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 about 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 Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, soon after he arrived. Ha Levi’s poetry used a relatively simple, direct style that is very close to the modern idiom.

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”). From the latter poem, we have the modern Hebrew expression “Asir Tsyion” – a prisoner (on account of) Zion, applied to those imprisoned in the USSR for advocating Zionism. From same poem, Naomi Shemer derived a line of her famous song, “Jerusalem of Gold” – ” lechol Shirayich Ani Kinor” which in Halevi’s poem is “ani kinor leshirayich”

My heart is in the East

My heart is in the East, and I am at the ends of the West;

How can I taste what I eat and how could it be pleasing to 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.

Zion – thou art anxious for news of thy captives

“Tzion Hallo Tishali leshlom asirayich”

“Zion, thou art doubtless anxious for news of thy captives;

they ask after thee, they who are the remainder of thy flock

From West and East and North and South, from near and far;

bring peace from every side.

And peace is the desire of the captive, who giveth his tears

like the dew on the Hermon and yearns for the day they will fall on thy hills

I am a mourner who weeps for your poverty and when I dream

of the return I am the accompaniment to thy songs.

Zionism and Israel On the Web. The English translations used here are copyright 2005 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel on the Web.