Page 248 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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The Liturgical Poetry of
Samuel Ibn Nagrela
On the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of his birth
Abraham Ibn E z ra
in his commentary to Ecclesiastes 5:1 faults
the poetry of Eleazar Qalir on several counts. In his view it
is “mostly riddles and allegories” and is overly dependent upon
rabbinic usage in the Talmud which, as is known, borrows from
other languages. Why then he asks, should we not follow the
model of the established liturgical prayers all of which are com­
posed in unadulterated Hebrew instead of “praying in the lan­
guage of the Medes and Persians, the Christians and Muslims?”
Moreover, Ibn Ezra complains, even when Qalir employs the
language of Scripture, he commits gross grammatical errors.
Lastly, Qalir is blamed for loading down his poetry with met­
aphors and legends. In support, Ibn Ezra cites the rabbinic
teaching (Shabbat 63a):
verse cannot depart from its plain
meaning.” From this he concludes: “Therefore it is seemly that
prayers should be composed in language that does not depart
from its plain meaning and not in secret utterances or fables,
or in rabbinic opinions that are not followed and can be given
varying interpretations.”
The strictures of Ibn Ezra against Qalir have led some to
make a distinction between the poets of Eretz Israel like Yannai
and Qalir and the Hispanic-Hebrews. The former, it is alleged,
based their works in large part on the Talmud and Midrash
whereas the latter refrained from this usage.1 However, as
Aaron Mirsky has convincingly shown, upon examining the li­
turgical corpus of Ibn Ezra himself we Find allusions to rabbinic
1. Cf. A. Mirsky, “Ha-ziqah she-bayn shirat Sefarad u-derashot hazal,”
64 (1969), pp. 248 -249 .