Page 81 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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CASPI / THE CREATIVE WRITING OF THE YEMENITE JEWS
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Jewish congregations, in the section o f the Selihot. The Yemenite
Jews included these piyyutim in the same section and recited
them at night du r ing the month o f Elul. T h roughou t the
centuries, various poets have added piyyutim to this section of
Selihot and these were later included in the
Seder ha-Rahamim.
The genre is identified as the Maranot, because the refrain of
each piyyut begins with the words, “Maran de-bishemaya — O
Lord o f Heaven, to you we plead as a slave to his master.” This
genre illustrates the influence on Yemenite Jewish writing of two
Jewish centers, Palestine and Babylonia. As a result o f Babylo­
nian influence we have piyyutim written in Aramaic, and Pales­
tinian poets have their imitators as well. The similarities in lan­
guage in the Yemenite and Palestinian piyyutim tend to suggest
that the Yemenite piyyutim o f this genre may have been written
close to the time in which those of Palestine were composed. Had
we but more proof of this hypothesis, we could state that we had
sufficient evidence that creative writing in the Yemen began as
early as the seventh or eighth century.
The Maranot are piyyutim composed for the High Holydays
and their themes are those o f repentance, exile and redemption.
Their content suggests that they were composed for recitation in
the synagogue. At present we have 185 piyyutim of this type, 77
of which are written in Aramaic. The general structure of these
piyyutim, in which the speaker’s voice pleads for mercy and for­
giveness for both himself and the community, may be described
as follows: From a description of the sin the poem progresses to a
description of the exile and of the redemption, whose speedy ad­
vent is devoutly hoped for. The overall theme stressed in the
Maranot is that whatever had occurred to the people o f Israel was
a result o f their sins in forsaking the way of God and his laws. The
poems o f this genre continued to occupy a prominent place in the
Yemenite piyyut up to the eighteenth century. At this time Yahia
Salih edited the Yemenite
Tiklal
(Siddur), and because he
preferred the writings of the Hebrew poets of Spain to those of
the Yemenite poets, he included only a few of the piyyutim com­
posed by the latter. The writings in this genre comprise the labors
of many poets otherwise unknown to us who inaugurated an im­
portant poetic style and a literary form not found in any other
Jewish community.
Sacred poetry generally relied upon biblical and midrashic lit­
erature as primary sources. Both the content and the themes