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Ben Ḥassin, David

(827 words)

Author(s): Ephraim Hazan
David ben Aaron ben Ḥassin (Ibn Ḥassin, Ḥassin), one of the best-known and most beloved poets of Moroccan Jewry, was born in Meknes in either 1722 or 1727 into a scholarly and devoutly religious family. As a child he was given a Torah education and was an excellent student. At the age of seventeen, he wrote an essay entitled Migdal David (Tower of David) that proffered new insights on the Torah and ideas about Torah study and memorization. He married the daughter of his teacher, Mordecai Berdugo. Ben Ḥassin lived in a tragic era in the history of the Jews of Morocco. During his yo…

Ṭayyib, Ḥayy

(1,130 words)

Author(s): Ephraim Hazan
Cities throughout the State of Israel have streets named in honor of the Tunisian rabbi (Isaac)  Ḥayy Ṭayyib (1743–1837). This phenomenon stems from the admiration and appreciation for Rabbi Ḥayy Ṭayyib among the Jews of Tunisia. Wherever members of this community have influence in the public sector, they have made efforts to memorialize the name of their esteemed rabbi, whom they refer to with the phrase “Rabbi Ḥayy Ṭayyib is not dead” ( Rabbi Ḥayy Ṭayyib loʾ met). This expression alludes to a wonder he is said to have performed after his death. According to the story, the r…

Abi Zimra, Isaac Mandil ben Abraham

(404 words)

Author(s): Ephraim Hazan
Isaac Mandil ben Abraham Abi Zimra (ca. 1540–1610), who lived and worked in Morocco and Algeria during the second half of the sixteenth century, was a rabbi in Fez and a scion of a family exiled from Spain. Mandil’s poetry is praised in various old and new sources and research projects. M. Zulay spoke of Mandil with great admiration and described him as “a poet the son of a poet.” It was Zulay who determined that Mandil lived between the years 1540 and 1610. H. Schirmann lectured on Mandil at the Eighth International Congress of Judaic Studies, but his text was not published an…

Shawwāṭ, Frajī

(480 words)

Author(s): Ephraim Hazan
Frajī (Farajī) Shawwāṭ was born in Fez in the second half of the sixteenth century. Like a number of other Moroccan rabbis, he migrated to Beja in Tunisia. He holds a unique place among the poets of Tunisia and certainly was that country’s finest Hebrew poet. His poetry was loved and distributed widely in Tunisia and throughout North Africa. The great majority of Shawwāṭ’s piyyuṭim (liturgical poems) deal with the theme of exile and redemption, a subject so central to his thought that poems on other topics make up only a sixth part of his oeuvre, and even th…

Piyyuṭ (Liturgical Poetry)

(3,135 words)

Author(s): Ephraim Hazan
1.  The Term Piyyuṭ Piyyuṭ (pl. piyyuṭim; from Gk. poietes, poet) is a genre of liturgical or sacred poetry that is combined with public prayer in the synagogue. The midrash ( Vayiqra Rabba [Margoliot] 30 Chronicles [A]) said of Rabbi Eleazer ben Simeon: “ deava qariʾi u-tenay qerov u-poytas” (he was an expert on Scripture and Talmud, drew near to the ark [i.e., was a cantor], and was a poet). The notion of “closeness” ( q-r-v) came to be associated with prayer, piyyuṭ, and the cantor who draws near to the ark and leads the prayers of the congregation. The functional definition of piyyuṭ as poetr…

Elbaz, Samuel ben Judah

(530 words)

Author(s): Ephraim Hazan
Samuel ben Judah Elbaz was born in Sefrou, Morocco, in 1790 and died there in 1844. He was a payṭan and the scion of a distinguished Sephardi family of rabbinical scholars and poets, among them Amram Elbaz and Raphael Moses Elbaz. His compositions have not yet been published and are extant in manuscript in the possession of his family and in various libraries. Some of his songs were copied into manuscripts, e.g., Jewish Theological Seminary (New York) no. 3182, and Ben-Zvi Institute no. 2155. Among the poetic works of Samuel Elbaz is Noʿam Siaḥ (Heb. Pleasantness of Speech), a collection of
Date: 2015-02-17

Bujnāḥ, Mūsā

(449 words)

Author(s): Ephraim Hazan
The life and poetry of Rabbi Mūsā Bujnāḥ (d. 1680) cast a shining light on the spiritual life of the Jews of Tripoli in the seventeenth century. Regarded as Tripolitania’s finest Jewish poet, Mūsā was blind, according to the tradition handed down by Abraham Khalfon, the biographer of the Jews of Libya, and studied Torah in Egypt. A great many of Mūsā’s poems were intended for inclusion in the liturgy, centered around the Nishmat prayer, to which some North African communities attached piyyut im. This practice is reflected in the collections of ancient Tripolitanian song and po…