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Judah ben Samuel Halevi

Born: c. 1085
Birthplace: Toledo, Spain
Died: c. 1140
Location of death: Palestine
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Jewish
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Poet

Nationality: Spain
Executive summary: Hebrew Poet of the Middle Ages

The greatest Hebrew poet of the middle ages, born in Toledo c. 1085, and died in Palestine after 1140. In his youth he wrote Hebrew love poems of exquisite fancy, and several of his Wedding Odes are included in the liturgy of the Synagogue. The mystical connection between marital affection and the love of God had, in the view of older exegesis, already expressed itself in the scriptural Song of Songs and Judah Halevi used this book as his model. In this aspect of his work he found inspiration also in Arabic predecessors. The second period of his literary career was devoted to more serious pursuits. He wrote a philosophical dialogue in five books, called the Cuzari, which has been translated into English by Hirschfeld. This book bases itself on the historical fact that the Crimean Kingdom of the Khazars adopted Judaism, and the Hebrew poet-philosopher describes what he conceives to be the steps by which the Khazar king satisfied himself as to the claims of Judaism. Like many other medieval Jewish authors, Judah Halevi was a physician. His real fame depends on his liturgical hymns, which are the finest written in Hebrew since the Psalter, and are extensively used in the Sephardic rite. A striking feature of his thought was his devotion to Jerusalem. To the love of the Holy City he devoted his noblest genius, and he wrote some memorable Odes to Zion, which have been commemorated by Heinrich Heine, and doubly appreciated in the early 20th century under the impulse of Zionism. He started for Jerusalem, was in Damascus in 1140, and soon afterwards died. Legend has it that he was slain by an Arab horseman just as he arrived within sight of what Heine called his "Woebegone poor darling, Desolation's very image -- Jerusalem."

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