Page 78 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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enite Jewish writers also displayed a keen interest in astronomy.
The ir endeavors in this domain were anchored in religion as well,
for the establishing o f the dates of the Jewish festivals involved
the study o f the celestial bodies.
As indicated, Yemenite poetry was greatly influenced by the
Spanish Hebrew center, since many images were borrowed from
the early Hebrew poetry written there. The beginning o f the
17th century, however, signaled an important tu rn o f events. As
the first of the mystical poems began to appear in Yemen, the ties
o f Yemenite Hebrew poetry to its fountainhead were severed.
Sustained now by its own corps o f creative poets, Yemenite He­
brew poetry continued to flourish for about 500 years after the
destruction o f the Spanish center.
This period witnessed the development o f three poetic genres
employed exclusively by Yemenite Jews. The first genre is the
“poetry o f the soul,” which explores the philosophical and mys­
tical relationship between the body and the soul. The second
genre, “responsive poetry,” involves the creation o f a new poem
from an existing one, simultaneously changing its contents. For
example, a poem o f revenge may be changed into a poem o f
redemption, or a poem describing earthly love finds new mean­
ing as it is transformed into a poem o f divine love. The third
genre, “kisses o f love,” is a unique Yemenite convention. Each
such poem begins with the question “Who kissed me?” and dis­
cusses the mystical relationship between body and soul. It goes on
to provide the soul with precise directions o f how to re tu rn to its
source after leaving the body to await redemption. The poems o f
this genre, o f which only twenty-three are known, were all writ­
ten between the 15th and 18th centuries.
Since this poetry contained many religious elements, it could
be included in special sections o f Jewish prayerbooks. O ther
poems were compiled in “Diwans,” the books o f poetry generally
found in Jewish homes, and read during festive events, holidays
and the Sabbath.
A special contribution was made by Yemenite Jewry in its
wedding poetry. Generally, wedding poetry may be divided into
two distinct categories. On one hand, there are poems dealing
with the theme of earthly love and the relationship between the