pas-
sage, then recount another one; therefore, it may be earlier in writing but later when being
recounted or vice versa; for after mention has been made successively of all the words
which God spoke to His prophet [Moses], over the setting of boundaries for the people
and [giving] the Ten Commandments, [the text] returns to mentioning the words of the
people; namely: all the people witnessed the thunder (Exod 20:15). Because after Moses
approached the thick cloud (Exod 20:18) the Ten Commandments were said; and if Israel
had heard the Ten Commandments, it would be written: Let not God speak to us again
(cf. Exod 20:16). Understand this.
13 Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 1:283; Sfer ha-mir, Num 13:2,
fol.12b.
212 Yeshaya

In lines 710 of his poem for prshat Yitr, Aaron continues his abundant
use of biblical quotations with the aim of retelling Exod 19:

/
/
/
/ 1 0

How superb is the third month, in which Israel encamped [in front of]
Mount Sinai (Exod 19:12)14 and arrayed themselves by standards in the
name of God! (Ps 20:6).15
Moses went up to God (Exod 19:3)16 and called to the heavens and they
were rolled up (Isa 34:4);17
10 [Thus] the clouds of [Gods] glory welcomed him in [their] hands.

Contrary to Maimonides, Aaron ben Joseph apparently did not doubt Moses
literal ascent to heaven, as he makes explicit in Sfer ha-mir on Exod 19:3:

, , , , , ,
, ,
18. ,

And Moses went up, immediately, to God (Exod 19:3), to the place
where the light of the Divine Presence was [located]; the word [ is
used] because of the mountain. Some say that [this was] an imaginary
ascent and an advanced contemplation, but that is not the plain meaning
(psh) [of the text] nor does the biblical verse come to teach this;the
evidence for this [reading] is the passage Moses came down from
themountain (Exod 19:14). Israel encamped in front of the mountain
(Exod 19:2) but not on the mountain itself.

14 Exod 19:12: On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone forth from the land of
Egypt, on that very day, they entered the wilderness of Sinai / Having journeyed from
Rephidim, they entered the wilderness of Sinai and encamped in the wilderness. Israel
encamped there in front of the mountain.
15 Ps 20:6: May we shout for joy in your victory, arrayed by standards in the name of our
God.
16 Exod 19:3: and Moses went up to God.
17 Isa 34:4: The heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll.
18 Sfer ha-mir, Exod 19:3, fol. 29b.
Aaron ben Joseph s Poem for Prshat Yitr 213

This selection from Sfer ha-mir shows that Aaron ben Josephs exegetical
approach prioritized the principles of psh, as he confirms in the introduc-
tion to Sfer ha-mir: Since psh is the central objective.19 In this pursuit
he typically refutes drsh interpretations, such as those proposed by Rashi
(see below). Unfortunately, Aaron rarely cited his exegetical references by
name; rather, his commentaries are peppered with abbreviations such as
(and some say). These imprecise attributions have been remedied to acon-
siderable extent in rat kesef (A Palace of Silver), the supercommentary to
Sfer ha-mir written by Joseph Solomon ben Moses Lutski (Crimea; nine-
teenth century). This work was printed during the authors lifetime, in the 1835
Gozlow-Eupatoria edition of Sfer ha-mir. Among the many sources iden-
tified by Lutski is our example: :] [
[ ...] the one who says this is Maimonides in his
Mr [nkhm], part I, chapter 10.20
In addition to supercommentaries on Sfer ha-mirat least three oth-
ers are extant: by Elijah ben Judah Tishbi, Mordechai ben Nissan Lutski, and

19 Ibid., fol. 10a; D. Frank, Karaite Exegesis, in Hebrew Bible, Old Testament: The History of
its Interpretation, Vol. IFrom the Beginnings to the Middle Ages (until 1300), Part 2The
Middle Ages, ed. M. Sb et al., 11028 (esp. p. 128) (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,
2000). For a discussion of the parallels between the classifications systems presented in
the introductions to Sfer ha-mir and to the commentaries by Abraham ibn Ezra and
Aaron ben Elijah, see the contribution by Saskia Dnitz in this volume. For a study of
Aarons understanding of literal and non-literal methodologies, see L. Charlap, Peshat
and Derash in Karaite Biblical Exegesis in Byzantium: A Study of Aaron ben Joseph [in
Hebrew], Pmm 101102 (20045): 199220; eadem, The Interpretive Method of the
Karaite Aaron ben Joseph: Uniqueness versus Conformity, Revue des tudes Juives 172
(2013): 12543. For a study of the relationship between these two main methodologies, see
S. Japhet, The Pendulum of Exegetical Methodology: From Peshat to Derash and Back,
in Midrash Unbound: Transformations and Innovations, ed. M. Fishbane and J. Weinberg,
24966 (Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2013).
20 Sfer ha-mir, Exod 19:3, fol. 29b. Byzantine Jews probably had access to Maimonides
Guide of the Perplexed via Samuel ibn Tibbons Hebrew translation:
, ,
. ,
. In other words, according to Maimonides, Moses ascended to that area
of the mountain upon which the created light descended. One should not think, however,
that God occupies a place to which one ascends to Him or from which one then can
descend. May God be infinitely exalted above such foolish imaginings! In their respective
biblical commentaries on Exod 19:3, Abraham ibn Ezra and Namanides also held that
Moses only ascended to the top of the mountain.
214 Yeshaya

Samuel ben Joseph Kalai21a commentary on Aarons poems on the prsht


was authored by Berakha ben Joseph ha-Kohen (Crimea; eighteenth century).
Interestingly, this text, Sfer aam (The Book of Fine Taste), remarks as fol-
lows on lines 910 in the poem:

/


,
,
, ,
22

[Moses] called to the heavens and they were were rolled up; [thus] the
clouds of [Gods] glory welcomed him in [their] hands: these lines use
exaggeration and hyperbole given that [in reality] the heavens were not
rolled up from their place, but the explanation is that [Moses was shown]
additional glory as if the heavens were rolled up from their place to show
him honor, and as if the clouds of the glory [of God] lifted him in their
hands to receive him by lifting him in their hands; even so, this is still a
mystery, since it is said: [Moses] went upthis is a matter of elevation,
ascent, and loftiness. Therefore, it is said: to God and not to Mount
Sinai. Understand this.23

This commentary first identifies then interprets the figurative and hyperbolic
language in lines 910 of Aarons poem, with its quotation from Isa 34:4: The
heavens shall be rolled up [like a scroll]. Second, with its reference to a mys-
tery, it illustrates how later generations of Karaites in Crimea did not shy away
from mystical matters; rather, they acknowledged that certain biblical passages

21 Elijah ben Judah Tishbi, Sfer ha-pr (The Book of Glory, 1579); Mordechai ben Nissan
Lutski, Mamar Mordkhai (The Article of Mordechai, 1709); Samuel ben Joseph Kalai,
Ml Shmul (The Coat of Samuel, mid 18th c.); see D. Frank, Karaite Exegetical and
Halakhic Literature in Byzantium and Turkey, in Karaite Judaism: A Guide to Its History
and Literary Sources, ed. M. Polliack, 52958 (esp. p. 541, n. 56) (Leiden: Brill, 2003).
22 Berakha ben Joseph ha-Kohen, Sfer aam, ed. J. Algamil (Ramle, 2000), 167. On this
commentary, see the contribution by Elisabeth Hollender in this volume.
23 The common expression, ( understand this), which may have been inspired by
Maimonides, was also used by Aaron ben Joseph in Sfer ha-mir; see, for example, the
end of the passage in n. 12.
Aaron ben Joseph s Poem for Prshat Yitr 215

held hidden meanings.24 Aarons poem for prshat Yitr continues as follows
in lines 1114:

/

/
/
/

The Lord called to him (Exod 19:3):25 My sons came to my mind;


Thus shall you say to them (Exod 19:3):26 They will inherit the secrets of
My Torah
if they purify the dross in their heart[s] (Prov 26:23)27 and do what is
right. (Ps 15:2)28
All the people clearly uttered as one: [All that the Lord has spoken] we
will do! (Exod 19:8)

Even though it uses different wording, line 14 unmistakably reflects Exod 19:8:
, All the people answered as one,
saying, All that the Lord has spoken we will do! By comparison, the relevant
commentary in Sfer ha-mir uses the phrase similar to the term
in the poem, whereas appears in the biblical verse:


, ,
29.

24 On later Karaite interest in mystical matters, cf. the contributions by Philip Miller and
Riikka Tuori in this volume. On their ascription of mystical explanations to Aaron ben
Joseph, cf. the contribution by Elisabeth Hollender in this volume.
25 Exod 19:3: The Lord called to him from the mountain.
26 Exod 19:3: Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and declare to the children of Israel.
27 Prov 26:23: Burning lips and a wicked heart [are like] a potsherd covered with silver
dross.
28 Ps 15:2: He who lives without blame, who does what is right, and in his heart acknowl-
edges the truth.
29 Sfer ha-mir, Exod 19:8, fol. 30a. The commentary then discusses another passage
about matters of chronology which extends to fol. 30b: ,
, [ ] ,
,
, ,
And it is not true that [Moses] intended to relay [the
peoples words] since then Moses reported (Exod 19:9) is like and he stepped down after
216 Yeshaya

And all the people answered together (Exod 19:8)as one person, they
all said: [This] we will do and we will hear! What the Name (God) said
(in Exod 19:5): If you shall obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant and
Moses relayed the peoples words [to the Lord] (Exod 19:8)i.e., what
they said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do! (Exod 19:8).

Lines 1520 of Aarons poem feature additional quotations and paraphrases of


Exod 19:

/ 1 5
/
/
/
/
/ 20

15 He commanded them to be ready and not to be defiled by [going near] a


woman (Exod 19:1011, 15),30
and not to be careless [by] going up the mountain or touching its border
(Exod 19:12),31
and to set up a boundary (Exod 19:12)32 on the mountain that God desired
(Ps 68:17)33
compared to Sinai, every hill and mount is low (Isa 40:4)34

offering the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the offering of well-being (Lev 9:22) and
its meaning is: [Moses] already reported, for if it is [true] that [Moses] came immediately
to Him but did not bring back [the peoples words], what then is the logic of and Moses
brought back? As a matter of fact, then Moses reported points to an unmentioned
matter, namely that Israel wished to reach Him, and therefore came [Gods] answer to
[Moses]: I will come to you in a thick cloud (Exod 19:9) for they could reach only [His]
voice, nothing else. The position being refuted here is from Namanides commentary
on Exod. 19:8, as identified by Joseph Solomon Lutski in his supercommentary on Sfer
ha-mir, Exod 19:8, fol. 30a.
30 Exod 19:1011, 15: and the Lord said to Moses, Go to the people and warn them to stay
pure today and tomorrow [...] Let them be ready for the third day; for on the third day the
Lord will come down, in the sight of all the people, on Mount Sinai [...] and he [Moses]
said to the people, Be ready for the third day: do not go near a woman.
31 Exod 19:12: Beware of going up the mountain or touching the border of it. Whoever
touches the border shall be put to death.
32 Exod 19:12: You shall set bounds for the people round about.
33 Ps 68:17: Why so hostile, O jagged mountains, toward the mountain God desired as His
dwelling?.
34 Isa 40:4: Let every valley be raised, every hill and mount made low.
Aaron ben Joseph s Poem for Prshat Yitr 217

Moses focused on Gods enveloped glory (Hab 3:4),35 the light of his face
was shining (Exod 34:29)36
20 this light [of his face resulted from] the light of his learned ideas.

Besides highlighting that the radiant skin of Moses face anticipates Exod34:29,
it is worth mentioning that Daniel Lasker has shown how strongly Aaron was
influenced by the Maimonidean approach to prophecy, remarking that one
of the differences between Moses and all other prophets was that Moses
prophesied without the intermediacy of an angel, having himself become an
angel and an intellect in actu.37 The term ( enveloped glory) in line 19,
which reflects Hab 3:4 rather than Exod 19, is also referred to in Sfer ha-mir
on ( while Moses approached the thick cloud) from Exod
20:18: where [Gods] enveloped Glory was [positioned].38 Here
too the poem and commentary use a common phrase that is not included in
the prsh, further underscoring that the language and content of Aarons
interpretations are consistent in both genres. In his discussion of the clouds of
glory in Sfer ha-mir, Aaron offers a rather technical refutation of Rashis
view that Moses had to break through three barriers when approaching the
thick cloud. Here too Aaron fails to mention the Rabbanite source from which
he draws in this argument; Joseph Solomon ben Moses Lutski is similarly silent
on this source in his supercommentary.39
Not until line 21 ( ) does the poet mention the Ten
Commandments, which were revealed from [Gods] speech. However, Aaron
does not discuss the Decalogue in detail, by contrast with the early Ottoman
Karaite poet, Judah ben Elijah Gibbor in his poem for prshat Yitr (from his
collection on the weekly portions). Gibbor associates the Ten Commandments
with the ten spheres of neoplatonic cosmology, clearly reflecting his internal-
ization of earlier rabbinic interpretations, particularly Abraham ibn Ezras
commentary.40

35 Hab 3:4: It is a brilliant light which gives off rays on every sideand therein His glory is
enveloped.
36 Exod 34:29: And as Moses came down from the mountain bearing the two tablets of the
Pact, Moses was not aware that the skin of his face was radiant, since he had spoken with
Him. Job 31:26: If ever I saw the light shining.
37 D. Lasker, From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi: Studies in Late Medieval Karaite
Philosophy (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 6068 (esp. p. 66).
38 Sfer ha-mir, Exod 20:18, fol. 38b.
39 Ibid.
40 S. Schreiner, Yehuda b. Eliyahu b. Yosef Gibbor und sein Buch der Gebote: Anmerkungen
zu einem karischen Expos der Tora, in Orient als Grenzbereich? Rabbinisches und
auerrabbinisches Judentum, ed. A. Kuyt and G. Necker, 11537, esp. pp. 12835 (Wiesbaden:
218 Yeshaya

Lines 2226 in Aarons poem paraphrase Exod 20; they are dominated by
biblical quotations from the prsh but, in line 26, the poet also alludes to
Deut 5:22:

/
/
/
/ 25
/

When the Lords people witnessed [His] glory (Exod 20:15)41 they were
terrified,
They fell back and stood at a distance (Exod 20:15)42 for they could not
endure it;
They bore the yoke of [Gods] sovereignty with love;
25 They responded [to Moses]: You speak to us (Exod 20:16)43 since they
could not listen to the voice of the Lord, lest they be consumed [by fire]
(Exod 20:16; Deut 5:22).44

In Sfer ha-mir, Aaron quotes this same passagei.e., Deut 5:22 (


, for this fearsome fire will consume us)in his commentary on
Exod 20:16: , lest we die.45
The poem ends quite conventionally in lines 2729:

/

/
/

In their present exile, they wait for the Lord alone to deliver them
from their enemys hand, and due to the Lord they shall be acquitted
and praised;

Harrassowitz, 2007). For more on Judah Gibbor and his poems on the prsht, see the
contribution by Philip Miller in this volume.
41 Exod 20:15: All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and
the mountain smoking.
42 Exod 20:15: And when the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance.
43 Exod 20:16: You speak to us, they said to Moses, and we will obey.
44 Exod 20:16: But let not God speak to us, lest we die. Cf. Deut 5:22: Let us not die, then, for
this fearsome fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer,
we shall die.
45 Sfer ha-mir, Exod 20:16, fol. 38b.
Aaron ben Joseph s Poem for Prshat Yitr 219

Our RedeemerLord of hosts is His nameis the Holy One of Israel


(Isa 47:4).

These final lines contain characteristic references to exile and the expectation
of future redemption from the enemy, closing with Isa 47:4: Our Redeemer
Lord of hosts is His nameis the Holy One of Israel, which quotation con-
cludes a number of Aarons other poems for the prsht as well.46
Each of Aarons poems may be studied in relation to the exegetical writ-
ings in his oeuvre that they reference. The following example from his poem
for Zt ha-brkh (Deut 33:134:12) further supports the finding that rabbinic
exegetical works should also be consulted for such analyses. Let us consider
lines 1920 of that poem:

/
/

Then the prophet of the Lord (Moses) ascended to Mount Abarim


(Deut 34:1)
and he died there (Deut 34:5) by a kiss from the Mightiest One (God).

In the corresponding passage from Sfer ha-mir on Deut 34:5, Aaron writes:
, It is correct that [Moses] died by a kiss, but
this is a great secret.47 The secret alluded to by Aaron is based on a common
Hebrew idiom, wherein mouth conveys the sense of command, used in al
p dony found in Deut 34:5: , So
Moses the servant of the Lord died there, in the land of Moab, at the command
of the Lord. The literal meaning of al p dony, by the mouth of the Lord,
prompted the rabbinic legend that Moses died by a kiss from God, a reading
that Rashi includes but Abraham ibn Ezra does not.48 Admittedly, this is one of
the rare instances where Aaron ben Joseph favors one of Rashis drsh

46 See e.g., Aarons poem for prshat No, analyzed in J. Yeshaya, The Biblical Story of
Noah and the Flood in Karaite Poetry: Moses ben Abraham Dar and Aaron ben Joseph
ha-Rofe on Parashat Noah (Genesis 6:911:32), Frankfurter Judaistische Beitrge /
Frankfurt Jewish Studies Bulletin 37 (2011/12): 10921 (esp. 1168).
47 Sfer ha-mir, Deut 34:5, fol. 36b.
48 M. Fishbane, The Kiss of God: Spiritual and Mystical Death in Judaism (Seattle: University of
Washington Press, 1994), 1719. Numerous medieval Hebrew poems that were composed
for synagogue liturgy, having been inspired by contemporaneous legends about the death
of Moses (Prat Moshe), kept the motif of Moses death by a divine kiss in circulation;
among them are these 8th- to 11th-century works by various unknown authors:
( Davidson vol. III, p. 126, no. 1240); ( ibid., vol. I, p. 102, no.2164);
220 Yeshaya

interpretations over Ibn Ezras psh reading; however, this exception high-
lights the care that must be applied when attempting to reconstruct the intel-
lectual world in which Aaron was immersed.
Let us now return to our contextualizing questions: What is our current
understanding of Aarons use of Karaite and Rabbanite sources? On the one
hand, this Byzantine Karaite seems to have been acquainted with Karaite exe-
getical traditions known from earlier Judaeo-Arabic sources. Previous research-
ers have documented Aarons references to works by Karaite scholarsamong
them Jacob al-Qirqisn, Yefet ben Eli, David ben Boaz, Sahl ben Maliah,
Joseph al-Bar, and Yeshua ben Judahin his own compositions.49 However,
since it seems that Aaron was not conversant in Arabic, his knowledge of these
eastern Karaite sources would have been derived from Hebrew translations
and compilations which were produced or circulated in Byzantium during the
eleventh to thirteenth centuries. A key figure in the creation of Hebrew versions
of these materials was Tobias ben Moses. This eleventh-century Karaite scholar
studied in Jerusalem and produced an exegetical compilation on Leviticus, r
nemd (A Wonderful Treasure), for which the Judaeo-Arabic commentaries of
David ben Boaz and Yefet ben Eli were primary sources. This project was fur-
thered in the late eleventh or early twelfth century, when Jacob ben Reuben
wrote Sfer ha-sher (The Book of Riches), a Hebrew compendium of exegetical
comments by Yefet ben Eli and other Karaite exegetes on the entire Bible.50

( ibid., p. 100, no. 2139); ( ibid., p. 146, no. 3119); ( ibid.,


p. 93, no. 2005); and, ( ibid., p. 109, no. 2312), all published by T. Carmi, Penguin
Book of Hebrew Verse (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 95, 26674. Some noteworthy
examples of liturgical poetry on this theme written by Byzantine Jewish authors are:
by Samuel ben ayyim (published by S. Bernstein, New Piyyutim and Payyetanim
from the Byzantine Period [in Hebrew] [Jerusalem: Defus Salomon, 1941], p.94) and
( Davidson vol. I, p. 144, no. 3055) by the 11th-century author Benjamin ben Samuel
of Constantinople, both included in L. Weinberger, The Death of Moses in the Synagogue
Liturgy (PhD dissertation, Brandeis University, 1963), poems 6 and 27.
49 D. Frank, Ibn Ezra and the Karaite Exegetes Aaron ben Joseph and Aaron ben Elijah, in
Abraham Ibn Ezra and his Age, ed. F. Daz Esteban, 99107, esp. p. 100 (Madrid: Asociacin
Espaola de Orientalistas, 1990); idem, Karaite Exegetical and Halakhic Literature in
Byzantium and Turkey, 538; Lasker, From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi, 62.
50 These Byzantine Hebrew translations and compilations of Judaeo-Arabic Karaite exe-
getical literature merit far more scholarly attention. Two manuscripts in Leiden pre-
serve material from this corpus: one transmits Hebrew translations of Yefet ben Elis
commentaries on the books of Judges, Samuel, Kings and all minor prophets; the other
contains an anonymous commentary on Exodus and Leviticus from the late 11th century,
which features elements of Judaeo-Arabic commentaries, including the muqaddima
(homiletic proem) which the translator calls a pt (Or. 4741). See Z. Ankori, Karaites in
Aaron ben Joseph s Poem for Prshat Yitr 221

A similar level of secondary knowledge can be presumed for a number of


western Rabbanite sources (composed in Judaeo-Arabic) that Aaron quotes,
such as: Andalusian grammatical works by Judah ayyj and Jonah ibn Jan,
which were translated into Hebrew by Moses ibn Gikatilla, Abraham ibn
Ezra and Judah ibn Tibbon, and may also have circulated in Byzantium; and,
more importantly, Maimonides Guide of the Perplexed, which Byzantine Jews,
Karaites and Rabbanites alike probably knew in Samuel ibn Tibbons Hebrew
translation.51
Aarons writings also indicate first-hand familiarity with major Rabbanite
exegetical works, including the Bible commentaries of Rashi and Namanides.
It is noteworthy that, unlike Judah Gibbor, he did not address the mystical
elements in Namanides commentary.52 Even if Aarons sources are seldom
mentioned explicitly, it is safe to assume that, by the early fourteenth cen-
tury, Rabbanite scholarship had become part of the curriculum for Byzantine
Jews.53 This being said, Aarons exegetical approach in Sfer ha-mir, with

Byzantium: The Formative Years 9701100 (New York: Columbia University Press-Jerusalem:
The Weizmann Science Press of Israel, 1959), 18998, 41552; Frank, Karaite Exegetical
and Halakhic Literature in Byzantium and Turkey, 53035. During the workshop The
Interplay of Medieval Jewish Poetry and Bible Exegesis, Meira Polliack reported on recent
editions of Judaeo-Arabic Karaite commentaries that take account of the Hebrew trans-
lations produced in Byzantium, see M. Polliack and E. Schlossberg, Historical-literary,
Rhetorical and Redactional Methods of Interpretation in Yefet ben Elis Introduction to
the Minor Prophets, inExegesis and Grammar in Medieval Karaite Texts, ed. G. Khan, 139
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); The Commentary of Yefet ben Elis Commentary
on Hosea [in Hebrew] (Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2009); D. Dahouh-Halevi,
Studies in Hebrew Translation from Byzantium of Yefet ben Elis Commentary on Samuel [in
Hebrew] (MA thesis Tel-Aviv University, 2014).
51 On the reliance on Hebrew translations of Andalusian grammatical works and
Maimonides Guide of the Perplexed in Provence, see S. Abramson, TheHebrew
Translationsof R.Judah HayyujsWorks and of the Guide to the Perplexed as used by
R.David Qimi [in Hebrew], Qiryat Sfer 51 (1976): 68096.Ibn Tibbons translation of
Jonah ibn Janahs Book of Roots was edited by W. Bacher in Berlin, 1896; see also B. Richler,
Another Translation of Sefer ha-Shorashim by R.Jonah Ibn Janah [in Hebrew], Qiryat
Sfer 63 (1990/91): 99395.
52 P. Fenton, De quelques attitudes qarates envers la Qabbale, Revue des tudes Juives 142
(1983): 519 (esp. pp. 67); see also the contribution by Philip Miller in this volume.
53 By contrast, in mid-12th century Byzantium, in Eshkl ha-kfer (Cluster of Henna
Blossoms), the Karaite author Judah Hadassi primarily focused on classical Judaeo-Arabic
Karaite philosophy and 11th-century exegesis; see the contribution by Daniel Lasker in
this volume.
222 Yeshaya

his rationalistic orientation, his inclination toward philological questions and


psh principles, and even his concise Hebrew expression, was influenced
by Abraham ibn Ezra above all.54 The same may be said for Aaron ben Elijah,
who also drew heavily from Ibn Ezras Bible commentaries, which were widely
disseminated in the eastern Mediterranean during the thirteenth to fifteenth
centuries.55
Given the wide-ranging nature of Aaron ben Josephs library, which encom-
passed eastern and western works as well as Karaite and Rabbinite scholarship,
his literary production played a transformative role in the history of Karaite
scholarship and constitutes a crucial source for the transmission of various
exegetical traditions to later generations. Literary reactions to his corpus began
to appear in fourteenth-century Byzantium with Keter Tr (The Crown of the
Torah), the commentary by Aaron ben Elijah which provides corrections and
supplements to Sfer ha-mir. Early in the Ottoman period (fifteenth to six-
teenth centuries), Judah Gibbor wrote the only other complete poetic cycle
on the prsht to become integrated in the Karaite prayer book. In the eigh-
teenth to nineteenth centuries, the terseness (and occasional obscurity) of
Sfer ha-mir led to the composition of a number of supercommentaries
by Eastern European scholars, such as Joseph Solomon ben Moses Lutski, that
explained and provided details for Aarons exegetical interpretations. These
supercommentaries, as well as the commentary on Aarons poems by Berakha
ben Joseph, can help to deepen our understanding of the interplay between
Karaite liturgical poetry and both Karaite and Rabbanite biblical exegesis in
the eastern Mediterranean.
In conclusion, the question of how Aarons poetic compositions relate to his
own and others exegetical works remains open. Given their status as poems
on the prsht, one would expect to find biblical material as well as exegeti-
cal issues in these prefaces to the Torah readings. Each of Aarons poems may
be studied in relation to their references to his own exegetical writings, as
exemplified in this study, which demonstrates Aarons remarkable success in

54 Frank, Ibn Ezra and the Karaite Exegetes.


55 D. Frank has shown how the significance that the two Aarons attributed to Abraham ibn
Ezras Sfer ha-yshr (The Book of the Upright) becomes immediately apparent from their
treatment of Gen 1:1 in Ibn Ezra and the Karaite Exegetes, 1046. N. De Lange details the
availability of numerous supercommentaries on Abraham ibn Ezra in Byzantine lands:
Abraham Ibn Ezra and Byzantium, in Abraham Ibn Ezra and his Age, ed. F. Daz Esteban,
18192 (Madrid: Asociacin Espaola de Orientalistas, 1990). In the mid-14th century,
Judah Mosqoni asserted that he was aware of no fewer than thirty such supercommentar-
ies, see Frank, Karaite Exegetical and Halakhic Literature in Byzantium and Turkey, 540.
Aaron ben Joseph s Poem for Prshat Yitr 223

introducing identical or similar language, albeit not from the prsh, in his
prose and poetic treatments of the biblical text.56 By highlighting these word-
ings in both genres, Aarons complementary approaches have been brought
to the fore. Beyond his consistent use of phraseology in poetry and exegesis
and his creation of thematic links between both types of commentary on the
prsht, Aaron also concentrated on the chronology of the biblical narrative
and attempted to clarify and reconstruct its sequence, particularly in the intro-
ductory lines of his poems on the prsht as well as in the corresponding
exegetical passages.

Appendix: Hebrew Poem for prshat Yitr (Exod 18:120:26)


by Aaron ben Joseph

/
/
/
/
/ 5
/
/
/
/
/ 1 0
/
/
/
/
/ 15
/
/
/
/
/ 2 0

56 Additional research would be required to determine whether Aarons poems on the


prsht were composed before his exegetical compositions or vice versa. For Ophir
Mnz-Manors recent challenge to the tendency to assume that poems are always derived
from prose texts, see his introduction to the anthology The Early Piyyut [in Hebrew], ed.
O. Mnz-Manor, 715, esp. p. 12 (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Press, 2015).
224 Yeshaya

/
/
/
/
/ 25
/

/
/
/

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Shemarya ha-Ikriti and the Karaite Exegetical
Challenge1

Saskia Dnitz

Abstract

This article examines the interplay between Rabbanite and Karaite exegesis in thir-
teenth- and fourteenth-century Byzantium. It suggests that Byzantium represented
a crossroad for Jewish communities where knowledge from the West, that was espe-
cially transferred after the Fourth Crusade, converged with scholarship from the East,
which arrived during the migration of Karaites from Jerusalem to Constantinople. The
exegetical methodologies of Shemarya ha-Ikritithe Rabbanite scholar whose pro-
lific oeuvre is particularly remarkable vis--vis the paucity of transmitted Byzantine
writingsare compared to those of Aaron ben Joseph and Aaron ben Elijah, known
Karaites whose lifetimes framed Shemaryas. On the basis of his exegetical writings and
scholarly priorities, this study demonstrates how Shemarya was reacting to the Karaite
challenge to the authority of Rabbanite teachings.

Byzantium represents a long-neglected area in Jewish Studies; with the excep-


tion of general surveys, few subjects in this field have been studied in depth.2
Its Quellenlage is difficult to access: most extant prose writings by Byzantine
Jews are still in manuscript and very few of their authors are known to us.3 One
of these figures is Shemarya ben Elijah ha-Parnas, who was born before 1300 in

1 This article is the first publication from a DFG-funded project on Shemarya ha-Ikriti and
the Intellectual Cosmos of the Byzantine Jews in the 14th Century, conducted at Goethe
University Frankfurts Department for Jewish Studies.
2 J. Starr, The Jews in the Byzantine Empire (6411204) (New York: B. Franklin, 1970); idem,
Romania: Jewries of the Levante after the Fourth Crusade (Paris: Editions du Centre, 1949);
A.Sharf, Byzantine Jewry from Justinian to the Fourth Crusade (London: Routledge & Kegan
Paul, 1971); S. Bowman, The Jews of Byzantium (12041453) (Alabama: University of Alabama
Press, 1985); N. de Lange, Research on Byzantine Jewry: The State of the Question, Jewish
Studies at the Central European University 4 (2003): 4151; R. Bonfil et al. (eds.), Jews in
Byzantium: Dialectics of Minority and Majority Cultures (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2012).
3 This observation does not apply to the transmission of Byzantine liturgy since numerous
poets and their works are known, see L. Weinberger, Jewish Hymnography: A Literary History
(London: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1998), chap. 4 and 5; idem (ed.), Rabbanite

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004334786_010


Shemarya ha-Ikriti and the Karaite Exegetical Challenge 229

either Rome or Candia (Crete) and died circa 1360. Also known as Shemarya
ha-Ikriti (the Cretan), he resided for certain periods in Italy and Negroponte
(Euboea). In contrast to most of his counterparts, a variety of Shemaryas writ-
ings have been preserved: commentaries on several books of the Hebrew Bible;
a commentary on the aggadic passages of Massekhet mgill; various piyym;
commentaries on selections of the liturgy; a panegyric poem on David, the
grandson of Maimonides; a number of philosophical treatises; and two let-
ters from his professional correspondence.4 These works offer a representative
view of fourteenth-century Byzantine Jewish culture: The commentaries are
indicative of the Jewish exegetical traditions that Shemarya studied. The litur-
gical and poetic compositions reveal his understanding of Byzantine Jewish
rites. His philosophical writings contribute to our knowledge of theological
discourse among Jews in Italy and Byzantium. His letters to the Jewish com-
munity of Rome and to King Robert of Anjou (who ruled Naples from 130943)
provide further information on Shemaryas biography as well as his exegetical
and philosophical interests. These extant works do not encompass his com-
plete oeuvre since we have references to additional writings that either did
not survive or have not yet been discovered (among them a supercommentary
on Abraham ibn Ezras commentary on the Torah mentioned by Shemaryas
protg, Judah Mosqoni). Nevertheless, this collection, with its wide range of
genres, is by far the largest body of transmitted work from a single Byzantine
Jewish author.
This article considers the exegetical writings of Shemarya. We are fortunate
to have exegetical works from two Karaite authors who were also active in
Byzantium during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: Aaron ben Joseph
ha-Rofe (ca. 12501320) and Aaron ben Elijah of Nicomedia (1328?1369).5
Icompare these contemporaneous texts in an effort to discern whether these
Rabbanite and Karaite scholars referenced the same sources and what their
compositions might reveal about the interactions between this pair of com-
peting groups in Byzantium. This study demonstrates that Rabbanites and
Byzantine Karaites both influenced Shemaryas approach to the Hebrew Bible
and informed the distinctive attitudes conveyed in his commentaries.
Shemarya ha-Ikriti composed his works against the backdrop of the mul-
tifaceted culture of fourteenth-century Byzantium. Since Antiquity, the Jews
of Byzantiumwho referred to themselves as Romaniotes derived from

and Karaite Liturgical Poetry in South-Eastern Europe (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College
Press, 1991).
4 M. Steinschneider, Candia, Das jdische Centralblatt 3 (1884): 116, esp. pp. 816.
5 On these two Aarons, cf. the introduction to this volume.
230 Dnitz

Romania, the Greek term for the Byzantine Empireresided at a cross-


road of traditions. Similar to Christian Orthodoxy, the Romaniotes inher-
ited teachings from the Hellenistic and Graeco-Roman worlds as evidenced
by their use of Greek in their own communications and when studying the
Bible.6 Moreover, Romaniote culture was a blend of Hellenistic tradition and
Palestinian customs.7 From the tenth century, this heterogenous society played
a significant part in the development of Jewish communities in Ashkenaz
and their cultural portfolio, in the fields of liturgy, exegesis, mysticism, and his-
toriography. Especially in Byzantine Southern Italy Jewish intellectuals held a
pivotal role in the transmission of traditions between Eretz Israel and Europe.8
The eleventh-century introduction of Karaite scholarship from Palestine
into Byzantium is also a critical factor for understanding Byzantine Jewish
culture.9 Shortly after their arrival in Constantinople, Karaites launched a
major translation project that aimed to make Judaeo-Arabic Karaite literature
available in Hebrew. As a result, select Eastern Karaite writingscomplete
works and newly-produced compilationsbecame accessible in Byzantium.
The most prominent figures of this movement in Constantinople were Tobias
ben Moses (second half of the eleventh century) and Jacob ben Reuben
(early twelfth century).10 In the mid-twelfth century, Judah Hadassi composed

6 N. de Lange, Japheth in the Tents of Shem (Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015); idem, C. Boyd-
Taylor and J. Krivoruchko (eds.), Jewish Reception of Greek Bible Versions: Studies in Their
Use in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009); J. Niehoff-
Panagiotidis, Byzantinische Lebenswelt und rabbinische Hermeneutik: die griechischen
Juden in der Kairoer Geniza, Byzantion 74 (2004): 51109, esp. p. 107.
7 It has been posited that these linguistic and cultural orientations led the Mediterranean
Diaspora to become separated from central areas of Jewish cultural productivity, espe-
cially Babylonia, in the 3rd9th centuries; see D. Mendels and A. Edrei, A Split in Jewish
Diaspora: Its Dramatic Consequences (1), JSP 16 (2007): 91137; idem, A Split Jewish
Diaspora: Its Dramatic Consequences (2), JSP 17 (2008): 16387. Such claims are problem-
atic and, at times, they overreach.
8 A. Grossman, Ties between Ashkenazi Jewry and the Jewry of Eretz Israel in the 11th cen-
tury, Shalem 3 (1981): 5792; I. Ta-Shma, Toward a History of the Cultural Links between
Byzantine and Ashkenazic Jewry [in Hebrew], in M shrm: Studies in Medieval Jewish
Spiritual Life in Memory of I. Twersky, ed. G. Blidstein et al., 6171 (Jerusalem: Magnes
Press, 2001); A. Kuyt, The Haside Ashkenaz and Their Mystical Sources: Continuity and
Innovation, in Jewish Studies in a New Europe: Proceedings of the Fifth Congress of Jewish
Studies in Copenhagen 1994, ed. U. Haxen, 46271 (Copenhagen: Reitzel, 1998).
9 Z. Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium: The Formative Years 9701100 (New York: Columbia
University Press-Jerusalem: The Weizmann Science Press of Israel, 1959).
10 G. Akhiezer, Byzantine Karaism in the Eleventh to Fifteenth Century, in Jews in
Byzantium: Dialectics of Minority and Majority Cultures, ed. R. Bonfil et al., 72358, esp.
pp.72527 (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2012).
Shemarya ha-Ikriti and the Karaite Exegetical Challenge 231

Eshkl ha-kfer (Cluster of Henna Blossoms), an encyclopedia of Byzantine


Karaite learning.11 The presence of Karaites and their teachings in Byzantium
during this period provoked a debate between Karaites and Rabbanites over
the nature and authority of rabbinic tradition.
The invasion of Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204 led to a fragmenta-
tion of Byzantium that altered the fate of the Empire, its citizens and, conse-
quently, its intellectual landscape. With the establishment of a Latin Empire in
Constantinople, the import of Western knowledge into Byzantine study halls
reached new heights. Even after Constantinople returned to Byzantine rule
under Emperor Michael VIII in 1261, this influx of Western sources continued
unabated. During the Palaeologan dynasty, Byzantine Christian scholars main-
tained their interest in Western theology and philosophy.12 Much like these
trends in the Christian environment, cultural transfer from Western and Central
European Jewish communities to their Byzantine peers also rose to new levels
after 1204.13 The renowned Sefardic exegete Abraham ibn Ezra (10891167) was
read and quoted by Byzantine scholars, some of whom composed supercom-
mentaries on his Bible commentaries (as did Shemarya).14 Furthermore, philo-
sophical works by Maimonides (in Hebrew translation) as well as kabbalistic
texts were brought to Byzantium; for example, by Abraham Abulafia (1240
after 1291) during his travels.15 Thus, Romaniote as well as Karaite scholarship
was informed by the arrival of previously unknown Western traditions and
texts, particularly from Italy and Sefarad. The writings by the two Aarons dem-
onstrate their deep familiarity with Western sources, thus attesting to a syn-
thesis and adaptation of Rabbanite traditions that had been transferred from
the West into Byzantine Karaite scholarship.16 Shemaryas works represent a

11 Sfer Eshkl ha-kfer (Eupatoria, 1836). On Hadassi, see the article by Daniel Lasker in this
volume.
12 E. Fryde, The Early Palaeologan Renaissance (1261c. 1360) (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2000).
13 S. Bowman, Survival in Decline. Romaniote Jewry Post-1204, in Jews in Byzantium:
Dialectics of Minority and Majority Cultures, ed. R. Bonfil et al., 10132, esp. pp. 11525
(Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2012).
14 U. Simon, Interpreting the Interpreter: Supercommentaries on Ibn Ezras Commentaries,
in Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra: Studies in the Writings of a Twelfth-Century Jewish Polymath,
ed. I. Twersky and J. Harris, 86128 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993);
N.de Lange, Abraham Ibn Ezra and Byzantium, in Abraham Ibn Ezra y su tiempo, ed.
F.Daz Esteban, 18192 (Madrid: Asociacin Espaola de Orientalistas, 1990).
15 Bowman, Jews of Byzantium, 116; M. Idel, The Kabbalah in Byzantium: Preliminary
Remarks, in Jews in Byzantium: Dialectics of Minority and Majority Cultures, ed. R. Bonfil
et al., 659708, esp. 66377 (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2012).
16 D. Frank, Ibn Ezra and the Karaite Exegetes Aaron ben Joseph and Aaron ben Elijah, in
Abraham Ibn Ezra y su tiempo, ed. F. Daz Esteban, 99107 (Madrid: Asociacin Espaola
232 Dnitz

singular witness to Rabbanite exegetical teachings from thirteenth- and four-


teenth-century Byzantium. Therefore examinations of compositions by his
Karaite counterparts, Aaron ben Joseph and Aaron ben Elijah, offer fresh per-
spectives on Shemaryas intellectual context, his sources and their modes of
transmission.17
To date, research on Shemaryas writings has focused on his philosophi-
cal orientation, namely his attitude toward Maimonides and the Sefardic-
Provenal rationalistic tradition.18 By contrast, far less attention has been
dedicated to his cultural-intellectual background and the textual sources that
he engaged. Knowledge of whether Shemaryas reception of Maimonides
can solely be attributed to the influx of Western Jewish literature after 1204
remains a desideratum, as does detailed information about his familiarity with
Christian ideas. Related questions include: What role did Shemaryas relation-
ship to King Robert of Anjou and his circle in Italy play? How did the writings
and teachings of Abraham ibn Ezra and Maimonides reach Shemarya: from
Spain via Italy or by way of the Karaites?
Although Shemarya made no mention of specific Karaite authors or writ-
ings, he was well aware of them. For example, in his letter to the Jewish com-
munity of Rome, he expresses a desire to heal the rift between rival Jewish
groups, including the Karaites.19 Given that Karaites in Byzantium discussed
many of the same questions that Shemarya pursued, it is improbable that
Shemaryas intellectual activities would have been unaffected by debates
between Rabbanites and Karaites in his milieu. Furthermore, the aforemen-
tioned rapprochement between Rabbanite and Karaite exegesis during the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, which included the introduction of writ-
ings by Abraham ibn Ezra and Maimonides into Karaite scholarship, must be
taken into account; that is to say, Shemarya may well have been influenced

de Orientalistas, 1990); D. Lasker, Byzantine Karaite Thought: 12th16th Centuries, in


Karaite Judaism: A Guide to its History and Literary Sources, ed. M. Polliack, 50528 (Leiden:
Brill, 2003); idem, From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi: Studies in Late Medieval Karaite
Philosophy (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2008), 6095.
17 On Aaron ben Joseph and some of his Rabbanite and Karaite sources, cf. Joachim Yeshayas
paper in this volume.
18 D. Schwartz, Creation in Late Medieval Byzantine Jewry: A Few Aspects [in Hebrew],
Pmm 97 (2003): 6380; idem, Conceptions of Astral Magic within Jewish Rationalism
in the Byzantine Empire, Aleph 3 (2003): 165211; Y. Langermann, Of Cathars and
Creationism: Shemarya Ikritis Polemic against a Dualist Eternalism, Jewish Studies
Quarterly 13 (2006): 15970.
19 A. Geiger, Shemarya ha-Ikriti, r nemd 2 (1857): 9094; transl. in Bowman, Jews of
Byzantium, No. 53.
Shemarya ha-Ikriti and the Karaite Exegetical Challenge 233

by this factor in his use of Western sources. Thus, the impact of Karaism on
Shemarya merits examination, especially in the context of the Western litera-
ture that was incorporated by his Karaite predecessors and contemporaries in
Byzantium, most prominently Judah Hadassi, Aaron ben Joseph, and Aaron
ben Elijah.20 The letter that Shemarya wrote to the Jewish community in
Rome21 is especially pertinent for this analysis. As a response to a query con-
cerning his exegetical methods, this correspondence outlines his approaches
to both exegesis and philosophy. Shemarya reports that the Jews of his genera-
tion were divided regarding the authority of Scripture versus Oral Law. This
had obviously been a subject of contention between Rabbanites and Karaites
since the emergence of Karaism.22 Exegetes from these two groups also argued
rigorously over acceptable methods of biblical interpretation. In the well-
known introduction to his commentary on the Pentateuch (Sfer ha-yshr),
Abraham ibn Ezra polemicizes against methodologies that he considers mis-
guided, including that of the Karaites.23 He identifies five types of exegesis
that were common among his fellow Jews, illustrating each approachs level
of accuracy by locating it in relation to a point at the center of a circle, which
represents the psh. For example, he critiques the gaonim by placing their
interpretations far from that central point and accusing them of incorporat-
ing non-Jewish science (i.e., philosophy) into their methodology. He criticizes
Karaites for their weak grammatical knowledge and their rejection of oral tra-
dition; on those grounds, he accuses them of misconstruing the Bibles mean-
ing and therefore arriving at interpretations which lack a scriptural basis. The
third category, whose authors remain unnamed, are described as the ones who
use allegory. The fourth is characterized by its reliance on drsh, especially
associated with exegetes from Greece and Italy (i.e., Byzantium). According to
Ibn Ezra, these commentators fail to refer to grammar and exegesis based on
rational judgement; their embrace of midrashic interpretations thus contra-
dicts grammatical and rational interpretations of the Bible. He attributes this
tendency to Byzantines as well as to Rashi and his northern French school. Ibn
Ezras own mode of interpretation can be labeled as a philological-rationalist
approach in the tradition of the gaonic-Andalusian school. Consistent with his

20 See n. 16.
21 Geiger, Shemarya ha-Ikriti; this letter is only transmitted in one manuscript (MS British
Museum Add. 27131, fol.56v59v [F 5805]).
22 See M. Polliack, Rethinking Karaism: Between Judaism and Islam, AJS Review 30
(2006):6793.
23 W. Bacher, Abraham Ibn Esras Einleitung zu seinem Pentateuch-Commentar als Beitrag zur
Geschichte der Bibelexegese (Wien: Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1876).
234 Dnitz

remarks, Ibn Ezra applies grammatical and rationalist analyses to the biblical
text, while avoiding midrashic and allegorical-philosophical tendencies.24
The influence of Ibn Ezra on Shemaryas exegesis is evidenced in his writ-
ings and further supported by Judah Mosqonis mention of his teachers super-
commentary on Ibn Ezras commentary on the Torah (as mentioned above).25
In his letter to the Roman community (written 1328 or 1330), Shemarya fol-
lows the categorization articulated in Ibn Ezras introduction by differentiating
between groups of Jewish exegetes who debated against one another regard-
ing the appropriate attitude toward the Bible, the Talmud, and interpretive
approaches. Some scholars read this passage in Shemaryas letter as a reference
to the dispute between Rabbanites and Karaites:26

,


...

,
,

,

,
.

.

24 U. Simon, Abraham Ibn Ezra, in Hebrew Bible, Old Testament: The History of its
Interpretation, Vol. IFrom the Beginnings to the Middle Ages (until 1300), Part 2The
Middle Ages, ed. M. Sb et al., 37787, esp. p. 380 (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,
2000). For Ibn Ezras criticism of Rashi, see A. Mondschein, Only One in a Thousand of
his Commentary may be called Peshat: Toward Ibn Ezras View of Rashis Commentary to
the Torah, in Studies in Bible and Exegesis: Vol. 5Presented to Uriel Simon, ed. M. Garsiel,
22148 (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2000).
25 See the introduction to Mosqonis own supercommentary on Abraham ibn Ezras com-
mentary on the Torah in A. Berliner, Hebrische Beilage zum Magazin fr die Wissenschaft
des Judentums 5 (1878), 110, esp. p. 8; Simon, Interpreting the Interpreter, 9899.
26 Geiger, Shemarya ha-Ikriti, 93.
Shemarya ha-Ikriti and the Karaite Exegetical Challenge 235

And I say [that] I saw all Israel divided into two big groups: One group
is drawn and attached to the Written Torah alone, i.e., the twenty-four
Holy Books, neither noticing nor realizing the Oral Torah which is an infi-
nite and wide sea to the rabbinic sages who wander around and arrive at
its depths. [...] And this group too is divided into two little sub-groups:
one is content with reading it alone, incompetent to rationality and not
seeking further; while the second group utilizes rational judgement, yet
seeks great things from the reading of the Torah alone. And so this second
group is also divided into two parts, some turned to the foreign (= non-
Jewish) sciences like the natural wisdom, the learned and the divine,27
and they cast the Torah away behind their backs, since it was oversimpli-
fied in their eyes; some strived to realize mysteries and parables in the
Torah which just were not in the writings even though they cried out
loud that this was not their intention, but that their true purpose in this
was to elevate and aggrandize the Torah, but the mysteries and parables
became numerous among them until those (elements) which contra-
dict and destroyed the Torah returned. This is the essence of the group
and its factions which interpret the Written Torah alone and which did
not realize the illuminations of the Talmud, which is a commentary on
the Written Torah, to perceive its depth and its eminence. The second
group is attracted to the Talmud alone. They do not feel or recognize the
Written Torah at all nor will they learn anything from it, nothing signifi-
cant and nothing unimportant. Behold all Israel returned to aggdt and
to the two (different) trt and both groups hearts are inclined to evil
and speak falsehood (about each other).28

In this description of the various methodological approaches toward Scripture,


Shemarya refers to those who engage the biblical text without consideration
for the Oral Law (namely the Talmud and midrashm). That group, character-
ized as being drawn and attached to the Written Law alone (
) , could plausibly refer to the Karaites. He further divides that group
into those who only read the Torah (i.e., attending strictly to the literal mean-
ing of the text) and those who utilize rationalistic approaches to understand it.
This indicates that internal differences existed among members of this group

27 This is the Aristotelian classification of the sciences.


28 Translation follows Bowman, Jews of Byzantium, 260ff., with some changes by this author.
236 Dnitz

regarding suitable attitudes toward Scripture which, of course, could have been
the case among Karaites.29 The statement that they turn to the foreign (= non-
Jewish) sciences () , such as Aristotelian philosophy, aptly
describes Karaites.30 However, Shemaryas claim that one of these subgroups
would [strive] to realize mysteries and parables in the Torah (
) does not typify medieval Karaites.31 This aspect of Shemaryas
depiction more closely suits exegetes who favored mystical interpretations,
e.g. Namanides. Thus, we are unable to unambiguously identify the Karaites
as one of the groups described in Shemaryas letter;32 on the other hand, since
Shemarya wrote in Byzantium, where most Karaites of his era lived and wrote,
neither can we deny the possibility that his description of scripturally-oriented
exegetes refers to the Karaites.
The final group in Shemaryas outline is portrayed as those who solely rely
on the Talmud and Midrash, without emphasis on the Written Torah. It is note-
worthy that Shemarya provides such detail on the first group, including vary-
ing positions held by its members, whereas he treats the second group (the
Rabbanites?) with such brevity. Shemarya concludes this passage by asserting
that his commentary will facilitate reconciliation among these various groups.
Elsewhere in this letter he confidently states: I have no doubt that in doing
this (i.e., interpreting Holy Scripture) all Israel will return to one aggd.33
In the introduction to Sfer ha-mir (The Choice Book), his commentary
on the Torah, Aaron ben Joseph also evaluates the various attitudes toward
Scripture held by Jewish exegetes.34 This Karaite predecessor of Shemarya
follows the model set forth in Ibn Ezras introduction to Sfer ha-yshr35
by using Ibn Ezras geometrical image of a point and a circle to distinguish
between five methods for interpreting the biblical text. In Aarons version,
the first represents those who prioritize its psh reading. The second group

29 In the introduction to his Torah commentary, Aaron ben Elijah mentions several Karaite
subgroups, see below.
30 See Lasker, From Judah Hadassi, 6095.
31 On Judah Gibbor (15th16th century), the first Karaite to discuss the biblical text in terms
of allegorical and mystical interpretations, see the article by Philip Miller in this volume.
32 See Bowman, Jews of Byzantium, 262.
33  ; Geiger, Shemarya
ha-Ikriti, 94.
34 Sfer ha-mir, Eupatoria-Gozlow 1835, fol. 8ab.
35 L. Charlap, Peshat and Derash in Karaite Biblical Exegesis in Byzantium: A Study of
Aaron ben Joseph [in Hebrew], Pmm 101/102 (2005): 199220; eadem, The Interpretive
Method of the Karaite Aaron ben Joseph: Uniqueness versus Conformity, Revue des
tudes Juives 172 (2013): 12543.
Shemarya ha-Ikriti and the Karaite Exegetical Challenge 237

integrates information beyond the literal meaning of the text. Unfortunately,


Aaron does not expand on the nature of this additional material. The third
incorporates allegory but without an apparent connection to the original text.
The next group inconsistently exercises a variety of methods. Like Ibn Ezra,
Aaron portrays such exegetes as vacillating between positions. Finally, he
mentions exegetes who employ this full range of methods to convey the rich-
ness of the biblical text. Aaron counts early Karaites among this latter group
of exegetes. Although Aaron places himself in that category as well, he aligns
his interpretations with psh readings. Furthermore, he counters Ibn Ezras
derogatory remarks about Karaites by stressing the importance of grammatical
knowledge as an interpretive tool. Interestingly, he does not mention the Oral
Torah although he often referred to it in his writings.36
The exegetical outlines by Aaron ben Joseph and Shemarya are most closely
related by the distinctions that they draw between those who consider Scripture
alone and those who incorporate sources beyond the Written Law. Few paral-
lels appear in their treatment of other groups. While Shemarya may have been
familiar with Aarons overview of contemporary exegetical approaches, his
certain knowledge of Ibn Ezras introduction to Sfer ha-yshr underscores
the likelihood of the latters influence on his letter to the Roman commu-
nity. We can affirm that Ibn Ezras work served as a model for both Shemarya
and Aaron.
In the generation that succeeded Shemaryas, Aaron ben Elijah authored
a commentary on the Torah (Keter Tr) whose introduction also reviews
contemporaneous methods of exegesis. The similarities between this Karaite
composition and Shemaryas overview are more pronounced.37 Several quota-
tions of Shemaryas writings confirm that Aaron ben Elijah knew at least some
portion of his Rabbanite predecessors oeuvre.38 The similarities between
these two systems indicate that Aaron ben Elijah was probably familiar with
Shemaryas four-part classification of attitudes toward Scripture despite its
inclusion in correspondence. Like Shemarya, Aaron ben Elijah primarily
distinguishes between Scripturalists (i.e., Karaites) and Traditionalists (i.e.,
Rabbanites)39 and he further divides Karaites into those who strictly interpret
the Bible according to its plain meaning and those who also employ methods

36 Charlap, Peshat and Derash, 206ff.; Frank, Ibn Ezra and the Karaite Exegetes, 102.
37 Aaron ben Elijah, Keter Tr (Eupatoria-Gozlow 1866; repr. Ramle 1972).
38 Ibid., fol. 6b, 32a.
39 Ibid., chap. 1, fol. 2b: .
.
, ,
238 Dnitz

that extend beyond the text (i.e., rationalist or allegorical readings). However,
Aaron ben Elijah differentiates between two groups of Traditionalists: one
adheres to the readings transmitted by rabbinic authorities; the other applies
reason and allegory to its interpretations, with occasional references to non-
Jewish wisdom, risking deviation from normative Judaism.40 Like Aaron ben
Joseph, Aaron ben Elijah makes no mention of mystical exegetes; indeed,
Shemaryas explicit reference to mystical interpretations stands out among
these works. Whereas Shemarya assigns those who turn to philosophy to the
scripturalist category (probably Karaites), Aaron ben Elijah echoes Ibn Ezra by
grouping them with the Rabbanites.
Rebuke for turning to non-Jewish sciences, which appears as a topos in
all three introductions, reflects broader discussions about the role of sci-
ence and philosophy in Jewish exegesis that were held in the framework of
the Maimonidean controversies in the thirteenth and fourteenth century.41
Nevertheless, these accusations could also stem from a polemic between
Rabbanites and Karaites in which the inclusion of non-Jewish science rep-
resented a form of defamation that associated their opponent with greater
affinity to Gentiles. Shemarya was surely aware of his Karaite colleagues posi-
tionsat least Aaron ben Josephs commentariesand vice versa. The three
exegetes discussed here each distinguished between plain readings of the
Written Torah and interpretations whose methods went beyond such a literal
approach. Their writings all reflect the ongoing debate among Byzantine Jews
over how Scripture should be read and interpreted and regarding the author-
ity of the Talmud and Oral Law. Rabbanites and Karaites argued over these
issues, variously commending or deriding the approaches being considered.
Determining the definition of psh and, therefore, how to arrive at the literal
meaning of the text, was a major point of contention, as well as the role of the
Oral Torah and the aggd.42 Shemaryas letter represents one voice in this

,
.
40 Frank, Ibn Ezra and the Karaite Exegetes, 101f.; see also Arend, Elef ha-mgn, 4446.
41 The Maimonidean controversies which began toward the end of Maimonidess life-
time and continued into the 14th century likely played an important role in Shemaryas
effort to establish his position between psh, philosophy and tradition; for the stances
of this anti-philosophical opposition, see the writings of Solomon ben Abraham of
Montpellier, David ben Saul, and Jonah ben Abraham Gerondi ca. 1230 and the early 14th-
century works of Abba Mari, Rashba and Asher ben Yehiel; see H. Ben Sasson, R. Jospe,
and D. Schwartz, Maimonidean Controversy, in Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd ed. (Detroit:
Thomson Gale,2007), 13:37181.
42 For the various understandings of psh held by medieval exegetes, see Charlap, Peshat
and Derash, 204ff. For the debate between Rashi and Ibn Ezra on psh, see Mondschein,
Shemarya ha-Ikriti and the Karaite Exegetical Challenge 239

argument. As his letter conveys, he defines his own exegetical method as a com-
bination of psh, grammatical, and rationalistic approaches to Scripture:43


,

.
.
...


.

In all of the hidden marvels that I explained, I did not press one letter
of the text in order to establish this insight from the text; although that
text, upon its logical simple meaning and the correctness of the science
of language and its grammar, reveals this insight and witnesses that this
is its intended meaning more than its superficially-literal meaning that
the mass of the people understands from it. In my commentary on the
whole Bible there is neither homiletical interpretation nor aggd, for
I have explained these in their place in the Talmud. And I have not left
in the whole Bible a place where the sectarian or heretic or idol-wor-
shipper, neither from among our people or another, could err.... And
when I realized this, I took on my back this great and tremendous task
of interpreting all the Holy Scripturein this terrible and awesome way
(which is) logical according to the true science of language (= grammar)
and logicand to bring up the prophetic pearls imbedded in the sea of
the Torah and its depths.44

Shemarya thus follows the line of Ibn Ezra in emphasizing the importance
of grammar and logic for disclosing the psh of the Biblical text. Within his
own work, he separates the drsh from the genre of Biblical commentary
and places it solely within the exegesis of the Talmud which could be a step
taken to counter the claims of the Karaites. From Shemaryas claim that his

Only One in a Thousand. Mordechai Cohen, who is currently preparing a monograph


on the medieval understandings of psh, generously shared a preliminary version of its
introduction with me.
43 Geiger, Shemarya ha-Ikriti, 91, 93ff.
44 Translation in Bowman, Jews of Byzantium, 257ff., 261 with some modifications by this
author.
240 Dnitz

commentary leaves no opening where the sectarian or heretic or idol-wor-


shipper, neither from among our people or another, could err (
) ' ,45 it seems that he sought
to tackle every possible argument against those methods, which were equated
with turning to non-Jewish sciences and, therefore, committing heresy.46 This
comment appears to be an attempt to delineate acceptable methods of exege-
sis along several lines of argument, i.e., the conflict with the Karaites as well as
in the context of the Maimonidean controversies. According to Shemarya, Holy
Scriptures may be interpreted using Talmud and midrashic literature if that
approach is tempered by careful attention to the literal meaning of the text,
grammar, and rationality.47 Thus, while defending Traditionalist norms against
Karaite critiques, Shemarya also condemns exegetes who are swayed by talmu-
dic interpretations that lack a connection to Scripture, thus following Ibn Ezras
as well as Maimonidess critique of the traditional approach. Interestingly, in
his letter Shemarya comments on his philosophical pursuits as follows:


,

.

If you have heard that I have translated from the books of the phi-
losophers, you have heard the truth, for I occupied myself with them
exceedingly and also translated. Indeed, I ceased translating more than
twenty-five years ago when I turned all my knowledge and thought to
this great work, for I saw for myself that their translation was of no use
to any man.48

On the one hand, Shemarya follows Ibn Ezras and Maimonidess under-
standing of the psh. On the other hand, he tries to distance himself from
the study of the foreign science of philosophy, a topic violently discussed
by Maimonidess opponents. Despite these claims, Shemarya was less than

45 Geiger, Shemarya ha-Ikriti, 91; Bowman, Jews of Byzantium, 257ff.


46 This was the reproach against the supporters of Maimonides in the Maimonidean
controversies.
47 Compare the attitudes of Saadya and Ibn Ezra; see M. Cohen, J. Targarona, and D. Frank,
Bible Exegesis, in Encyclopedia of the Jews in the Islamic World (Leiden: Brill, 2010),
1:44264, esp. p. 449f., 454.
48 Geiger, Shemarya ha-Ikriti, 91; Bowman, Jews of Byzantium, 258.
Shemarya ha-Ikriti and the Karaite Exegetical Challenge 241

consistent in his adherence to this exegetical standard in his own commen-


taries on Scripture. Rather, his biblical commentaries display varying textual
approaches. Although Shemarya wrote commentaries on Genesis, Exodus,
andmany other biblical books, only his writings on the Song of Songs,
Esther,and a small section of Proverbs are extant.49 It is noteworthy that two
versions of his commentary on the Song of Songs have been transmitted. Both
are dedicated to King Robert of Anjou, who was renowned as a patron of schol-
arship and science.50 The longer of these commentaries is only accessible in
manuscript (MSParis 897; MS Gnzburg 280); the shorter version has been
edited by Joseph Qafi.51
In contrast to the talmudic-midrashic interpretation of the biblical lovers as
Israel and God, and the targumic reading of the Song of Songs as an encapsu-
lated history of Israel, spanning from the Exodus to the arrival of the Messiah,
Shemaryas commentary concentrates on the relationship between human and
divine intellects according to Aristotelian thought, incorporating involvement
of the soul. Shemarya based most of his philosophical considerations here on
Maimonides writings; however, his exegesis features original insights (e.g., his
depiction of Solomon as having a status that was elevated above the proph-
ets and his view that scriptural exegesis has the ability to make the human
soul eternal).52 Therefore, contrary to the claims in his letter, rather than lim-
iting himself to the rationally-straightforward understanding of the psh,
using grammar and logic, in this interpretation Shemarya also incorporated
allegory and philosophy. Shemaryas commentary on the Song of Songs is just
one of the approximately 140 entries catalogued in Barry Dov Walfishs bibliog-
raphy of medieval Jewish commentaries on this frequently-interpreted bibli-
cal book.53 Rabbanite commentators on the Song of Songs include Abraham

49 A. Ahrend, Elef ha-mgn: A Commentary on the Aggadot of Tractate Megilla by R.Shemaria
ben Eliahu ha-Ikriti [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Mq Nirdmm, 2003), 25, 67; in his letter
to Rome, Shemarya states that he wrote commentaries on all 24 books, with the excep-
tion of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; see Geiger, Shemarya ha-Ikriti, 91 and
Bowman, Jews of Byzantium, 257.
50 S. Kelly, The New Solomon: Robert of Naples (13091343) and Fourteenth-Century Kingship
(Leiden: Brill, 2003), 29.
51 Shemarya ha-Ikriti, Song of Songs, in Five Mgillt [in Hebrew], ed. J. Qafi, 17132
(Jerusalem, 1972).
52 D. Schwartz, Remarks on the Commentaries on Song of Songs by R. Shemaryah ha-Ikriti
[in Hebrew], in Rabbi Joseph Qafi Memorial Volume, ed. Z. Amar and H. Seri, 31933
(Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2001).
53 B. Walfish, An Annotated Bibliography of Medieval Jewish Commentaries on the Song
of Songs [in Hebrew], in The Bible in the Light of its Interpreters: Sarah Kamin Memorial
242 Dnitz

ibn Ezra and Shemaryas contemporary, Judah Romanoanother member of


King Robert of Anjous circlewho authored a philosophical commentary.54
Karaites, such as Yefet ben Eli (tenth century) and Jacob ben Reuben (twelfth
century), also wrote commentaries on this book.55
Rather than following the models of Ibn Ezra or the Karaites, Shemaryas
reliance on Maimonides and the Aristotelian tradition in his commentary on
the Song of Songs signals that his exegesis was probably informed by the Italian
and Sefardic-Provenal traditions of rationalism and philosophy.56 Theevi-
dence indicates that Shemarya wrote his commentary on the Song of Songs in
1328. In relation to the statements in his letter, which was composed near that
same time, his claim of having abandoned philosophy twenty-five years earlier
seems less than convincing.
This prompts us to ask what motivated the assertions of that letter. Perhaps
he was defending himself against accusations raised by other exegetical
circlesKaraites on one end of the spectrum and Traditionalists on the
otherwho may have objected to his participation in philosophical discourse
and the inclusion of philosophical-allegorical interpretation in his commen-
tary on the Song of Songs.
If we turn to Shemaryas commentary on Estherwhose extant mate-
rial, beginning at verse 6:3, has only been preserved in a single manuscript
(MSCambridge MM 6.26.2 (8), fol. 8r111v [F 15870])we find a composition
that belongs to the tradition of historical and psh-oriented exegesis and
whose lack of philosophical and allegorical tendencies is striking. Despite
Shemaryas occasional references to rabbinic authorities, most of his com-
ments in this text seem to be original.57 He focuses on the grammatical and
syntactical characteristics of each biblical verse, following the method of
Abraham ibn Ezra and adhering to the exegetical principles presented in his
letter to the Roman community. At this point, it is reasonable to ask whether
Shemaryas method of interpretation may be ascribed to the more narra-
tive and historical outlook of this biblical book? Or is this psh-dominated

Volume, ed. S. Japhet, 51871 (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1994); S. Salfeld, Das Hohelied
Salomos bei den jdischenErklrern des Mittelalters (Berlin: Julius Benzian, 1879).
54 Walfish, An Annotated Bibliography, 526ff.
55 Ibid., 528ff.
56 Schwartz, Remarks on the Commentaries on Song of Songs.
57 A. Ahrend, The Commentary on the Scroll of Esther by R. Shemaryah ben Eliyahu ha-
Ikriti [in Hebrew], in Studies in Bible and Education Presented to Prof. Moshe Arend, ed.
D.Rappel, 3352 (Jerusalem: Touro College Press, 1996); B. Walfish, Esther in Medieval
Garb: Jewish Interpretation of the Book of Esther in the Middle Ages (Albany: State University
of New York Press, 1993), 33ff.
Shemarya ha-Ikriti and the Karaite Exegetical Challenge 243

commentary on Esther intendedto answer to the Karaite challenge? The pop-


ularity of the Esther narrative must also be taken into account here.58 Given
that some of the midrashm on Esther were likely composed in Byzantium
(including Midrash Abb Guryn, Midrash pnm rm B, and the Midrash
on the Throne of Solomon), one could speculate whether a particular interest in
this book characterized Byzantine Jewish exegesis. Such a phenomenon could
be related in some way to the dispute between Rabbanites and Karaites.
In the context of Esther it is necessary to point to another exegetical work
written by Shemarya, namely his commentary on the talmudic tractate
Mgill. His writing on chapter one of this tractate (written ca. 1309) is the
sole portion of Shemaryas commentary on the Talmud that has survived.59
This material was published by Aaron Ahrend under the title Elef ha-mgn.60
Shemarya was the first Byzantine scholar to address the many aggadic pas-
sages in this tractate from a rationalist viewpoint, having been influenced
by Maimonides stance that aggadic traditions should be interpreted from a
rationalistic perspective. This was a position that Maimonides himself had
articulated in response to Islamic and Karaite critiques of aggadic literature.61
Thus Shemarya followed this approach by writing a rationalist commentary
to accompany the copious aggdt in Massekhet mgill, sometimes with the
aid of philosophical terms.62 Composing such an interpretation of aggdt
was surely an effective contribution to Shemaryas project of bridging the gap
between Rabbanite and Karaite Judaism, the goal that he makes explicit in his
letter to the Roman Jewish community.
This intention is corroborated by the content of one of Shemaryas later
works, Sfer mayh (1346), which was designed as a handbook for disputa-
tions on Jewish faith with heretics and philosophers. Its introduction seems
to answer Karaite claims by offering proof that the talmudic sages were more
worthy of Gods miracles than the biblical prophets.63 This claim of rabbinical

58 For medieval Jewish commentaries on Esther, see Walfish, Esther in Medieval Garb;
D.Brner-Klein and E. Hollender (transls.), Rabbinische Kommentare zum Buch Ester: Der
Traktat Megilla (Leiden: Brill, 2000); eaedem, Rabbinische Kommentare zum Buch Ester 2:
Die Midraschim zu Ester (Leiden: Brill, 2000).
59 Ahrend, Elef ha-mgn, 41.
60 Ibid.
61 Maimonides had intended to write a commentary on aggadic literature but he never did;
ibid., 3639.
62 Ibid., 62ff.
63 A. Ahrend, On Byzantine Aggadic Exegesis: The Introduction and Conclusion of the Book
Amaziyahu by R. Shemaryah b. Elijah ha-Iqriti [in Hebrew], Pmm 91 (2002): 16579.
244 Dnitz

authority points to encounters with the Karaites as well as to discussions about


the role of miracles held in the Maimonidean controversies.64
Let us return to the question of Shemaryas motivations: Might he have
refrained from applying philosophical methods and favored other exegeti-
cal modes (i.e., rationalist and psh-oriented approaches) in an attempt to
heal the conflict between the competing factions within Byzantine Judaism
or, more broadly, the Judaisms of his era? From what is shown above, among
his preserved exegetical works, only the commentary on the Song of Songs is
clearly allegorical-philosophical, whereas the others are characterized by their
inclination toward psh, grammar, and rationalism.65 Only occasionally does
Shemarya incorporate philosophical terms and notions. Might his interest
in neutralizing Karaite claims and sensibilities have prompted him to aban-
don philosophical exegesis and allegory in favor of less controversial means
of reading the Bible? The works analyzed here indicate that Shemarya had at
least a two-fold agenda. On the one hand, he shows a definite commitment
to philosophy. After all, Shemaryas oeuvre features numerous philosophi-
cal works (the letter to Robert of Anjou and Sfer mayh, as well as Sfer
ha-mr, ibbr sh v-isht, and Sfer higgyn). His letter explicitly states that
he dedicated himself to translating philosophical works into Hebrew until he
recognized that this enterprise risks being of no use to any man. He seems to
have discontinued this activity in favor of his exegetical work on the Bible and
the Talmud, which concentrated on rationalistic interpretations, in an effort
to counter Karaite claims against oral tradition. Nevertheless, his interest in
philosophy continued, whether throughout his scholarly life or by returning
to this pursuit later in life, as attested by his commentary on the Song of Songs
(ca. 1328), his letter to Robert of Anjou (1328), and his philosophical work, Sfer
ha-mr (1346).
On the other hand, it can be asserted that Shemarya was definitely influ-
enced by Karaite activity in Byzantium. He reacted to their opposition to oral
tradition in his exegetical works. Shemarya clearly belonged to a Byzantine
scholarly community in which Rabbanites and Karaites communicated
actively. Intensive analysis of his exegetical writings on Esther as well as a
detailed comparison with Karaite exegetical works on this same text are
prerequisites to determining whether Shemaryas commentary on Esther
was indeed leveled against Karaite readings of this source; this project goes

64 Of course, it could similarly be suggested that heretics and philosophers refer to
Christians; see Mordechai Cohens paper in this volume.
65 See Ahrend, The Commentary on the Scroll of Esther, 38ff. Shemaryas commentary on
Proverbs has not yet been analyzed.
Shemarya ha-Ikriti and the Karaite Exegetical Challenge 245

beyond the framework of this paper.66 The exegetical character of later Karaite
authors in Byzantium also merits further study. The rapprochement between
Rabbanites and Karaites in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries left an
indelible imprint on Shemaryas works.67 Thus, his oeuvre provides a window
onto the complex cultural profile of Jews in fourteenth-century Byzantium, a
community that was shaped by Hellenistic tradition, an influx of knowledge
from the West (after the Fourth Crusade), an Orthodox Christian cultural con-
text, and ongoing intra-Jewish discourse between Rabbanites and Karaites.

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Niehoff-Panagiotidis, J., and E. Hollender. Mahzor Romania and the Judaeo-Greek
Hymn Enas o Kyrios: Introduction, Critical Edition and Commentary. Rvue des
tudes Juives 170, 12 (2011): 11771.
Polliack, M. Rethinking Karaism: Between Judaism and Islam. AJS Review30 (2006):
6793.
Rappel, D. (ed.) Studies in Bible and Education Presented to Prof. Moshe Arend [in
Hebrew]. Jerusalem: Touro College Press, 1996.
Sb, M. et al. (eds.) Hebrew Bible, Old Testament: The History of its Interpretation,
Vol.IFrom the Beginnings to the Middle Ages (until 1300), Part2The Middle Ages.
Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000.
Salfeld, S. Das Hohelied Salomos bei den jdischenErklrern des Mittelalters. Berlin:
Julius Benzian, 1879.
Schwartz, D. Remarks on the Commentaries on Song of Songs by R. Shemaryah ha-
Ikriti [in Hebrew]. In Rabbi Joseph Qafi Memorial Volume, edited by Z. Amar and
H. Seri, 31933. Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2001.
. Conceptions of Astral Magic within Jewish Rationalism in the Byzantine
Empire. Aleph 3 (2003): 165211.
248 Dnitz

. Creation in Late Medieval Byzantine Jewry: A Few Aspects [in Hebrew],


Pmm 97 (2003): 6380.
Sharf, A. Byzantine Jewry from Justinian to the Fourth Crusade. London: Routledge &
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Shemarya ha-Ikriti, Song of Songs, in Five mgillt [in Hebrew], edited by J.Qafi,
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. Abraham Ibn Ezra. In Hebrew Bible, Old Testament: The History of its
Interpretation, Vol. IFrom the Beginnings to the Middle Ages (until 1300), Part2
The Middle Ages, edited by M. Sb et al., 37787. Gttingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 2000.
Sirat, C. The Epistle on the Creation of the World by Shemaryah b. Elijah ha-Ikriti [in
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. The Jews in the Byzantine Empire (6411204). New York: B. Franklin, 1970.
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Part 4
From Istanbul to Trakai


The Methods of Judah Gibbors Biblical Exegesis in
Minat Yhd1

Philip Miller, with revisions by Joachim Yeshaya and


Elisabeth Hollender

Abstract

This article is a revised and updated version of Chapter 3 from At the Twilight of
Byzantine Karaism: The Anachronism of Judah Gibbor, Philip Millers 1984 doctoral dis-
sertation. It analyzes the exegetical methods used in one of the major poetic additions
to the Karaite prayer book, namely Sfer minat Yhd (The Book of Judahs Offering),
Judah Gibbors paraphrase for each of the fifty-four prsht. Known as one of the
leading Karaite scholars in Constantinople early in the Ottoman period, Gibbor was
active when that citys Karaite and Rabbanite scholars were developing close personal
and intellectual ties. Therefore, this paper also examines Gibbors knowledge of west-
ern Rabbanite sources, considered in four categories: aggd, law, science and philoso-
phy, and mysticism.

This paper discusses a major poetic insertion in the Karaite prayer book,
Judah ben Elijah Gibbors monumental collection that paraphrases each of
the prsht, Sfer minat Yhd (The Book of Judahs Offering).2 Known as
one of the leading Karaite scholars in Constantinople early in the Ottoman
period (second half of the fifteenth century through the first or second

1 This paper is a revised and updated version of P. E. Miller, At the Twilight of Byzantine Karaism:
The Anachronism of Judah Gibbor (PhD diss., New York University, 1984), chapter3, pp. 5375
(without the section on the Bomberg printing) and information on Gibbors sources, mainly
from pp. 8892. The bibliography has been updated to include publications which have
appeared since 1984. The editors have added references to later publications and included
the results of more recent research; however, they have not altered the original language,
argumentation, or overall structure.
2 The full text of Minat Yhd was appended to the first volume of the Karaite prayer book,
immediately following the hafart, cf. Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm.
4vols. (Ramle, 196164; reprint of Vilna, 1891), 1:34293. A facsimile edition of the editio prin-
ceps was recently published: M. Krupp (ed.), Mizwot Asseh. By Judah ben Eliyahu Gibbor from
the Karaite prayer book, facsimile of the first edition Venice 1529; with an Hebrew introduction
by Moshe Dabah (Jerusalem, 2006). The Ashdod reprint of the Karaite prayer book (2010)
includes an abridged version of this text.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004334786_011


252 Miller

decade of the sixteenth century), he was active just as close personal and
intellectual contacts were being developed between Karaites and Rabbanites
in that city. Beyond his familiarity with the works of Aaron ben Joseph ha-
Rofe (late thirteenth century) and Aaron ben Elijah of Nicomedia (fourteenth
century), Gibbors extant writings exhibit extensive knowledge of western
Rabbanite culture. In his youth Gibbor studied with the Rabbanite scholar
Mordechai Comtino (14021482), an author of commentaries on several of
Abraham ibn Ezras works,3 who may have introduced his student to the ele-
ments of the Rabbanite library that were available in Byzantium. Gibbors
conversance in western Rabbanite culture also shows that the Rabbanite
influence on Byzantine Karaite culture was not immediately brought to a halt
by the Islamic conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by Ottoman Turks. Rather,
Constantinople remained the focus of remarkable literary activity within its
Jewish populationincluding the composition of Minat Yhdthrough
the early sixteenth century.4
Judah Gibbors Minat Yhd is the only known paraphrase in Hebrewverse
of the entire Pentateuch. It is also one of the longest poems in Hebrew litera-
turewith 1,912 verses distributed among its fifty-four parts, Minat Yhd
assumes epic proportions. There is no record or tradition that Gibbor was a
poet ofmerit recognized by his contemporaries. Rather, there is the inclination
to consider his poetic activity as typical of the learned gentleman of his time
who penned clever and learned verses for his pleasure. But Gibbor was clearly
more than that. The elegiac compositions with which he concluded Minat
Yhd were hardly written for pleasure or diversion; they were written out of
the pain of mourning. And the intensely deep emotions he evoked were not
the clichs ofa dilettante. Although Minat Yhd and its postludes5 are his

3 J.-C. Attias, Le Commentaire biblique: Mordekhai Komtino ou lhermneutique du dia-


logue (Paris: Cerf, 1991); idem, Intellectual Leadership: Rabbanite-Karaite Relations in
Constantinople as Seen through the Works and Activity of Mordekhai Comtino in the
Fifteenth Century, in Ottoman and Turkish Jewry: Community and Leadership, ed. A.Rodrigue,
6786 (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1992); D. Schwartz, Commentary on Yesod Mora:
The commentary of Mordekhai ben Eliezer Komtiyano on R. Abraham Ibn Ezras Yesod Mora
(Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2010).
4 M. Rozen, A History of the Jewish Community in Istanbul: The Formative Years, 14531566
(Leiden: Brill, 2002).
5 For the two supplemental elegies and the prose colophon that conclude Minat Yhd,
see Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 1:39495. They are described with
select passages translated in Chapter 2 (esp. pp. 4144) of Miller, At the Twilight of Byzantine
Karaism. The first elegy describes Gibbors intention for this work to perpetuate his name: I
shall sing this song as a memorial for me, to remain after my death instead of a son. An obla-
tion presented to my community which I shall call Minat Yhd (Judahs Offering). The
The Methods of Judah Gibbor s Biblical Exegesis 253

only known poems, Gibbor demonstrated a poetic flair on a number of occa-


sions in Sfer ha-mdm (The Book of Appointed Times), and Iggeret md
qn (The Letter of Minor Festivals), with clever and even whimsical turns of
phrase.6 Since no further religious poetry by Gibbor has been transmitted, it is
assumed that Minat Yhd is his only poetic work.
Formally, the entire poem is internally divided into fifty-four parts, corre-
sponding to the fifty-four lections (prsht) which make up the public read-
ing of the Pentateuch in the synagogue over the course of one year. In terms of
its verse structure, Gibbor employs the quantitative meter h-rkh / al-awl:
each stich is comprised of four feet; each foot has six syllables, one short fol-
lowed by five long. The final syllables of the first three feet in each verse end
the same way, creating an internal rhyme. The final foot of all 1,912 verses of
this monorhyme poem ends uniformly with -rm. Each section, or lection, con-
cludes with the refrain: / /
/
( Remember the faith of Amrams son [Moses] which is exalted above all
and by which we are a great nation for all time.)
As a paraphrase of the Torah according to the prsht, Minat Yhd may
be compared to the two earlier cycles of Karaite poetry that were designated
to complement the Torah reading on the Sabbath in terms of content and, to
a lesser extent, structure. While the poetic cycle by Moses ben Abraham Dar
(twelfth century; Egypt) has only been transmitted in manuscript and does not
seem to have been incorporated liturgically in Byzantium, Aaron ben Josephs

second elegy describes the authors current state of mourning: They call me mighty (gibbr)
but I am like straw before the storm, trodden chaff. The waves of time roar and rumble over
me in a rage; my days are an abyss. They have killed the children of my time, my little ones.
Time is like a drawn sword at my heart. My children, my sons, their bodies were smitten in
a plague. Let me now recall the death of my children. My soul burns as with ague and con-
sumption. Both within and without, it is dressed in blackness, wrapped, enveloped. My heart
is like coal, black as a raven, as pitch. Alas, oh you, time most cruel and strange, a merciless
blow decreed, a burning fire. The prose colophon is essentially an epitome of that pair of ele-
giac poems: My children died. Remaining alone and bereft I said to myself that it was time
to do something for myself, to leave a memorial behind. I therefore composed these verses,
each lection appropriate to a Sabbath. And if the reader possesses an enlightened soul and
loves the Lords commandments, then he will doubtlessly delight and find great benefit for
understanding the commandments and the Torahs meanings, revealed and hidden. I have
created this poem as an offering, delivered in place of my children, who were pursuers of
Torah. I call it Minat Yhd (Judahs Offering).
6 Klau MS 839, fol. 49a: ( They left the choice and took the infe-
rior); fol. 103a: ( For it is a sign for you of the correct inter-
pretation); fol. 109b:
(It is better that my pen be troubled [and my words] remain for generations than that my
tongue be troubled and my [words] fly to the wind.).
254 Miller

was part of his edition of the Karaite prayer book and has also been trans-
mitted in printed versions of the siddr.7 Unlike Aarons poems, which were
composed and transmitted individually, one for each prsh, by virtue of its
unified rhyme Minat Yhd is a single poem and, thus, deviates formally
from those prior cycles for this liturgical position.8

1 Mlat ha-mivt

However uncommon the form, structure, and scope of Minat Yhd, an


examination of contemporary Karaite literature indicates that Minat Yhd
was not unique. In many ways it resembled a poem, entitled Mlat ha-mivt,
that had been modeled after the Rabbanite azhrt by Gibbors more illus-
trious contemporary, Elijah Bashyatchi (ca. 142090).9 This poem enumerates
the positive and negative commandments in force in Bashyatchis day. Recited
during the Shavuot festival prayers, Mlat ha-mivt is most appropriate to
this festival which celebrated the giving of the Torah. Both men wrote at a time
when gentlemen-poets followed literary conventions and formulas closely. The
resemblances between Minat Yhd and Mlat ha-mivt are so manyand
so strong that one questions whether it was a coincidental matter of style
andconvention, or of deliberate imitation. In guessing that Minat Yhd
was based on Mlat ha-mivt, there is no implication that Gibbor was a pla-
giarist. In the first place, such a notion did not exist at that time because, in the
second place, imitation was still considered the sincerest form of compliment.
The most striking resemblance is the verse structure; both poems employed

7 S. Schreiner (Yehuda b. Eliyahu b. Yosef Gibbor und sein Buch der Gebote:Anmerkungen
zu einem karischen Expos der Tora, in Orient als Grenzbereich?, ed. A. Kuyt and G. Necker,
12122 [Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2007]) rightly identifies Aaron ben Josephs poetry as a
source of inspiration for Gibbor. On Aaron ben Josephs poetic oeuvre and its reception in
later Karaite communities in Eastern Europe, cf. the contributions by Joachim Yeshaya and
Elisabeth Hollender to this volume.
8 Another cycle of piyym, also written as prefaces that would correspond with the 54 Torah
portions read on Sabbath mornings throughout the year, was composed during the Ottoman
era by the Rabbanite poet Israel ben Moses Najara (ca. 15551625). This collection of liturgi-
cal poems, lt shabbt, forms the second section of the second edition of Zmrt Israel
Najara (Venice 1599). The editors extend thanks to Prof. Tova Beeri (Tel Aviv University) for
this important reference.
9 The full text of Mlat ha-mivt is found in the second volume of the Karaite prayer book;
see Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 2:23944.
The Methods of Judah Gibbor s Biblical Exegesis 255

the same number of feet and syllables per foot, both poems used the same
internal rhyme scheme, and both ended each stich with the end rhyme -rm.10
Another similarity, although not as immediately apparent, is the title of the
work defining its content. From Bashyatchis title, Mlat ha-mivt, which
translates The Eloquence of the Commandments, one gets the idea that the
work deals with the commandments. Gibbor, however, gave his work the name
Minat Yhd in a supplemental elegy,11 rather than at the head of the work,
as it appears in the first printing of the Karaite siddr (1528) by the famous
Bomberg printing house in Venice.12 From the opening title in its first printed
form it seems that Gibbor had begun his work with a different intention:

, Positive and negative commandments by the sage, Judah Gibbor, may
his soul be in Paradise, the son of Elijah Gibbor, may he rest in peace, the son
of Joseph Gibbor, of blessed memory.13
There are, however, four major differences between Minat Yhd and
Mlat ha-mivt. The first is length: Mlat ha-mivt has a respectable 170
verses, but Minat Yhd overshadows it with 1,912. The second is content:
Mlat ha-mivt lists the commandments in force at that time while Minat
Yhd paraphrases all the commandments in the Pentateuch as well as the
narrative material. In both these cases it appears that Gibbor was trying to
outdo Bashyatchi. The third difference is merit: Mlat ha-mivt was printed
in the second volume of the Karaite liturgy in a way which indicated that it was

10 Composing poetry in accordance with the formal structure of existing models was an
element of courtly culture that showed respect for highly esteemed compositions. This
practice was introduced to Hebrew poetry via the Arabic cultural sphere. In this literary
milieu, friendly competitions were conducted in the exchange of poems, as a way to show
respect for prominent poets. By imitating the structure of Bashyatchis poetic precedents,
Gibbor proved his stature as a poet.
11 See Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 1:395. The name Minat Yhd,
which translates as Judahs Offering, was a play on Gibbors name involving Mal 3:4:
The offerings of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasant to the Lord. Hebrew authors,
especially of religious books, have long followed the convention of using their names
couched in Biblical language or imagery to create titles for their works. For example,
Elijah Bashyatchis Code is Adderet liyyh, Elijahs Mantle, after 2 Kgs 13. Simhah Isaac
Lutski wrote a commentary on Minat Yhd entitled Br Yiq, Isaacs Well, after
Gen 26.
12 For more on the Bomberg printing, see Miller, At the Twilight of Byzantine Karaism, 5660;
for a facsimile version of the editio princeps of Minat Yhd, see Krupp (ed.), Mizwot
Asseh, fol. 57b.
13 See Krupp (ed.), Mizwot Asseh, fol. 1a.
256 Miller

already an accepted part of the festival liturgy one generation after Bashyatchis
death; Minat Yhd was printed as a supplement to the first volume, perhaps
even an afterthought. The fourth difference is manner of printing. Whereas
Mlat ha-mivt is crammed onto five pages, rendering its printed version
difficult to read, Minat Yhd is given considerably more space, to such an
extent that the expense of its printing was drastically disproportionate to other
sections of the Karaite liturgy.14

2 Modes of Interpretation

In paraphrasing the Pentateuch, Gibbor could not avoid using words and
phrases which were interpretive, reflecting also how he understood the text.
Consequently, Minat Yhd is a commentary as well. Gibbor was aware of
this and was further aware that his verses read the biblical text on several lev-
els: , Some of them are the
basis of precious things, others are secret, parable, and riddle.15 Secret, par-
able, and riddle imply that the text has meaning not readily apparent. Methods
of interpretation which sought esoteric meanings to a text were hardly a com-
mon feature of Karaite exegesis. Indeed, the classical image of Karaism is one
of unwavering loyalty to the literal meaning of the Bible. Such things as alle-
gory and mystery were considered antithetical to Karaism. Minat Yhd can
thus be considered unique in that it is the first known example of a Karaite
explicitly discussing the text of the Hebrew Bible in terms of levels of meaning
and esoteric thought. Minat Yhd can also be considered as a step which
presaged his approach in his other extant works Sfer ha-mdm (The Book of
Appointed Times) and Iggeret md qn (The Letter of Minor Festivals).16

14 The first two differences reflect Gibbors desire to better Bashyatchi, whereas the second
pair reflect the desires of Joseph ben Moses Rabyatchi II, the patron of the Bomberg
printing of the Karaite prayer book and also Judah Gibbors grandson: one hand, he was
calling attention to his grandfathers poem by introducing it into the liturgy; on the other
hand, he acted to denigrate Elijah Bashyatchi, the rival for power of his other grandfather
and namesake, Joseph Rabyatchi I. Cf. Miller, At the Twilight of Byzantine Karaism, 5860.
15 See the first supplemental elegy in Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm,
1:394.
16 All of these works, along with Sfer hilkht sht (The Book of the Rules of Ritual
Slaughter), consider issues of biblical exegesis and halakhah; see Judah Gibbor, Sfer
ha-mdm, ed. J. Algamil (Ashdod: Makhn Tiferet Josef, 2002/2003); idem, Sfer md
qn, ed. J. Algamil (Ashdod: Makhn Tiferet Josef, 2002/2003); idem, Sfer hilkht
sht, ed. J. Algamil (Ashdod: Makhn Tiferet Josef, 2002/2003).
The Methods of Judah Gibbor s Biblical Exegesis 257

In Minat Yhd Gibbor gave the first signs that his understanding of the
Bible reflected an internalization and absorption of Rabbanite interpretations.
These interpretations were relatively simple, being largely derived from the
Targm nqls, Midrash rabb, and Rashi. Later, in his prose works he would
reveal the extent of his Rabbanite education with citations from Abraham ibn
Ezra, Maimonides, Namanides, and Baya ben Asher. On the one hand, there
is the desire to say that Gibbors work was the logical outcome of a Karaite
being exposed to Rabbanite learning. Yet on the other hand, other Karaite con-
temporaries, such as Caleb Afendopolo, Abraham Bali, and Elijah Bashyatchi,
also studied with Rabbanite teachers and indeed their writings do show the
influence of Rabbanite literature, but it is the influence of form, not content.
For none of these other Karaite sages ever went so far as to consider a Rabbanite
work as authoritative. And none cited Rabbanite works as frequently as Judah
Gibbor. The result of Gibbors combining his Karaite and Rabbanite educa-
tions was a synthesis which integrated these often opposing approaches and
interpretations. And it must be remembered that however heterodox Gibbor
was, he never ceased to think of himself as anything but a Karaite and he never
hesitated to declare his pride in his Karaite heritage. At the same time, he saw
himself above the traditional Karaite-Rabbanite enmity. He considered him-
self on a level which was spiritually and intellectually advanced, one which
was neither Karaite nor Rabbanite, but wholly Jewish.17 Drawn as he was to
the more complex and intellectually challenging strains of thought which suf-
fused Rabbanite society, one suspects that Gibbor sensed an inadequacy in the
traditional Karaite approach to problems, both legal and exegetical. Learning
the esoteric lore was like drinking heady liquor; it intoxicated him and altered
his perceptions. And while some would call this heightened spirituality un-
Karaite, or even anti-Karaite, nonetheless it did bear a clear Karaite stamp.
To the established Karaite categories of psh, literal-contextual exege-
sis, heqsh, analogy, and sel ha-yrushsh, the chain of (Karaite) tradi-
tion,Gibbor wedded the Rabbanite drsh, figurative meaning, remez,
allegory, and sd, mystery. With this combined approach Gibbor was able
to see a spectrum of exoteric and esoteric meanings in the Bible. It cannot be
emphasized enough that Gibbor was not necessarily aware that his writings
included these Rabbanite elements or that they departed from the norms of
Karaite exegesis, so well had he absorbed them.18 In his Iggeret md qn

17 For a similar position, albeit by a Rabbanite scholar, cf. Saskia Dnitzs contribution on
Shemarya ha-Ikriti in this volume.
18 Gibbor seems to have internalized Rabbanite learning more thoroughly than the two
Aarons did: these three scholars all emphasize psh analyses of Scripture but Gibbor
258 Miller

Gibbor would carry the distinction of exoteric and esoteric one step further,
following in the footsteps of Maimonides by distinguishing between learning
for the masses (Tr hmnt) and learning for the sophisticated elite (Tr
lht). Both levels were legitimate. Each had its place, its value determined by
the intellectual and spiritual level of the audience.19
A curious aspect of Minat Yhd is that it is the only known writing of
biblical exegesis done by a Byzantine Karaite after Aaron ben Elijahs Keter
Tr, which was completed in 1362. Indeed, there were few Bible-related
works produced by later Turkish, Polish, or Crimean Karaites, and these were
largely anthologies of earlier Karaite and Rabbanite sages. One could even go
so far as to make a case for Minat Yhd being an anthology. Perhaps it is,
butbeing the first documented use of esoteric meaning in Karaite literature,
and being written entirely in verse, Minat Yhd can certainly make a claim
for originality.
The following are examples of how Gibbor versified the various kinds of
(non-literal) interpretations to be found in Minat Yhd.

3 Drsh

Figurative meaning is generally one which adds details not found in the plain
narrative text. One example occurs in Gibbors statement on Gen 25:22: when
Rebecca went to inquire of the Lord she went off to the Academy of Shem.
This is a Rabbanite midrash (Gen rabb 63:7) which was later repeated by Rashi
in his Bible commentary:
, And she went to the House of Shem, there to inquire of the Lord, for
there was there a monument which revealed hidden things.20 Another exam-
ple of figurative meaning is found in Gibbors statement on Lev 23:44, con-
cerning the purpose of Gods appointed times and festivals:
, God [gave] the days for Israels redemp-
tion, to overthrow Samael and thwart the power of the stars.21 The mention

stands out for explanations that capture the Rabbanite approach to drsh. See below for
more information on Gibbors Rabbanite sources.
19 This distinction between popular and theological interpretations of the Hebrew Bible
was expounded by Maimonides in the introduction to his commentary on the Mishnah,
see M. Wechsler, Judah ben Elijah Gibbor, in Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception,
vol. 10, col. 213 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015).
20 Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 1:346.
21 Ibid., 1:370.
The Methods of Judah Gibbor s Biblical Exegesis 259

of Samael, prince of demons, and thwarting the power of the stars raises
the question of demonology, superstition, and astrology among the Karaites
of Gibbors time. Such beliefs were anathema to Karaite sages of the classi-
cal period.22 But apparently they became significant among Karaites from the
later Byzantine period.

4 Drsh and heqsh

In at least one case Gibbor was able to conflate two Rabbanite midrashm,
and applying Karaite heqsh was able to come up with a new variation. In
his commentary on Exod 2:2, Rashi recalled the legend found in the Talmud
(b.S12a) and Midrash (Gen rabb 1:24) that when Moses was born the whole
house was filled with light. And in his commentary on Exod 2:6, Rashi recalled
another legend found in the Talmud (b. S 12b) and Midrash (Gen rabb 1:28)
that when the servant girl opened the reed basket she saw Gods Presence with
the infant Moses. By design or accident Gibbor combined the two legends by
means of analogy, the similarity of the two Hebrew verbs in the two verses:
va-tre, and she saw, and va-tirh, and she saw him:
, The servant girl went and took the ark. She
opened it and saw the lights.23

5 Sel ha-yrushsh

An example of an unwritten tradition which grew from within Karaism is


found in the insertion to Minat Yhd which is read on the Sabbath before
the holiday of Purim: ,
Onthe days of Purim you read the pure Scroll (of Esther) three times. This is
an obligation for adults.24

22 J. Mann, Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature, 2 vols. (Cincinnati: Hebrew
Union College Press-Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 193135),
2:5557; I. Robinson, Jacob al-Kirkisani on the Reality of Magic and the Nature of the
Miraculous, in Truth and Compassion: Essays on Judaism and Religion in Memory of Rabbi
Solomon Frank, ed. H. Joseph et al., 4153 (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University,
1983).
23 Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 1:353.
24 Ibid., 1:360. Also, in Sfer ha-mdm, Purim, MS 87b:
However, on the days of Purim we read
three times: on the eve of the first day, the next morning, and throughout the second day.
260 Miller

An example of a tradition which developed in Byzantium based on an inter-


pretation of Scripture is found in Lev 23:40, where Gibbor included the pome-
granate along with the citron as the fruit of a goodly tree:
, The fruit of the goodly treee.g., the lovely
pomegranate, the glorious citron, and other precious fruit.25 A third example
of a Karaite tradition, but one with roots in the classical period, is found in
the verses which comment upon Exod 12:1. There, Gibbor made a statement
which confirmed the ancient practice of reckoning the months by visual sight-
ing of the moon:
, [Regarding] the command-
ment [to sight] the new moon, note [that] this sanctifies [its renewal] as a
phoenix is renewedit does not govern the celestials[whether it is] absent
from sight [or] fully spread. [This is] appropriate knowledge [for] setting every
[calendrical] arrangement.26 What is so unusual here is that Gibbor, who was
a liberal in so many other matters, made a strong statement which favored
the traditional Karaite method of calendration.27 The matter of calendration,
like the Sabbath candles, was a major issue pursued by the neo-traditionalists
to express their opposition to the Bashyatchis; in this case it was Bashyatchis
calendar reform which used mathematical computations.

6 Remez

In his use of allegory Gibbor drew heavily from post-Maimonidean thought,


thus making his allegorical allusions indistinguishable from those circulat-
ing among contemporary Rabbanites. For example, the binding of Isaac in
Gen 22 was described as an event which was a vision of prophecy:

From this one can see that the Karaites celebrated two days of Purim, the fourteenth and
fifteenth of Adar, in literal fulfillment of Esth 9:21.
25 Ibid., 1:369. Cf. Aaron ben Elijah, Gan den (Eupatoria, 1866), 65b:
The fruit of a goodly tree, such as citrons, apples and others.
26 Ibid., 1:354.
27 For more on the Karaite method of calendration, see M. Shamuel, The Karaite Calendar:
Sanctification of the New Moon by Sighting, in Karaite Judaism, ed. M. Polliack, 591
629 (Leiden: Brill, 2002). This article includes a table that presents both Rabbanite and
Karaite laws regarding the sanctification of the new moon; see Appendix 1, pp. 62223.
For more on the rabbinic practices regarding the new moon, see R. Leicht, Observing the
Moon: Astronomical and Cosmological Aspects in the Rabbinic New Moon Procedure, in
Time, Astronomy, and Calendars in the Jewish Tradition, ed. S. Stern and C. Burnett, 2739
(Leiden: Brill, 2014).
The Methods of Judah Gibbor s Biblical Exegesis 261

, The matter of the trial was to make


known the matter of the vision; it was not imagined, but [occurred] while
they were awake.28 Similarly, Gibbor stated on Gen 32:24 that Jacob did not
wrestle with a person but with an angel, an Intelligence (khel), later iden-
tified in Gen 48:16 as the archangel Michael:
, He wrestled with an angel to whom no body
was attached. He was embraced by an (angelic) intellect, not physical things
(lit. carcasses); , The
redeeming angel who gave me the name Israel was the prince Michael, and it
is he who will bless the lads.29
An example of an allegory not based on post-Maimonidean philosophy is
found in Gibbors treatment of Num 12. There, Gibbor likened the formation
of the twelve tribes encampment to the signs of the zodiac. Moreover, their
standards at the four cardinal points of the compass represented the four faces
the prophet Ezekiel saw in the theophany by the river Kebar:


, The twelve governors and their
four flags are like the constellations ascending, situated at the four directions.
Three at each point, four strong, the basis of every depiction, ordained by God
of all created things. The most senior (Reuben), by my sons life, is the human
face. Judah is the lions whelp. Joseph is an ox. Dan is in the form of an eagle.
Four in uprightness, their faces reflect the glory of the Ten (God), the image of
the Heavenly throne.30
Gibbors comparison of the arrangement of the twelve tribes in their
encampment to the signs of the zodiac resembles the connection that he
draws between the Ten Commandments and the ten spheres in neoplatonic
cosmology in his poem for prshat Yitr, which represents another echo of
earlier rabbinic interpretation, in this case by Abraham ibn Ezra.31

28 Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 1: 345. See Maimonides, Guide of the
Perplexed, 2:41 for the equation of angelic speech, prophecy and vision.
29 Ibid., 1:348, 352. In Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, 1: 49 angels are called Intelligences.
In his commentary on Song of Songs, Joseph ibn Aqnn, a contemporary of Maimonides,
interpreted Jacobs struggle as taking place in his imagination between the individual and
universal intellects. This notion became very common so it is not surprising that Gibbor
would have picked it up.
30 Ibid., 1:372. Gibbors source for this allegory is unknown. In this passage God is referred to
as Ten.
31 S. Schreiner, Yehuda b. Eliyahu b. Yosef Gibbor und sein Buch der Gebote, 12835.
262 Miller

7 Sd

Gibbors view was that people who were spiritually and intellectually unpre-
pared were unable to understand the Bibles hidden meanings, even if placed
before them. As a result, it caused him no problem to identify specific passages
as concealing hidden doctrines. In most cases, one can only guess at what they
were since Gibbor left no clue to their meaning. In other cases, however, the
secret meaning can be interpreted in light of what he wrote in other places; but
it is, still and all, only an educated guess.
One example of a mystery for which there are no clues is found in Exod 28,
where Gibbor declared there was a hidden meaning to the ephod which Aaron
and his descendants were to wear as part of the priestly raiment:
, The ephod is a mystery. To know
its meaning, investigate its name and other matters.32 Another blind mystery
concerns the dust which went into the bitter waters that a suspected adulteress
had to drink, as prescribed in Num 5:17:
, [Take] the dust from the floor. Any alliance with her will come
to nought. The mystery of the dust is told to those who know hidden things.33
An example of a mystery whose hidden meaning is revealed at some other
point in Gibbors writings is the mystery of the Aaronide priesthood, which is
explained in greater detail in Gibbors treatment of Purim:
, The secret of the priesthood is known to the
discerning. He apportioned the material, with Nashon being named the chief
of princes.34 In Sfer ha-mdm, Purim (MS 101b102b) he wrote:
.../...
, We found the mystery of the priesthood
implied in the verse: Aaron took to wife Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and
sister of Nashon..../...for the sons of Moses did not rise to the priesthood
because his wife was Jethros daughter. Aarons sons were not worthy of the
priestly crown not because their father was Aaron, but because their mother
was the sister of Nashon, a prince of the tribe of Judah whose heroism at the
shores of the Red Sea marked him worthy of the kingly crown, as recounted in
the Midrash (Num rabb 12:26, 13:9).
The notion of good pedigree, background, education, etc. was very impor-
tant to Gibbor, having a bearing not only on the priesthood and kingship, to
which he had no claim, but also to prophecy, for he counted himself among

32 Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 1:360.


33 Ibid., 1:373.
34 Ibid., 1:360.
The Methods of Judah Gibbor s Biblical Exegesis 263

the elect. Indeed, Gibbor wrote obsessively of good bloodlines in Sfer


ha-mdm and Iggeret md qn. A possible source for the idea that there
was a hidden meaning in the priesthood may be Namanides commentary
on Exod 6:23, where similar material is discussed. The Rabbanite Bible com-
mentaries with which Gibbor was familiar are potentially important sources
for attempting to understand what the hidden meanings were. Namanides
was a Rabbanite sage who exercised a great influence on Gibbor, and who
also spoke openly of hidden meanings. And, unlike earlier Byzantine Karaites
(such as Aaron ben Joseph), Gibbor was not averse to engaging the mystical
aspects of Namanides commentary.35
One mystery which reoccurs many times in Minat Yhd and Sfer
ha-mdm is the divinity of Gods Name, the Tetragrammaton, as well as the
numerological implications which Gibbor doubtlessly learned from Abraham
ibn Ezra. Concerning Exod 3:14, Gibbor wrote:





.../...
36.

To Moses He said, My name, Ehyeh, has been guarded. Now it is known


for all time. My Name Ehyeh is exalted. The Name yd-h-vv-h gives life
to all Creation. By considering its letters, you will acquire its secrets. Tally
the sums which are perfect and dear. These four letters are the salvation
of your intellect; they shape your understanding of all numbers. Examine
the number and the secret of the Name will be beautiful, a cow better
than a bull, better than all sapphires. Consider the shvs and do not
sigh; with this secret you will be content for all time.../...It is a proper
noun; happy is the one who knows it. Elijah will reveal what is hidden.

Gods name and the numerological implications were very important to


Gibbor. While appearing several times in Minat Yhd, they are the core of

35 P. Fenton, De quelques attitudes qarates envers la Qabbale, Revue des tudes Juives 142
(1983): 519 (esp. pp. 67, 1013). On later Karaite interest in mystical matters, cf. the con-
tribution by Riikka Tuori in this volume. On their ascription of mystical explanations to
Aaron the Elder, cf. the contribution by Elisabeth Hollender in this volume.
36 Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 1:353.
264 Miller

Gibbors understanding of Ym Tr and Yom Kippur. In this passage from


Minat Yhd, Gibbor demonstrated that he was as interested in playing
numerological games to seek out hidden meanings in the Pentateuch as were
his Rabbanite contemporaries. Yet for all his interest and learning, Gibbor,
it would appear, knew nothing concrete of Zoharic Kabbalah, the primary
school of mystical thought among the Rabbanites. His use of such kabbalisti-
cally charged terms as daat, knowledge, bn, discernment, tiferet, glory,
etc. is purely philosophical, without a hint of Zoharic nuances. Although inter-
ested in things mystical, Gibbor did not get further beyond the relatively unso-
phisticated neoplatonism of Abraham ibn Ezra, as Minat Yhd and Sfer
ha-mdm attest. Gibbor knew that the Rabbanites possessed wonderful
secrets which they were not going to reveal to him. It is to Gibbors credit that
he was not deterred, that he was able to derive what he did from the resources
available to him.37

8 Gibbors Sources

The imbalance between Karaite and Rabbanite sources in Gibbors writing


is significant. His Karaite literary background seems to have been limited to
the exegetical and poetic works of three authors: Aaron ben Josephs Sfer
ha-mir and his poetic cycle on the prsht; Aaron ben Elijahs trilogy
(Keter Tr, a Torah commentary; Gan den, a compendium on ritual and
practice; and ayym, a philosophical treatise); and Elijah Bashyatchis code
of Karaite halakhah, Adderet liyyh, as well as Mlat ha-mivt.38 Gibbors
Rabbanite sources were considerably more numerous and can be divided into
four categories: aggd, law, science and philosophy, and mysticism.

37 Fenton, De quelques attitudes qarates envers la Qabbale, 1112. Fenton was the first to
point out that although Gibbor was fascinated by mystical ideas, he essentially was an
ignoramus regarding the Zohar.
38 Gibbors compositions bear no detectable influence of any other Byzantine Karaite clas-
sics, such as Tobias ben Moses r nemd (A Wonderful Treasure), Jacob ben Reubens
Sfer ha-sher (The Book of Riches) or Judah Hadassis Eshkl ha-kfer (Cluster of Henna
Blossoms). On the parallels between Gibbors Minat Yhd to Elijah Bashyatchis Mlat
ha-mivt, see above. On Gibbors presentation of Sfer ha-mdm as a commentary on
Aaron ben Elijahs Gan den (rather than on Elijah Bashyatchis Adderet liyyh), see
Miller, At the Twilight of Byzantine Karaism, 7781.
The Methods of Judah Gibbor s Biblical Exegesis 265

Gibbors knowledge of aggadic literature seems to have been limited to


the Targum and to Midrash rabb, but none of the other classic works.39 He
was acquainted with the Bible commentaries of Rashi, Abraham ibn Ezra,
Namanides, andwhen later in his life he composed Iggeret md qn
also Baya ben Asher.40
Gibbors exposure to Rabbanite legal literature seems to have been limited
to three works, all compendia. They are Eliezer ben Joel ha-Levis Sfer ray,
Maimonides Mishn Tr or Yd zq, and Jacob ben Ashers Arb rm.
Gibbors writings constitute the first verbatim citations of these works in Karaite
literature in a way which indicated that Gibbor accepted them as legitimate
sources of authority.41 These three works also typify the intellectual background
and composition of the Rabbanite community at that time. Maimonides was
one of the heroes of the Adrianople generation of Enoch Saporta, the teacher
of Mordechai Comtino, and his Code was the basis of Romaniote legal thought.
Eliezer ben Joel ha-Levis Sfer ray reflected the presence of Ashkenazic
Jews who came to Constantinople from Central Europe seeking asylum from
persecution. Jacob ben Ashers Arb rm attested tothe presence of Spanish
Jewish refugees. As these Sefardic Jews overwhelmed the Romaniote commu-
nity in sheer numbers and in the power they appropriated for themselves, so
too did their legal literature displace the others.
As for the classic texts of rabbinic law, it appears that Gibbor had little or no
exposure to talmudic literature and its legal principles. For example, although
Gibbor was aware of a Rabbanite tradition whereby Shavuot was known as
Aeret (assembly), in Sfer ha-mdm he admits that he did not know its ori-
gins; thus, he had apparently not studied Mishn rsh ha-shn (1:2) in which
Shavuot is referred to as Aeret.42

39 An extensive quotation from Exod rabb 1:33 is in Iggeret md qn, fol. 124a and a
similarly involved quotation from Gen rabb 8:78 is on fol. 132a. These verbatim citations
indicate that Gibbor must have had access to their sources at some point, see Miller, At the
Twilight of Byzantine Karaism, 164.
40 See Millers discussion of Iggeret md qn in At the Twilight of Byzantine Karaism,
142146.
41 Maimonides Yd zq served as the model for Gibbors consideration of Sukkot,
andJacob ben Ashers Arb rm for his treatment of Ym Tr (Rosh ha-Shanah) and
Purim. By contrast, Gibbor cites Sfer ray once, to emphasize a comment about a sto-
len sukk mentioned in the Arb rm. This single occurrence demonstrates that this
Ashkenazic code was available in Constantinople early in the Ottoman period, see Miller,
At the Twilight of Byzantine Karaism, 8889.
42 See MS Klau 839 fol. 73a. Gibbor may have known this Rabbanite tradition from
Namanides Bible commentary on Lev 23:36, where Shavuot is referred to as Aeret.
266 Miller

In philosophy and science there are citations from Maimonides Mr


nkhm and Ibn Ezras Sfer ha-ed.43 Since Gibbor was also interested in
the calendar, astronomy, and astrology, one assumes that he was acquainted
with other works which he did not have the occasion to quote. These would be
works by Ibn Ezra and Mordechai Comtino, the Rabbanite teacher of his youth
and the great popularizer of Ibn Ezra in mid-fifteenth-century Adrianople and
Constantinople.
As previously indicated, Gibbors knowledge of Rabbanite mysticism, which
was brought to Byzantium by Spanish-Jewish exiles, was restricted to a primitive
neoplatonism derived from the Bible commentaries of Ibn Ezra, Namanides,
and Baya ben Asher. There is no actual trace of Zoharic Kabbalah in Sfer
ha-mdm, even though this was the dominating school of mystical thought
in the Rabbanite community at that time.

9 Conclusion

An unusual statement worth examining occurs in Gibbors commentary on


prshat Mishpm. There, Gibbor included a statement which defined the
three sources of Karaite learning: psh (literal meaning), heqsh (analogy),
and sel ha-yrushsh (tradition). But the statement ends with a verse in
praise of the Rabbanite sage Moses Maimonides:

For this and other illustrations of the limits of Gibbors knowledge of rabbinic literature,
his fascination with Rabbanite matters notwithstanding, see Miller, At the Twilight of
Byzantine Karaism, 8991.
43 See notes 28 and 29 (above) for references to Maimonides equation of angelic speech,
prophecy and vision, and his description of angels as Intelligences, respectively;
both notions are repeated by Gibbor. Furthermore, Gibbors reference to Sabeans in
fol.66b67a of Sfer ha-mdm can be traced to Maimonides Guide of the Perplexed3:37,
which states that Sabeans possessed certain secrets which could control nature, enabling
them to prevent leaves and fruit from falling from trees prematurely, see Miller, At the
Twilight of Byzantine Karaism, 18081. Gibbor cites Abraham ibn Ezras Sfer ha-ed
in his argument regarding the unparalleled holiness of the cardinal number one. See
Miller, At the Twilight of Byzantine Karaism, 1034.
The Methods of Judah Gibbor s Biblical Exegesis 267


44.

These are the laws, revealed and hidden, true to all the nation who under-
stand. They instruct the intellect and crown intelligence, and if they seem
brief, study them in books. The great lights of our nation established
them within us to illumine our eyes against those who would change us.
Our forefathers inherited the text and made analogies on it, covering the
Scriptures completely; the three are as (guiding) lights. The remaining
laws they did not mention are treated in their books, within the hand
of the master teacher. Wisdom is entrusted to him; his name is Moses
Maimon. As full as a pomegranate, his words are like sapphires.

The juxtaposition of these two very different themes is made all the more
interesting by the clever linguistic bridge which Gibbor was able to create. The
expression ra mrm (master of teachers) can be interpreted in a number
of ways and is the pivot of the wordplay. Throughout Sfer ha-mdm Gibbor
used the title ra (master) exclusively in reference to Aaron ben Elijah. At no
time was it applied to any other sage, Karaite or Rabbanite. The word mrm
(teachers) recalls Maimonides Mr nkhm, his Guide of the Perplexed, a
work which Gibbor had studied. In two words Gibbor cleverly made the tran-
sition from the principles of Karaism to Aaron ben Elijah (Gibbors Karaite
master) to Moses Maimonides (Gibbors Rabbanite master). At the same time,
he acknowledges Maimonides as the primary source for halakhah (Rabbanite
or Karaite) in his day.45
The question: What was Gibbor trying to do in Minat Yhd, mixing
Karaite and Rabbanite interpretations? is compounded by another question:
For whom was Gibbor writing? Given what is known about Gibbor, the poem
was intended for the Jewish people as a whole, with each person, Karaite or
Rabbanite, understanding it to the best of his ability. For the intellectual elite
the poem was intended to be a vehicle for reuniting the two denominations
by drawing the best from each tradition. Unfortunately, we have no record

44 Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 1:358. For a discussion of a similar


statement on the principles of Karaite interpretation in Mlat ha-mivt, see Miller, At
the Twilight of Byzantine Karaism, 162.
45 Wechsler, Judah ben Elijah Gibbor, col. 213. According to Daniel Lasker, this is one more
post-Maimonidean Karaite attempt to integrate Maimonides teachings into Karaite
thought. See D. Lasker, From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi: Studies in Late Medieval
Karaite Philosophy (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 189.
268 Miller

of how the poem was received by the Karaite community, not to mention
theRabbanite community. By the seventeenth century and into the eigh-
teenth, the work became so much a part of Karaite learning that at least four
supercommentaries are known to have been written on it by Eastern European
scholars:

1. Qibb Yhd, by Judah ben Aaron of Troki (Lithuania), who died before
1634.46
2. rr ha-mr, by Elijah ben Barukh Yerushalmi (Constantinople; later the
Crimea), who lived during the second half of the seventeenth century.47
3. Br Yiq, by Simhah Isaac ben Moses Lutski (Volhynia; later the
Crimea), who died in 1766.48
4. Br lezer, by Eliezer ben Judah (Crimea), who lived during the mid-
eighteenth century.49

In summary, Minat Yhd was begun in obvious imitation of a poem by a


sage of greater famenamely, Elijah Bashyatchibut in the end it surpassed
it in size, scope, and intellectual outlook.50 Definitely heterodoxical by what
we know were the standards of the Constantinople Karaite community at
the beginning of the sixteenth century, the poem nonetheless came to be
integrated into the Karaite liturgy as well as became the object of study and
commentary. That these things happened as they did is also a mystery, but a
mystery of history.

46 See J. Mann, Texts and Studies, 2:732, 1432. A copy exists in Moscow at the Russian State
Library, MS Evr. 225 (IMHM F 52173) and in St. Petersburg at the National Library of Russia,
MS Evr. II A 5 (IMHM F 63938).
47 Ibid., 2:1446. A copy exists in Moscow at the Russian State Library, Guenzburg MS 924
(IMHM F 48259) and in St. Petersburg at the Institute of Oriental Studies, MS B 304 (IMHM
F 53420). Cf. Elijah ben Barukh Yerushalmi, Sfer rr ha-mr, ed. J. Algamil (Ashdod:
Makhn Tiferet Josef, 2003/2004).
48 Ibid., 2:1440. There are two copies in the JTSA Library, MSS 3430 (IMHM F 32115) / 3441
(IMHM F 32126), three copies in St. Petersburg, NLR Evr. I 709 (IMHM F 51364) and
Institute of Oriental Studies C 134 (IMHM F 69383) / D 75 (IMHM F 69583), and two copies
in Ramle, Algamil 19 (IMHM F 42601) / 33 (IMHM F 44016). Cf. Simhah Isaac ben Moses
Lutski, Sfer br Yiq, ed. J. Algamil (Ashdod: Makhn Tiferet Josef, 2001/2002).
49 A copy exists in the Staats- und Universittsbibliothek Hamburg, MS Levy 109 (IMHM
F1555).
50 Cf. Miller, At the Twilight of Byzantine Karaism, 32: as for Minat Yhd, its role in the
intellectual life of the community may have been greater than Gibbor ever expected.
The Methods of Judah Gibbor s Biblical Exegesis 269

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The One Who Defeats the Power of the Stars:
Medieval Exegetics in Polish-Lithuanian Karaite
Poetry
Riikka Tuori

Abstract

Early in its development, Karaite Judaism became known for its emphasis on the art
of biblical exegesis. This article introduces late representatives of this long-standing
tradition: exegetical terms and references in paraliturgical Hebrew poetry (zmrt) by
early modern Karaites in Poland-Lithuania. These poems, which were transmitted in
many Eastern European manuscripts, were published in nineteenth-century Karaite
siddrm. Their authors represent the upper echelon of Polish-Lithuanian Karaite soci-
ety, referred to in contemporaneous sources as creative scholars, busy merchants, and
dynamic leaders of their communities. This study examines phrases and techniques
that link these poems to medieval Karaite and Rabbanite commentaries through anal-
yses of select examples from these zmrt. Its findings echo earlier research on Karaite
education in Eastern Europe: Polish-Lithuanian Karaites were conversant in the lan-
guage of medieval exegetes, embraced many of their views on science and philosophy,
and advocated the veracity of Karaite interpretations of the Hebrew Bible.

This article examines how Polish-Lithuanian Karaite poets occasionally


incorporated exegetical terms, phrases, and notions into their original poetry
(zmrt) through a discussion of pertinent examples from these works and by
providing English translations.1 It aims to establish possible literary connec-
tions between Karaite poetry and medieval (Karaite and Rabbanite) commen-
taries on the basis of their shared use of exegetical terms and, to some extent,
how these poets serve as exegetes who rewrite and interpret biblical narra-
tives through poetry. The four poems considered herewith a brief overview

1 This article is based on my dissertation: R. Tuori, Karaite Zmrt in Poland-Lithuania: A Study


of Paraliturgical Poems from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Helsinki: Unigrafia,
2013). That study presents thirty-four zmrt, each with English annotations and a formal
analysis of its poetic form and linguistic features. For an abridged survey of its findings,
see R.Tuori, Polish-Lithuanian Karaite Hebrew Zemirot: Imitation only? A Review on a
Marginal Genre, Studia Orientalia 114 (2013): 35972.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004334786_012


272 Tuori

of their form and contentswere each written by a different Karaite author.


Each appears in the fourth volume of the Karaite prayer book;2 alternative ver-
sions have been transmitted in various Eastern European manuscripts.

1 Karaite Poets in Poland-Lithuania

Karaites lived within three major regions of the Polish-Lithuanian


Commonwealth (15691795): Lithuania (especially Troki and neighbouring
towns), Galicia (Halicz and Kukizw), and Volhynia (uck and Derane).3
These northern Karaites sought interaction with their southern co-religion-
ists in Turkey and Jerusalem through correspondence, making pilgrimages,
and hosting Karaite visitors.4 Both of these groups spoke various dialects of
Karaim (a Turkic language)5 while maintaining Hebrew as their primary liter-
ary language.

2 Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 4 vols. (Ramle, 196164; reprint of Vilna,
1891), 4:96230. The fourth volume of this siddr includes 230 paraliturgical Hebrew poems
by Rabbanite and Karaite Jewish authors. The identities of many Karaite poets (or, some-
times, their relatives) are recorded in acrostics within their poems, and in headings that were
written by Pineas Malecki, editor of the siddr, to introduce each poem. Manuscripts occa-
sionally transmit additional information about these poets. For a concise yet comprehensive
list of the poems included in that fourth volume of the siddr, see Tuori, Karaite Zmrt,
393404.
3 The earliest Karaite presence in Lithuania is dated to the late 14th- or early 15th century.
Onthe history of Karaites in Eastern Europe, and especially in Poland-Lithuania, see
G.Akhiezer and D. Shapira, Karaites in Lithuania and Volhynia-Galicia until the Eighteenth
Century [in Hebrew], Pmm 89 (2001): 1960; M. Kizilov, The Karaites of Galicia: An
Ethnoreligious minority among the Ashkenazim, the Turks, and the Slavs, 17721945 (Leiden:
Brill, 2009); D. Shapira and D. Lasker (eds.), Eastern European Karaites in the Last Generations
(Jerusalem: Ben Zvi Institute-Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2011).
4 On connections between these communities, see J. Mann, Texts and Studies in Jewish History
and Literature, 2 vols. (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press-Philadelphia: The Jewish
Publication Society of America, 193135), 2: 698ff, 1139ff.
5 These dialects have preserved certain archaic elements that have vanished from other Turkic
languages. Karaim also reflects a high level of influence from both Hebrew and Slavic lan-
guages, especially with respect to syntax. Precisely when and why Eastern European Karaites
adopted this language remains a mystery. On the Karaites linguistic environment in Eastern
Europe and on Karaim, their Turkic vernacular, see H. Jankowski, On the Position of Karaim
among the Turkic Languages, Studia Orientalia 95 (2003): 13150, and D. Shapira, The Turkic
Languages and Literatures of the East European Karaites, in Karaite Judaism: A Guide to Its
History and Literary Studies, ed. M. Polliack, 675707 (Leiden: Brill, 2003).
The One Who Defeats the Power of the Stars 273

Although Ashkenazic Rabbanites comprised the overwhelming majority


of the Jewish population in Poland-Lithuania,6 Schreiner notes that it was
precisely the Karaites, and not the Rabbanites, who represented the intellec-
tual elite in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.7 While Ashkenazim were
dedicated to study of the Babylonian Talmud that was characterized by elabo-
rate legal debates (pilpl), Karaites embraced secular topics (philosophy and
mathematics among them) and prioritized rigorous study of Hebrew grammar
and rhetoric.8 These Karaite scholars composed diverse texts in concise, post-
classical Hebrew, such as biblical commentaries and supercommentaries, and
treatises on morality, philosophy, and astronomy.9
Polish-Lithuanian Karaites are known for their prolific poets who mas-
tered numerous Hebrew genres, including zmrt.10 Zemer (pl. zmrt) is an
umbrella term for religious Hebrew poems that are recited in paraliturgical
contexts during the Sabbath and hadl, the three major festivals (Pesa,
Shavuot, and Sukkot), and for various home-based observances.11 Polish-
Lithuanian Karaite zmrt are typically strophic, rhymed, and metered hymns

6 In contrast to an Ashkenazic population of hundreds of thousands, Karaite numbers


inPoland-Lithuania never rose above several thousand (Akhiezer and Shapira, Karaitesin
Lithuania, 21). Taxation and secular legislation united Karaites and Rabbanites under the
joint authority of the Council of the Four Lands and the Council of Lithuania; see, e.g.,
the documents collected in Mann, Texts and Studies. For the history of Ashkenazic Jews
in Poland-Lithuania, see, e.g., M. Rosman, The Lords Jews. Magnate-Jewish Relations in
the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press, 1990); G. Hundert, Jews in Poland-Lithuania in the Eighteenth
Century: A Genealogy of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).
7 S. Schreiner, Isaac Trokis Studies of Rabbinic Literature, in Polin: Studies in Polish
Jewry, ed. A. Polonsky, 15:65 (Oxford-Portland, Oregon: The Littman Library of Jewish
Civilization, 2002).
8 Academic learning was also considered important from a religious point of view; in his
elaboration on the Karaite credo (the ten principles of faith), the Byzantine Karaite Elijah
Bashyatchi (ca. 14201490) underscores that knowledge of sacred sources requires sci-
entific knowledge; see D. Lasker, Medieval Karaism and Science, in Science in Medieval
Jewish Cultures, ed. G. Freudenthal, 435 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
9 For a brief discussion on the properties of Eastern European Karaite Hebrew and its
post-classical elements, see D. Lasker, Karaite Languages and Karaite History, Studia
Hebraica8 (2008): 3637; on the Hebrew of Polish-Lithuanian Karaite zmrt, see Tuori,
Polish-Lithuanian Karaite Hebrew Zmrt, 36466.
10 Eastern European Karaite prayer books and manuscripts contain hundreds of poetic
compositions intended for liturgy, laments, or inclusion on certain festivals (e.g., qdt
for the Day of Trumpeting); see Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm,
3:31830.
11 On the unbroken tradition of singing zmrt in Judaism and on aspects of their perfor-
mance, especially on Sabbaths, see, e.g., N. Ben-Menaem, Zmrt shel shabbat (Jerusalem,
274 Tuori

that are adorned with refrains and follow the Sefardic (Andalusian) tradition
of poetry and poetics.12 Karaite poets would strive to demonstrate their erudi-
tion as a means of engaging with fellow scholars. These intricate compositions,
which are replete with philosophical and exegetical references, were written
by and for a male audience whose religious education equipped them with a
strong foundation in Hebrew grammar and literature.13 As musical composi-
tions, however, Sabbath and festival zmrt probably had a place in popular
culture as well: schoolchildren would sing these rhymed poems with readily
memorized refrains,14 perhaps as their mothers did in their homes.
The four authors whose works are discussed in this article represent the
quintessence of Karaite life in Poland-Lithuania. These scholars earned their
livelihoods as merchants, administrators, or physicians.15 Zera ben Nathan
(ca.15781640; Troki) is best known for his correspondence with Joseph
Solomon Delmedigo (15911655; Candia), an itinerant Rabbanite scholar.16
Their letters reveal Zera as an enthusiast of science, philosophy, and mys-
ticism whose works included a commentary on Maimonides Guide of the

1949); on Ashkenazic melodies for Sabbath songs, see A. Bernstein, Musikalisher Pinkas:
A Collection of Zmrt and Folk Melodies (Vilna: The Cantors Assembly of America, 1927).
12 On the form of Karaite Hebrew poetry, see Tuori, Polish-Lithuanian Karaite Hebrew
Zmrt, 36264; for further contemporary research on this subject, see L. Weinberger,
Jewish Hymnography: A Literary History (London-Portland: The Littman Library of
Jewish Civilization, 1998), 40831; R. Tuori, More Didactic than Lyrical: Modern views
on Karaite Hebrew poetry, Studia Orientalia 111 (2011): 37279. For recent studies on
medieval Karaite Hebrew poetry, see J. Yeshaya, Medieval Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Egypt
(Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2011); idem, Poetry and Memory in Karaite Prayer (Leiden-Boston:
Brill, 2014).
13 On the emphasis on rigorous Hebrew study within Karaite education in Eastern Europe,
see, e.g., T. Kowalski, Karaimische Texte im Dialekt von Troki (Krakow: Nakladem polskiej
akademji umiejetnosci, 1929), xiiixiv.
14 Unfortunately, none of the melodies for these Hebrew hymnsin contrast to many
songs in the vernacular Karaimhave been preserved; see K. Firkaviit, The Musical
Heritage of Lithuanias Karaims, in Karaite Judaism: A Guide to its History and Literary
Studies, ed. M. Polliack, 85571 (Leiden: Brill, 2003).
15 Details on the lives and literary works of these four poets appear in Tuori, Karaite Zmrt,
6083.
16 On Delmedigo, see I. Barzilay, Yoseph Shlomo Delmedigo (Yashar of Candia). His Life,
Works and Times (Leiden: Brill, 1974). Delmedigos role as a cultural force among early
modern Karaites merits comprehensive study in the future. Dozens of poems spell the
name Zera ben Nathan in their acrostics; I. Davidson, Thesaurus of Mediaeval Hebrew
Poetry (New York: Ktav Publishing House, repr. 1970), vol. 4, 380; Tuori, Karaite Zmrt,
41718.
The One Who Defeats the Power of the Stars 275

Perplexed.17 Ezra ben Nissan (15951666; Troki), one of Zeras younger con-
temporaries, also corresponded with Delmedigo. Although he was employed
as a judge in Troki, Ezra primarily supported himself as a physician.18 He also
regularly participated in exegetical classes based on Elijah Mizrais supercom-
mentary on Rashi and Abraham ibn Ezras commentaries.19 The third poet,
Joseph ben Samuel (d. 1700; Derane, Volhynia), served as the azzn20 of the
Halicz Karaite community during the late seventeenth century; in that posi-
tion, he devised new rules for a stagnant Karaite community, which resulted
in his being honored with the title ha-Mashbr (the provider; see Gen 42:6).21
He wrote several Hebrew prose works22 as well as poems in both Hebrew and
Karaim.23 The fourth poet, Joseph ben Isaac (seventeentheighteenth century,
Troki), supported himself as a merchant and leaseholder. Correspondence
from the Firkovich collections reveals the financial and personal catastrophes
that his family endured during the Great Northern War (170021).24

17 Institute of Oriental Studies and the National Library of Russia, St. Petersburg, Ms. B383,
microfilm F 53563 in the National Library of Israel, Jerusalem, copied in 1868.
18 According to some sources, he was even employed by the royal court in Poland; see
A.Firkovich, An zikkrn (Vilna, 1872), 250. The veracity of these late accounts is dubi-
ous; many tales of miracle-working Jewish physicians circulated in Poland-Lithuania
at that time; see M. Kizilov, Ezra ben Nisan ha-Rofe of Troki (15951666): A Karaite
Physician in Legend and History, in Leipziger Beitrge zur jdischen Geschichte und
Kultur, ed. D.Diner, 102, n. 63 (Leipzig: K. G. Saur, 2003).
19 Mann, Texts and Studies, 61213. Elijah Mizrai (ca. 14501526) was a Turkish Rabbanite
scholar who commented on Rashis Torah commentary in Sfer ha-mizr. Delmedigos
letter to Zera ben Nathan attests that Elijah was a student of Mordechai Comtino
(14021482), a Rabbanite scholar whose works were favored by Turkish Karaites; A. Geiger,
Ml ofnayim (Berlin: L. Fernbach, 1840), 12.
20 Polish-Lithuanian Karaites used the title azzn for their religious leaders; on administra-
tive titles in Polish-Lithuanian Karaite society, see Mann, Texts and Studies, 62022.
21 M. Balaban, The History of Karaites in Poland [in Hebrew], ha-Tqf 16 (1923): 306;
R.Fahn, Kit Rn Fahn. eleq rshn. Sfer ha-qrm (Bilgoray, 1929), 39.
22 Including, for example, a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the ten principles of
Karaite faith; Tuori, Karaite Zmrt, 78.
23 The earliest known Polish-Lithuanian Karaites to have written original poetry in the ver-
nacular or translated Hebrew poems into Karaim lived during the 16th century; Kizilov,
Karaites in Galicia, 161.
24 Mann, Texts and Studies, 124357. One of those letters (No. 141, pp. 125657) is Josephs
haskm (approbation) for Mamar Mordkhai by Mordechai ben Nissan, a commentary
on Sfer ha-mir by Aaron ben Joseph.
276 Tuori

2 Polish-Lithuanian Karaites and the Art of Exegesis

Study of the major Byzantine Karaite commentaries was integral to Polish-


Lithuanian Karaite education.25 In his treatise on Karaite faith, Appiryn
s l (A Palanquin that He Fashioned for Himself), the Lithuanian Karaite
Solomon ben Aaron (16701745) recommends a curriculum of daily and weekly
assignments.26 Learning should begin with the Hebrew Bible, in the original
and in its Karaim translation,27 and proceed with commentaries, halakhah,
religious philosophy, and works of science and logic. On Sabbath evenings a
devout Karaite should study the weekly Torah portion supplemented by the
two major Byzantine Karaite commentaries, Sfer ha-mir (The Choice
Book)28 byAaron ben Joseph (ca. 12501320), and Keter Tr (The Crown of
the Torah)29 by Aaron ben Elijah (ca. 132869).30 Given that these Byzantine

25 On the illustrious history of medieval Karaite exegesisalbeit starting centuries before
the Byzantine erawith a concise survey of Karaite exegetes such as Daniel al-Qmis
(9th c., Persia/Palestine), Salmon ben Jeroam (10th c., Iraq/Palestine), Jacob al-Qirqisn
(10th c., Iraq), and Joseph ben Noah (11th c., Palestine), see D. Frank, Karaite Exegesis, in
Hebrew Bible, Old Testament: The History of its Interpretation, Vol. I From the Beginnings
to the Middle Ages (until 1300), Part 2The Middle Ages, ed. M. Sb et al., 11028
(Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000); M. Goldstein, Karaite Exegesis in Medieval
Jerusalem (Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011). Recently, new scholarly editions of these (orig-
inally Arabic) works of exegesis and grammar have been published; see, e.g., J. Robinson,
Asceticism, Eschatology, Opposition to Philosophy: The Arabic Translation and Commentary
of Salmon ben Yeruham on Qohelet (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2012).
26 A German translation of this passage appears in A. Neubauer, Aus der Petersburger
Bibliothek: Beitrge und Documente zur Geschichte des Karerthums und der karischen
Literatur (Leipzig: Oskar Leiner, 1866), 7880. Passages from Appiryn have been pub-
lished by Mann, Texts and Studies, 144451. Recently an edition of this entire work was
published by J. Algamil; Appiryn s l (Ashdod: Makhn Tiferet Josef, 2007).
27 The study of religious texts in the vernacular became increasingly widespread by the
early modern period; for a 19th-century Karaim translation of the Hebrew Bible by
Karaites from Halicz, see Z. Olach, A Halich Karaim Translation of Hebrew Biblical texts
(Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2013).
28 Aaron ben Joseph, Sfer ha-mir (1293; published in Gozlow / Eupatoria: Finkelman,
1835). A digitized version of this edition is available online via the National Library of
Israel (http://aleph.nli.org.il/nnl/dig/books/bk001124884.html). Last verified on January
30, 2016.
29 Aaron ben Elijah, Keter Torah (Gozlow-Eupatoria: Finkelman, 1886/87).
30 Many of Solomons recommendations to advanced students are based on Elijah
Bashyatchis curriculum in Adderet liyyh (Constantinople: Gershom ben Moshe i
Sonin, 1532); see M. Machciska, Karaite Education in Crimea at the End of the 19th
Century: An Unknown Resolution, Karaite Archives 2 (2014): 6062. An earlier list of
sources for a Karaite curriculum appears in a letter by the Rabbanite scholar Joseph
The One Who Defeats the Power of the Stars 277

Karaite scholars extensively studied the major rabbinic commentaries31 by


Abraham ibn Ezra32 (10891164; Spain), Rashi (10401105; France), and Moses
Namanides (11941270; Spain), their own language and style is noticeably
influenced by rabbinic exegetics.33
Similar evidence of conversance with core Rabbanite exegetes is also appar-
ent in original texts by Polish-Lithuanian Karaites. In his polemic against
Christianity, izzq mn (The Strengthening of Faith),34 the Lithuanian
Karaite Isaac ben Abraham (ca. 153394; Troki) draws exclusively from central
Rabbanite commentaries,35 such as the writings of Rashi, Abraham ibn Ezra,
and David Qimi36 (11601235; France), whose works became familiar via a
widespread edition of Biblia Hebraica.37 Isaac ben Abraham also incorporated
references from later Rabbanite commentators on the Bible, namely Isaac ben

Solomon Delmedigo to his Lithuanian Karaite student Zera ben Nathan; see Geiger,
Ml ofnayim, 1416. For more on early modern Karaite education, see O. Elior,
Scientific instruction in the Karaite education of Ru n [in Hebrew], AJS Review 37/1
(2013): 128.
31 Frank, Karaite Exegesis, 110111.
32 Although Abraham ibn Ezra was known for his anti-Karaite pronouncements, this did
not deter his Byzantine Karaite readers, probably because he also cited Karaite sources
in a clear and concise style; Frank, Karaite Exegesis, 127. On the popularity of these
major rabbinic commentators in pre-modern Jewish societies, see, e.g., C. Sirat, Hebrew
Manuscripts of the Middle Ages, transl. N. de Lange (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2008), 5561.
33 D. Lasker, From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi: Studies in Late Medieval Karaite
Philosophy (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 62; Frank, Karaite Exegesis, 127. These influences were
mutual; Frank (Karaite Exegesis, 11011) notes that, especially in the early phases of the
Karaite movement, Karaite and Rabbanite modes of exegesis have influenced each other
significantly.
34 izzq mn has been published countless times in Hebrew and, for Christian read-
ers, it has been translated into Latin, German, Spanish, and Dutch, ultimately becom-
ing the best known and most widespread Karaite text ever written; G. Akhiezer, The
Karaite Isaac ben Abraham of Troki and his Polemic against Rabbanites, in Tradition,
Heterodoxy and Religious Culture: Judaism and Christianity in the Early Modern Period, ed.
C. Goodblatt and H. Kreisel, 43738, n. 1 (Beer-Sheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Press, 2006).
35 Schreiner, Isaac Trokis Studies, 6869; Akhiezer, The Karaite Isaac ben Abraham,
46668; On Polish-Lithuanian Karaite scholars studying rabbinic exegesis, see also Mann,
Texts and Studies, 61213.
36 The stature of Qimis works was broadly recognized among Turkish and Eastern
European Karaites: an early 15th-century Byzantine Karaite curriculum included study
of the Torah and Prophets via Qimis exegesis, as well as his Hebrew grammar Mikhll;
Elior, Scientific instruction, 6.
37 Biblia Rabbinica (1525 Venice), edited by Jacob ben aim ibn Adonijah (ca. 14701538).
278 Tuori

Moses Arama (ca. 142094; Spain) and Isaac Abrabanel (14371508; Portugal,
Spain, and Italy), whose scholarship was a mainstay of the Karaite curriculum
for centuries.38
An early nineteenth-century receipt that enumerates the prices of thirty-
seven books sold to students of a Crimean Karaite bt midrash gives an indi-
cation of the exegetical works available to Eastern European Karaites.39 This
list includes two Byzantine Karaite commentaries, Prsh al ha-nm
(Commentary on the Prophets) by Jacob ben Reuben (twelfth century), and,
predictably, the classic Sfer ha-mir, along with three rabbinic commen-
taries: a three-volume supercommentary on Ibn Ezra;40 Sfer Abraanl by
Abrabanel; and Sfer mikhll yf.41
Polish-Lithuanian Karaites did not only study exegetical works written by
others but they are also known for their original biblical commentaries. Zera
ben Nathan (author of one of the poems analyzed below) wrote a commentary
on the Song of Songs that evokes mystical and kabbalistic interpretations of the
Bible.42 Many Polish-Lithuanian scholars also wrote supplements for earlier

38 Sirat (Hebrew Manuscripts, 60) refers to Abrabanel as the last medieval philosopher
and a great exegete. On Abrabanel, see, e.g., E. Lawee, Isaac Abarbanels Stance Towards
Tradition: Defense, Dissent, and Dialogue (New York: State University of New York, 2001);
on Arama, see, e.g., B. Septimus, Yitzhak Arama and Aristotles Ethics, in Jews and
Conversos at the Time of Expulsion, ed. Y. Assis and Y. Kaplan, 124 (Jerusalem: Merkaz
Zalman Shazar, 1999). Arama was held in high regard by Polish-Lithuanian Karaites: a
mid-19th-century manuscript of Lithuanian Karaite zmrt for festive occasions includes
an excerpt from his homiletical commentary on the Pentateuch, qdat Yiq (The
Binding of Isaac), see MS A065 (fols. 167a). Later, in his early 20th-century collection of
stories on Galician Karaites, the ethnographer Reuven Fahn remarks that local Karaites
studied qdat Yiq; Kit Rn Fahn, 154.
39 Firkovich archives, National Library of Russia, St. Petersburg, MS F 946, No. 12. I thank
Professor Tapani Harviainen for bringing this manuscript to my attention. On the connec-
tions between Polish-Lithuanian and Crimean Karaite communities in the early modern
period, see Akhiezer and Shapira, Karaites in Lithuania, 4446.
40 Probably the tripartite supercommentary published in Amsterdam (1722) by Yequtiel Lazi
ben Nahum Ashkenazi (Sfer margliyyt ).
41 There are (at least) two works entitled Mikhll yf (The Comprehensive Beauty): a
commentary on Ecclesiastes (Amsterdam, 1695) by the Rabbanite Elijah ben Moses
Loanz (15651636), and a commentary on the Torah, Joshua, and part of Judges, writ-
ten by Solomon ibn Melekh and published by the brothers Jacob and Isaac Abendana
(Amsterdam, 16601661).
42 P. Fenton, De quelques attitudes qarates envers la Qabbale, Revue des tudes juives 142,
no. 12 (1983): 14, n. 35. Although early Karaites dismissed mysticism as irrational, their
view changed significantly in the late medieval period; on Byzantine and Eastern European
Karaite attitudes toward Jewish mysticism and their study of kabbalistic exegetes (such as
The One Who Defeats the Power of the Stars 279

commentaries, most commonly on Sfer ha-mir. For instance, Mordechai


ben Nissan (d. ca. 1709; Kukizw) composed two works, Mamar Mordkhay
and Derekh ym, on Sfer ha-mirs comments on the Noah narratives in
Genesis.43 Unfortunately we have only received the titles of many of these
supercommentaries, for the texts themselves have vanished.44 The Byzantine
commentary retained its authoritative status through the nineteenth century,
as exemplified by the 1835 (Gozlow-Eupatoria) appearance of Sfer ha-mir
in a single volume with rat kesef (A Palace of Silver) by the Crimean Karaite
Joseph Solomon ben Moses Lutski (17701845).

3 Medieval Exegetics and Karaite Zmrt

Poem 1: ( This is the first day of repentance) by Zera


ben Nathan45
This poem is dedicated to the Day of Trumpeting,46 the first day of the
month of Tishri, which initiates a ten-day period of repentance that culmi-
nates with the Day of Atonement. According to Karaite tradition, the gates of

Namanides), see Fenton, ibid.; D. Lasker, Sima Yiaq Lucki: The Eighteenth-Century
Karaite Kabbalist [in Hebrew], in Shefa al: Studies in Jewish Thought and Culture (Bracha
Zack Festschrift) [in Hebrew], ed. Z. Gries, 17190 (Beer-Sheva: Ben-Gurion University of
the Negev Press, 2004).
43 A. Gottlober, Bikkoreth letoldoth hakkaraim, oder kritische Untersuchungen ueber die
Geschichte der Karer (Jerusalem: Qedem, 1865, repr. 1972), 2001; Mann, Texts and
Studies, 739, 143536.
44 For example, in the heading of his poem in the Karaite siddr (Vilna, 1892), 101, the mid-
17th century Lithuanian Karaite Joseph ben Nissan Poziemski is identified as the author
of comments (nimmqm) on Sfer ha-mir.
45 Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 4:12122; see also MS A065,
fols.160a161b. This manuscript (Zmrt for the Sabbaths of the year according to the
custom of the Karaites)copied in 1861 (viewed on microfilm F 52313 at the National
Library of Israel, Jerusalem)is held in the collection of the Institute of Oriental Studies
of the Russian Academy in St. Petersburg.
46 To emphasize the scriptural origins of festivals, Karaites favored the biblical name of each
holy day; for example, Ym Tr, the Day of Trumpeting (Num 29:1) rather than Rsh
ha-Shn; see P. Miller, Karaite Perspectives on Ym Tr, in Ki Baruch Hu: Ancient
Near Eastern, Biblical, and Judaic Studies in Honor of Baruch A. Levine, ed. R. Chazan et al.,
538 (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1999). On Karaite festivals and their distinctive features,
see Y. Yaron and A. Qana, An Introduction to Karaite Judaism: History, Theology, Practice,
and Custom (New York: al-Qirqisani Center for the Promotion of Karaite Studies, 2003),
174216.
280 Tuori

mercy are open to the penitent during these ten days.47 This poem is written in
the classical Andalusian Hebrew meter known as mishqal ha-tnt.48 In ten
stanzas, each comprised of six short, rhymed lines, this poem considers the
nature of divinity and the origin of souls in higher spheres,49 and it urgently
calls for repentance and renunciation of evil deeds. In the second and third
stanzas the poet engages familiar vocabulary from exegetical phraseology:

The first new moon is the seventh,50


an allusion [to] the soul that emanates into me,
flowing into my intellect,
bringing me closer to the secret of the Torah,
the Garden of Eden, the World to Come.
This is the first day of repentance.

47 L. Weinberger, Rabbanite and Karaite Liturgical Poetry in South-Eastern Europe.


(Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1991), 43031: n. 90, 440. On changes in the
notion of the Day of Trumpeting (from a day of joy to a day of repentance) in medieval
Karaite tradition, see Miller, Karaite Perspectives, 53741.
48 In this meter, each line has eight syllables and short vowels are either avoided or made
quiescent. For more on this meter, which was popular among Karaites in Eastern Europe,
see, e.g., the Hebrew poem translated in R. Tuori, Defining Karaite Faith in Early Modern
Europe: A Poem on the Five Principles of Faith, Frankfurter Judaistische Beitrge 39
(2014): 83101.
49 Such neoplatonic themes are ubiquitous in earlier Karaite poetry and in Polish-Lithuanian
Karaite poetry; see Weinberger, Rabbanite and Karaite, 39; Yeshaya, Medieval Hebrew
Poetry, 111; Tuori, Karaite Zmrt, 22834.
50 The seventh month of the year, which is Tishri (Num 29:1).
The One Who Defeats the Power of the Stars 281

His mercy is lofty and marvelous,


partially obscured, partially revealed,
for servants of the First Cause,
who, with unblemished heart[s] as with word[s],
are in pursuit of His secret with abundant love.
This is the first day of repentance.

The italicized terms in this English translation correspond to three of the four
techniques (, spelled by the consonants in the acronym pards) employed
by medieval Jewish exegetes: remez (allusion or allegory), drsh (homiletical
interpretation), and sd (esoteric reading).51 The Day of Trumpeting signals
Gods influencevia his divine emanation52on the people of Israel and on
the soul of each individual Karaite. This idea is introduced with remez, a tech-
nical term used dozens of times by Aaron ben Joseph, as well as by Rashi and
Ibn Ezra in their commentaries. Perceived from the upper, spiritual tier of exis-
tence, observance of this day ushers the soul toward the secret of the Torah
and, ultimately, to the Garden of Eden. The hidden meanings of this day are
elaborated in the ninth stanza:

Brace our hearts on this day


for it has a secret and also an enigma:
may it be to Him like breast and thigh (Exod 29:27; Num 6:20)
a time for offering a sacrifice of the high priest53
a time for a song of praise and adoring gratitude.
This is the first day of repentance.

51 Remez and sd appear in the second stanza; and the root d-r-sh is aligned with the noun
secret (sd) as its object in the third stanza.
52 
, the divine force that causes form to flow into matter and souls into bodies; cf.
J. Klatzkin, Thesaurus Philosophicus linguae hebraicae et veteris et recentioris (Berlin:
Eschkol-Verlag, 1928), 431.
53 Lit. sprinkler, i.e. the high-priest who sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the altar.
282 Tuori

While explaining the significance of this day in the Karaite framework, Zera
ben Nathan includes the phrase ( it contains a secret) in the second
line. Ibn Ezra and Abrabanel use a similar phrase when emphasizing an eso-
teric aspect of a biblical verse.54 The next lines reveal that the secret is the
common Jewish notion that song and prayer became substitutes for animal
sacrifice after the destruction of the Temple. This concept, which is consid-
ered within rabbinic Judaism in the Babylonian Talmud (most notably in b.
Brkht 26b), is also discussed by medieval Karaite scholarsfor example, by
Aaron ben Elijah in his halakhic work Gan den55 and by Elijah Bashyatchi in
Adderet liyyh.56
Karaite Judaism is often described as being characterized by a prefer-
ence for literalist biblical interpretation (psh). Although this was the
favored position among early Karaite commentators, other approaches
to textual interpretation were not entirely dismissed.57 Accordingly, the
Polish-Lithuanian Karaite understandings of this biblical observance extend
beyond the information provided by a psh reading. Indeed, the conspicu-
ous absence of this component of the four-part pards paradigm from this
poem is paradoxical, especially if we take into account the purported literal-
ism of Karaite Judaism.

Poem 2: ( I will praise with pure language) by Ezra


ben Nissan58
This zemer for Shavuot has the same meter as the famous Rabbanite
Sabbath zemer, , For I will keep the Sabbath.59 In its eleven
four-line stanzas, recounts the biblical narrative of
the Israelites receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, which Jewish tradition links
to Shavuot. This poem opens with the arrival of Gods presence on the moun-
tain. Only Moses is able to gaze at His blinding brilliance. When the tablets
are presented amid blasts of the shofar, the people become too terrified to

54 See, e.g., Ibn Ezras commentary on Gen 1:16, and Abrabanel on Gen 2:57.
55 Based on Hos 14:3; E. Ben-Yehuda, A Complete Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew
by Eliezer Ben Yehuda of Jerusalem. Vols. IVIII (New York-London: Thomas Yoseloff, 1960),
7792.
56 Bashyatchi, Adderet liyyh, 65a.
57 See, e.g., F. Astren, Karaite Judaism and Historical Understanding (Columbia: University of
South Carolina Press, 2004), 17.
58 Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 4: 13738; see also MS A065, fols.
155a-156a.
59 This poem is often ascribed to Abraham ibn Ezra; Davidson, Thesaurus, vol. 2, p. 471.
Incidentally, this meter is also most commonly used by Polish-Lithuanian Karaites in
their zmrt; see Tuori, Karaite Zmrt, 13642.
The One Who Defeats the Power of the Stars 283

encounter God and ask Moses to serve as their intermediary (Exod 20:15). After
recounting this biblical narrative, the poem provides instructions on how to
celebrate this festivalnamely, the Karaite formula for determining the cal-
endar that is to be passed from one generation to the next.60 In the seventh
stanza the poet details the central meaning of Shavuot:

The pleasantness of the word from His mouth will awaken the intellect:
the one who understands His secrets will sing a song,
he will dispense with doubt and his heart will spring forth,
to criticize those who err and speak falsely (Deut 13:6).

The festival calendar represents the most conspicuous difference between


Karaite and Rabbanite Jewish observance. Karaites intercalate years and
months according to their interpretation of biblical principles: for example,
they understand the instruction for counting the grain offering (omer) com-
mencing on the morrow after Sabbath (Lev 23:15) to indicate the day fol-
lowing the first Sabbath during Pesa; therefore, they begin on the Sunday
afterthe first day of Pesa. Rabbinic interpretation of this biblical teaching
reads the morrow after Sabbath as the day that follows the first day of Pesa,
irrespective of the specific day of the week. Thus, the one who understands
His secrets is a Karaite adherent who grasps the correct method for deter-
miningand therefore celebratingShavuot as explained in the Torah. A
similar phrase ( ) appears in Sfer ha-mir, with regard to the mys-
tery regarding the binding of Isaac (Gen 22),61 and in Abraham ibn Ezras
commentaries.62

60 As described in the sixth stanza: This is the Sabbath of the creation, which the one who
dwells on high (Isa 33:5) / has decreed [for] every generation to safeguard. This passage is
also quoted in Tuori, Polish-Lithuanian Karaite Hebrew Zmrt, 369.
61  ,
The one who understands the secret of the binding of Isaac will understand
this because, in those days, they would burn their children with fire [but] the ram was
(sacrificed) instead of Isaac; Sfer ha-mir, 20 (prshat Tazra, 38, on Lev 12:2).
62 Abraham ibn Ezra on Gen 17:1: , The one who understands the
secret of the Name will believe; and on Exod 29:25: , The one who
understands the secret of the human soul.
284 Tuori

In the fourth line of this stanza, a contrast is drawn with the ones who
err (
).63 This Karaite critique is directed toward the Rabbanites, whose
calculation and celebration of Shavuotand, by extension, their interpreta-
tion of the Bibleis flawed. By utilizing these concise, exegetically-inspired
dicta to defend correct practice of this festival, the poet asserts that Karaites
truly understand the Bibles textual underpinnings and know how to discern
its secrets.

Poem 3: ( I shall declare praises to God) by Joseph ben Isaac64


This zemer for Pesa conveys the Exodus narrative in poetic form. It
recounts the miracles that God performed through Moses in fourteen stan-
zas, also inthe meter of . This poem begins with a declaration
of Gods unity and greatness as manifested by his creations, followed by the
main subjects of the biblical Exodus story, from Moses encounter at the burn-
ing bush (Exod 3:122), Pharaohs stubborn posture toward God (Exod 11:10),
the ten plagues as a mechanism for saving the Israelites (Exod 711), to the
splitting of the Red Sea (Exod 14:21). This account ends with an instruction to
eat unleavened bread during this seven-day festival and assurance that those
who observe Pesa will receive rewards and have their sins forgiven. The poet
underscores the shared Jewish notion65 that all members of the people of
Israel should consider themselves as having been among those who were lib-
erated from Egypt.
This poem mentions not only Moses, but also Abraham the patriarch who,
as per numerous midrashm,66 is the hidden light, [the one] who guides his
invitees (the Karaites) (
/ ) . The divine assurances promised
to Abraham in Genesis (Gen 15:1821 and 22:17) are poetically enumerated.67

63 In his commentary on Gen 37:35, Abraham ibn Ezra uses this same epithetthose who
err (
)against Christians; analogously, the Byzantine Karaite Caleb Afendopolo
(ca. 14641530, Constantinople) refers to Jesus as the man who errs ( ) , see
Weinberger, Rabbanite and Karaite, 617, line 17.
64 Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 4: 13133; see also MS A065, fols.
150b153a.
65 Cf. b. Pesam 116b: ; this
passage also appears in the rabbinic Haggd shel Pesa. Its message is explicitly stated
in a preface to Joseph ben Isaacs poem (MS A065, fol. 151a).
66 Gen Rabb 12; cf. also b. gg 21a.
67 The covenant with Abraham and his nephew Lot eating unleavened bread (Gen 19:3) link
Abraham to Pesa.
The One Who Defeats the Power of the Stars 285

Nevertheless, Moses and the divine miracles enacted through him ultimately
receive attention from this poet:



68

Praised be [the One] who revealed His name through his secret [name]:
I am that I am (Exod 3:14), He announced to His servant,
a change in the physical elements to be made in His glory,
seeing the signs of God, he will know his Dread.

In medieval Hebrew scientific literature, the noun tledet can mean nature
or element;69 thus, change in physical elements connotes a miracle. Such
phenomena are much debated in medieval Jewish philosophy.70 This particu-
lar phrase may stem from Abraham ibn Ezras commentary on Exod 6:3, where
he extols Moses and his attributes:

The virtue of the patriarchs never reached the level of Moses, who cleaved
to God [so that God then] knew Moses face to face. Moses was therefore
able to change the physical elements of the lower world and render signs
and miracles that the patriarchs could not produce.71

In this rendering of the biblical narrative for Pesa, the poem imports termi-
nology from medieval exegesis. Following their lead, this poem underpins the
unparalleled role of Moses among biblical figures.

68 M S A065 (fol. 151b) offers a variant: /


( he performed a change in
the physical elements of His glory).
69 Klatzkin, Thesaurus Philosophicus, 768; R. Jospe, Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages
(Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2009), 229.
70 For example, Maimonides contemplated the possibility of miracles in a cosmos that is
governed by explicable laws of nature; Y. Langermann, Maimonides and Miracles: The
Growth of a (Dis)belief, Jewish History 18/2 (2004): 14772.
71 Abraham ibn Ezra on prshat Va-r (Exod 6:3):

; cf. Jospe, Jewish Philosophy, 229.
286 Tuori

Poem 4: ( Truly You are hidden) by Joseph ben Samuel72


This zemer has sixteen stanzas, each with two lines of thirteen long sylla-
bles. This poem begins with a modified citation from Isa 45:15, and most of its
verses draw heavily from the Bible. In the ninth verse, however, the poet breaks
from this biblical pastiche by presenting a subject that is much discussed by
medieval exegetes and philosophers:

/

/

The One who defeats the power of the stars,73 the movements of the
fortunes:
You will answer the song (Isa 25:5) of my expectation; I shall not behold
terror (Eccl 12:5).

In his halakhic opus Adderet liyyh,74 the Byzantine Karaite Elijah Bash
yatchi (ca. 142090) discusses the influence of the cosmos on humans: whereas
astrological forces may be countered by free will, poor choices will render Jews
susceptible to their adverse effects. Moreover, the belief in Gods capacity to
rob the celestial bodies of their power is articulated by many of the major exe-
getes studied by Polish-Lithuanian Karaites. In his brief etymological reflection
on the biblical name ( God Almighty), Aaron ben Joseph notes: And
He said unto him: I am God Almighty (Gen 17:1), because I am able to utterly
defeat everything.75 This etymology is also proposed by Ibn Ezra in his com-

72  Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 4:19697. In the prayer book, the
topic of this poem remains unspecified but, in MS A065 (fol. 102ab), it appears with
poems recited on the Sabbath.
73  appears in biblical Hebrew as expectation and as object of hope or confidence.
Here it refers to the movement of the stars; Ben-Yehuda, A Complete Dictionary, 277172;
rendered in English as aspect (Klatzky, Thesaurus Philosophicus, 310); for this usage, see
also Abraham ibn Ezras commentary on Ps 104:19.
74 Lasker, Medieval Karaism, 113, n. 82, 115. According to Weinberger (Rabbanite and Karaite,
47), Byzantine Karaite literary references to planetary effects on the sub-lunar world can
be traced to the works of Solomon ibn Gabirol and Abraham ibn Ezra.
75 Aaron ben Joseph, Sfer ha-mir, 40 (Lekh lkh, 126):
; The epithet has become a subject of linguistic theories, e.g.,
in the Talmud (b. gg 12a): ; I am l shadday,
who said enough to the world.
The One Who Defeats the Power of the Stars 287

mentary on Exod 6:3,76 as was known to Aaron ben Joseph. In his commentary
on Gen 17:1, Namanidesanother Rabbanite exegete whose work was avail-
able to Aaron ben Joseph77similarly remarks that God Almighty triumphs
by defeating the arrangements of the sky, thus associating this appellation
with the root .78 This Polish-Lithuanian Karaite poem reiterates the notion
of divine supremacy gleaned from these exegetes: God is more potent than any
astral configuration.79 The final segment of the ninth verse offers a promise
that is reminiscent of Bashyatchis analysis, supported by a biblical citation
from Eccl 12:5 (I shall not witness terror): on behalf of the Jewish people, God
will thwart any harm foretold in the stars.

4 Conclusion

This study provides a brief overview of Polish-Lithuanian Karaite familiarity


with medieval exegetics and its impact on that communitys poetic corpus.
Textual gleanings from their paraliturgical poetry reveal terms (e.g., exegeti-
cal techniques such as ) and notions that were developed in medieval
Rabbanite exegesis (e.g., the root , deduced from the name ) . These
examples also shed light on Polish-Lithuanian Karaite views of God, the cos-
mos, and humanity, and on that communitys desire to confirm the authen-
ticity of Karaite interpretations of the Bible. Furthermore, many zmrt
underscore the significance of mystical and allegorical biblical interpretations.
Given the numerous literary traditions known to early modern Karaite poets,
it is impossible to identify the origin for each and every phrase in their com-
positions. Many of the post-biblical phrases employed by Polish-Lithuanian
Karaite poets may appear, for example, in the vast corpus of Byzantine Karaite
exegetical and halakhic literature, or in medieval Rabbanite Hebrew poetry

76 Abraham ibn Ezras commentary on Exod 6:3:


l shadday, which means the One who defeats the higher configurations; see also Jospe,
Jewish Philosophy, 22931, where Ibn Ezra is quoted at length. For the idiom ,
to defeat the power of the stars, see Ben-Yehuda, A Complete Dictionary, 3199.
77 Later Karaites believed that Aaron was Namanides student; Fenton, De quelques atti-
tudes qarates, 6.
78  ; the one who overthrows and defeats the heavenly
configurations.
79 This is also the position expressed by Saadia Gaon in his commentary on Esther, which
may have been known to Aaron; see M. Wechsler, The Book of Conviviality in Exile (Kitb
al-ns bi-l-jalwa): The Judaeo-Arabic Translation and Commentary of Saadia Gaon on the
Book of Esther (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2015), 24647.
288 Tuori

acknowledged by Karaite poets as paragons of their genre (such as Solomon


ibn Gabirol and Moses ibn Ezra). The intertextual implications of the poems
analyzed here remain complex. While medieval Rabbanite commentaries did
comprise an intrinsic part of the Polish-Lithuanian Karaite curriculum, Karaite
exegetics, especially the works of the two Aarons and their effects on Eastern
European Karaite poetry, merit focal attention in future studies. Furthermore,
the works of later Rabbanite commentators (Arama and Abrabanel in par-
ticular) and their imprint on Polish-Lithuanian Karaite literary culture offer
another fascinating yet unexplored dimension for comparison.

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Berakha ben Josephs Commentary on the Piyym
by Aaron ben Joseph

Elisabeth Hollender

Abstract

In 1758, Berakha ben Joseph ha-Kohen of Kale composed Sfer aam, acommen
tary on the liturgical poems of Aaron ben Joseph. Unlike other piyy commentaries,
this work is actually a supercommentary, which treats these liturgical poems as bib-
lical commentaries. Rather than discussing the poetic features of Aaron the Elders
poetry, Berakha ben Joseph strives to discern the best understanding of the underlying
biblical text. In this effort, he draws on Aaron ben Josephs Sfer ha-mir, as well as
Rabbanite exegetical and philosophical texts as sources for his composition. Despite
his assertion that Aaron ben Joseph sought to explain the secrets (sdt) of the Torah,
Berakha makes no attempt to reveal them in his commentary. His approach to Karaite
(and, to some extent, Rabbanite) traditions and exegesis resembles that of his literarily
more productive contemporary Simhah Isaac Lutski.

Although piyy commentary has been composed throughout much of the


medieval Jewish world, this genre of Jewish literature became highly devel-
oped in medieval Ashkenaz;1 its transmission was furthered by the inclusion
of commentaries on piyymtypically culled from medieval sourcesin
many early-modern printed prayer books that represent Ashkenazic rites.
Piyy commentary is far less common in other traditions, despite notable
exceptions from a variety of Jewish communities.2 Sefardic piyy commentar-
ies are limited to halakhic treatments of zhrt, namely piyym that list the

1 Cf. E. Hollender, Piyyut Commentary in Medieval Ashkenaz (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008).


2 This includes European communities, such as Italy and Provence, but also Yemen, where
commentaries by the 17th-century sage Isaac Wannah were often copied, cf. P. Giyyat (ed.),
Piyy ha-slt im prsh R. Yiaq Wannah (Jerusalem, 2005). In the Ottoman Empire,
where Eastern European Karaites had cultural and linguistic ties, a limited number of
Romaniote piyy commentaries were transmitted; however, it is unlikely that they gained
the attention of that local Karaite community. For an overview of the manuscript traditions
of piyy commentary, cf. E. Hollender, Clavis Commentariorum of Medieval Hebrew Piyyut
Commentary (Leiden: Brill, 2005),34.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004334786_013


Berakha ben Joseph s Commentary on the Piyym 293

613 commandments and biblical prohibitions.3 In this context, the existence of


a mid-eighteenth century Karaite commentary on thirteenth-century Karaite
liturgical poetry is remarkable.4 Berakha ben Joseph ha-Kohens commentary
on poetic introductions to the weekly lections (prsht) by Aaron ben Joseph
ha-Rofe (Aaron the Elder) can shed light on our understanding of exegesis
and poetry among the intellectual elite of Crimean Karaites in the eighteenth
century.
Little is known about this commentator.5 Apparently Berakha ben Joseph
lived in Kale (on the Crimean peninsula) during the eighteenth century, where
he served as both a azzn and a r in the Karaite community. In his youth,
Berakha ben Joseph purportedly authored Sfer nefesh Brkh,6 a commen-
tary on the laws of shi, which he published together with a commentary

3 The primary exception to this tendency is the pre-expulsion commentary by David ben
Joseph Abudraham, ed. L. Prins, Sfer Tashlm Abudraham (Berlin: Mq Nirdmm, 1900).
David ben Joseph was probably a student of Jacob ben Asher, author of the Arb rm,
who was originally from Ashkenaz; Tashlm Abudraham unmistakably follows Ashkenazic
models.
4 Three commentaries on Aaron the Elders composed by Moses ben Judah
of Zurudi, Moses ben Elijah Pasha Kalai, and Joseph of Trokiare mentioned by Simhah
Isaac Lutski, Sfer ra addqm (Wien: Anton Schmid, 1830),25b, as second part of
. The enigmatic title has been understood as a reference to
, a poem on the soul that was also composed by Aaron ben Joseph (published by
L. Weinberger, Rabbanite and Karaite Liturgical Poetry in South-Eastern Europe [Cincinnati:
Hebrew Union College Press, 1991], 551); see J. Frst, Die Geschichte des Karerthums. Von 900
bis 1575 der gewhnlichen Zhlung (Leipzig: Oskar Leiner, 1865),245. None of these three com-
mentaries are currently extant. However, two commentaries on , attrib-
uted to a Solomon and an Aaron respectively, were published in J. Bizikovich and I. Firkovich,
Thillat Yisrl: Tsft li-tflt ha-qrm (Berditshev, 1909), 58 (I thank Riikka Tuori for this
reference). Simhah Lutski mentions several other works that explain Karaite prayer; neither
these nor his own commentaries on Karaite liturgy seem to have been included in the trans-
mitted commentaries on medieval or early modern poems, cf. D. Lasker, The Sage Simhah
Isaac Lutski: An Eighteenth-Century Karaite Rabbi. Selected Writings [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem:
Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi-Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2015),910.
5 The most detailed information is presented in S. Poznanski, Berakha b. Joseph ha-Kohen,
Hebrew Encyclopedia [inRussian] (190813):4:182, who identifies 1770 as the year of Berakhas
death, based on the tombstone in A. Firkovich, An zikkrn (Vilna, 1872),157, nr. 499. In
Lutski, Sfer ra addqm,22a, Berakha is described as the bkhr when he is mentioned
with his brother Jacob. When Sfer ra addqm was composed in 1756, their father Joseph
was still living; his name is mentioned five lines prior.
6 Cf. Lutski, Sfer ra addqm,25a ( :
.) The Institute
of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts has no information on this work, nor is it mentioned in
294 Hollender

on the ten Karaite principles of faith. In 1758, he completed Sfer aam


(The Book of Fine Taste), his commentary on the liturgical poems of Aaron ben
Joseph the Elder.7 Today we know of four manuscripts of this work, dating to
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but none contain commentaries on
all of Aarons poems.8

1 Between Poetry and Exegesis

According to Berakha, his commentary on Aaron ben Josephs liturgical poems


is a necessary key to the highly-condensed style of these piyym; that qual-
ity is also reflected in Aarons abridgement of Karaite liturgy, whichBerakha
stateswas far longer before Aaron ben Joseph reformed it.9 Berakha claims
brevity in his commentaries as well, not only to follow the sages instructions
but to meet the needs of his readership, for, in his time, interest in study paled

B.Walfish and M. Kizilow, Bibliographia Karaitica. An Annotated Bibliography of Karaites and


Karaism (Leiden: Brill, 2011).
7 Cf. its closing paragraph, Sfer aam l-ha-R Brkh ben Ysf ha-khn, ed. J. Algamil
(Ramle: Makhn Tiferet Josef, 2000),421. Throughout this paper, references indicate this
non-scholarly edition due to its status as the most accessible text. Given the questionable
reliability of this edition, Hebrew quotations follow the version in MS New YorkJewish
Theological Seminary Ms. 3367 (IMHM F. 32052). The dating to 1751 in Poznanski, Berakha
b. Joseph ha-Kohen is erroneous: he apparently misread the manuscript and, thus, did not
realize that Lutski does not mention Sfer aam in his ra addqm.
8 The manuscripts are New YorkJewish Theological Seminary Ms. 3367 (18th c.), St. Petersburg
Inst. of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy B 431 (18th19th c.),St. PetersburgInst. of
Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy B 483 (18th19th c.), St.PetersburgRussian National
Library, Evr. IV 50 (19th c.). Two commentaries have not been fully transmitted: the second por-
tion of the commentary on the piyy for prshat Va-y is missing, as is the beginning of the
commentary on poems for the book of Exodus. Sfer aam was edited from the New York
manuscript, with unmarked corrections from other manuscripts and many unmarked emenda-
tions, in 2000 by J. Algamil. The reclamation of the intellectual heritage of Byzantine, Crimean
and Polish-Lithuanian Karaites has become a priority for contemporary Israeli Karaites, par-
ticularly as a community that primarily descended from Egyptian Karaites.
9 Berakha erred in this respect since the detailed discussion of worship in Judah Hadassis
Eshkl ha-kfer closely resembles Aaron ben Josephs liturgy. This suggests that the basic
Karaite service was canonized at least 150 years earlier than is commonly supposed. Quite
possibly, the liturgy of Eshkol ha-kofer even reflects the practice of the Mourners for Zion.
D. Frank, Karaite Prayer and Liturgy, in Karaite Judaism: A Guide to Its History and Literary
Sources, ed. M. Polliack, 566 (Leiden: Brill, 2003).
Berakha ben Joseph s Commentary on the Piyym 295

in comparison to lust for money.10 The similarities between Berakhas commen-


tary and traditional (Ashkenazic) piyy commentary are restricted to several
elements that occur in almost all commentaries that strive to explain language
and context. Among those are occasional language explanations on the lexical
level, usually introduced with the standard term lshn and based on biblical
verses, and on the grammatical level. References to biblical verses represent
another shared feature of all Jewish commentaries since their poetic subjects
typically avail themselves of biblical allusions or quotations. However, such ref-
erences are less common in Berakhas commentary than in Ashkenazic piyy
commentary, perhaps because Aaron ben Joseph relied directly on the bibli-
cal text without veiling his associations with intricate allusions.11 Occasionally
Berakha links a piyyic expression back to its biblical source by introducing
a quotation from that verse with the phrase km kt. He tends toward this
approach when Aaron ben Joseph presents abbreviated forms of biblical com-
mandments without a contextualizing narrative; in those cases, he typically
mentions verses that are quoted in the piyy but not in the prsh itself.
Like many other poets, Aaron ben Joseph used periphrasisoften drawn from
biblical versesfor names of persons and places. Although Berakha employs
some terms that are known from Rabbanite piyym, his explanations are not
indebted to Rabbanite piyy commentaries per se.12

10 Sfer aam,14. The latter argument is representative of the stereotypes that pervade
its introduction. The commentary in Sfer aam does not necessarily adhere to the
intentions expounded therein. For example, with an average of six to ten lines of com-
mentary per poetic line, this work hardly fulfills its promise of brevity, even in passages
where Aaron ben Josephs poetry is fairly straightforward; similarly, almost every com-
mentary unit begins with a phrase that evokes the poet and his intentions, which then
are detailed. The verbosity and repetitive style of Berakhas commentary are further aug-
mented in the edition, which presents full wording for all abbreviations, including the
obligatory epithets for God (may he be blessed) and Aaron ben Joseph (may peace be
upon him).
11 In this respect, Aaron ben Joseph differs from the classical paynm, especially Eleazar
birabbi Qillir, whose piyym received significant attention from Ashkenazic commenta-
tors, cf. S. Elizur, The Enigmatic Nature of Hebrew Poetry in the Orient from its Origins
until the Twelfth Century [in Hebrew], Pmm 59 (1994):1434; eadem, Kit d el
lrq zakk: li-nat yrt shel R. Elezr brabb Qllr, Dehak2 (2011):1671.
12 Cf. e.g. ( built toward Talpiyot), a well-known kinny (substitute phrase)
for the Temple, which Aaron uses in his poem on prshat K t. Despite his correct
identification of this term, Berakha constructs a lengthy explanation, describing it as a
building constructed from ashlars, ( Sfer aam,387). The kinnym that
were used normatively among Rabbanite poets to refer to certain personae and locations
can be considered elements of the common heritage of Hebrew poetry. For the most
296 Hollender

He rarely attempts to explain Aarons vocabulary and imagery, not even by


linking them to the prsh at hand; nor does he discuss the poetic devices
in Aarons compositions, such as rhyme.13 Even in cases where the structure
of the poem invites mention, explicit references are absent, as with poems
that open every line with a single phrase.14 Thus, in his commentary on the
poem for prshat K t (Deut 21:1025:19), a passage characterized by its
abundance of commandments on various topics,15 where Aaron ben Joseph
chose to present many of them within rhetorical questions that all begin with
m ka-dony (Who is like God [who commanded this]?),16 Berakha simply
treats this poem as Aarons paraphrase of selected commandments from the
prsh without remarking on its form or the pervasive phrase, m ka-dony.17
Aaron ben Joseph used Sefardic Hebrew poetry as models for his highly-
structured compositions18 which differ formally from the majority of his
poems. References to such formal aspects would have provided Berakha with
a platform for praising Aaron ben Joseph not only as exegete, but also as poet;

important phrases, cf. Y. David, Lexicon of Epithets in Hebrew Liturgical Poetry [in Hebrew]
(Jerusalem: Rubin Mass, 2001), which, unfortunately, does not cite its sources.
13 The instances where Berakha suggests that the rhyme prompted word choice represent
exceptions to this pattern, e.g., Sfer aam,394, 400.
14 Cf. e.g. the poem for prshat av, whose lines each open with ;the poems for
prsht B-shalla and Blq, whose lines all start with ; and, the poem for prshat
Hazn, where every line begins with . Berakha does not remark on any of these
features as poetic elements; cf. Sfer aam,15964, 22327, 31925, 399405.
15 Including, e.g., instructions regarding the firstborn and the rebellious sons; the prohibi-
tion from taking eggs and a mother bird from the same nest; the regulation against plow-
ing with an ox and a donkey together; the directive to execute adulteresses by stoning;
and, commandments regarding fringes.
16 This formal element emphasizes that all commandments are divine. The rhyme on the
suffix of the first person plural -n (our/us) further underscores the validity of these com-
mandments for this poems audience. It also creates a direct connection between God
and his people via the repeated proximity of both these words, which is reinforced by
verses that stress the positive impact that commandments have on those who observe
them and those to whom they are directed.
17 In his commentary, Berakha remarks on discrete elements from a given commandment
or from Aarons paraphrase, e.g. the obligation to return lost property; or, a clarification
that the prohibition against plowing with a donkey and an ox together is only applicable if
the two animals are harnessed to a single yoke, whereas this practice is permissible if each
has its own yoke. For Berakha and his sources, that latter prohibition regulates against
mixing the pure with the impure, see Sfer aam,37984, especially 382.
18 Cf. e.g. compositions for m kmkh and nishmat by Golden Age Andalusian poets, like
Judah ha-Levi, who introduce each verse with a liturgical catch-word.
Berakha ben Joseph s Commentary on the Piyym 297

however, this was apparently not his intention.19 Neither does he comment
on the qdsht that close Aaron ben Josephs poems in the printed editions,20
thus ceding an opportunity to situate them liturgically.21
While Berakha states that his commentary makes Aarons intentions evi-
dent, explains the secrets of the Torah, and enables those who pray to under-
stand the meaning of their prayers,22 his writings display far greater interest

19 Even in Ashkenazic piyy commentary, praise for poets is uncommon, cf. however
A.Grossman, Praise for R. Eleazar berabbi Qallir in the Piyyut Commentary of R. J. Qara
[in Hebrew], in Knesset Ezra: Literature and Life in the Synagogue [in Hebrew], ed. S.
Elizur etal., 293308 (Jerusalem: Yad Yitzhaq Ben Zvi, 1994).
20 On the five qdsht in Karaite liturgy, cf. Frank, Karaite Prayer and Liturgy,58182. The
standard verses used for qdsht are Ps 22:4, Isa 47:4, Isa 6:3, Ezek 3:12 and Deut 6:4.
Each qdsh that follows Aarons poems is preceded by two or three additional verses,
which were chosen for their suitability for that work. Berakha shows an awareness of spe-
cial uses for certain biblical verses: he notes that Aaron ben Joseph introduced his poem
on prshat Va-y with a biblical verse and his poem on prshat B-shalla with two
verses; he also mentions the two verses that conclude Aarons poem on prshat Pqd;
cf. Sfer aam,130, 160, 209.
21 Berakhas sole opportunity to expound on Aaron ben Josephs use of Isa 6:3, therefore,
is in his commentary on the end of the poem for prshat Mas, where Aaron refers to
the angels and their adoration of God with the three-fold recitation which Israel imitates
liturgically. The content of the prsh does not lend itself to the insertion of this angelic
adoration. In contrast, Aaron ben Joseph makes no reference to the rules of inheritance
for elofads daughters. The poem for prshat B-shalla closes with a shorter version
of this explanation, where Berakha paraphrases the poetic lines that speak of the angels
accepting the yoke of Gods sovereignty and granting one other permission to sanctify
him; cf. Sfer aam,106. According to Berakha, those who read and study the Torah
will rejoice at their recognition of its secrets by reciting the three-fold qdsh as the
angels do. He then explains that the three-fold repetition of qdsh refers to these three
aspects of existence, but Gods existence cannot be likened to any of them; cf. ibid.,343.
22  , ,
Also, in order for [those who] pray to comprehend
what they utter, lest their prayer lack understanding; rather, so they would apprehend the
main theme [of these] matters;Sfer aam,13. The importance of explaining liturgy
so worshipers would understand the texts that they were reciting was clear to Aaron ben
Elijah the Younger, who articulated this goal in relation to the liturgical commentary in
his Gan den. He stated, Inasmuch as they are obligated to pray, they find it difficult to do
so without comprehending what they recite and how the various subjects relateto each
other according to the sequence in which they were set down. I have resolved, therefore,
to provide some notes on the ordering of the liturgy and the arrangement of the subject-
matter according to our holy, true sages of blessed memory. Frank, Karaite Prayer and
Liturgy,576.
298 Hollender

in the first two of these aims. Berakhas disengagement from the liturgical set-
ting that influenced Aarons poems and their range of expression is further
evidenced by his treatment of their narrative perspectives, which he usually
accepts without question. In accordance with their Sitz im Leben, some of
Aaron ben Josephs poems address God in the second person, whereas others
use a first-person voice to paraphrase divine utterances in their biblical refer-
ents. Most commentators would have chosen to refer to these passages in the
third person by adding another layer to this communicative framework. Not so
Berakha. Just as Aaron ben Joseph addresses God in the first lines of his poem
on prshat K t with the second-person singular form of several active
verbs (including the rhyme syllable), Berakha follows suit in his commentary:
he does not mark a distinction between the voices in his subject, a poem to
be recited within a liturgical context, and his commentary.23 In some portions
of his poem on prshat Va-r, Aaron ben Joseph presents God addressing
Israeli.e., certain verbs appear in the first-person singular with the rhyme on
a second-person suffix. Berakha replicates this form of address by paraphras-
ing Aarons lines as divine speech in a first-person voice.24
Berakha ben Josephs claim that Sfer aam explains ( )the piyym
of Aaron ben Joseph indicates that he viewed that poetic work as a commen-
tary. While we cannot eliminate the possibility that Berakha had previously
encountered Ashkenazic piyy commentaries, which served as models for
Sfer aam, this would have been highly unlikely. A limited book trade
was conducted between the Karaite and Ashkenazic communities of both
the Crimean peninsula and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but
Ashkenazic mazrm would not have been likely acquisitions for Karaites
who prided themselves on their own liturgy, which was replete with liturgical

23 Sfer aam,38586. For similar constructions cf. also the poem for prshat Pqd,
which rhymes using the first-person plural suffix; cf. ibid.,2039. See also the commen-
tary on the poem for prshat Shmn, which rhymes on the second-person plural suf-
fix; ibid.,22933. A similar construction exists in the poem for prshat Hazn, where
the address is conveyed in the phrase m kmkh, which opens each line. In this case,
Berakha seldom uses the second-person form in his commentary, with the notable excep-
tion of his treatment of the final three lines of the poem; cf. ibid.,405.
24 Ibid.,14950. The same occurs at the beginning of the poem for prshat Bo (cf. ibid.,153
55) and in select parts of the poem for prshat Trm (cf. ibid.,18082). On the use
of God as the speaker in Hebrew poetry, cf. J. Yeshaya, Poetry and Memory in Karaite
Prayer: The Liturgical Poetry of the Karaite Poet Moses ben Abraham Dar (Leiden-Boston:
Brill,2014),3337, and references therein.
Berakha ben Joseph s Commentary on the Piyym 299

and para-liturgical poetic compositions.25 Thus any query regarding the foun-
dation of Berakhas work should focus on the literary tradition in which he
was immersed: seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Karaite culture in both
locales was highly productive in the fields of commentary and supercommen-
tary; therefore, this living tradition was probably Berakhas primary inspiration.
Karaite authors often prefaced their works with poems and they sometimes
incorporated poetic forms in their writing, including rhymed prose;26 com-
mentaries have been written on a number of these compositions. Berakhas
writings should be considered in the framework of commentaries on Karaite
works that encompass poetic forms. The best known Karaite poem for which
several commentaries exist, including some that predate Sfer aam, is
Judah Gibbors epic Minat Yhd, a 1,912-verse paraphrase of the Torah. At
least two (plus another possible two) known commentariesor, rather, super-
commentaries, since Minat Yhd can be classified as a commentary on the
Pentateuchwere composed before Berakha embarked on writing his com-
mentary on Aarons piyym.27 The most significant difference between these
poetic works by Judah Gibbor and Aaron is the latters performative aspect,
which determines their contrasting designations (since Minat Yhd would
not be described as a piyy or even a cycle of piyym, notwithstanding its
form). Their similarities, in addition to the poetic form, include their para-
phrase of the entire Torah in an explanatory mode. Had Berakha been aware
of the commentaries on Judah Gibbors poem, it might have been a catalyst for
his enterprise.28

25 On late Karaite poetry in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, cf. R. Tuori, Karaite
Zmrt in Poland-Lithuania: A Study of Paraliturgical Karaite Hebrew Poems from the
Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Helsinki: Unigrafia, 2013), and the contribution by
Riikka Tuori in this volume.
26 Cf. the contribution by Daniel Lasker on the poetic elements of Judah Hadassis Eshkl
ha-kfer in this volume.
27 These commentaries are: Qibb Yhd by Judah ben Aaron of Troki (Lithuania; died
before 1634); rr ha-mr by Elijah ben Barukh Yerushalmi (Constantinople, then Crimea;
second half 17th century); Br Yiq by Simhah Isaac ben Moses Lutski (Volhynia, then
Crimea; d. 1766); and, Br lezer by Eliezer ben Judah (Crimea; mid-18th century). Cf.
the contribution by Philip Miller in this volume.
28 This possibility should not be discounted, given that Elijah ben Barukh Yerushalmi lived
in Crimea for the latter part of his life and that the prominent figure Simhah Isaac ben
Moses Lutski, who also moved to Crimea, was active in its small Karaite communities
during the 18th century. Nevertheless, Berakha does not mention these earlier Karaite
commentaries on that poetic paraphrase of the Bible.
300 Hollender

Several factors could have led Berakha to consider Aaron ben Josephs litur-
gical poetry as an authoritative text and, therefore, an appropriate subject for
commentary: the close associations between Aaron ben Josephs poetry and
his biblical commentary, Sfer ha-mir;29 the flourishing of supercommen-
taries in late Karaite literary culture; and, foremost, the role of these poems as
introductions to the weekly prsht which presented this thirteenth-century
scholars views of the Torah portion during each Sabbath morning service.
Four supercommentaries on Sfer ha-mir were composed during the six-
teenth to nineteenth centuries,30 affirming that Aaron ben Josephs writings
were deemed worthy of study and scholarly consideration.31 By comment-
ing on the liturgical poetry of Aaron the Elder, Berakha demonstrates that he
considered these compositions to be on a par with Sfer ha-mir as part of
the Karaite cultural heritage that was transferred from medieval Byzantium to
early modern Eastern Europe.
In his introduction to Sfer aam, Berakha articulates his perspective on
this work as an explanation of a commentary on the Torah. This highly con-
ventional piececomprised of an opening poem, praise of the text which is
the subject of this commentary, then an ostensibly humble disclaimer of the
commentatoralso has a philosophical section that explains the benefits of
Aarons liturgical poetry and commentary as a vehicle for spiritual well-being.
In the second line of the introductory poem, Berakha compares his commen-
tary to biblical exegesis when requesting:

May my God strengthen my intellect and my body


so that [I may] expound a biblical matter that will appeal to your palate.32

29 On the relationship between Aarons poetry and exegesis, cf. the contribution by Joachim
Yeshaya in this volume.
30 Elijah ben Judah Tishbi, Sfer ha-pr (The Book of Glory, 1579); Mordechai ben Nissan
Lutski, Mamar Mordkhai (The Article of Mordechai, 1709); Samuel ben Joseph Kalai,
Ml Shmul (The Coat of Samuel, mid-18th c.); Joseph Solomon ben Moses Lutski, rat
kesef (A Palace of Silver, printed 1835); see D. Frank, Karaite Exegetical and Halakhic
Literature in Byzantium and Turkey, in Karaite Judaism: A Guide to Its History and Literary
Sources, ed. M. Polliack (Leiden: Brill, 2003),541, n. 56. Cf. also the contribution by Joachim
Yeshaya in this volume.
31 Excerpts from Sfer ha-mir are also included in an early 18th-century curriculum by
the Lithuanian Karaite scholar and poet Solomon ben Aaron, cf. Tuori, Karaite Zmrt
in Poland Lithuania,53.
32  / ; cf. Sfer aam,11.
Berakha ben Joseph s Commentary on the Piyym 301

In the prose section of this introduction, Berakha states his intention for this
book to explain Aaron ben Josephs piyym on the prsht. He describes the
annual cycle that structures a reading of the whole Torah in a lengthy pas-
sage that details the duty to read and elucidate the Torah to anyone who does
not fully understand it, for it conveys sciences and secrets. Especially at times
when knowledge of Hebrew is waning, Berakha continues, the Torah as well as
its secrets and allusions are less accessible. This phenomenon, he posits, moti-
vated Aaron ben Joseph to compose his piyym,

...to make known and announce to us the hidden meanings of the Torah
and its secrets. For this purpose he composed these piyym for us, so we
would understand and know the exalted secrets contained in the perfect
Torah.33

At the end of the (rather simple) philosophical section, after explaining how
observance of the commandments yields an essential balance of body and
soul, Berakha repeats his statement of Aarons purpose almost verbatim, claim-
ing that his piyym aimed to make the excellence of the Torah, its secrets, and
the reasons for its commandments available to his audience, thereby enabling
them to attain physical and spiritual perfection. Like his prolific contemporary,
the Karaite philosopher Simhah Isaac Lutski, Berakha adheres to Aristotelian
assumptions about the nature and structure of the physical world, remaining
convinced that substances in the sub-lunar world are composed of matter and
form, and that the body is not eternal.34 Efforts to perfect the body serve to per-
fect the soul, which alone may enter the World to Come. In his view of the soul,
Berakha largely follows Aaron ben Elijah, who integrated the Maimonidean
concept of permanence after death for intellectually accomplished soulsas
derived from neoplatonic conceptions of the souls origin and destinywith
traditional beliefs in reward and retribution in a World to Come.35

33 
; cf. Sfer aam,13.
34 On Lutski, who lived in Kale when Berakha ben Joseph composed Sfer aam,
cf. D. Lasker, From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi: Studies in Late Medieval Karaite
Philosophy (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2008),26870; idem, The Sage Simhah Isaac Lutski.
35 On Aaron ben Elijahs view of the soul, cf. Lasker, From Judah Hadassi to Elijah
Bashyatchi,9293. Both Aaron ben Joseph and Aaron ben Elijah followed in the footsteps
of Andalusian poets by composing poetry on the soul that incorporated the same psy-
chological theories and scientific commonplaces that informed those Andalusian mod-
els, cf. A. Tanenbaum, The Contemplative Soul: Hebrew Poetry and Philosophical Theory in
Medieval Spain (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2002),22632.
302 Hollender

In the context of his requisite disclaimer, taking the stance of humility


as a commentator by admitting his lack of wisdom and education, Berakha
describes Aarons piyym as closed and sealed.36 Although he carefully dis-
tinguishes between the Torah and Aarons piyym by applying distinct ter-
minology to each, their respective needs for explanation and commentary are
based on similar qualities. Taken together, this statement and linguistic fea-
ture bolster the case against Berakha having innovated the genre of Karaite
piyy commentary; rather, they indicate that he saw himself to be following
the norms of an accepted genreviz., commentaryhere and in the main
body of his work.

2 Sfer aam and Sfer ha-mir

Berakha was well aware of the relationship between Aaron ben Josephs
piyym and Sfer ha-mir. He explicitly states:

I furthermore [wish to] inform [my readers] that in my commentary on


the words of the master, [may] peace [be] upon him, I will sometimes
explain them in a manner that does not [actually] contradict what he
explained in Sfer ha-mir even though, when he spreads his words out,
you will perceive a contradiction with what he explained there. Together
with all this, I will [also] arrange his words in a way that [enables] you to
compare his understanding with what he explained there. And when I
arrange some of his words for comparison, I will hint by saying that, due
to seven reasons, a contradiction is found in the words of the sages, as
our master Moses [Maimonides], peace [be] upon him, explained in his
Guide (of the Perplexed).37

If we take the length of this commentary and the commonalities that exist
between these two works into consideration, its number of explicit refer-
ences to Sfer ha-mir is quite modest. Berakha rarely mentions vocabulary
and their correspondence unless he has something to add, preferably on a

36 ] ; [] [cf. Sfer aam,14.


37 
, ,
.

.; cf. Sfer aam,15.
Berakha ben Joseph s Commentary on the Piyym 303

spiritual plane.38 For example, in his commentary on a passage in the poem


for prshat B-rsht, where Aaron ben Joseph mentions that the Garden of
Eden is guarded by angels in the form of seraphim and cherubim,39 Berakha
explains that this does not refer to material paradise alone, from which the first
human couple was evicted, but also to spiritual paradise, the abode of angels
and pure souls. The guardians that patrol the entrance to paradise prevent any
tainted soul from gaining access, but they have no authority to evict pure ones.
At this point Berakha explains the guarding mentioned in Gen 3:24 by citing
a comment in Sfer ha-mir that mentions Song 3:3.40 Rather than simply
quoting the verse from Sfer ha-mir, Berakha explains that the guards men-
tioned therein are charged to protect the citys markets from thieves but not to
deter good people from walking through at night since they are known to be
honest. Analogously, God assigned sentinels to spiritual paradise to bar impure
souls from entering. With regard to the cherubim (krm) mentioned in this
passage of the poem, Berakha explicitly refers to Sfer ha-mir, where Aaron
rearranges the letters of krm to spell rkhm, and defines them as the
angels on whom God rides. Berakha discusses the exchange of the hard conso-
nant (k) for the soft one (kh) in considerable detail.41
Berakha also quotes material from Sfer ha-mir without explicitly iden-
tifying his sourcefor example, when he contrasts Aarons interpretation that
the tablets of the law were made of stone from Mount Sinai with other scholars

38 Among the few occasions where Sfer ha-mir primarily furnishes a basic understand-
ing of the poem and may also provide the reason for Aarons word choices, cf. the com-
mentary on prshat qe, where Berakha explains the line
(Mighty benedictions he inscribed in his missive) as follows:

, (The master said in Sfer ha-mir that the reward of the laws, statutes and com-
mandments is included in the four benedictions that are written in this prsh, and this
is the meaning of mighty); cf. Sfer aam,363.
39  / /
/ ( Dwelling place of the rfm will be [in]
the Garden of Eden for the arrangement / because their elevation is drawn from Gods
majesty / a mighty edict was ordained that there shall dwell / the cherubs and the flame
of the turning sword). Cf. Siddr ha-tfillt k-minhag ha-yhdm ha-qrm, 4 vols.
(Ramle, 196164; reprint of Vilna, 1891), 1: 264.
40 Cf. Aaron ben Joseph, Sfer ha-mir (1293; published in Gozlow-Eupatoria: Finkelman,
1835),Gen 3:24, fol. 28.
41 Sfer aam,4043. He also refers to this explanation in the commentary on the poem
for prshat Trm, albeit without a discussion of soft and hard consonants; cf. Sfer
aam,182. The source in Sfer ha-mir is far shorter, cf. Sfer ha-mir,Gen 3:24,
fol.28a.
304 Hollender

contentions that they were composed of precious stones, including sapphire.42


Given that Sfer ha-mir was counted among the central commentaries that
were recommended to Karaite students for weekly study, it is unclear whether
these unattributed quotes stem from a comparison between the poems and the
commentary, or whether Berakha was so thoroughly steeped in the commen-
tary that he inadvertently took recourse to Aarons explanations when they
supported his understanding of the biblical exegesis proposed in the poems.43
Berakha rarely compares Aaron, via Sfer ha-mir or his poetry, with other
exegetes; however, in at least one instance he acknowledges that the implicit
emendation that forms the foundation of Aarons understanding of Deut 33:2
was not universally accepted.44 Likewise, he seldom presents more than one
interpretation of any given verse. In one of those exceptional cases, a com-
mentary on Deut 29:18 is conveyed as part of his commentary on the poem for
prshat Nim: both comments are based on a common understanding of
the relationship between body and soul, but different interpretations result
from their metaphorical understandings of the biblical text.45
In his introduction, Berakha mentions the potential for contradictions
between the poems and Sfer ha-mir. He identifies several of them in his
commentary, although they take various forms. In his treatment of the line
Who is like You, in whom nations (gym) rejoice and to whom his people
prostrates [themselves]? from the poem for prshat Hazn, Berakha notes
that Aarons interpretation in the piyy differs from his commentary on Deut
32:43 in Sfer ha-miar: he identifies the subject of that verse (gym) as the
nations in his poem, but as Israel his commentary.46 In his discussion of a
contrast between Sfer ha-mir and the poem on prshat Tavve, Berakha

42 Sfer aam,177; Sfer ha-mir,Exod 31:18, f. 65v. An extended list of such occur-
rences goes beyond the scope of this study.
43 Considering that Sfer aam was conceived of as a supercommentary as well as Aaron
ben Josephs importance as an exegete, one would not expect Berakha to disagree with
interpretations from Sfer ha-mir. Nonetheless, in a few cases, he seems to subtly
indicate that he harbors reservations regarding Aarons interpretation: for example, in his
commentary on the poem for prshat Yitr, Berakha meticulously explains that Aaron
ben Joseph understood the revelation to Israel in Exod 20 to have been purely visualby
means of letters in the airand in no way auditory. Cf. Sfer ha-mir,Exod 20:18, f. 38v.
Berakha carefully avoids identification with this interpretation and any presentation of it
as certain truth; in contrast, he usually finds unobtrusive ways to express agreement with
Aarons exegesis; cf. Sfer aam,169.
44 Cf. Sfer aam,409.
45 Ibid., 394.
46 Ibid.,404. The Hebrew verse reads .
Berakha ben Joseph s Commentary on the Piyym 305

underscores that this distinction has halakhic implications: in Sfer ha-mir,


Aaron interprets Exod 27:20 (concerning the commandment to provide olive
oil for the menorah) to mean that this instruction can be fulfilled by an indi-
vidual on behalf of the entire community, whereas the poem speaks of finan-
cial contributions toward the purchase of that oil that were incumbent on all
Israelites. Here too, Berakha unambiguously notes the dissonance between the
content of a poem and Sfer ha-mir.47 He is even more explicit in his con-
sideration of the poem for prshat Pqd. In both texts Aaron interprets the
line Your spheres are founded on silver bases as an allegorical reference to
the cosmic spheres, but in the poem he understands them to move accord-
ing to rules determined by their bases, whileaccording to Berakhain Sfer
ha-mir, Aaron ben Joseph posits that they are propelled by their own will.
In this case, Berakha quotes his father and teacher, Joseph ha-Kohen, who
taught that Aaron the Elder composed the piyym in his youth whereas he
wrote Sfer ha-mir in his advanced years; the latter work, as a product of
his intellectual growth, would sometimes contradict his youthful interpreta-
tions.48 He does not weigh their levels of validity on the basis of literary genre,
but rather according to scholarly maturation; thus, on the occasions when the
poems are less authoritative than the prose commentary, this may be attrib-
uted to Aarons development during the intervening years between his compo-
sition of these two major works.

47  ( This interpretation by the


Master appears to contradict what he said in his esteemed Sfer ha-mir ), cf. ibid.,186;
Sfer ha-mir, Exod. 27:20, f. 57a.
48 
.


; Sfer aam,207. This commentary is based on the poetic
line
. We have no contemporaneous sources that date these
poems relative to the commentary. According to Sfer ha-mir,Exod 12:2, f. 14v, Aaron
composed Sfer ha-mir in 129293 in Constantinople. If we assume, with e.g. Frst,
Geschichte des Karerthums II,239; N. Schur, The Karaite Encyclopedia (Frankfurt am
Main: Peter Lang, 1995),13, that Aaron ben Joseph was born ca. 1250 in Crimea, was an
accepted khm in his community when he debated Rabbanite scholars regarding the
New Moon on Tishri 1279 in Sulchat, and did not become acquainted with Rabbanite
literature until his later travels, it is unlikely that many years elapsed between the compo-
sition of these two works since Aaron ben Joseph was certainly familiar with Andalusian
poetry when he reformed Karaite liturgy and composed his piyym. Joseph ben Elijah
ha-Kohen is mentioned without honorific titles in Lutski, Sfer ra addqm 22a (
) " , who was apparently unaware of his publications.
306 Hollender

3 Secrets of the Torah

Following Karaite tradition, Berakha is primarily interested in the plain sense


of the text (psh). For the most part his commentary offers paraphrases of
Aarons poetic texts in syntactically simple yet verbose Hebrew prose. The figu-
rative language of both the biblical texts to which Aaron refers and his own
poetry deviates from the psh meaning and, therefore, merits clarification.
Often Berakha explains metaphors, especially when metaphorical verbs are
associated with non-metaphorical nouns, with introductory phrases such as
( by way of hyperbole and exaggeration) then detailing, for
example, that the skies were not actually rolled up.49 In other cases, he uses the
phrase ( by way of transfer) to signal metaphors whose terminology,
which usually relates to the physical world, speaks of the divine realme.g.,
the throne of God.50
Berakha strives to provide logical explanations that are readily applicable in
the eighteenth-century Crimean milieu. Thus, with regard to Aarons modifica-
tion of the biblical commandment on atonement for the slaying of one whose
corpse was discovered between villages () rather than outside of
a city, the location in the biblical textBerakha offers a pragmatic solution:
given the size and movement of an urban populace, it would be unlikely for
a killing to go unnoticed near a city; in contrast, the territories between vil-
lages are so sparsely settled that such an event could more plausibly go unwit-
nessed.51 In the case of Balaams jenny, whose power of speech is considered as
a divine miracle in Aarons estimation (Who is like the Lord, who opened the
mouth of his jenny and put him to shame?), Berakha contends that this was
a prophetic vision or dream. He further cautions against misinterpreting the
jennys speech or the appearance of an angel as literal.52
Nevertheless, in the introduction to his supercommentary, Berakha cred-
its Aaron ben Joseph with having revealed secrets from Torah and mystical
knowledge in his poems. His frequent use of terms like sitr Tr (secrets of

49 Sfer aam,167.
50 For an example cf. ibid.,207.
51 He does not consider that Aaron ben Joseph might have chosen to avoid using the rhyme-
word ( cities) twice in three consecutive lines of poetry. Berakha abandons this
rational approach in favor of the early-modern popular belief in the next explanation,
where he quotes the sages and explains that, when Israel is just, the heifer will miracu-
lously lead the way to the house of the murderer rather than have its neck broken; cf. Sfer
aam,37677.
52 On the line ; cf. ibid.,321. Berakha clearly follows Maimonides
in this case, cf. Guide of the Perplexed, 2:42.
Berakha ben Joseph s Commentary on the Piyym 307

the Torah) and sdt malt (superior secrets) in that introduction confirms
that Berakha understood the Torah to extend beyond literal interpretations;
he also stresses that these secrets are prerequisites for true apprehension
and, thus, correct observance of the commandments. By the sixteenth cen-
tury mysticism had entered some Karaite circles;53 in the mid-eighteenth
century, when Berakha composed his commentary, Eastern European Karaite
authors had become quite outspoken about their interest in such traditions.
Berakhas ascription of mystical knowledge to Aaron the Elderwhose use of
phrases like the discerning [reader] will understand and there is a secret
therein invites multiple interpretive possibilitiesand, moreover, his desire
to share it with a wider Karaite audience through his piyym, attests to the
depth of interest in mysticism that pervaded the Karaite mind-set of Berakhas
generation.
Yet Berakhas commentary does not detail the mystical interpretations that
he ascribes to Aaron ben Joseph, much like Sfer ha-mir, which mentions
the existence of secrets without divulging them. Despite his claim that Aarons
priorities included a desire to make plain the secrets (sdt) of the Torah, the
term sdt seldom appears in Berakhas commentary. In reference to its usage
in Aaron ben Josephs poems, Berakha typically comments that these secrets
should not be investigated by those who cannot grasp them. On the occasions
when this subject arises in Aaron ben Josephs oeuvre, while the wording of his
commentaries vary, their message is quite consistent, especially with respect
to creation and utterances about God. In some cases Berakha underscores
the fact that the sages did not strictly adhere to the prohibition against such
inquiry, as with the sacrifices, which cannot be explained rationallysince
God is not material and therefore has no need for material offeringsbut are
nevertheless commanded in the Torah. Even Aaron ben Joseph, who describes
sacrificial offerings as sdt in his poem on prshat Va-yiqr, attempts to
explain them in that context.54
Berakha typically reads Aarons use of the term sd and similar vocabulary
to signal commandments and concepts that are beyond explanation, such as
the commandments regarding the rebellious son, where Aaron states that He
[God] gave them as a mystery (rz), Berakha remarks that this is a great secret
that Israel received. Here, fealty to God demands that parents subvert love for

53 Cf., e.g., the contributions by Philip Miller and Riikka Tuori in this volume. Cf. also
P.Fenton, De quelques attitudes qarates envers la Qabbale, Revue des tudes juives142
(1983):519.
54 Sfer aam,21617.
308 Hollender

their son.55 This definition of sd as impenetrable divine wisdom is similarly


operative in the commentary on prshat uqqat regarding the command-
ments concerning the red heifer.56 In this instance, however, Berakha reiter-
ates several times that the Torah is filled with exquisite wisdom and superior
sciences that the human mind is incapable of apprehending. God alone knows
the reason for this commandment and no mortal could ever grasp how a single
substance may effect opposing results, namely purify the unclean and pollute
the pure.57 This notion is also present in Sfer aam, though without the
term sd: when Berakha explains the line My God, how awe-inspiring are your
deeds to those who know [them] as an acknowledgment that the human mind
cannot understand the reasons for the laws of vows and their nullification
e.g. regarding daughters and married womenwhich God alone knows.58
In many passages where modern scholars might expect Berakha to refer to
secrets that Aaron and the biblical text transmit, we find a notable absence of
sd, nistr, and similar vocabulary. Even in contexts that typically attract mys-
tical analyses, such as the creation of the world, Berakha does not explicitly
state that Aaron ben Joseph is uncovering a mystery.59 Scenes of divine revela-
tion are not used as platforms for presenting mystical knowledge; neither the
burning bush nor the revealed name ehye sher ehye are discussed as secret
knowledge. In this vein, the vision of sapphire beneath Gods feet is merely
met with a reference to its biblical source (Exod 24:10).60 Where Berakha
remarks that secrets may be learned from a biblical verse or poem, he offers no

55 
''
.
, The Master said: He bequeathed us
a clue, that this is a great secret to those who understand, to insert the love of God in their
hearts. Since there is nothing more beloved to a man than his son, nonetheless the love of
God takes precedence over love of a son, so the father and mother bring him to be stoned
for love of The Name, for he did not obey the divine commandments. And this is a great
stimulus for the love of God; therefore, he said He bequeathed us a clue, [which is to say]
that he bequeathed this commandment to us as a powerful secret and clue; cf. Sfer
aam,381.
56 Ibid., 31314.
57 Ibid.,31516. He makes a similar case with regard to the reference to rzm in prshat
Mishpm, where he identifies the secret of the commandments as granting (divine)
grace to men; cf. ibid.,179.
58  ; cf. ibid.,33334, 336.
59 Berakhas numerous mentions of creation in his commentary are primarily intended to
underscore creatio ex nihilo.
60 Sfer aam,176.
Berakha ben Joseph s Commentary on the Piyym 309

further explanation. Thus, when Aaron ben Joseph mentions a secret in rela-
tion to Israels wanderings in the desert ( ,
Expansive understanding of departure and journey will disclose a secret to
the discerning ones), Berakha assures his readers that Israels journeys in the
desert are detailed in the Bible because of the mighty secrets (sdt mt)
to be learned from these passages, whether by revelation through the written
word or by exploring hidden knowledge through mysticism. Nonetheless, he
does not articulate these secrets in his commentary.61 The death of Moses rep-
resents an exception to this pattern, apparently because its mystical explana-
tion was commonly known in Berakhas time:

That is to say that his death was by mouth: this is an allusion to the kiss.
And do not think that this is the [simple] truth, because it does have a
secret and hidden way, which hints at the intellect clinging to its idea,
[with] a mighty grasp, according to his nature, because no man like him
ever was or will be. The sages said that this kiss was to be interpreted
as a drsh but the master agreed that this is like what is said in his
Sfer ha-mir, that it is true that he died from a kiss and it is a great
secret. That is to say, the kiss bears a secret that is not [to be understood]
according to its literal meaning, but as a hint to the mighty clinging, as
we explained.62

Other occurrences of the term sd similarly seem to suggest hidden interpre-


tationse.g. in the commentary on the poem for prshat Yitr, where Aaron
ben Joseph mentions that Moses ascended to God, which Berakha explains:

Even so, this remains a mystery, since it says [Moses] went up, this is a
matter of elevation, ascent, and loftiness. Therefore, it says to God and
not to Mount Sinai. Understand this.63

61 Ibid., 340.
62  .[] []
,
.

[] [] {} [] .
; cf. ibid.,41314. This difference between Aarons interpretation and
the unnamed sages explanation may have contributed to his decision to explain the hid-
den meaning in this case.
63  ,
; cf. Sfer aam,167.
310 Hollender

In this passage, sd indicates a hidden meaning that can be accessed by ana-


lyzing the semantic field to which one single word belongs. The additional
explanation for that word choice shows that this hidden meaning signals a
possible metaphorical reading, where terms from the physical world describe
the spiritual world into which Moses ascends. Although Berakha does not gen-
erally attend to allegory, he recognizes symbolism and notes references to both
the cosmos and the spiritual realm in the biblical text and Aarons poems. For
such material he often uses the root r-m-z, usually as a verb (rmz). Thus he
details the symbolism of the table and the menorah in the tabernacle, includ-
ing the menorahs decorations.64 Here we see that Berakha does not clearly
differentiate between sd and remez; rather, he paraphrases Aarons reference
to Gods speech a few lines later:

That is to say: That which I made known to you and hinted at from the
secrets of the tabernacle and its implements, do tell [it] to Israel, so that
they will know and understand their secret and their hints, why it has
been made in this form so that they will approach it with respect, since it
is not a trivial matter.65

Both sd and remez refer to non-literal meanings. Whereas modern readers


would associate sd with the divine realm and remez with symbolism that
could refer to either cosmic or sub-lunar subjects, Berakhas usage does not
comport with this systematization since he refers to both planets and angels
with the term remez.66 The angelic world is the greatest mystery that Berakha
discusses. While he does not claim knowledge of or access to this realm for
himself, his teachers, or his audience, he asserts that select biblical figures were
privileged to witness it, like Jacob in his dream:

He was amazed that his intellect ascended [to such] heights: The inten-
tion of the master, [may] peace [be] upon him, is that this was a great
miracle for his intellect, for he ascended to the highest degree and was
awakened to the detailed study in order to understand the hidden things
according to their essence, through divine emanation that was emanated

64 Ibid., 18283.
65 
; cf. Sfer aam,183.
66 The cosmosincluding spheres, planets, and constellationsreoccur in Berakhas com-
mentaries on several piyym, cf. e.g. his comparison of Jacobs twelve sons with the
twelve constellations; ibid.,13132.
Berakha ben Joseph s Commentary on the Piyym 311

on him