Page 73 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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CASPI / TH E CREATIVE WRITING OF THE YEMENITE JEWS
65
century, Shelomo (Hubarah?) in
th e
14th century, Abraham b.
Halfon, Yeshua, David b. Yesha and Zechariah al-Dahiri are but
a few representatives of the Yemenite school o f poetry during
this period.
In the second period, the Yemenite communities freed them­
selves from the Spanish influence and their poetry began to in­
clude religious themes. It also became increasingly reliant on
mystical ideas. The principal poets of this period were members
o f the Mashta family, Yosef b. Yisrael, Shalem Shabazi and
Saadya b. Abraham al-Bashiri, to name but a few. These poets
continued to produce work in the Yemen for about 500 years
after the destruction o f the Jewish centers in Spain.
FOUR LITERARY FOCI
The literary creativity of the Yemenite Jews has a religious as­
pect and is bound up with their religious needs. Four foci can be
discerned in their creative work: a)
Halakhic literature,
including
notably works on ritual slaughtering, commentaries on the
Mishneh Torah and Shulhan Arukh and Responsa; b)
Homiletic
literature,
consisting mainly o f interpretations o f legends de­
signed to comfort Jews during times of tribulation, and composi­
tions such as
Midrash Ha-Gadol, Midrash Ha-Hefetz
and interpreta­
tions of
Ein Ya’akov
and
Menorat Ha-Maor,
c)
Mystical literature,
which probably developed as a result of the messianic movements
in the Yemen. It may also be that Jews were inspired to compose
in this style by the sanctity of the Zohar. d)
Poetry.
In this area, in
which most of the poems were composed for festive events and
holidays, the emphasis is on the motifs o f the longing for Zion
and the awaiting o f the beginning o f the messianic era. The
poetry is sacred; it preserved the traditional way o f life and
brought hope of redemption. Yemenite Jews did not produce
much in the way o f philosophy. Aside from short monographs
the chief philosophical work was
Bustan al cUkul
(Garden of Intel­
lects) by Nethanel b. al-Fayyumi who wrote in the style of Bahya
Ibn Pakuda of 11th-century Spain.
HOMILETICS AND POETRY — FIRST PERIOD
Midrashic literature is one o f the most significant fields o f crea­
tive endeavor o f Yemenite Jewry and it represents an important