Page 79 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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CASPI / TH E CREATIVE WRITING OF THE YEMENITE JEWS
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bride and groom. On the o ther hand, we find poems which treat
love as an esoteric element, and here the distinction between
earthly and divine love is a fine one. In Yemenite Jewish litera­
ture we find a meager number of poems dealing with earthly
love, with the vast majority o f the poems written in the genre be­
ing devoted to divine love, the love between the people of Israel
and God. The genre o f “Who kissed me?” is a product o f the sec­
ond period. The initiator o f the style was Yosef b. Yisrael, who
wrote two such poems. Ten poems were written by Shalem
Shabazi of the Mashta family, which is credited with producing
thirteen out of the twenty-three examples that exist of the poetry
of this genre. This suggests that the Mashta family had a strong
controlling influence on its development. Shlomo Hoter com­
posed two poems in response to a poem by Yosef b. Yisrael. Two
fu rthe r poems in the genre were produced in Palestine by
Hayyim b. Mosheh at the beginning of the 20th century.
At the beginning of the 17th century an anonymous poet com­
posed a poem which included two poetic conventions — that of
“Who kissed me?” and also o f a “Vision in a d ream .” The
composition, a friendship poem to Shemaryah, fulfills all the cri­
teria of poetry of praise as developed by the Spanish schools.
What is remarkable about this poem is that the marriage of these
two conventions in a single work is a phenomenon peculiar only
to the poetry o f the Yemenite Jews. The poet credited with the
development of the genre of a “Vision in a dream” is Zechariah
al-Dahiri who lived during the transitional phase between the
first and second periods.
“Who kissed me?” poems are unique in that they describe the
beloved while in a special state — sleeping or drunk, suffering, in
exile or hidden. The esoteric elements of these poems leave little
doubt that they, were influenced not only by midrashic but by
kabbalistic literature as well. The structure o f the poems may
generally be described as follows: In the opening strophe, the
speaker describes the condition of the beloved, the congregation
of Israel. The second part, the body o f the poem, is divided into
two segments: a) the struggle o f the persona to approach the
lover, the Deity, and b) the repentance necessary to achieve inti­
macy with the Creator. Hope is expressed for redemption as a
consequence o f repentance, which leads to the subsequent inti­
macy between man and God. The way of God should be chosen
since this is the purpose of repentance, but it is insufficient in it­