Page 74 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
compilatory effort. From the first period we have
Midrash Ha-
Gadol
written by David b. Amram Adani, and
Midrash Ha-Hefetz
by Zechariah b. Shelomo Ha-Rofe. The Yemenite Jewish writers
followed the editorial patterns that characterized the midrashic
work of compilers in Palestine and Europe. The
Midrash Ha-
Gadol
was composed in the 13th century and stands as a monu­
mental opus in Yemenite Jewish literature.2 Within its pages we
find midrashic passages from the Babylonian and Palestinian
Talmuds as well as homiletic passages and tales from both
Mekhihta de-Rabbi ben Yohai
and
Sifrei Zuta.
The significance of
Midrash Ha-Gadol
lies not in the fact that it represents an eclectic
work, but in the au tho r’s reworking o f many passages from o ther
sources. The au tho r’s goal was to collect the halakhic and aggadic
teachings o f the sages in one work and so create a comprehensive
reference source.
In addition to
Midrash Ha-Gadol
there exist two o ther very im­
portant eclectic midrashic works.
Sefer M eor Ha-Afela
3 contains
passages o f midrashic writing from Palestine. The second work,
Midrash Ha-Hefetz
4 is a commentary on the Pentateuch, the
weekly Haftarot and the Five Scrolls, excluding Ecclesiastes. The
in te r p r e t a t io n o f th e P e n ta te u ch is bo th hom ile tic an d
philosophical, and that o f the Scrolls both allegorical and philo­
sophical. The Yemenite sages who dealt with homiletic literature
followed the adage that, “he who is wise collects in all places,” that
is to say, they regarded their work as both eclectic and sacred.
Poetry, too, was an integral part o f the way o f life o f the Yem­
enite Jews in this period. Every event celebrated by the family or
by the community as a whole was initiated by the recital o f verses
from the Torah , and all singing or celebrations o f festive events
was preceded by such a recital. Hebrew poetry was part o f every­
day life. It served as an expression o f Yemenite longing for Zion
and hope for redemption. Until the end of the 16th century He­
brew poetry in Yemen struggled to maintain its uniqueness so as
not to succumb altogether to the strong influence o f the Hebrew
Spanish schools. Some Yemenite poets sought to preserve their
own style or to follow the style o f the poets o f Palestine. While
Spain served as the center o f influence for Jewish communities
2
Midrash Ha-Gadol,
Mosad Harav Kook, Jerusalem, 5 vols., 1947-75.
3 Nethanel b. Isaiah,
Sefer Me’or Ha-Afelah,
Yosef Kafah, ed., 1957.
4 Zechariah ha-Rofe,
Midrash Ha-Hefetz,
Meir Havazelet, ed., 1981.