The Song of the Dis­tant Dove: Judah Hale­vi’s Pilgrimage

Ray­mond P. Scheindlin
  • Review
By – January 26, 2012

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.

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