Lital Levy
In 1933, an Iraqi Jew by the name of Dahud ben Sleyman Semah sent a sixtieth birthday present to the famous Hebrew poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934), a Russian Jew referred to then and now as “ha-meshorer hale’umi” or the “national poet” of what was to become the Hebrew state.1 Appropriately enough, the gift was a poem extolling Bialik as the “father” of modern Hebrew verse. Composed in the style of the tor ha-zahav, the Hebrew “Golden Age” of Spain, the poem is a virtuosic tour de force.2 Its opening words, an elaborate homophonic wordplay, quickly unfurl into an extended metaphor of a beautiful maiden, who represents Hebrew poetry. Yet when asked who her father is, the maiden points to two men, who turn out to be none other than the famous medieval Hebrew poets Solomon ibn Gabirol and Moses ibn Ezra—two of the great Jewish luminaries of alAndalus, the Arabic name for Muslim Spain (known in Hebrew as Sepharad).3 By this point, the poem has taken on the performative quality of a paternity suit, challenging its various contenders: Will the real father of modern Hebrew literature please stand up? Why would a poem celebrating Bialik as the rejuvenator of literary Hebrew utilize the centuriesold, Arabic-inspired Andalusian style—and shift the spotlight away from its panegyric subject back to two medieval poets lurking in the wings? What is at stake in answering this question, I shall argue, are the cultural origins of modern Hebrew literature.


Copyright © 2005 The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.




Figure 1. The birthday poem in Semah’s own hand: letter to Bialik dated 18 Tevet 5693 (16 January 1933).



I. Writing from the 1890s until his death in 1934, Bialik is widely credited with the creation of a modern Hebrew poetic idiom. His lengthy, Romantic, often anguished poems are mandatory reading in the Israeli educational system, and many of them have been adapted for music and absorbed into Israeli popular culture. For decades he dominated the Hebrew literary scene, and even now the name “Bialik” elicits unparalleled veneration in the world of modern Hebrew letters. The story of modern Hebrew literature has in fact been told as the story of Bialik and of his immediate precursors and successors, all of whom had in common one important attribute: they were Eastern European Jews, working in what Hebrew literary critic and historian Binyamin Harshav has called a “time of revolution” sparked by the Russian pogroms of 1881–1882.4 These figures were preceded by the no less revolutionary maskilim, the first generation of Hebrew writers in Europe to break away from Orthodoxy and to re-fashion liturgical Hebrew into a neo-classical literary language on the European Enlightenment model. Geographically speaking, then, the history of modern Hebrew literature has been written as a tale of Odessa and Plonsk, Vilna and Warsaw, and finally, Tel Aviv, where it reaches maturity and eventually comes to incorporate Jewish writers from throughout the world who settled in Palestine, later the newly-created State of Israel. Some of those later writers included the “Oriental” Jews, those from Arab and Muslim lands, as well as Sephardic Jews descended from the Spanish exiles who had settled throughout the Ottoman provinces and Southeastern Europe (namely, Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans). In recent years some of these writers, along with second-generation Israelis of Middle Eastern descent,5 have gained prominence in Israel, where their works have been considered under a “minority literature” rubric akin to the multicultural “[Ethnic]-American” literatures of the U.S.—even though Jews from the Middle East constituted a majority of Israeli Jews until the mid-1990s. The Hebrew writing of non-European Jews has thus been construed as a late and secondary addition to the mainstream narrative of Hebrew literature that originated in nineteenth-century Europe, and whose cultural echo chamber was, and remains, strictly European. What, then, were the rest of the world’s Jews doing while Eastern European Jews were “inventing” modern Hebrew? What were they reading, writing, and thinking? The general assumption, both popular and academic, has been that they were still laboring in darkness, languishing under



the crumbling Ottoman rule and waiting for the European Jewish enlightenment and, later, for political Zionism, to usher them into modernity. Ammiel Alcalay’s groundbreaking 1993 work, After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture, challenged these long-standing suppositions by means of a mammoth inventory of Middle Eastern cultural production, from Dunash ben Labrat’s famous tenth century wine poem—the first to adapt Arabic meter to Hebrew—to present-day Mizrahi (“Oriental” Jewish) writing in Israel.6 Still, no comprehensive study has been made of Jewish literary and intellectual activity in the Arab East during the hundred years extending from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries—the most crucial, transformative period for the fate of modern European and Middle Eastern Jews alike. As it turns out, Jews in the Middle East were in fact producing texts reflecting a vast range of influences and interests, from cultural sources that were Jewish and Muslim, Middle Eastern and European. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the region underwent accelerated processes of modernization, secularization, and cultural liberalization that reconfigured the basis of identity from the communal to the civic/national. The many and varied activities of modernizing Arab writers and intellectuals, later collectively construed as a movement called al-nahda (the Arabic “renaissance”),7 had been gaining momentum in Beirut and Aleppo through the mid-nineteenth century; by the 1870s the nahda found a new epicenter in Cairo, whence it rippled through the entire region, including what is now Iraq. The spirit of the times swept the Jews along in its path, and in not quite fifty years, Jews in the mashriq (Arab East)8 who availed themselves of the burgeoning new educational opportunities learned classical Arabic as well as European languages and began producing journalistic writing, short stories, poetry and plays in Arabic, Hebrew, English, and French. As early as the 1870s, an Egyptian Jew named Yacqub Sanuc (18391912) pioneered Egyptian colloquial theater and founded the first popular Arabic newspaper, the satiric Abu Nazzara Zarqa’ (“The Man in the Blue .. Glasses”).9 The maverick Sanuc (who coined the nationalist slogan “Egypt for the Egyptians”) was exiled to Paris in 1878, where he continued publishing his newspaper until his final years. While credited for his foundational role in the Arab press, Sanuc remains a relatively obscure figure hovering at the edge of historic memory: “It is astonishing that a man of so many talents, who had played such a prominent part in the political and cultural movements in Egypt in the latter half of the nineteenth century […] should have been forgotten by later generations of Arab writers.”10



Nonetheless, Sanuc has fared better than his contemporary Esther Moyal (1873–1948), the remarkable Beirut-born Jewish journalist, feminist, and literary translator, who has been in fact been forgotten altogether. Amongst her many accomplishments, Moyal founded the first newspaper for Egyptian women, translated a dozen novels from French to Arabic, authored a biography of Emile Zola, and traveled to the Chicago World Exposition in 1893 to take part in the historic Women’s Pavilion.11 Some decades later, in the 1920s-1940s, Jews in Baghdad, Beirut, and Cairo published newspapers in which aspiring authors tried their hand at poetry and short stories. During the interwar period, Baghdad became the center of Middle Eastern Jewish creativity as a newly-educated strata of young professionals, having discovered the riches of world literature and the Arabic literary heritage, enthusiastically took to publishing poetry, short stories, essays, and novellas in presses throughout the Arab East. The exceptional prominence of Jewish intellectuals in Iraq has much to do with the unique character and contours of Iraq’s Jewish community, often called the oldest Jewish diaspora, which many believe to date back to the first Babylonian exile some twenty-five hundred years earlier, during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. When the British General Maude marched into Baghdad in 1917, the Jews formed the largest single ethnic or religious group in the city. By 1950, anywhere from one in three to one in every five (according to different estimates) Baghdadis was Jewish; the entire Jewish community of Iraq numbered some 140–150,000 souls (about 2.5 per cent of the overall population).12 Baghdad’s Jews held an important and visible role in the economic, social, and cultural life of the city: commerce in the city operated largely on a Jewish calendar, with entire business sectors closing on the Sabbath and other Jewish holy days.13 During the liberal years of the 1920s-1930s, Baghdadi Jews participated in government; the first Iraqi Minister of Finance, Sasson Hisqil, served in parliament for thirteen consecutive years, from 1920-1932. This period of accelerated integration and acculturation also witnessed the enthusiastic entry of Iraqi Jews into the world of modern Arabic literature. Jewish writers were at the vanguard of nascent literary modernism in Iraq.14 Others devoted their creative energies to Hebrew, or translated Hebrew works into literary Arabic, simultaneously participating in the revival of both languages. These translation projects resulted in some fascinating examples of cultural transfer: in 1945 the Iraqi Jewish writer Ezra Haddad translated The Journey of Benjamin of Tudela, a famous medieval Hebrew travel narrative, and published it in Arabic with an introduction by a promi-



nent Iraqi-Muslim historian; two years later, he translated a number of Omar al-Khayyam’s Rubaiyyat from Persian to Hebrew. Haddad also wrote secular Hebrew poetry, instructional Hebrew books, and was the principal of a Jewish secondary school,15 yet declared in 1936 that “Nahnu ‘arab qabla an nakun yahudan”: “We are Arabs before we are Jews.”16 In his writings as well as his statements, Haddad embodied the intercultural world of the Iraqi-Jewish intelligentsia. From the mid-1930s onward, the competing forces of Zionism and Arab nationalism would put these writers in a tug-of-war with one inevitable outcome: following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the rope itself would break, its long-intertwined strands unraveling with unforeseen rapidity. Caught in the political fallout of the conflict, Middle Eastern Jews were suspected of treacherous loyalties, accused of being fifth columns. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the great majority of the Jews in Arab countries left what, for most, were their ancestral lands, for Israel and the West; some ninety percent of Iraq’s inveterate Jewish community departed in 1950-1951 alone. By the end of the twentieth century, the term “Arab Jew”—Jews like Haddad, who considered themselves part of the Arab collective—would be no more than a historic anachronism, and these Iraqi and Egyptian Jewish writers became a quickly-fading memory in their lands of origin. As historic subjects who fit neither the master narrative of Zionism nor that of Arab nationalism, their contributions to modern Hebrew and Arabic literatures languish unrecognized, indeed virtually unknown.

II. In 1933, however, the horizon of possibilities was still wide enough and the geopolitical boundaries loose enough to permit a voluminous correspondence between Semah, the Baghdadi-Jewish poet, and David Yellin (18641941), the native Jerusalemite and eminent scholar who lived his entire life in Palestine. Yellin, along with Eliezer ben Yehuda, had played a determinative role in Hebrew’s linguistic modernization. He also shared Semah’s passion for Andalusian Hebrew poetry, and his Torat ha-shirah ha-sefaradit [Introduction to the Hebrew Poetry of the Spanish Period (1940)] was for many years the authoritative work on the subject. Writing to Rabbi Uziel, Yellin described Semah as “one of our people’s greatest sages (ehad mi-gdoley hakhamey ‘ameynu) in the [Hebrew] poetry of Spain and the knowledge of Arabic literature and poetry.”17 In his letters to Yellin, Semah would usually



append a poem, in rhyme and meter, whose thematic content reflected (or perhaps refracted) the letter’s subject matter. Born in 1902, Semah would have been witness to many seminal events: the 1909 Young Turk revolution, the First World War, the creation of the British mandate over Iraq, the monarchy, Iraqi independence, and finally, the first Israeli/Palestinian war and creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Semah was educated at the French-run Alliance Israélite Universelle school (founded in Baghdad in 1864), an institution of historic import that produced the first generation of modern Iraqi Jewish intellectuals and paved the way for the emergence of other secular schools. During the last decade of Ottoman rule, the number of secular educational institutions in Baghdad soared, giving rise to the generation of acculturated Iraqi Jewish writers closely associated with the creation of modern Iraqi fiction. Semah, however, unlike most of his classmates at the Alliance, also received religious instruction at Baghdad’s modern yeshiva (seminary) Beyt Zilkha, for which he earned the title of rav (rabbi). From his youth he demonstrated an affinity for medieval Hebrew poetry, and at the tender age of twelve he wrote poems both in Hebrew and Arabic about the horrors of the First World War, which the Ottoman Empire had entered on the German side. Semah’s seminary instructor, the rabbi Yehuda Fatiyyah, wanted to publish the collection, but when Semah’s father objected on the grounds

Figure 2. Meeting of David Yellin (third from left) and Dahud Semah (fourth from left), Baghdad, Winter 1932–1933 (Courtesy of Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center).



that it was likely to invoke wrath of the authorities, Fatiyyah burned the collection instead. Semah eventually became a bookseller and published scholarship on medieval Hebrew poetry; he also collected a large number of priceless original manuscripts, many of which were to be stolen in the anti-Jewish riots of June 1941 known as the farhud. During a visit to Palestine in 1932, Semah was Bialik’s guest, and the two poets continued to exchange letters afterwards; Semah also sent Bialik numerous comments on the poems of Solomon ibn Gabirol, whose works Bialik had begun to reissue in the late 1920s. At Yellin’s behest, he returned to Palestine in 1935 to work at the Institute for the Study of Medieval Hebrew Poetry, where he assisted Yellin with the preparation of the collected works of Todros Abu al-‘Afiyah (Abulafia) for publication.18 In 1949, following the Palestinian-Arab defeat and creation of Israel, and in the midst of the ensuing deterioration of Jewish life in Iraq, Semah emigrated to Israel permanently. There, he continued to publish scholarly criticism of Andalusian Hebrew poetry, and also published his own poetry in the prestigious Haarets daily as well as in a number of literary and cultural journals (Moznayim, Ha-hed and Mahberet).19 The poem that will be the central concern of this paper was, then, written in 1933: shortly after Semah’s first visit to Palestine and meeting with Bialik, and one year before Bialik’s death.20 Bialik’s reputation was by this point more than firmly established. In light of the respect, indeed, celebrity he commanded, one would expect nothing less than a paean to this “prince of poetry,” as the poem calls him. And indeed, Semah’s poem delivers praise of the highest order—but not only of Bialik. My reading of the poem reveals that it was not the single-minded celebration of Bialik’s achievements one would expect. Through a multilayered, deeply intertextual mesh of references upon references, the poem creates a nuanced picture of modern Hebrew poetry that is in dialogue both with the Andalusian tradition and with the revolutionary poetics spearheaded by Bialik. It seems to celebrate but also decenter Bialik’s persona as the modern-day prophet of poetry by locating the cultural origins of modern Hebrew poetry in ‘arav, a term used in post-Biblical Hebrew to connote Arabo-Islamic civilization. Between the lines, Semah may have been quietly establishing his own role, as a successor to the Andalusi Hebrew poets, in the revival of Hebrew letters. His fluent engagement with these multiple sources—let alone the sense of self-assertion that emerges from the cultural contestation waged in the poem—considerably complicates the one-dimensional view of Hebrew poetry from this period as the exclusive cultural property of European Jews.



III. The two-hundred year “Golden Age” of Hebrew poetry in Muslim Spain (950-1150) opens with the arrival in Cordoba of another Baghdadi Jewish poet, Dunash ben Labrat, who is credited with the adaptation of Arabic metrics for use in Hebrew verse; it comes to a close with the dislocation of Jewish life under Almohad rule.21 Remembered primarily for its intermingling of religions and cultures (Arabic, Hebrew, Romance/ Mozarabic, Berber, and others), al-Andalus has been much idealized in modern times as a model of co-existence and of creative synthesis between the three monotheistic faiths. Nostalgia notwithstanding, the Andalusi amalgamation engendered remarkable texts by a class of Jewish elites who wrote in both Hebrew and Arabic—and whose Hebrew poetry constitutes a unique sociocultural phenomenon in the history of Hebrew literature. Ross Brann attributes the adoption of Arabic poetic norms by the elite of Spanish Jewry to the interrelated processes of urbanization and Arabization that followed the spread of Islamic civilization.22 Following the conquest of Iberia in the early eighth century, Visigoth Spain came under Muslim rule; with the development of court culture over the next three centuries, Jewish nobility “began to adopt the values and imitate the forms of cultural expression cultivated by the elites within Hispano-Arab society.”23 A class of courtier-rabbis emerged, who, in writing poetry, retained Hebrew as their linguistic medium, but assimilated into it Arabic poetic conventions of style, prosody, and content. The innovative (and, at the time, controversial) aspect of their writing was its use of biblical language and allusion for the secular ends of entertainment and persuasion, such that “a startling fusion of the sacred and the profane became the touchstone of Andalusian Jewish culture.”24 Their choice of Hebrew (as opposed to Arabic) has been explained by various scholars as a panoply of ethnocentric motivations: as a “vehicle for the self-expression of a newly self-confident and cohesive community […] a new prestige literature”; as an expression of “cultural nationalism,” or even as a “subversive appropriation of Arabic culture for Jewish ideological purposes”; yet the literary and linguistic ideology informing this ethnocentric poetry was itself derived entirely from the host culture.25 The result of this somewhat paradoxical situation is, in Brann’s collocation, a “literary discourse designed to mediate cultural ambiguity.”26 For centuries following the Jewish expulsion from Spain, Hebrew poetry remained an important model of creative expression for Middle Eastern Jews (many of whom were themselves descendants of the Sephardic



exiles). It should be noted, however, that by the time of Semah’s poem (1933), very few writers even among the Sephardi and Middle Eastern Jews were still utilizing this form. For Semah, composing an Andalusian-style poem was most likely a reflection of his deep scholarly and personal identification with this culture and its heritage. But what is perhaps more intriguing is that in adopting the form and style of Andalusian Hebrew poetry, he also seems to transfer some of its legacy of ambivalence. Here, however, the sense of “cultural ambiguity” obtains not from the complex interaction with, and mediation of, a non-Jewish host culture, but rather, from the interaction with another Jewish cultural discourse: one founded upon the assumption that the torch of Hebrew literature, and in fact, of Jewish modernity, had passed to exclusive European Jewish dominion. I will begin my reading of the poem with a transliteration, followed by a very literal translation that takes minimal poetic license for the sole purpose of rendering into comprehensible English what is a highly mannered, stylized and archaic Hebrew. In the interests of English syntax my translation dispenses with the break between hemstitches.

La-yovel ha-shishim shel Hayyim Nahman Bialik27
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 yeshirun ‘et yeshurun bo yeshuron menagenet we-kinorah be-heykah we-ya‘lat hen be-lo khahol we-tupha be-tokh ‘arav u-me-hem we-arba‘t tsemidim ‘al yadeyha we-al shuley me‘ilah pa‘amonim yetomah hi we-aviha hakhi hay ani me’az shema‘tiha teranen she’altiha: le-mi at ha-‘adinah heshivatni: ani ha-bat asher yad avi qorban ba-hagi hag navi shir asher hu gidlani mi-ne‘uray ani ha-bat avoteyha nevi’im we-ramzah li b-‘ayin yamin ‘aleyhem ra’itimo be-siftot dovevot el u-vahzotam yada‘timo ve-heymah we-sefer ‘al yadey vitam lefanay we-abit bo we-ha-katuv la-ha’im we-hotsev lahavot esh ba-zmirim yahid ha-dor ve-abir shir ha-lo hu we-hatot ha-zman rabu be-abdo ‘adinat ha-yofi bimey ‘alumim we-zimratah tesamah lev ‘agumim we-saroq me‘uteret be-khol miney besamim mequshetet ve-‘al apah nezamim we-haruz dar meyapeh ha-gelamim metsaltselim ‘aley shem ha-hakhamim we-noldah lo bli tsirim we-damim? we-avinah neginat ha-yetomim u-vat mi mi-qedoshim at we-ramim avotay tahafokh ha-tsur agamim le-havi li-krat hodo shelamim ‘afrot ‘ash ve-tola‘a, ha-ze‘umim le-hodam nirtsa‘u laylot we-yamim we-toreh ‘al shney ishim ‘arumim zamir bitam asher bi-sefat yequmim gevirol ‘im bno ‘ezra re’emim memula dar u-miney yahalumim me’od yafeh we-im lo ba be-yamim yehashmel ‘orqey shom‘av zeramim ba-doreynu u-mahmadav ‘atsumim sefat ‘ami we-nitmala ashemim

FROM BAGHDAD TO BIALIK WITH LOVE 22 23 24 25 26 ‘adey ba hu we-hehya et sefatam l-khakh ha’im qarauhu avotav we-lif‘amim yehu qashim hakhamim ahuv ha-kol we-ha-kol ne’ehavav avarkhenu be-hag shishim ve-yim‘at we-eyn ‘od ba-zman hatat u-mumim we-hiyah et sefat torat temimim we-hu no’ah we-ish tsadiq we-tamim u-mahmadav be-lev yamim reshumim be-‘eynay lo malo ‘olam shelomim.


For the Sixtieth Jubilee of the Poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik 1: They will sing when they see in Israel the delicate beauty in the bloom of her youth 2: playing the lyre in her bosom’s embrace, her song gladdening the sorrowful heart 3: a charming doe [even] without kohl or rouge, perfumed with all kinds of fragrances, 4: she was cultivated amongst the Arabs, and from them she is adorned with nose-rings 5: and [with] four bracelets on her arms and a mother-of-pearl bead that embellishes the body. 6: On the fringes of her cloak bells tinkle the names of the sages [i.e. great rabbis]. 7: She is an orphan, yet be her father alive, and she born to him without labor pains or blood? 8: Since I heard her singing, and understood this to be the song of orphans, 9: I asked her: “Whose are you, delicate one, whose daughter from amongst the holy and exalted?” 10: She answered me: “I am the daughter whose forefathers’ hand turned the rock into water. 11: I will bring a sacrifice to my festival, the festival of the prophet of poetry [puns with: the festival on which we bring poetry], to bring to his glory [i.e. to honor him with] a blameless offering, 12: he who raised me from my youth of meager dust, moth and worm. 13: I am the daughter whose forefathers were poets, and for whose glory people toiled like slaves by day and night.” 14: And with her right eye she winked to show me two wise men 15: I saw them with their lips moving to the song of their daughter, which was in a human language. 16: And in seeing them I recognized them, and they were Gabirol with Ibn Ezra, the giants [literally, rams] 17: and before me was a book in the hands of their daughter, filled with all kinds of precious pearls and diamonds 18: and I looked at it and the book written by Hayyim [puns with: dedicated to life] and it was very beautiful, even if not ancient, 19: striking sparks of fire in the poems and electrifying the flow of blood in its listeners’ veins. 20: Verily, he is unique in his generation, a prince of poetry, and his virtues are great! 21: The sins of time multiplied in the loss of my people’s language and it [the language] grew full of



blame 22: until he came and revived their language, and no longer are there sin and defects in [our] time28 23: And therefore his fathers called him Hayyim [life]: because he completely rejuvenated the language of Torah. 24: While the sages were harsh at times, he is a pleasant, righteous, and blameless man, 25: loved by everyone, and everyone loved by him, and his virtues are inscribed in the heart of the days [i.e. time].29 26: I’ll bless him on the festival of his sixtieth [birthday], and in my eyes a world full of congratulations would be too small for him. As nearly every line of the poem incorporates at least one pun or wordplay, my analysis will focus on the points most relevant for our discussion, beginning with the extended metaphor of the maiden, introduced as the “delicate beauty in the bloom [literally, days] of her youth” (line 1). The phrase we-ya‘lat hen be-lo khahol we-saroq [“a charming doe [literally, ibex] without kohl or rouge,” line 3] originates in the Babylonian Talmud,30 where it is mentioned in the context of wedding ritual, as a song sung in Palestine of antiquity to celebrate the beauty of the bride; its modern Hebrew derivative, le-lo kehal u-sraq, has come idiomatically to mean “the real thing,” or “the thing as it is.” Here in the poem, the phrase works on both levels: literally, to personify the maiden, and figuratively, to represent Hebrew poetry as an art whose beauty is innate, genuine, as opposed to cosmetic.31 But the poem then further informs us that this beautiful maiden was “cultivated amongst the Arabs, and from them she is adorned with nose-rings,” with “four bracelets on her arms and a mother-of-pearl bead that embellishes the body” (4, 5). The Hebrew word haruz (bead) puns with “rhyme”; here, it refers to the haruz al-mavriah, the rhyme that “locks” the end of the second hemstitch in each line and, as such, endows it with its aesthetic form (much as jewelry embellishes the body).32 But while the Hebrew writers of medieval Spain frequently compared Hebrew language or poetry to a beautiful woman, this modern poet leaves no doubt as to the maiden’s cultural identity: she is the embodiment of Hebrew verse whose meter, structure, and intercultural references are Arabic; who was nurtured, developed, and cultivated by the Arab cultural milieu. Thus, while the essence of her beauty is Hebrew, and as the language of God and Torah, innately beautiful (be-lo kahol we-saroq), her style, her appearance, her character—that is, all the external adornments that enhance her innate loveliness and give it a distinct aesthetic form—are Arab.



Figure 3. The poem in print (Ben Ya’akov, 420).



As to her exact identity, though, the poet still has a few tricks up his sleeve: there will be a riddle, and it will have multiple answers. With lines 7 through 11, we arrive at the heart of this poem’s intertextual realm, and the key to its interpretation. Line seven introduces the riddle “Yetomah hi weaviha hakhi hay/ we-noldah lo bli tsirim we-damim?” which could be paraphrased: “She is an orphan whose father perhaps lives, and who was born to him without labor pains or blood?” In presenting us with the paradox of the orphan whose father lives, the poet invokes the well-known medieval genre of riddle poems—but with a deliciously subversive twist. To begin with, the poem intimates but simultaneously questions the maiden’s paternity through the words hakhi hay (“does [he] live” or “is [he] alive”), the word hay punning with Bialik’s first name, Hayyim (life)—a hint more fully materialized in line 23 (“and therefore his fathers called him Hayyim”). The phrase that follows, “without labor pains or blood,” recalls Bialik’s seminal essay, “Hevley Lashon” (Language Pangs, 1905), in which he argues that to put an end to modern Hebrew’s “labor pains,” Hebrew must acquire a truly “living,” spoken register.33 The phrase is also a nod to the classical Arabic tradition that great poetry is produced effortlessly, either by demonic inspiration or by natural talent—an idea that dovetails with the Romantic trope of poet as prophet, which Bialik borrowed from Russian literature and retrofitted to the Hebrew tradition, and which is made explicit in line eleven.34 Through these delicate clues, the line prompts us to consider that this maiden may be the singular daughter of Bialik, whose poetic greatness is such as to have produced her in an immaculate birth of sorts (a concept that will be explained in more detail shortly). But—and here is the twist—even as it hints that the father may be Bialik, line seven undercuts this reading by invoking at least two important medieval intertexts, whose readings suggest an entirely different solution to the riddle. Ben Ya’akov (the editor) glosses this line with a reference to the famous “Shirah yetomah” of Yosef ibn Hisdai, “Arusah at ve-hi la-‘ad betulah ve-em lah av ve-hineyha yetomah”: “She is betrothed yet forever a virgin, and she has a father but is an orphan.”35 The “Shirah yetomah” (literally, “Orphaned Poem”; idiomatically “Singular Song”)36 was composed by Joseph Ibn Hisdai for his friend, the great Hebrew poet and prime minister of Granada, Samuel ha-Nagid (993-1056), and in it Ibn Hisdai also boasts of his own role in reviving Hebrew through his poetic labor. Although Ibn Hisdai is indeed the chronological antecedent, I believe we find a closer textual match to those particular lines in the introductory maqamah37 of



Yehudah al-Harizi’s fourteenth-century Tahkemoni. The Tahkemoni begins with the speaker’s long lament about the deplorable condition of Hebrew, and the faithlessness of all those Jewish poets who have been seduced by Hagar (Arabic), leaving Sarai (Hebrew) barren. The speaker will thus take it upon himself to find the Hebrew language (in the guise of a beautiful woman, of course) and to have intercourse with her; their offspring will be the maqamat that follow in the collection. In a poeticized replay of Abraham’s servant finding Rebecca at the well,38 the speaker decides that he will go to a spring and will ask the first maiden he encounters if he can drink of her “poetry”:39 “We-amarti eleyha hashkini na mi-nozley melitsotayikh. Hanotfim mi-beyn siftotayikh. We-amrah: shteh. We-esh lehavim mi-beyn sfatay hateh. Otah l-‘avdekha hokhahta, u-vah eda‘ ki hesed ‘alay gamalta.” [“I will say to her, ‘Give me to drink of the poetry flowing from between your lips.’ And [if ] she will say: ‘Drink. And snatch the flames of fire from between my lips’ [then I will know that] You have given her as proof to Your servant that You have bestowed kindness on me.”] No sooner does he finish thinking this than a woman appears with a pitcher on her shoulder to draw water. She says to him: “Drink, my lord, from the flow of my [rational] thought. For milk and honey are beneath my tongue.” The narrator then resumes: “We-eshal otah we-omer: bat mi at? U-mi-eyzeh mahtsav hutsvat? Amrah: ani yetomah we-avi hay. We-niharu bi bney imi we-ehay. Ani hayiti keter melukhah. Ani lashon ha-qodesh gvirtekha. We-im eytav b-‘eynekha ehyeh havertekha.” [“I asked her: ‘Whose daughter are you? And from what quarry were you hewn?’ She said: ‘I am an orphan yet my father lives. My mother’s sons, my brothers, have forsaken me. I was a crown of royalty. I am the Holy Tongue, your mistress. And if I be pleasing in your eyes, I will be your companion.’”]40 The speaker also describes the maiden as adorned with the “jewelry” of his own poetic talents: “nizmey tehilotay be-ozneyha. We-‘anak melitsotay ba-tsavaroneha”: [“the earrings of my praises are in her ears and the necklace of my verses around her neck”]— ornaments with distinct echoes in lines 4 and 5 of the Semah poem. Indeed, the poem’s invocation of the orphan, the necklace, and the bead achieve a perfect integration with a network of Andalusian poetic associations dating to the tenth through the eleventh centuries. The word yetomah (orphan girl) first mentioned in line 7 immediately evokes its Arabic cognate and counterpart, yatimah. While it, too, literally means orphan girl, in the Arabic tradition it connotes a unique line of poetry, whose uniqueness is such that it is incapable of being reworked by other poets in their verse. We see, for example, in the title of an eleventh-century anthology of poetry called “Yatimat al-dahr” [“The unique one of the age, by al-Tha’alibi”]



how the word yatimah comes to signify poetic uniqueness. In terms of the Ibn Hisdai—ha-Nagid correspondence, although ha-Nagid is the more famous of the two poets, Ibn Hisdai’s “Shirah yetomah” is considered the finest poem of that period—hence the title, most certainly bestowed upon it long after its composition, as was often the case with medieval works.41 In this literary tradition, moreover, the poem is the “daughter” of the poet; the better the quality of this daughter, the more she becomes “barren,” because truly great poetry can neither reproduce nor be reproduced. We find this concept underscoring the line from “Shirah yetomah,” inasmuch as the maiden (here, self-referentially representing the poem at hand) will remain “forever a virgin.”42 One of the classical Arabic terms for poetry is nazm or manzum, meaning “strung” (as in the sense of beads or pearls arranged and strung on a thread). In the opening of Tahkemoni’s introductory maqamah, for instance, the speaker says: “ve-haya ka-‘anak la-shir” [“he was as a necklace for poetry”].43 In such a necklace of pearls or beads, the centerpiece, which has no counterpart on left or right and is hence unique, is often called the yatimah— the orphan girl. The Andalusian scholar Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi even modeled his anthology of poetry “Al-‘iqd al-farid” (The unique necklace) on this pattern, such that each chapter is named after a stone and hence doubled, except for the “centerpiece” chapter, which is called the faridah (the feminine form of “unique one,” similar to yatimah). All these interrelated elements are present in both Semah’s poem and the al-Harizi intertext: the unique, beautiful “daughter” who is Hebrew poetry, and who is also an orphan; the bead that is also a rhyme; and the necklace that, in its aesthetic enjoinment of these individual “beads,” is the poem. But what is more telling is that in Ibn Hisdai’s “Shirah yetomah” as well as in al-Harizi’s Tahkemoni, the speaker (who, in both cases, identifies himself as the author), credits himself with the role of savior and rejuvenator of Hebrew from its much-lamented decrepitude. In Ibn Hisdai’s “Shirah yetomah,” as in Semah’s poem, the beautiful maiden is identified directly with Hebrew poetry; in al-Harizi’s Tahkemoni, she is the Hebrew language itself. To be sure, in lines 21 through 24, Semah focuses overtly on Bialik’s colossal role in revitalizing the Hebrew language. Yet at the same time, by invoking al-Harizi and Ibn Hisdai, Semah locates the initial revival of Hebrew and creation of secular poetry in the Arabo-Hebrew tradition of al-Andalus, long associated with the Arabized Jews—and with which he was so closely associated himself.



This genealogy is made more explicit later on in the poem, when the beautiful maiden indicates to the speaker that she is in fact the “daughter” of the two wise men—“Gabirol ‘im bno ‘ezra” (“[Ibn] Gabirol with Ibn Ezra,” line 16), whose works Bialik had recently edited and published with Ravinitsky.44 Throughout the poem, then, lines of lineage and paternity are blurred; the poem does not seem to refer either to Bialik or to the Andalusi Hebrew poets without somehow conjuring up the other. In so doing, it implies a line of succession between these poets and Bialik, potentially naturalizing Bialik into a tradition of secular Hebrew literature that began in Sefarad. Bialik would by no means have opposed such a linkage, which affirmed his own master narrative of Hebrew creativity as a semi-continuous lineage stretching from antiquity to modernity, whose common thread of “Hebrew genius” connected discrete historical moments, and to which he considered himself heir.45 But Bialik’s romantic (and ahistorical) vision of the cultural sources of modern Hebrew would hardly have emphasized their Arabic roots. Nor, moreover, would he have seen the Andalusi Hebrew poets as Arabized Jews; in Bialik’s manner of thought, the Hebrew poets of “Sepharad” were more of an autonomous cultural entity that happened to embody the “Hebrew genius”—that quasi-mythological spark—for that particular period of history.46 It seems important to Semah to connect Bialik with the Andalusian Hebrew tradition, a connection he effects through the slippery identity of the “book” in lines 17 through 19. Lines 17 through 19 can conceivably be read as saying either that the book was written by the daughter for Bialik or, more probably, that the book, written by Bialik, is now placed in the daughter’s hands.47 While the latter reading is, in context, the more plausible, the phrasing al-yadey vitam (either “by the daughter” or “in the hands of the daughter”) remains intriguingly ambiguous. If we were to read sefer al-yadey vitam as “a book [written] by their daughter,” it would follow that authorial agency is now shifted from Bialik—and even from Ibn Gabirol and Ibn Ezra—to their “daughter,” the (female) embodiment of Hebrew poetry. In this (the alternative) reading, the sefer (book) might be understood as a moment of ars poetica, a self-referential allusion to the poem at hand, which the speaker has “found” before him, in another “immaculate” birth of sorts; and which, while written in Andalusian style, is indeed “not ancient.” But what is certain is that either way, the maiden is a figure who is placed in the poem to mediate between Bialik and the two Sephardi poets. The poem also leaves no doubt as to the book’s properties. It is not only beautiful, but powerful, striking sparks of fire in the poems and elec-



trifying the bloodflow in its listeners’ veins (“we-hotsev lahavot esh bazeramim/ yehashmel ‘orkey shom‘av zramim,” line 19). The Biblical descriptive phrase hotsev lahavot esh—literally, “quarrying flames”—has come idiomatically to connote a rousing speech, one that generates enormous enthusiasm amongst its listeners; we saw an allusion to this same phrase in al-Harizi’s Tahkemoni when the speaker asks the maiden of “fiery” speech from “which rock” she was “quarried.” It also subtly re-invokes the poet/ prophet trope.48 Linguistically, the line sweeps from antiquity to modernity: it begins with the language of a very old Biblical metaphor—that of the rock and fire—and culminates in a distinctly modern metaphor using the mystical Hebrew word hashmal of the Book of Ezekiel, newly refurbished to mean “electricity” in modern Hebrew, and which Semah uses here in a very contemporary way (le-hashmel, “to electrify,” in the sense of “enthrall”). Semah’s use of this neologism indicates that he was abreast of contemporary developments in the language. That Semah’s poem, through these intertextual hints and syntactic ambiguities, explicitly praises Bialik while subtly asserting its own author’s importance is not in and of itself unorthodox or unprecented. Here we may recall the “Shirah yetomah,” in which Ibn Hisdai uses his poem for haNagid as an opportunity for self-promotion. This, too, was one of the conventions of al-Andalus: poets would trade praise poems amongst themselves, each working to outdo the other in their poetic virtuosity and therefore implicitly flattering not the subject of the poem so much as themselves, the composers. Given that their relationship was mediated through a mutual interest in and correspondence about Andalusian poetry, it is a convention that Semah would have expected Bialik to recognize and to understand. In creating such a panegyric circle and inscribing himself within it, Semah may thus have sought to forge a relationship akin to that of Ibn Hisdai and Shmuel ha-Nagid; a relationship of peers, and as follows, as equals.

IV. Here, however, we must ask whether, in the context of twentieth-century East-West dynamics, such a relationship of equals was really possible. We know very little about the relationship between these two figures, other than the fact that they had corresponded and that Bialik had hosted Semah during his 1932 visit to Palestine. Like other Europeans, Ashkenazi (European) Jews immigrating to Palestine in the early- to mid-twentieth century



generally saw themselves as culturally and intellectually superior to nonEuropean peoples, including their Middle Eastern co-religionists—whom many contemptuously dismissed as “Asiatics,” “Levantines,” and so forth. In this context, it is important to note the popular perception that Bialik himself held a strong aversion to Middle Eastern Jews. This belief stems from an undocumented—and perhaps apocryphal—statement made by Bialik to the effect that he hated frenkim (a derogatory term for Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jews) because they reminded him of Arabs.49 A recent article in the literary supplement of the highbrow Israeli daily Haarets took up this controversy in an effort to rid the public of the idea that the “national poet” ever made this disparaging remark. In the author’s view, it is implausible that Bialik could devote a large part of his career to editing and recovering the works of Sephardic poets such as Ibn Gabirol and Ibn Ezra, indeed calling Sephardic poetry the greatest creation since the Bible and Talmud50—and yet still hold such a negative attitude toward the Jews who most closely resembled his poetic forbears in language and culture. The author, Shmuel Avineri, endeavors to clear Bialik’s name of racism toward the Sephardic community first by showing how much Bialik admired the Andalusi (Sephardi) poets and their intellectual legacy, then by relating anecdotal, third-party reminiscences of Bialik vehemently denying any connection to the infamous statement, and finally, by attributing the statement to someone else (one unknown “Arieh Leib Smiatitsky”). Unfortunately, the article, written to exonerate Bialik, serves mainly to reinforce the statement’s racist assumption that being likened to an Arab is simply an unequivocal affront. Threading through Avineri’s sedulous defense is the implicit declaration that since Bialik really liked Sephardim, he couldn’t possibly have put them in the same category as Arabs!51 Nowhere does Avineri ask what that category is, or unpack its set of equivalencies (Sephardi = Arab = Eastern = inferior, backwards, etc.). The article thus leaves one with more questions than answers: as one reader wrote to the editor in response, does the author means us to understand that Bialik hated Arabs? To convey Bialik’s depth of admiration for the Sephardic community, furthermore, Avineri employs blatantly patronizing language (“Bialik’s words about the weakness that had visited itself upon the Sephardic community in the present [were] said in a loving spirit and as an impetus for reform”) as well as Orientalist assertions (“Bialik didn’t deprive himself from enjoying the beauty of the daughters of the Oriental Jewish communities”)— delivering, in short, the proverbial apology that may be even worse than the insult.52



I include this digression into the twenty-first century to point out how very much resonance the name “Bialik” still possesses as a cultural icon, and what is at stake in the fact of Bialik’s relationship with a thoroughly Arabized Jew such as Semah. In the event, Bialik may have been a victim of his own success; for, regardless of his own individual views, he became the veritable personification of the European-Jewish cultural elite. His name thus still has the symbolic power to evoke an entire milieu that, collectively, was less than welcoming of Middle Eastern Jews and their cultures. As the aforementioned reader’s letter put it: “Bialik symbolizes much more than one unimportant utterance—rather, he symbolizes the repressive Israeli cultural center, which occluded the Arab culture of the Mizrahi Jews.” Thus whether or not Bialik was the source of the utterance, over the years it has become a permanent fixture of the discourse about him, reified in the collective consciousness of Israeli public culture—whence the young poet Eytan Nahmias Glass’s modern day (1995) “ode”: The national poet of the Ashkenazis, Hayyim Nahman Bialik hated us the Blacks, the Sephardis, the Mizrahis and with pomp and circumstance was this sensitive man lowered into the grave. But what can I do, still I love his poems— my heart blazes for his words, yet does not forgive. “Take me under your wing,” you son of a bitch!54 Bialik had in fact, as Avineri himself noted, written and spoke about what he viewed as the sorry state of contemporary Middle Eastern Jewry.55 For instance, in 1927 Bialik had delivered a lengthy lecture in Jerusalem at the invitation of a Sephardic association (Histadrut Halutsey ha-Mizrah) on the desired revival of Sephardi Jewry (“Tehiyyat ha-Sephardim”) in which he called for Sephardic Jewry to awake from its torpor and paralysis and reclaim its historic legacy of cultural greatness. In this lecture he also expounded own views on the origins of modern Hebrew literature, informing his Sephardi audience that “The Hebrew scholarship of the haskalah period was centered around these [medieval Sephardic literary] personalities, from whom they [the Ashkenazi Jews] learned how to revive the Hebrew language, thought, and spirit. This was done by Ashkenazi Jews. Unfortunately, the Sephardim were the last to know their own roots, their cultural roots and their heritage.”56 Moreover, in Bialik’s introduction to the works



of Solomon Ibn Gabirol, published in the same year (1927), he not only reiterates this judgment but also draws a totalizing dichotomy whereby scholarship and intellectual inquiry are a purely Western endeavor, whose special charge it is to study its aesthetic object: the Hebrew writing of the East, portrayed here as the unheimlich place that is self and yet other, at once alive and dead: Even if we make an exception for the invaluable undertakings of Shmuel David Lutatsu and Hayyim Brody (mentioned above), who were alone in their time, still before us will stretch the field of research on Sephardic [Hebrew] poetry, by all appearances a desolate valley full of dry bones, sowed with the stones of ruination from all the parts of the Temple, a sad testimony to the weakness of spirit and to the impotency of the current generation [of Sephardim], a generation distinguished by its [legacy of] wisdom and national spirit, but that has not found amongst its own a redeemer of the splendor of its fathers’ spirit, which cries out to this generation from the grave. Who is to blame for this matter? There is no doubt that the source of this evil needs again to be sought in that same iron wall that stands these many years as a barrier separating our scholarly work in the Western countries from the Hebrew creative works, alive and continuous, in the countries of the East. Research and inquiry into the poems of our ancestors, as one of the branches of the wisdom of Israel born in the West, experienced its birth and growth primarily outside of the borders of the revival of Hebrew and its governance [i.e. Palestine].57 Read against this context, the correspondence between Semah and Bialik becomes all the more intriguing. What was Semah doing, if not “research and inquiry” on Sephardi poetry? Even if Bialik had, at the time of writing, been unaware of Semah’s contribution, he might have made mention of any of Semah’s antecedents. As but one example, another Baghdadiborn Jew, Shaul Abdallah Yosef of Hong Kong (1849-1906)—also a poet in his own right—had been a pre-eminent scholar of Sephardi poetry. Yosef discovered and elucidated the manuscript of the aforementioned Todros Halevi Abulafia’s Gan ha-mashalam ve-ha-hidot and also wrote commentary on Yehuda Halevi and Moshe Ibn Ezra.58 He had corresponded on these matters with Haim Brody (whom Bialik mentions above), and it is highly unlikely that Bialik would not have known of his work. Yet, despite certain knowledge of the contributions of Yosef and Middle Eastern Jew-



ish scholars to the field of Sephardic poetry, Bialik could allow himself to act as though he had never heard of them. Semah, the Iraqi Jew writing in 1933, at the twilight of Bialik’s life, must been privy to Bialik’s disparaging views of contemporary Sephardim. But was he aware of the alleged statement? Was the emphasis in his poem on the specifically Arab (as opposed to “Spanish” or “Sephardi”) roots of modern Hebrew poetry an oblique rejoinder, an attempt to remind Bialik of the role Arabic civilization had played in Hebrew culture? Or did Semah simply feel that he was expounding, in his verse, a genealogy of Hebrew poetry that Bialik would have embraced? What if, on the other hand, Semah took Bialik’s expressed admiration of the Andalusi Hebrew poets to heart and wrote the poem to defend Bialik? Or maybe he himself had internalized the Orientalist gaze, and saw Bialik as the long-awaited “redeemer”? Possibly, the answer comprises some or all of these possibilities—whence the ambivalence I find in the poem. For now, we can only speculate about Semah’s intentions. We can, however, affirm that the same “invisibility” that plagued Sephardic and Arab-Jewish intellectuals such as Semah during those formative years of modern Hebrew letters persists to the present day. Just as Bialik elided Shaul ‘Abdallah Yosef from his purview of Sephardic scholarship, contemporary histories of Hebrew letters continue to efface Semah and his Middle Eastern Jewish peers, such as the aforementioned Ezra Haddad. Neither Semah nor Yellin merited mention in Bialik and his Contemporaries—an extensive, “authorized” 1974 collection of papers exchanged between Bialik and the Hebrew writers and scholars of his time. This was despite the fact that Moshe Ungerfeld, the volume’s editor and the caretaker of Bialik’s archives, certainly knew of their tripartite correspondence, as he himself had included Semah’s poem in an earlier (1959) collection of poems dedicated to Bialik by writers throughout the world.59 The implication is that while an Iraqi-Jewish writer such as Semah could be one of Bialik’s exotic worldwide devotees, whose ode served to enhance Bialik’s internationalist stature, he could not be considered one of his “contemporaries”: that is, a modern Hebrew writer, scholar, or interlocutor in his own right.

V. Semah’s poem is an ingenious performance of literary erudition and stylistic virtuosity in a Hebrew poetic tradition long identified with Middle-



Eastern Jewry. But it is also much more than a neo-classical display of lexical razzle-dazzle. Like the jack-in-the-box masquerading as an innocent birthday gift, this praise poem is inordinately complex, quite literally “riddled” with ambiguities and double entendres. While overtly acknowledging the scope of Bialik’s contribution, it subtly reclaims the source of modern Hebrew poetry, locating it in the Arabic-influenced legacy of al-Andalus, as opposed to the European-Jewish trajectory that originated with the haskalah. This panegyric to Bialik should thus be read also as an artifact of the correspondence between two contemporary Hebrew poets, and finally, as a social text about an Iraqi Jew facing the burgeoning European-Jewish hegemony over Hebrew culture. In this light, what is most significant for our conception of Jewish intellectual history is the very fact that an Iraqi Jew writing Hebrew in Baghdad in the 1930s felt confident enough to insinuate this claim to poetic origins (not to mention the assertion of his own place in that story) within his paean to the Hebrew “national poet.” In so doing, he was certainly writing against the grain, as the Andalusian tradition, with its rigid prosody and stylistic conventions and its formulaic metaphors and allusions, was by that point not seen as a possible source for the renewal of Hebrew poetry. New Hebrew poets were even then rebelling against Bialik’s chokehold on Hebrew letters and experimenting with modernism, developing ever newer and freer styles, but from within a distinctly Euro-American stylistic frame of reference.60 To write in Andalusian style in 1933, and moreover, to use that style to make a distinctly contemporary point, were deliberate choices, ones that must be understood in the context of Semah’s correspondence with Bialik and their mutual interest in restoring the literary treasures of the Hebrew Golden Age for the new, quickly expanding Hebrew-reading audience. The poem, then, acts as a kind of theater in which the speaker, Bialik, Ibn Ezra and Ibn Gabirol and, finally, the female “spirit” of Hebrew Poetry all appear as characters, interacting with one another in the ongoing drama of Hebrew literature: one imagines, in center stage, the figure of Hebrew Poetry—the beautiful, bejeweled and bell-tinkling belle—holding in her hands the book by Bialik and looking pointedly at the venerable figures of Ibn Ezra and Ibn Gabirol, resurrected from their Andalusian pasts, perhaps still in grave-dusty robes. In collapsing historical time and cultural distance to bring these figures together, the poem becomes a nexus of the different historical moments and places they occupied. Written at a critical point in the development of modern literary Hebrew, Semah’s poem thus represents a different kind of Hebrew modernity—one whose trajectory



passes from al-Andalus to Baghdad to Jerusalem—and a reclamation of modern Hebrew letters for the Middle Jews who, for centuries, had kept the spirit of al-Andalus alive. University of California, Berkeley

1. The poem is dated with the Hebrew month Tevet of the year 5693 (tartsag), which, in the Gregorian calendar, began on Dec. 30, 1932. Since most of that Hebrew month fell in January 1933, and as the poem was written to mark Bialik’s sixtieth birthday, which was in 1933, I date the poem 1933. The text of the poem was printed along with a number of useful editor’s notes in Avraham Ben Ya’akov’s compendious anthology Shirah u-fiyut shel yehudey bavel ba-dorot ha-aharonim [Hebrew Poetry of Baghdadi Jewry: Collected and Selected Poems] ( Jerusalem: Ben Tsvi Institute, 1970) 420. This is the edition from which I worked in preparing this article. The poem also appeared more recently along with a summary interpretation in Lev Hakak’s book Nitsaney ha-yetsirah ha-ivirt ha-hadashah be-bavel [The Budding of Modern Hebrew Creativity in Babylon] (Or Yehuda: The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, 2004) 184-186. 2. These, in Hebrew, are referred to as delet and soger, literally the “door,” which opens, and that which “closes,” such as a latch or clasp). 3. A note on terminology and usage: Muslim Spain has as many different names as it has legacies, including that of the Hebrew poets who lived and wrote there. The place may be referred to as Spain or Iberia, or in older usage, as “Moorish” Spain; in Arabic, it is alAndalus, and in Hebrew tradition, it is Sepharad—which is also modern Hebrew’s name for the modern nation of Spain. I generally refer to the Hebrew poets of al-Andalus as “Andalusi” (or “Andalusian”) Hebrew poets, but where appropriate, may call them “Sephardi” (or “Sephardic”) poets, as they are traditionally known in Hebrew, and in Jewish scholarship. The descendants of the Jewish exiles from Spain are also known as “Sephardim” (plural of “Sephardi”). Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the term has been somewhat generalized in common usage to refer (inaccurately) to all Middle Eastern Jews, most of whom do not trace roots to Spain or speak Ladino (the language of the Sephardi exiles, also known as Judeo-Spanish). In recent years, the term “Mizrahi” (plural of “Mizrahim”) has entered Hebrew usage to refer to this latter group of indigenous Middle Eastern Jews, as distinguished from the Sephardim. It is to both of these two groups that “Sephardi” or “Sephardim” pertains in the discussion of the controversial statement attributed to Bialik (later in this paper). 4. Benjamin Harshav, Language in Time of Revolution (Berkeley: U of California P, 1993) vii-x, 3-9. A few notable exceptions were Western European (German) Jews, but for the most part, the pantheon of Hebrew literary figures from this period were born in Russia, Ukriane, Poland, and Lithuania. 5. Israeli writers born in the Arab world include Sami Mikhael, Eli Amir, Shimon Ballas, Yitzhak Gormezano-Goren, Haim Sabato. Some notable second-generation Mizrahi writers are Albert Swissa, Dorit Rabinyan, and Ronit Matalon. (Rabinyan’s family hails from from Iran). 6. Ammiel Alcalay, After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993). 7. In referring to the (loosely defined) Arabic social and cultural reform movements of the nineteenth through early twentieth centuries, the term “nahdah” [usually spelled as nahda] is most often translated in scholarly literature as “renaissance,” occasionally as “awakening”



or “revival”; but each of these translations implies (and reinforces) an ideological metanarrative of this history, and thus I have a certain amount of discomfort with them. Literally, the term means “rising,” “getting up” (from a sitting or lying position). 8. The Arab world is understood as consisting of two regions: the maghrib, or West, which includes the countries often referred to as “North Africa” (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya) and the mashriq, or East, which extends from Egypt to Iraq and comprises the entire Levant. The cultural ties within each section are stronger than those across them, such that each is considered not just a geographical, but to some degree also as a cultural, entity. Jewish writers of the maghrib would have belonged, then, to a different cultural sphere, one that had come under particularly strong French influence during that the French colonization of North Africa. For this reason, I limit my study to the Jews of the mashriq. 9. See Irene Gendzier, The Practical Visions of Yaqub Sanu (Cambridge: Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, 1966). The title of his newspaper is variously transliterated as Abu Naddara or Abu Nazzara. 10. Matti Moosa, The Origins of Modern Arabic Fiction, 2nd ed. (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1997) 52. 11. There is very little information in print about Moyal. Biographic information appears in Bath Baron’s The Women’s Awakening in Egypt: Culture, Society, and the Press (Yale UP, 1994) 20-21, and she is also mentioned briefly in Marilyn Booth’s May Her Likes Be Multiplied: Biography and Gender Politics in Egypt (U of California P, 2001). No scholarly monograph (or even article or chapter) has been devoted to Moyal as of yet. 12. Nancy Berg, Exile from Exile: Israeli writers from Iraq (New York: SUNY Press, 1995) 19; Nissim Rejwan, The Jews of Iraq: 3000 Years of History and Culture (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1985) 195, 210; and Moshe Gat, The Jewish Exodus from Iraq, 1948–1951 (London: Frank Cass, 1997) 7. 13. See for example, Naim Kattan, Farewell, Babylon, trans. Sheila Fischmann (New York: Taplinger Publishing Co. 1980) 39-40. 14. See Shmuel Moreh, ed., al-Qissah al-qasirah ‘inda yahud al-‘iraq [Short Stories by Jewish Writers from Iraq] ( Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, the Hebrew University, 1981), especially the Introduction; Reuven Snir, “‘We Were Like Those Who Dream’: Iraqi-Jewish Writers in Israel in the 1950s,” Prooftexts 11 (1991): 153-173 and “Tmurah tarbutit ba-ra’i ha-sifrut: rashit ha-sipur ha-‘ivri ha-‘aravi ha-katsar me-et yehudim ba-’iraq” [“Cultural change as seen through literature: the origins of the Arabic short story by Jewish writers in Iraq”] Pe‘amim 36 (1988): 108-129; and Sasson Somekh, “Lost Voices: Jewish Authors in Modern Arabic Literature,” Jews Among Arabs: Contacts and Boundaries, eds. Mark Cohen and Abraham Udovitch (Princeton: Darwin Press, 1989) 9-19; also “Lost Voices: Jewish Authors in Modern Arabic Literature” (not an identical essay), What is Jewish Literature? ed. Hanna Wirth-Nesher (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1994) 188-198. 15. Haddad was the headmaster of the Al-Wataniyyah (National) School from its founding in the 1920s (or, according to Ben Ya’akov, in 1933) and until his emigration to Israel in 1951. 16. Rejwan, 219. 17. Avraham Ben Ya‘akov, ed. Shirah u-fiyut shel yehudey bavel ba-dorot ha-aharonim. [Hebrew Poetry of Baghdadi Jewry: Collected and Selected Poems] ( Jerusalem: Ben Tsvi Institute, 1970) 420. 18. Another Hebrew poet from Toledo, c. 1247-1306. Toledo was part of Islamic Iberia until 1805; by Todros Abulafia’s lifetime it was part of Castile. Todros Abulafia was, however, still strongly influenced by Arabic literature and by the Andalusi school of Hebrew poetry. ( Jonathan Decter, personal communication, March 25 2005). 19. All the biographical information on the life and work of Semah presented here is from Ben Ya‘akov, 420. 20. It was, apparently, published in Moznayim some time afterwards, presumably in commemoration of the departed “national poet.” The poem was later reprinted in an anthology of poems dedicated to Bialik, “Shir ha-sharim le-h.n. bialik: mivhar shirim be-khamah safot ‘al



H. N. Bialik vi-yetsirato she-nilketu mi-tokh sefarim u-khitvey ‘et, bi-melot ‘esrim ve-hamesh shanah li-fetirato” [“Poems Written for H.N. Bialik: A Multilingual Collection of Poems about H.N. Bialik and His Works Compiled From Books and Journals to Mark TwentyFive Years Since His Passing”], ed. Moshe Ungerfeld (Tel Aviv: Hotsa‘at Ma‘ritsey Bialik, 1959). According to this volume’s table of contents, the poem was published in Moznayim, vol. 39, 1934. My search of Moznayim, however, reveals that vol. 39 actually appeared in 1937, and at the time of writing, I have not found the poem in Moznayim issues from 1934 or 1937. In the anthology (and so presumably in Moznayim), it appears under the title “Bat shirat sefarad tahog hag yovel ha-shishim” [“The Daughter of The Poetry of Sepharad Celebrates the Sixtieth Jubilee”]. It appears without title in Shira u-fiyyut. 21. See Ross Brann, “The Arabized Jews,” in The Literature of Al-Andalus, eds. Maria Rosa Menocal, Raymond P. Scheindlin and Michael Sells. (Cambridge/ New York : Cambridge UP, 2000) 435-454; 440; Schirmann, Jefim, Toldot ha-shirah ha-‘ivrit be-sefarad hamuslemit [The History of Hebrew Literature in Muslim Spain], ed. Ezra Fleischer. ( Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1995) 526-527 and Schirmann, Hayyim. Ha-shirah ha-‘ivrit be-sefarad u-beprovans, kerekh sheni [Hebrew Poetry in Spain and Provence, vol. 2] (Tel aviv: Dvir/ Jerusalem: Hotsa’at mosad bialik, 1956) intro, 24 and 55. 22. See Ross Brann, The Compunctious Poet: Cultural Ambiguity and Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1991). The summation in this section is deeply indebted to the introduction and first two chapters of this book. 23. Brann, 6. 24. Brann, 11. 25. Conseulo Lopez-Morillas, “Language,” in The Literature of Al-Andalus 33-59; 43. Lopez-Morillas also suggests that the choice of biblical Hebrew in particular reflects the “classicizing nature of the whole enterprise of poetry in the Arabic milieu,” wherein Jews looked upon biblical Hebrew as their own classical literary language, their own equivalent of classical Arabic (the language of poetry and of the Qur’an). (44); Brann, Compunctious 14; Brann, “The Arabized Jews” 451. 26. Brann, Compunctious 24. 27. Ben Ya‘akov 422; A note on my transliteration: In the Middle Eastern Jewish traditions, “vav” is rendered “waw,” “kuf ” is “quf ” (as in the Arabic “qaf ” ), “ ‘ayin” is pronounced as a gutteral, and “tsadiq” is pronounced as an emphatic “s,” as in the Arabic letter “saad.” Because this journal does not employ diacriticals, however, I have transliterated “tsadiq” as “ts” (rather than“s” with an underlying dot). Likewise, I have rendered both “het” and “hey” as “h.” 28. I.e., Time has ruined Hebrew, but Bialik has rebuilt what time ruined. 29. This use of yamim [days] is a personification of time (used invoked in the sense of fate); in medieval Hebrew and Arabic, saying someone’s virtues were inscribed on your heart was the idiom for expressing liking or affection. Here, the speaker’s affection for Bialik is inscribed not on his own heart, but on the heart of the days (of time, fate), as if to say that time itself has recognized his virtues and embraced him (Tova Rosen, personal communication, Dec. 10, 2003). 30. In Aramaic: “la-kahal ve-la saraq ve-la pirkus – ve-ya‘lat hen.” Tractate Ketubot 17a. The Talmudic reference can be found under the entry for “kahal” in Even Shushan, HaMilon Ha-Hadash ( Jerusalem: Kiriat Sefer, 1999) 730. 31. This in turn recalls the classical Arabic polemic over kadhib and sidq (untruth and truth) in poetry. According to Mansour ‘Ajami, most medieval critics conceived of truthful language as that which conforms to “reality and to the poet’s intent,” according to which “the best poetry obtains by the logical ordering of words and meanings” (‘Ajami, 2). Untrue poetry, on the other hand, is that which employs excessive metaphor, exaggeration, or hyperbole (ibid., 1-2). See The Alchemy of Glory: The Dialectic of Truthfulness and Untruthfulness in Medieval Arabic Literary Criticism (Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1988). 32. Editor’s note, Ben-Ya‘akov, 422; I believe the four bracelets on the maiden’s arms may also refer to a particular metric scheme or other structural feature of Andalusian Hebrew



poetry, although I have not been able to substantiate this idea. Jonathan Decter suggests that the word tsemidim (bracelets) is similar to the word tsimudim, “tsimud” being a Hebrew technical term created by David Yellin to designate the Arabic tajnis or jinas (“paronomasia”: wordplay, often alliterative or assonant, based on shared roots), a rhetorical figure applied by the Sephardi poets to their Hebrew verse. (Decter, personal communication, March 25 2005). 33. “Hevley lashon,” Kol kitvey Bialik (Tel Aviv: Hotsa’at Dvir, 1964) 197-198. As for the essay’s date of publication, according to Chana Kronfeld, while it is usually attributed to Ha-Shiloah 18 (1907), it first appeared two years earlier in a special edition of Ivriya. (Kronfeld, On the Margins of Modernism: Decentering Literary Dynamics [Berkeley: UC Press, 1993] 248.) I also borrow the translation for the essay’s title from Kronfeld. 34. In the introduction to Poetry and Prophecy: The Image of the Poet as a “Prophet,” a Hero and an Artist in Modern Hebrew Poetry (Leiden:Brill, 2003), Reuven Shoham argues that while both the haskalah and the Hebrew poetry of al-Andalus utilized biblical rhetorical/ thematic models such as that of prophecy, Andalusian poetry did not use this trope (or the Bible in general) to try to “reform the normative cultural system of the Jews,” as did the haskalah;’ “nor did it adopt the image of the prophet-poet as the key personality in its world, despite the dialogue it held with the biblical literature and the magic that the image of the prophet and prophecy itself worked on the leading figures in medieval Jewish poetry. By contrast, the Haskala embraced the Bible and the image of the prophet as part of its overt and covert struggle to change values in the Jewish world” (1). As concerns Bialik, he writes: “The prevailing view […] is that Bialik also designed his ‘prophetic’ ‘I’ from models of Romantic poetry in general, Russian in particular. Benjamin Hrushovski (Harshav) maintains that Bialik’s figure of the prophet is a new feature in Hebrew literature whose roots lie in Pushkin’s poem “The Prophet,” whereas Miron finds the seeds of the prophetic mode in the Haskala literature of the nineteenth century. These seeds flourished later in Bialik’s poetry through the influence of the Romantic and symbolist movements in Europe” (3). 35. Reference in Schirmann, Ha-Shirah ha-‘ivrit bi-sefarad u-be-provans (Hebrew Poetry in Spain and Provence), vol.1 ( Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: Bialik Institute and Hotsa’at Dvir, 1956): 175; my translation. 36. “The Singular Song” is a translation of the title suggested by Brann, Compunctious 49. 37. A maqamah is an Arabic genre of narrative in rhymed prose, often recounting the adventures of a narrator and his trickster counterpart. The genre was invented by Badi‘ alZaman al-Hamadhani in the tenth century in the Muslim East and became popular in alAndalus, where it was also adapted into Hebrew by such writers as al-Harizi. See also Rina Drory, “The Maqama,” in The Literature of Al-Andalus (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000) 190-210. 38. Genesis 24:10-14 reads: “Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and set out, taking with him all the bounty of his master; and he made his way to Aram-naharaim, to the city of Nahor. He made the camels kneel down by the well outside the city, at evening time, the time when women come out to draw water. And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham: Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townsmen come out to draw water; let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’—let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby I shall know that you have dealt graciously with my master.” (“Genesis,” Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures. [Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1985] 34) 39. Yehuda al-Harizi, Tahkemoni, ed. Y. Toporovsky (Tel Aviv: Hotsa’at mahberot la-sifrut, 1952) 10; my translation. 40. Al-Harizi, 10; Yehuda al-Harizi, Tahkemoni, vol. 1. trans. Victor Emmanuel Reichert ( Jerusalem: Raphael Haim Cohen’s Press, 1965) 33-34. Translation based loosely on Reichert. 41. Shamma Boyarin, personal communication (Nov. 11 2003, UC Berkeley). 42. See Abdelfattah Kilito, The Author and His Doubles: Essays on Classical Arabic Culture, trans. Michael Cooperson. (Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 2001); especially 19-20, 28-31. 43. Al-Harizi 3.



44. Editor’s note, Ben-Ya‘akov 422. 45. In Bialik’s lecture on “Tehiyyat ha-Sephardim” (“The Revival of the Sephardim”), a long speech delivered in Jerusalem in March 1927 at the behest of Histadrut Halutsey haMizrah and the Sephardi community, Bialik in fact uses this term in his lecture in describing the Sephardim of the Golden Age (and what befell their descendants in modernity): And this tribe, that concentrated within itself nearly all the Hebrew genius in the Diaspora for hundreds of years (Ve-ha-shevet ha-zeh, she-rakaz be-tokho ki-m‘at et kol ha-genyus ha-‘ivri ba-galut be-meshekh me’ot shana) and which created [literature] on behalf of the entire nation, in its own time and for generations to come (ve-she-hu yatsar bishvil kol ha-umah kulah, la-sha‘ato ve-le-dorot), – how is it possible that after [this] glory, a time of spiritual and creative decline came to it, until it became entirely estranged from Hebrew creativity and was left, if I may dare to say it, a dry branch, indeed in any case not a branch that bears fruit? (H.N. Bialik, “Tehiyyat ha-Sephardim,” Devarim she-be-‘al-peh, Sefer rishon (Collected Lectures, Volume One) (Dvir: Tel Aviv, 1935) 111. Bialik wrote, for instance, of Ibn Ezra: “And as for modernism […] I found in the poems of Moses Ibn ‘Ezra, that are just now being printed, much more modernism than in the poems of many of the recent [Hebrew] poets […] but do not understand from this that I, God forbid, belittle our fledgling poetry!” Igarot Bialik, vol. dalet (4) (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1938) 25, quoted in “Eyn ani mevin keytsad melamdim ha-sfaradim mi-tokh sifrey limud shel ashenazim” [“I don’t understand how they teach Sephardim from Ashkenazi schoolbooks”], Haarets, “Tarbut ve-Sifrut,” (Literary Supplement), 2 January 2004, H-1. It is also interesting to note in reference to Moses Ibn Ezra that Raymond Scheindlin sees him as the quintessential Andalusian Jewish intellectual precisely because of his simultaneous Arabness and Jewishness: Of all the Arabized poets of the Hebrew Golden Age in al-Andalus, Moses (Abu Harun) Ibn Ezra is the one whose poetry most resembles that of an Arab poet. Yet his literary career was more varied than that of most Arabic poets, reflecting the interests of the Jewish aristocrats of his age. The interplay of Arabo-Islamic and Jewish elements, a fascinating feature of the lives and careers of all the leading Hebrew poets of al-Andalus, is so fully developed in him as to render him a model case of an Andalusian Jewish intellectual. (Raymond P. Scheindlin, “Moses Ibn Ezra,” in The Literature of Al-Andalus 252-264, 252.) 46. In his 1927 speech before the Sephardi community of Jerusalem, Bialik enumerates the socio-cultural and historic factors leading to the European Jewish haskalah and tehiyyah— namely, the European Enlightenment and the radical transformation of spiritual and mental life in Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which, in his view, lead ineluctably to the era of nationalism; but any such historic, socio-cultural, or contextual background is entirely absent from his presentation of the Golden Age of Hebrew creativity in Iberia, which he discusses solely in (Hebrew and Jewish) literary terms, often presenting it as if it emerged from nowhere, in total disregard of the Arabic culture and civilization of which it was part. 47. I am reading the phrase katuv le-ha’im as “written by Hayyim” as in the sense of the Biblical Hebrew, “Shir le-Shlomo” (“Song of Solomon,” meaning by Solomon, not to Solomon). Some linguistic indeterminacy stems from the multivalent nature of prepositions in this register of Hebrew; how we interpret the line depends on how we read the preposition le- (in the phrase katuv le-ha’im) which can be used variably mean “to,” “for,” or “by.” However, in the context of the following lines, the reading I propose seems the most logical one. 48. The phrase itself originates in Psalm 29 (rendered in one translation as “the voice of the Lord kindles flames of fire” (Tanakh, JPS 1138). See also Even Shoshan, Ha-Milon ha-



Hadash 574. It bears noting that the association of rock and fire also recall some the Biblical prophets, beginning with Moses, who had burned his tongue on the ember, and continuing with the later prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, where the idea of prophecy is presented as something written on a stone that is swallowed and then burns inside the prophet, struggling to get out (independent of the prophet’s will). These tropes then lead us back to the modern associations of prophet with poet mentioned earlier in this paper. Pushkin’s famous poem “The Prophet,” inspired in part by the Book of Isaiah and translated into Hebrew by David Frischmann, ends with the final injunction of the poet-prophet: “ve-daber—u-l’vavot devareykha yav‘iru!” [“and speak—and your words will set hearts aflame!”] which loosely recalls “hotsev lahavot esh”; Bialik then recapitulated the theme in his “Davar” (“Word” or “Oracle”) with a rather more cynical view of the readers/listeners’ ability to receive the prophecy—that is, to recognize and appreciate great poetry. 49. The alleged statement appears in two formulations. The first, “I hate Arabs because they’re like the Sephardim” or “ I hate Arabs because they’re like the frenkim” is the version referred to in Shmuel Avineri,“Bialik ve-‘edot ha-mizrah: anatomiah shel ‘alilah ve-shel ‘elbon shav” [“Bialik and the Mizrahi Communities: The Anatomy of a Plot and of Baseless Insult”] Haarets, Tarbut ve-Sifrut [Literary Supplement] (25 Jan. 2004) H-1. Elsewhere the statement is inverted as “I hate Frenkim [Sephardim] because they remind me of Arabs” or variations thereof; Ammiel Alcalay, for instance, writes that Bialik “couldn’t abide Sephardic Jews because they reminded him of Arabs” (Alcalay 154; in p. 307 of Alcalay’s endnotes, the statement is “Cited by Nahum Menahem in Ethnic Tension and Discrimination in Israel, p. 83; p. 86 in the French edition”). 50. Bialik’s introduction to his edition of the poetry of Ibn Gabirol states:“Aharey kitvey ha-kodesh ve-agadat ha-talmudim ve-ha-midrashim, ayn safek, ki ayn lekha miktso‘a gadol be-yetsirat ha-dorot kulam min ha-shirah ha-sefaradit, zu she-‘amalu bi-shikhlula ha-gedolim, adirey ha-ruah ve-anshey m‘alah kulam…” [“After the Holy Scriptures and the agadah of the Talmud and Midrash, without a doubt there is no greater creative endeavor throughout the generations than that of the Sephardic poetry, that for whose composition the toiled the “greats,” of great and lofty spirit all…”] Shirey Shelomo Ben Yehuda Ibn Gabirol VII. 51. For instance, Avineri quotes a letter from an offended author writing to the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot in 1969: “By putting us and the Arabs in the same category, Bialik has turned in the eyes of Sephardim and Mizrahim into a symbol of schism and fraternal hatred.” Here again Avineri defends Bialik against the charges of anti-Sephardi racism rather than addressing the overt anti-Arab racism of this writer’s complaint. Yuval ‘Ivri, Letter in “Responses” section of Haarets, Tarbut ve-Sifrut [Literary Supplement] (9 Jan. 2004) H-3. ‘Ivri writes: “Avineri didn’t see fit to contemplate the meaning of what he termed a ‘racist’ statement. It was not clear to me as a reader whether he sees in the fact that Sephardim are similar to Arabs a racist statement, or whether [the racist statement was that] Bialik was supposedly considered an Arab-hater. Avineri returns again to the racist formula as through the Mizrahim [Oriental Jews] are emotional people who are easily insulted, and therefore disassociating Bialik from the statement will undo their feelings of ill-treatment.” 52. Avineri, H-4, my translations. 53. ‘Ivri, H-3. 54. From Eytan Glass, “Ani Simon Nahmias” (I Am Simon Nahmias), (Tel Aviv: Ha-Kibbutz Ha-me’uhad, 1995) 21, my translation. “Take me under your wing” is an allusion to the title of Bialik’s famous poem “Hakhnisini tahat knafekh,” which has entered into Israeli popular culture in a number of guises (in, for instance, at least two musical renditions) and is the poem Israeli society associates most closely with Bialik. 55. See also the quote from Bialik’s 1927 lecture to the Sephardic community in footnote 46. 56. Bialik, Tehiyyat ha-sefaradim 114-115. 57. The italicized portion of the quote is as follows in the original Hebrew: “dor she-mitgader be-hokhmato u-ve-le’umiyuto, ve-lo matsa be-tokho go’el le-tif’eret ruah avotav, ha-tso‘eket elav min ha-qevarim.” Shirey Shelomo Ben Yehuda Ibn Gabirol (The Poems of Solomon Ibn Gabirol), vol. 1, eds. H.N. Bialik and Y.H. Ravinitsky (Tel Aviv: Hotsa’at Dvir, 1927) viii; my translation and emphasis. 58. See also Lev Hakak, Nitsaney ha-yetsirah ha-ivirt ha-hadashah be-bavel [The Budding of Modern Hebrew Creativity in Babylon] (Or Yehuda: The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, 2004) 235.

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