From Zion to Prophecy: A Conversation with Yehudah Halevi

by Henry Rasof

From Zion to Prophecy: A Conversation with Yehudah Halevi

I recently met the famous author or his avatar in a Jerusalem café. He wore a dirty white caftan, dark-green turban, and scraggly beard. Although looking haggard from his latest arduous sea voyage to the Land of Israel and for his time-travel from the Middle Ages he eagerly awaited a late-night tour of the Wailing Wall. I bought him an espresso and a couple of pastries. He was born in 1075 (or possibly 1086) in Tudela (or possibly Toledo), Spain, and died in 1141, but with so much uncertainty in dating the medieval Jewish poets and the lead-footedness of so many scholars, I hope that you, dear reader, will temporarily suspend your disbelief that he and I did indeed meet in the early twenty-first century.

HR: I am trying to understand my fascination—obsession—with the Golden Age in Spain, with Hebrew poetry, and now with your poetry. I especially admire your Zion poems and sea poems.

YH: Wisdom and skills are no good if you can’t swim. (1-16)

The Meaning of Zion

HR: What meanings have you invested in Zion? The image, or metaphor, or place appeals to me poetically and lends itself to many interpretations.

YH: Zion has the obvious meanings: the Holy Land, Jerusalem, Mt. Zion. Also, it represents the hopes of “the remains of your flocks” for the messianic age. (2-2)

HR: I also see Zion as a universal symbol for all of the strivings of humankind toward a higher place, to be closer to God, the source of life. The milieu of the Zion poems symbolizes the struggle for higher consciousness or maybe even just “the purposeful life,” as we might say today.

YH: That’s a nice psychological interpretation, but it’s not what I had in mind. I chose Zion for a limited number of metaphorical possibilities, but of course I cannot limit the meanings of my metaphors. For example, I wrote that to lament your affliction, I am like a jackal; but when I dream of your freedom, I am an instrument of your music. (3-2)

HR: We all have our personal metaphors, but of course on a deeper level all metaphors for God or the quest for God are similar or the same, aren’t they?

YH: Perhaps, but as you know from my Kuzari, the Jewish way is the best. (A)

Views of Mt. Zion

HR: In these poems, too, you give us many views of Mt. Zion, which reminds me of the “views of Mt. Fuji” in Japanese art. When you lament living in the west and not in the east, Zion can be interpreted literally, as a sanctuary or metaphorically as a conceptual place. (4-1) In your poem addressed to Zion, you flesh out its physical geography with specific places like Hermon, Bethel and Peniel, Hebron, and Gilead, but also its spiritual geography as facing the “portals of heaven.” (5-2) You also describe how Zion appears in a dream, (6-4) and you meditate on a possible journey. (7-5) You swing back and forth between the palpable (8-6) and the intangible, when you write that Zion is reached on wings of yearning, so that the sweetness of the dust can be tasted. (9-8)

YH: That’s a good analogy. I turned the whole thing over in my mind many times, and each time I thought or felt something different, resulting in different perspectives of Zion.

The Golden Age in Al-Andalus: Illusion or Reality?

HR: In my own quest I am doing something similar with Al-Andalus in the so-called Golden Age. I am unhappy today with America and with the modern world. The Golden Age seemed a more peaceful, convivial time, when the metaphors of different traditions mingled. There was an outpouring of poetry.

Some of the books I have read discuss or contain Arabic and Jewish poetry, and some also include work by Christians.

YH: It is true: In spite of some of our suspicions toward Arabs, we adopted and adapted many of their traditions. I never asked God to smash the great waves of the sea or order the abyss to dry up. (10-9) I needed the Andalusian poetical sea to carry my words to the people, and the physical sea to carry my body to Zion.

HR: Often the boundaries were blurred, so that secular images were used toward religious ends, religious images toward secular ends, and poems made that did not fit in the liturgy but nonetheless were spiritual. One commentator makes much of this blurring, saying, for example, that “in the secular poetry ‘gazelle’ is a code word for the lover; in religious poetry, for God or the Messiah.” (B) In my own life I try not to distinguish between the two. I am a spiritual person, in a way I cannot describe, but also secular. The blurring of imagery, sources, and boundaries between sacred and secular appeals to me.

YH: Maybe it’s just that a lot of categories are illusions. You think something is this or that but later realize it is something else.

HR: You repeatedly describe Zion as desolate yet find the soil sweeter than honey and describe Spain as desolate when it was not. (11-10) In fact, Zion was in ruins, physically and spiritually, for Jews, while Spain was not. This pair of opposite images seems at the heart of the poems as a group.

YH: On the surface, yes, for a while Spain had a lot going for it, especially for Jews. But at the deepest level, Zion still had more to offer than Spain; the Shekhinah (God’s presence) had been in Zion but never in Spain. However, even on the surface Spain was not everything it was cracked up to be. Concerning the first level: Spain seemed—perhaps was—a garden. However, we still were second- class citizens, there was always the threat of persecution, the fanatics came, and that was that. The food always tasted foreign—”How can I find any taste in the food?,” I once asked. (12-1) Muslims, too, yearned for the East. Caliph ‘Abd al-Rahman wrote: “A palm tree I beheld in Ar-Rusafa,/Far in the West, far from the palm-tree land:/I said: You, like myself, are far away, in a strange land;/How long have I been away from my people!” (C) The Sufis, the Islamic mystics, were persecuted by their coreligionists—witness the murder of Mansur al-Hallaj for claiming to be the truth. Later, Muhammad al-Ghazali, a mystic philosopher, saw Spain as a wasteland. And Zion seemed—or perhaps was—a wasteland, with the Exile, Crusades, and so on.

HR: This is one level.

YH: But on a deeper level it’s reversed: The apparent good life in Spain was unreal, since God was absent. And although the Shekhinah appeared to be missing from or to have left the Holy Land, in truth she was still there. Once I saw through the illusion—or rather, illusions—I knew the true reality could only be found elsewhere. I knew I had to leave Spain and go to Zion. Al-Ghazali said: “Finally I found out that the way to God, to Truth, is the Sufi way. . . . During this time things were manifested to me that cannot be understood except by feeling [hal] and tasting [zowq], things that cannot be put into words.” (D) I needed to feel and taste the truth, and since for the Jew the only truth is God, I had to taste the dust of Zion. That’s why I begged to be taken there on eagles’ wings, to see for myself what my heart knew: “Help a servant who trusts you, and who hastens to behold the places of your wonders.” (13-21)

HR: You’re saying that the Golden Age was a double illusion.

YH: Each place had its illusion. The stronger my yearning for Zion, based on my faith in the Bible, the more I realized that the garden of Spain was actually a desert and had nothing for me. At the same time, I realized that the desert in Zion was actually a garden and had everything for me. For a long time I tearfully feared leaving Spain to seek what was beyond its shores, (14-22) but eventually I surrendered my spirit to the winds and was pushed by the Western one to the East. (15-16)

HR: Tell me more about how you penetrated the illusion of a desolate Zion.

YH: Just as in Egypt I knew I was not looking at the Nile but rather at the place of one of God’s miracles. (16-21) Conversely, the miracle by which the Nile was turned to blood appeared to Pharaoh as magic but in reality resulted from Moses’ and Aaron’s wielding God’s name. (17-21)

HR: Do you ever lament or regret leaving Spain or look back?

YH: “I thank the sea waves and the west wind.” (18-9) And, the west was not all bad, in spite of “the Arab yoke.” (19-9) Perhaps I exaggerated my love for Zion by saying the soil was sweeter than honey. Even if the honey in Spain was sweet, it didn’t matter. I wasn’t oblivious to the glories of the age, but they had lost their hold on me: “It would be trivial of me to leave the bounty of Spain, given the joy I would feel just beholding the dust of the ruined Holy of Holies.” (20-1)

HR: Here the illusions and their penetration seem to come together.

YH: The exegetes say you can’t deprive a verse of its peshat, its literal meaning. Perhaps this applies to poetry as well as to scripture. (Sips coffee.)

HR: What about today? Has the Shekhinah returned to Jerusalem? I see no peace, in a way “the Arab yoke” still exists, the country is in hock to Christian fundamentalists, and—

YH: We are both poets, obsessed with complex ideals. Even the Psalmist couldn’t write one psalm that said it all. I want to be above it all, which is why I praise Zion as “beautiful loftiness.” (21-8) Reality is always a disappointment or just very scary: At the beginning of my journey, didn’t I say I quaked at the prospect of wandering? (22-7)

Themes and Ornaments

HR: You are known as a master of poetic technique.

YH: Technique is only the vehicle of meaning. I have one theme in these poems and ornament it differently—like a theme and variations. You caught this already. One of my main ornaments is metaphor, as you have pointed out; another is repetition.

HR: You dream a lot. Dreaming brings you alive, as when you say you dream of Zion’s freedom. (23-2) You also say a dream brought you to God’s sanctuaries. (24-4)

YH: What else could I do except dream? Dreams give people hope.

HR: You speak of flying, as well. You ask who will make you wings, so that you can wander far, (25-2) and then wishfully yearn to fly on the wings of eagles. (26-8) Of course, in English the word “fly” refers to literally flying and also to leaving a place. (27-5)

YH: When you feel earthbound, stuck, fettered—whether in Arab chains or something else—flight comes to mind. It is a symbol of freedom to everyone, and of course for Jews, with the flight from the Egyptians through the Sea of Reeds. The eagle is the greatest of birds and a symbol of strength and might.

HR: “Dust” is pervasive. In two poems you say the soil or dust of Zion is sweeter than honey. (28-8 and 29-20) Dreams, eagles’ wings, and dust—these and your other images are strung on the girdle of the Zionides, repeated images accompanying new ones.

YH: Dust is a rich word, evoking the desert, neglected places, human fate, choking—With this one word, too, I condense the setting of the qasida.

The Qasida

HR: What is the draw of the qasida? In spite of your avowed aversion to aspects of Arabic culture, qasida permeates these poems. It is remarkable that you can pour your deepest self into such an antique, highly stylized form. The classical qasida begins with a section in which the narrator finds himself in a deserted campsite in the desert. The people who lived here or passed through are no longer there. He is lonely and nostalgic. As he sinks into a reverie, he conjures up his beloved.

YH: It is the perfect vehicle for my emotions, but there are no camels or fawns.

HR: You write about a deserted Holy of Holies, (30-1) “the ruins of your split heart,”  (31-2) “dry bones,” (32-5) “the place of the pit and the worm,” (33-6) the “desolate abode,” (34-8) and so on. It’s a fixation on death.

YH: But the graves are tranquil, (35-22) the Holy Land still has room for the Shekhinah, (36-2) “the land is full of gates facing the portals of Heaven,” (37-6) and so on.

HR: We must know death, even if first in the mind’s eye and only later—

YH: Amazing how much you read out of—or in to—my poems! As for the qasida—it is the quintessential form of the spiritual life and quest. Life is empty, a desert. We come into this space, all kinds of things are stirred up—memories of a time of fullness, love, our animal nature—our nefesh. We dream or envision—a more perfect life, full of devotion and love. When our yearning is met, we shower praises on the Holy One, blessed be He. I have built many poems around elements of the qasida because of this.

HR: The voice of the Zion and sea poems praises God. It carries you on your journey, like a wind.

YH: Qasida blew in from the desert, like a lost camel—the ship of the desert.

HR: It also is like a sailing ship. Even on the sea, qasida is there, when you write: “Has the Flood wasted the Earth again, leaving neither human nor bird?” (38-10) Then you say you “look every which way, and there’s nothing but water, sky, an ark, and Leviathan boiling the depths.” (39-10) You left Spain but kept the qasida—you abandoned the content but kept the form.

YH: (Eats a piece of baklava and sips his coffee.) This (pointing to his mouth) reminds me of Al-Andalus (today called Andalucía or Andalusia), southern Spain, formerly under Muslim rule, in form and content. (Laughs.)

The Journey

HR: The qasida form itself seems a metaphor: Zion is a qasida. What about the journey to Zion: Was it real or metaphorical?

YH: Both and neither. It was a real journey—I actually did set forth, as you can read in my sea poems. (40-9–16) It also was metaphorical. Poetry cannot be either concrete or wholly imaginary. Each must be grounded in the other.

HR: On your journey you stopped for a while in Egypt. Why?

YH: In Hebrew, Egypt also means “constriction,” you know. A quest is never easy. You don’t just yearn to go somewhere, then get there with no problems.

HR: You say no city is more praiseworthy than Egypt. (41-18) Why?

YH: “I bow down to God on every journey and thank Him at every step.” (42-7) The obstructions in our life help us grow.

HR: You couldn’t work it out where you were?

YH: I knew in my bones that God selected me for this quest: God wanted me for His dwelling. I am happy to be chosen and brought near. (43-2) I had to go, as I said, but getting there was less important—after all, I “died” right away. It was the burning dream that kept me alive and gave others hope.

HR: Your “death” was what some might call a beautiful death. (E)

YH: What people call death is something else. I got to Zion. I am here now.

HR: The modern German–Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig says you brought in the reference to Job at the end of your poem about beautiful loftiness because you wanted to die in the Holy Land. (44-8). He says “the last line . . . contain[s] an almost bashfully hidden allusion from which one can sense that the poet was quite in earnest, as were many thousands in later centuries, when [you] expressed the wish to die in Jerusalem.” The poem ends, according to his English translation of your poetry: “To caress and to kiss/your stones I desire,/and the taste of your soil would/be for me a reward sweet as honey.” (F)

YH: He ignores the metaphor. Also, in a lot of these poems I want to die.

HR: I think I can interpret your description of and quest for Zion, including the voyage, as follows: We think we are in “heaven.” Then we realize are in a wasteland instead. Next, we dream of something else, something we maybe once had—perhaps in childhood, like a forgotten dream of what to do in life. But before we can pursue this new or remembered dream, we have to leave behind the ideal-place-become-a-wasteland; we have become aware of the illusion and turn it into a vision. It’s hard to leave behind and also hard to go forward, because the place we dream about also seems a wasteland. This too is illusion, of the reverse kind. Finally we set sail, leaving our former life behind and striking out for a new life. What do you think?

YH: Interesting, but not the way I approached things.

Sufism and Neoplatonism

HR: Getting back to death: Do you mean ego-death or ittisal, conjunction with the Divine?

YH: The first term I do not know.

HR: Your quest to travel to the Holy Land parallels the quest of theSufi, to become one with God, and of the Neoplatonist, to return to the One. The return is one of your favorite images. You say, for example, that “here the dead celebrate, and the souls return to their repose.” (45-6) You have come down through the body, to a lower place on earth—Spain—your soul is in exile. And now you go back to where you came from.

YH: The Sufis speak of union, the Neoplatonists of return and perhaps then of union. If you wish to read me these ways, you can. The Islamic mystic philosopher Al-Ghazali yearned to make a pilgrimage too (G). He was always thinking of the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. The quest for a higher place, for enlightenment, is very old, a universal human characteristic, not just Jewish.

HR: You are a universalist.

YH: Just not a Unitarian Universalist. (H) (Laughs.)

HR: Do you think being an ascetic is essential to reach God?

YH: “To Jews attracted to Sufi asceticism, . . . the Divine is not as accessible as when Jews dwelt in the Holy Land, the divine Presence rested upon the Temple, and Jews could achieve prophecy, a modern scholar said.” (I) I couldn’t have said it better.

HR: Do you believe in the possibility of ittisal, conjunction with the Divine?

YH: I don’t know. The Arabs had a word for an experience that a lot of Jews either had or wanted to have or thought about a lot—to be close to God, to be in places where God was, but not necessarily to merge with God. That’s something else.

HR: You must admit that your intense longing for God is reminiscent of the longing of the Sufis. We are of course not even discussing your love poems.

YH: In Kuzari V:27 I say: “(I)f we provoke and instill love of this sacred place among men, we may be sure of obtaining reward and of hastening the (Messianic) aim; for it is written: ‘Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Zion; for it is time to favour her, the moment is come. For Thy servants love her stones and pity her dust. This means: Jerusalem can only be rebuilt when Israel yearns for it to such an extent that we sympathize even with its stones and its dust.” (J)

HR: More dust and stones!

YH: I guess I stirred up the dust among the clods of earth, in which are mysteries and wonders. (46-22)

HR: Your yearning was so great that it inspired others; one person alone cannot bring back the Shekhinah.

YH: I simply yearned “to pour out my soul where God pours out His spirit on His chosen.” (47-2)


HR: One of the main themes of the Kuzari is the absence of prophecy among Jews. Does this not parallel what you say in many of your Zion poems, namely, that God is absent? For example, I think you say in that God was not present in reality but only in your dreams and visions, but that these were so powerful that you awakened and were still with God. (48-4) Yet is not this a form of prophecy, one of the levels that the great medieval Spanish–Jewish philosopher Maimonides describes in his list in the Moreh Nevukim, the Guide of the Perplexed? (K)

YH: There is no prophecy as it was known in ancient times. It left us long ago. But a remnant of the prophets’ illuminatory powers has stayed with the Jewish people in the form of inspiration, and each Jew has some of this form. Prophecy was just the ideal form of inspiration.

HR: Are you are a prophet?

YH: Maimonides doesn’t even give me a footnote in the Moreh.

HR: The early Zionists canonized you, though. Rosenzweig says that “the lonely yearning of Halevi’s soul is the first beacon of the new movement (to return to the Holy Land), a movement that carries into the present day. . . .” (L) If that isn’t prophecy—

YH: (Smiles tiredly).

HR: And that perhaps is what has brought me to my fixation on the Golden Age—your inspiration and its timelessness. You have taken me to the mountain, on the long, dangerous watery journey across the sea, through mitzraiym (“Egypt,” or “constriction” or “narrow place”)—a place I know all too well— and then to the other side, a place I yearn to attain on my own voyage. You write about the journey beautifully, in both a Jewish and a universal way, and so your poems touch those of us today who are both Jewish and universal—too big for our Jewishness, too small for true universality. Those of us whom you touch are inspired to find our own way through this narrow place.

YH: I’m glad you have been so inspired.

HR: I’ve heard you are in Israel to lobby for a complete diwan (collection) of your poetry.

YH: (Referring to some recent poems)—I’d like to see the poems in a good English translation, too.

HR: Maybe the American scholar Coleman Barks wants a break from the great medieval Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi—all that whirling! (M)

YH: How I wish I had an interpreter like him!

HR: Many people would welcome Yehudah Halevi in a relevant, contemporary Jewish voice to guide them in the bleak landscape of today’s world.

YH: You know what a lot of yearning can do!

Terms and Names

Al-Ghazali—See Muhammad al-Ghazali.

Al-Hallaj—See Mansur al-Hallaj

diwan—A poetry collection by a single author.

Edom—Ancient Middle-Eastern kingdom adjacent to ancient Israel and supposedly inhabited by descendants of the biblical Esau.

Golden Age—A relatively short period during the Middle Ages when Spanish Jews supposedly flourished. However, the length of this period and even the supposed flourishing are not agreed upon by scholars.

Guide of the PerplexedSee Maimonides.

Jalaluddin Rumi (1207–1273, b. central Asia). Important and revered Sufi mystic and poet. “All that whirling” is a reference to the whirling dervishes, members of an order of Sufis founded by Rumi.

KuzariIn a nutshell, the Kuzari argues that Judaism is the best religion.

Maimonides—Moses Maimonides (1138–1204, b. Córdoba, Spain). Seminal Jewish philosopher, codifier of Jewish law, Jewish community leader, physician. Author of Moreh Nevukim, the rationalist-philosophical masterpiece Guide of the Perplexed.

Mansur al-Hallaj (858–922, b. Persia). Sufi who declared he was “the truth,” for which he was killed because people thought he was declaring himself God.

Muhammad al-Ghazali (ca. 1058–1111, b. Tus, Khorasan). Important Persian philosopher, Sufi, scholar, and legalist.

Neoplatonism—School of philosophy founded by the ancient Greek–Egyptian philosopher Plotinus (ca. 204–270 C.E.), that influenced Jewish and Islamic thought.

Moreh Nevukim—See Maimonides.

Rosenzweig—Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929, b. Germany). Jewish–German philosopher and author of The Star of Redemption, linking humankind, God, and the world in a way suggesting the centrality of the Jewish faith.

qasida—Poetic form originating in north Africa and popular in medieval Spain and other countries. It contains the following features, although there are variations: The poet is in a deserted campground and daydreams about his (or her) beloved. Then he praises his camel and his patron. It was a good vehicle for Jewish poets like Halevi since it provided a poignant way to describe their dreams of the Holy Land.

Shekhinah—The presence or feminine presence of God.

Sufi—A mystic in the Islamic tradition.

Sufism—Having to do with Sufis.

views of Mt. Fuji—Titles of groups of paintings by Japanese artists centered on the iconic Mt. Fuji.

Zion—Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the entire Holy Land.

Zionides—Poems expressing the longing of Jews to see and return to Zion.


Most of the poems referred to in the essay are cited with two numbers in parentheses, for example, 1-7. The first number is just the running tabulation: 1 is the first citation, 2 the second, 3 the third, and so on. The second number is keyed to the poem number in a Hebrew–English edition of Halevi’s work: Heinrich Brody, ed., and Nina Salaman, trans. Selected Poems of Jehudah Halevi (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1974). Following are the poem numbers, followed by the title and page number(s) of the poem used in that book. Note that most of these translators spell Yehudah with a “J” as Jehudah or Jehuda or Judah. And, you may see Yehudah spelled Yehuda. Such are the vagaries of Hebrew transliteration and transcription.

The English snippets included in this essay are either new translations done especially for the essay, or paraphrases of the new translations.

1-16. “On the Sea” VIII, pp. 30–31.

2-2. “Ode to Zion,” pp. 3–7.

3-2. “Ode to Zion,” pp. 3–7.

4-1. “My Heart Is in the East,” p. 2.

5-2. “Ode to Zion,” pp. 3–7.

6-4. “My Dream,” p. 9.

7-5. “Equipped for Flight,” pp. 10–13.

8-6. “For the Sake of the House of Our God,” pp. 14–17.

9-8. “Beautiful of Elevation,” p. 19.

10-9. “On the Sea” I, p. 20.

11-10. “On the Sea” II, p. 21.

12-1. “My Heart Is in the East,” p. 2.

13-21. “On the Nile,” p. 38.

14-22. “On Eagles’ Wings,” pp. 39–43.

15-16. “On the Sea” VIII, pp. 30–31.

16-21. “On the Nile,” p. 38.

17-21. “On the Nile,” p. 38.

18-9. “On the Sea” I, p. 20.

19-9. “On the Sea” I, p. 20.

20-1. “My Heart Is in the East,” p. 2.

21-8. “Beautiful of Elevation,” p. 19.

22-7. “When My Soul Longed,” p. 18.

23-2. “Ode to Zion,” pp. 37.

24-4. “My Dream,” p. 9.

25-2. “Ode to Zion,” pp. 3–7.

26-8. “Beautiful of Elevation,” p. 19.

27-5. “Equipped for Flight,” pp. 10–13.

28-8. “Beautiful of Elevation,” p. 19.

29-20. “In the Paths of the Ark,” p. 37.

30-1. “My Heart Is in the East,” p. 2.

31-2. “Ode to Zion,” pp. 3–7.

32-5. “Equipped for Flight,” pp. 10–13.

33-6. “For the Sake of the House of our God,” pp. 14–17.

34-8. “Beautiful of Elevation,” p. 19.

35-22. “On Eagles’ Wings,” pp. 39–43.

36-2. “Ode to Zion,” pp. 3–7.

37-6. “For the Sake of the House of Our God,” pp. 14–17.

38-10. “On the Sea” II, p. 21.

39-10. “On the Sea” II, p. 21.

40-9–16. “On the Sea” I–VIII, pp. 20–31.

41-18. “Refusal to Tarry in Egypt,” pp. 33–35.

42-7. “When My Soul Longed,” p. 18.

43-2. “Ode to Zion,” pp. 3–7.

44-8. “Beautiful of Elevation,” p. 19.

45-6. “For the Sake of the House of Our God,” pp. 14–17.

46-22. “On Eagles’ Wings,” pp. 39–43.

47-2. “Ode to Zion,” pp. 3–7.

48-4. “My Dream,” p. 9.

The sources of poems and articles cited with a capital letter in parentheses—for example, (A)—are now listed, in addition to a few explanatory notes on terms or people.

A. Jehuda Halevi, Kuzari, ed. Isaak Heinemann, in Three Jewish Philosophers (New York: Atheneum, 1969). In a nutshell, the Kuzari argues that Judaism is the superior religion.

B. Raymond P. Scheindlin, The Gazelle: Medieval Hebrew Poems on God, Israel, and the Soul (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 25.

C. Robert Irwin, ed., Night and Horses and the Desert: An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature. (Woodstock and New York: The Overlook Press, 1999), p. 245.

D. Massud Farzan, The Tale of the Reed Pipe: Teachings of the Sufis (New York: Dutton, 1974), p. 9.

E. Susan L. Einbinder, A Beautiful Death: Jewish Poetry and Martyrdom in Medieval France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002).

F. Franz Rosenzweig. Ninety-Two Poems of Yehuda Halevi. Thomas Kovach, Eva Jospe, and Gilya Gerda Schmidt, trans. (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000), p. 233.

G. Al-Ghazali (ca. 1058–1111, b. Tus, Khorasan). Important Persian philosopher, Sufi mystic, scholar, and legalist.

H. Unitarian Universalist. A member of the Unitarian Universalist religion, characterized in particular by its liberal and almost nonsectarian bent.

I. Diana Lobel, Between Mysticism and Philosophy: Sufi Language of Religious Experience in Judah Ha-Levi’s Kuzari (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000), p. 510.

J. Kuzari V:27, pp. 128–129. See A above for source information.

K. Maimonides. Moses Maimonides (1138–1204, b. Córdoba, Spain). Seminal Jewish philosopher, codifier of Jewish law, Jewish community leader, physician. Author of Moreh Nevukim, the rational–philosophical masterpiece Guide of the Perplexed.

L. Rosenzweig, p. 235. See F above for source details.

M. Coleman Barks (b. 1937, Tennessee) is the most important and prolific translator of the medieval Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi (1207–1273, b. central Asia). Important and revered Sufi mystic and poet. “All that whirling” is a reference to the whirling dervishes, members of an order of Sufis founded by Rumi.

Further Reading

These books contain at least some poems by Yehudah Halevi, either just in English or in English and Hebrew. Note that most of these translators spell Yehudah with a “J” as Jehudah or Judah. And, you may see Yehudah spelled Yehuda. Such are the vagaries of Hebrew transliteration or transcription.

Carmi, T., ed. and trans. The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse. New York: Penguin, 1981.

Cole, Peter, trans and ed. The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian SpainPrinceton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Goldstein, David, trans. The Jewish Poets of Spain, 900–1250. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1965.

Ha-Leví, Yehudá. Nueva antología poética. Trans. Rosa Castillo. Madrid: Hiperón, 1997. Spanish translation of some of Halevi’s poems.

Maimonides, Moses. The Guide of the Perplexed. 2 vols. Trans. Shlomo Pines. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1963.

Scheindlin, Raymond P. The Gazelle: Medieval Hebrew Poems on God, Israel, and the Soul. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Scheindlin, Raymond P. The Song of the Distant Dove: Judah Halevi’s Pilgrimage. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Scheindlin, Raymond P. Wine, Women, and Death: Medieval Hebrew Poems on the Good Life. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

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