Page 21 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

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and Jerem iah the prophet was shut up in the court of the
guard.” Such great classics as Don Quixote and The Travels of
Marco Polo were composed after their authors had been in­
carcerated. Had imprisonment succeeded in stifling the invinc­
ible force of creativity, some of our greatest Jewish works would
not have seen the light of day. Yohanan ben Zakkai, Akiba and
Hanina are but three of the many scholars whom Roman tyranny
and vengeance sought in vain to silence by confinement to prison.
The names are legion of Hebrew poets whose muse remained
lyrical in the darkest dungeons. The ir poems are singularly free
from complaint and we know of their oppression only through
the writings of their contemporaries. One of the great poets of
the Golden Age, Moses ben Ezra, was ja iled in Christian Spain
after his exile from Granada. W e hear of this only through
the sympathetic lines of Yehudah ha-Levi, who writes of him:
Unhappy he whose days are spent
Nor any ear for his lament!
But we hear no lament from Moses himself.
Another poet of the Spanish period, Todros ben Yehudah ha-
Levi Abulafia, was not only unconquered by his lonely im­
prisonment but continued to pen graceful lyrics and exhorted his
brethren to remain steadfast in their faith despite their trials.
W e get a hint of his whereabouts only from the lines accompany­
ing his poems of encouragement, which he sent to the communal
leaders for distribution among their people:
Fly, O my missive, as free as a bird;
Carry my poems where’er they be heard.
His faith grows even stronger during his affliction, and when he
hears that he may be put to death he is ready to sanctify the
Let me seek solace in tortures divine!
God hath decreed them—I find them condign.
In the one couplet where we do hear an echo of despair, he
suffers not because of his troubles but because he is surrounded
by uncleanliness:
Alas, there is no balm for me:
My days are spent unshrived by Thee!
Stone walls could not cage the spirit of the numerous scholars,
sages, saints and poets who, for months and years, knew only
the dismal habitations forced on them by oppression and
cruelty. The reader of their works is scarcely made aware of the
hostile environment of their creations. No musty odor clings
e f fe r
— O
ad ie s
on vert s
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