The Emergence of Modern Hebrew Creativity in Babylon, 1735- 1950

The Emergence of Modern Hebrew Creativity in Babylon, 1735- 1950

Lev Hakak
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Purdue University Press
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  • Book Info
    The Emergence of Modern Hebrew Creativity in Babylon, 1735- 1950
    Book Description:

    This book begins with a brief history about the Jews in Babylon (Iraq), their Hebrew creativity and the fact that this creativity was excluded from the history of Modern Hebrew literature because it was unknown to the scholars. The book focuses on the years 1735-1950 and presents the secular Hebrew poetry written in Babylon at that time, the folktales, journalistic articles, and epistles, research of Hebrew literature, a story and a play.

    eISBN: 978-1-61249-012-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    Sumerians, Acadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Neo-Babylonians ruled Babylonia during man’s history. Babylon was the birthplace of the Patriarch Abraham, who emigrated from Mesopotamia to the Promised Land in accordance with the command of the Lord (Genesis 12: 1-5). In 732 B.C., the children of Israel were exiled to Babylon (in this book I will use the name Babylon for Iraq, Mesopotamia; and Israel also stands for Palestine and Erets Yisrael), and in 721 B.C., there was an additional exile. The Assyrians exiled ten Hebrew tribes from Palestine (more than 27,000 Jews). This brief history about Babylonian Jews will serve as...

  5. Part 1: Poetry
    • Chapter 1: Pathfinders and Explorers in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hebrew Poetry in Babylon
      (pp. 25-50)

      Modern Hebrew poetry began at the end of the eighteenth century as European Jews began to become part of the modern world. Although the Bible includes magnificent poetry, there were periods that were almost entirely lacking in Hebrew poetry, such as the Talmudic period (70-500). Hebrew poetry later reappeared in Byzantine Palestine (sixth to eighth centuries) and in Babylon (eighth to tenth centuries). Spain’s “Golden Period” (tenth to fifteenth centuries) produced both religious and secular poetry. The Spanish Hebrew poetry adapted the conventions of Arabic poetry, which followed in Provence, Italy, and other places. However, the medieval Hebrew poets in...

    • Chapter 2: Four Poets of Babylonian Origin
      (pp. 51-72)

      The poets Shaul Yosef, Rabbi Saliman Mani, Rabbi Avraham Barukh Mani, and Rabbi Ezekiel Hai Albeg were born in Babylon and emigrated from there.

      Shaul Ben Abdallah Yosef (1849-1906) was born in Baghdad, and he emigrated from Babylon in 1868. He was a poet who emulated the style and themes of Spanish Hebrew poetry. His poetic style is rich, his knowledge of the Bible and of Spanish Hebrew poetry is meticulous, and his imagery is intense.

      Rabbi Saliman Mani (1850-1924) immigrated with his family to Israel during his childhood. He held important rabbinical positions in Israel and wrote Hebrew poetry,...

    • Chapter 3: The Twentieth Century Poets in Babylon
      (pp. 73-116)

      Many Hebrew textbooks were ordered from Palestine to Babylon. However, some felt that there was a need for books that would stimulate young students based on their specific local Jewish culture to learn the Hebrew language. Jewish educators in Babylon authored Hebrew textbooks with contents that spoke to the heart of their students and also effectuated progress in teaching the Hebrew language.

      Aharon Sason (1877-1962) emigrated from Babylon to Palestine in 1936. In Babylon, he played a central role in the Zionist movement. He also founded a Jewish school and served as principal. Additionally, he published Hebrew poetry with a...

  6. Part 2: Folktales, Reportage, Epistles, Research of Literature, and a Story
    • Chapter 4: The Folktales of Rabbi Yosef Hayyim
      (pp. 119-136)

      The folktales of Rabbi Yosef Hayyim are aimed at benefitting the listeners, to teach them something that would improve their lives and characters. These are educational, didactic stories, dominated by their moralistic message. The characters and plot are illustrations to a message. The tale is only a sweet wrapper for a plot with a bitter pill.

      These folktales illustrate significant aesthetic achievement. They employ many literary devices such as intriguing plots, illustrative episodes, dialogues and monologues, direct and indirect speech, imagery, heroes and anti-heroes, allegories, humor, passive and active voicing, flashbacks, flash-forwards, symbols, and parallelism.

      The folk literature of Babylonian...

    • Chapter 5: Rabbi Shelomo Bekhor Hutsin (Rashbah): The Words of an Enlightened Jew
      (pp. 137-152)

      Rabbi Shelomo Bekhor Hutsin (Rashbah, 1843-1892) was one of the disciples of Rabbi Abdallah Somekh (1813-1904) in Baghdad. Rabbi Abdallah Somekh was one of the key religious figures of his time (Hakak,Iggerot; and Hakak, “Shlomo”). He did not find personal fulfillment in business. Rather, he had spiritual and intellectual aspirations. As a result, he selected a small number of students and began an education enterprise that lasted forty years. In 1854, he established a rabbinical school. The graduates of this school (Yeshivat Bet Zilkha) became top community leaders, authors of religious books, poets and founders of a Hebrew press,...

    • Chapter 6: An Epistle as a Literary Work: Rabbi Ya’acov Hayyim’s Letter to Farha Sason
      (pp. 153-156)

      Until the advent of modern technology, Jews corresponded long distance through Hebrew letter writing. Despite living in different countries, Hebrew remained the common written language for Jews rather than their respective mother tongue. For example, Rashbah, who could not speak Polish, could correspond in Hebrew with a Jew in Warsaw who could not speak Arabic. Epistles provide examples of how Hebrew culture was active in many countries. In this chapter, I will illustrate how this letter can be considered a creative piece of literature.

      Rabbi Ya’acov Hayyim (1854-1920), the son of Rabbi Yosef Hayyim (1834-1909), published two books and authored...

    • Chapter 7: Shaul Abdullah Yosef: A Scholar of Medieval Hebrew Poetry
      (pp. 157-162)

      In a previous chapter, I presented Shaul Yosef’s world of poetry. Baghdadi-born Shaul Yosef (1849-1906) settled in Hong Kong. He was a poet, a scholar of Medieval Hebrew poetics and its poetry, and could skillfully interpret its texts.

      Shaul Yosef felt that he understood the Arabic way of life similar to Medieval Hebrew poets who lived among Arabs and were familiar with their poets, their poetry, their style, motifs, their “ornamental speech,” metaphorical language, conventional images, and phrases. Shaul Yosef’s colleagues often behaved arrogantly toward him.

      Dan Pagis wrote the following excerpt about Shaul Yosef’s contribution to understanding Medieval Hebrew...

    • Chapter 8: Rabbi Saliman Mani: Hebron, Gaza, and the Demons
      (pp. 163-168)

      While a young man in his thirties, Rabbi Saliman Mani (see Chapter 2) published in Eliezer Ben Yehuda’sHa-Tsevi. He wrote two exposés about Hebron and Gaza and a short story.

      His short story, “The Valley of the Demons” (Ha-Tsevi, 1885, No. 31-34) is a didactic story (about two thousand words) written in the first person. The narrator informs readers that since his youth he was a skeptic—he vacillated in his belief about demons. He could not substantiate their existence, yet he did not reject their existence. A Dervish rekindled his belief in demonic existence. He studied demonism extensively...

  7. Part 3: Hebrew Periodicals in Babylon
    • Chapter 9: Ha-Dover: The First Hebrew Journal in Babylon
      (pp. 171-174)

      Hebrew authors in Iraq published books. They also published poems in prayer books and participated in Hebrew publications that circulated in Babylon, Israel, India, and other countries in Europe.

      The efforts and difficulties in establishing and maintaining a Hebrew periodical in Iraq are not surprising when we observe how Hebrew journals struggled economically (including in prosperous times) in order to survive, even in places where there was a large Jewish population.

      In 1863, Barukh Moshe Mizrahi established the first printing house in Baghdad (see Introduction, “The Hebrew Press in Babylon”). During that year, Hebrew books were written and published in...

    • Chapter 10: Yeshurun: “The Newspaper is the Heart of the People”
      (pp. 175-188)

      Between 1909 and 1948, eight Jewish newspapers circulated in Iraq.Yeshurun(the poetic biblical name for Israel, Jeshurun) was one of these newspapers. Published in 1921, it was the only newspaper that included a Hebrew section. The publication of this periodical was part of the Zionist activity that flourished in Iraq from 1918 until 1935. Some of their activities included fund raising, establishing a youth movement, and circulating Zionist publications.

      In 1920, an association was established—Agguddat Tsea’ireh Yehudah, (“Youth Association of Judah”), or Aguddah Ivrit Sifrutit (“Hebrew Literary Association”). The Association obtained a permit from the government to conduct...

    • Chapter 11: Shemesh: An Anthology of Poems and Compositions from the Students of the Shammash School
      (pp. 189-206)

      Shemeshwas a school newspaper that was published in Baghdad from 1930-1933. This publication reflected the Hebrew culture of its time by reporting on field activities, Hebrew libraries, Hebrew education, lectures, teachers, and achievements in each field. My purpose in introducing this publication is to add another element that portrays Hebrew society in Babylon by presenting the literary works of the young people who were immersed in that culture.

      Shammashwas a boys’ school established in 1928. It was named after its founder, Benjamin Shelomo Shammash, who donated property to the school, which included seventeen stores, a pharmacy, and an...

    • Chapter 12: Derekh He-Haluts: The Journal of the Movement Counselors
      (pp. 207-224)

      In a previous discussion about the poetry of Rabbi Menasheh Saliman Shahrabani and Shelomo Salih Shelomo, I presented poetic responses to the “Farhood.” In response to the pogrom, young Jews joined the He-Haluts movement.

      After the 1941 pogrom against the Jews of Iraq, they realized that assimilation, participation in Iraqi nationalism, communism, and donations to Israel would not resolve their problems. However, an exodus to Palestine would bring resolution. The Zionist movement was legal in Iraq during the 1920s. The movement continued underground in the 1930s and reorganized between 1940-1941.

      As a result of the 1941 pogrom, several societies were...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 225-226)

    Hebrew creativity is an essential part of Jewish culture. It is important that we recognize Hebrew creativity wherever it took place. It is important to determine the information, the description, and the aesthetic evaluation of secular Hebrew creativity, including places where we mistakenly thought that Hebrew creativity did not exist, as was the case in Babylon.

    Herein I have presented Hebrew poets who wrote important secular Hebrew poetry that was aesthetically compatible with Hebrew poetry of its time. Yet, their poetry was not part of the tapestry of classical Hebrew literature as it should have been. This poetry is valuable...

  9. Questions
    (pp. 227-232)
  10. Index of Authors
    (pp. 233-236)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-246)
  12. Images
    (pp. 247-258)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-259)