Page 114 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
popular Arabic verse, and almost immediately imitated also in
Hebrew, these poems have the final rhyming couplet in Ro­
mance (if Arabic) or in Romance or Arabic (if Hebrew), with
sometimes a combination of both. Contrary to the opinion of
many Israeli writers, all “strophic” poems are
not
to be called
muwashshahat.
There is absolutely no evidence either, that these
poems were ever sung or intended to be sung, or that the final
couplets were taken from popular songs. On the other hand,
several instances have been discovered where Hebrew and Ar­
abic poems of this genre utilize the same final couplet (called
kharja
in Arabic).
All of the major Hebrew poets of Spain produced examples
of this genre, as did many other poets, so that altogether we
have many hundreds of examples (few of which have so far
been discovered by “experts”). Since many of these date from
the mid-tenth and eleventh centuries, they represent the earliest
known examples of written Spanish. The importance of this
is obvious to linguistic scholars, many of whom have written
extensively about these poems in spite of the fact that they can­
not read a word of Hebrew.17
ABRAHAM IBN CEZRA
We cannot conclude our discussion of poetry without, first
of all, mention of Abraham Ibn cEzra, a contemporary of Judah
ha-Levy, whose daughter married Abraham’s son Isaac. As is
well known, Ibn cEzra later left Spain and wandered through
many lands, where most of his vast number of works were writ­
ten. However, much of his poetry was certainly composed in
Spain. It, too, has suffered from almost total scholarly neglect,
as has that of his son Isaac (who certainly did not convert to
Islam, as often claimed), whose poetry now has a fine critical
edition by Menahem Schmelzer (N.Y., 1981).
The assumption of a “deterioration” in Hebrew secular poetry
after the Christian reconquest of Muslim Spain is greatly ex­
Arabic examples, all the compendia o f
muwashshahat
are incomplete; nor are
there any adequate or up-to-date studies o f the Hebrew genre.
17. It was, I suppose, gratifying to find that my discovery that Maimonides
discussed
muwashshahat
poetry (see my
Maimonides. Essays and Texts,
Madison,
1985, pp. 54-55) so intrigued James Monroe that he attempted to pass it o ff
as his own! in an article (in
La Cordnica,
1988).