Page 33 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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F
ischel
— L
iterary
C
reat iv ity
of
t h e
J
ews
o f
C
och in
27
Their Literary Productivity
The import of Hebrew books could, however, satisfy the litur-
gical and religious needs of the Cochin Jews only to a certain
degree. They had to compose Hebrew prayers, poems,
piyyutim
and other liturgical writings according to their own
“Minhag
Sh inka li”
developed in their ancient, original dwelling place,
Cranganore, during many centuries.
When we comb the literary remains of Cochin Jews preserved
in the great libraries of Oxford, Cambridge, London, D. S. Sas-
soon collection, Ben Zvi Institute, Hebrew University Library,
Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and in private collec-
tions in Cochin proper, we obtain a general idea of the complexion
and genre of their literary output. The authors appear to have
been imbued with one major consideration, namely, the survival
of the community and therefore geared their efforts toward two
major literary fields: (a) liturgical poetry and (b) historical com-
positions and chronicles.
Their productivity focused mainly on the Hebrew prayer book
for all occasions, liturgical poetry,
piyyu tim , p izmon im , selihot,
azharot, bakashot,
hymns, songs for weddings, circumcisions, for
Simhat Torah celebrations, etc. Most of the material has been
incorporated into anthologies such as
Seder Tefillot
(manuscript
of 1694) or
Hupa t Hattanim ,
the most widely used liturgical guide
for the community.
From the early 17th century on, local Hebrew poets, copyists,
scholars, scribes and translators emerged. Among those whose
names have been preserved were Levi Belilah, Eliah Adani, Eph-
rayim Salah, Solomon B. Nissim, Joseph Sakkai, Nehemias Mota,
and members of the families of the Castiel, of the Hallegua, of
the Kindel, and, above all, of the Rahabi. Also inserted were poems
of medieval Jewish authors such as Yehuda Halevi, Moses b. Ezra,
Solomon b. Gabirol and Israel Najjara, all very popular among
the Oriental Jews. They also engaged in copying of Halakhic
treatises dealing with the observance of the Sabbath, with
H ilkhot
Shehitah, Midrashim
and ethical treatises such as
Pirke Avot.
Ezekiel Rahabi’s son David Rahabi (d. 1791) made a major
contribution with his work
Ohel David,
a Hebrew treatise on the
correct calculations for the fixing of the Hebrew calendar, and a
comparison with the Hindu and Moslem calendar, with his
Debir,
a commentary on the Hebrew prayer book, and his
N iv Debir,
composed jointly with his elder brother, Elias.
Historical Compositions and Chronicles
Apart from their creativity in the field of liturgical poetry and