Judah HaleviJudah Ha-Levi, Yehudah Halevi, (Judah Ha-Levi) was a Jewish physician, poet and philosopher. He was born in Toledo in Spain, about 1085 and died in 1141. Much of his poetry reflected his love for Israel, and kept alive the love of Zion as a part of Jewish culture, rather than just a ritual to be expressed in prayer. At the end of his life he actually traveled to the Holy Land to settle there and fulfill his dream. However, according to tradition, he was murdered by an Arab as he knelt at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, soon after he arrived. Halevi is considered one of the greatest Hebrew poets, celebrated both for his religious and secular poems, many of which appear in present-day liturgy. His greatest philosophical work was The Kuzari.

Modern Hebrew poetry and language owe a great debt to him. Two poems in particular became a part of the tradition of Hebrew learning and preserved and enriched Hebrew poetic idiom. “My Heart is in the East” and “Zion, thou art anxious for thy captives” (“Zion Hallo tishali lishlom asirayich”)

My heart is in the East
My heart is in the East, and I am at the ends of West;
How can I taste what I eat and how could it be pleasing me?
How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet
Zion lies beneath the fetter of Edom, and I am in the chains of Arabia?
It would be easy for me to leave all the bounty of Spain —
As it is precious for me to behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary.

His personal piety intensified as he aged, leading him to desire to devote himself entirely to religious life. The uncertainties of Jewish communal status in the period of the Reconquista (e.g. of Spain by Christians) led him to doubt the future security of the Jewish position in the diaspora. The failure of messianic movements weighed on him. His earlier commitment to philosophy as a guide to truth gave way to a renewed commitment to faith in revelation. He came to the conviction elaborated in his treatise known as the Kuzari, that true religious fulfillment is possible only in the presence of the God of Israel, which, he believed, was most palpable in the Land of Israel.

In 1140 Halevi sailed from Spain to Egypt. Arriving on September 8, 1140, he was greeted enthusiastically by friends and admirers. He then went to Cairo, where he visited several dignitaries, imcluding the Nagid of Egypt, Samuel Ben Hanania, and his friend Halfon ben Nethaniel Halevi. He sailed from Alexandria to Israel on May 14th 1141. Later that summer he died Crusader held Jerusalem. Legend, however, has it that Halevi was killed after being run over by an Arab horseman as he arrived Jerusalem.

Especially tender and plaintive is Judah’s tone in his elegies. Many of them are dedicated to friends such as the brothers Judah (Nos. 19, 20), Isaac (No. 21), and Moses ibn Ezra (No. 16), R. Baruch (Nos. 23, 28), Meïr ibn Migas (No. 27), his teacher Isaac Alfasi (No. 14), and others. In the case of Solomon ibn Farissol, who was murdered on May 3, 1108, Judah suddenly changed his poem if eulogy (Nos. 11, 22) into one of lamentation (Nos. 12, 13, 93 et seq.). Child mortality due to plague was high in Judah’s time and the historical record contains five elegies written for the occasion of the death of a child. Biographer Hillel Halkin hypothesizes that at least one of these poems may have been written in honor of one of Judah’s own children that did not reach adulthood and who is lost to history.

“Wonderous is the land to see, with perfume its meadows laden, But more fair than all to me Is yon slender, gentle maiden. Ah, Time’s swift flight I fain would stay, Forgetting that my locks are gray.”

The poems of Judah Halevi, number (in all) more than 300. The longest, and most comprehensive poem is a Kedushah,” which summons all the universe to praise God with rejoicing, and which terminates, curiously enough, in Ps. Ciii. These poems were carried to all lands, even as far as India; and they influenced the rituals of the most distant countries. Even the Karaites incorporated some of them into their prayer-book; so that there is scarcely a synagogue in which Judah’s songs are not sung in the course of the service.

The position of Judah Halevi in the domain of Jewish philosophy is parallel to that occupied in Islam by Ghazali, by whom he was influenced. Like Ghazali, Judah endeavored to liberate religion from the bondage of the various philosophical systems in which it had been held by his predecessors, Saadia, David ben Marwan al-Mekamez, Gabirol, and Bahya. In a work written in Arabic, (known in the Hebrew translation of Judah ibn Tibbon by the title Sefer ha-Kuzari), Judah Halevi expounded his views upon the teachings of Judaism, which he defended against the attacks of non-Jewish philosophers, against the Karaites, and against those he viewed as “heretics”. (Both Halevi and Ghazali rejected Aristeas, Lohic is embraced by Maimonides 100 years later)

Source: “The question of Judah Halevi’s birthplace is still unsolved. Schirmann (Tarbiz, 10 (1939), 237-9) argued in favor of Tudela, rather than Toledo…” [Encyclopedaedia Judaica, pages 355-356]; Encyclopaedia Judaica;

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=643&letter=J&search=Judah%20halevi#2223; Brody, 1.c. ii. 67 et seq. ; Halkin, Hillel. Yehuda Halevi. New York : Nextbook, 2010. P.81.; Geiger, 1.c. p. 168; Poems by Judah Ha- Levi (http://www.blackcatpoems.com/h/judah_ha_levi.thml) ― English translations; http://zionismontheweb.org/yehudalevi.htm