This beautifully written book is focused on a journey — the trip undertaken by Judah ha-Levi in 1141 from his home in Muslim Spain, or al-Andalus, to Israel. A central concern of the book is what motivated ha-Levi’s to undertake this pilgrimage — was it messianic fervor, nationalistic pride, or some private religious quest?
Judah ha-Levi is most famous for writing the Kuzari, a fictional dialogue on faith and religion conducted between a rabbi and the Khazar king, who was considering converting to Judaism. But the bulk of ha-Levi’s literary output was poetry. And it is his poems to which Scheindlin devotes most of his attention. Twenty-eight poems are presented in full in their original Hebrew, with Scheindlin’s graceful translations and his careful and loving analysis forming the backbone of the book.
But this is also a historical study, which has been greatly enriched by a collection of Genizah documents relating to ha-Levi (some in the poet’s own handwriting) published recently in Israel. The scholarly narrative alternates between the timebound concerns of these prosaic letters and the timeless power of the poetry. Bibliography, index, notes.
Pinchas Roth (PR) is a post-doctoral fellow at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.