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Announcing the winners of our 2020 Poems in Translation Contest in partnership with the Academy of American Poets. Read more.


Yehudah HaLevi

An unrivaled master of Hebrew language and prosody, Yehudah HaLevi (c. 1075–1141) is perhaps the most famous of all the medieval Hebrew poets. Born on the border between Muslim and Christian Spain, he spent much of his life crossing back and forth between the north and south. While still in his teens, he traveled to Granada at the invitation of Moshe Ibn Ezra. Eventually he settled in Christian Toledo, where he was a physician at the court of Alfonso VI. His poetry is prized for its fusion of a pure Hebrew lyricism and religio-historical concerns, as well as for its incorporation of Sufi devotional elements, and he is perhaps best known for his hybrid poems of Zion, in which he gives powerful expression to his longing for a return to the ancient center of Jewish life. In 1140, in the wake of the Almohad invasion, and deeply conflicted about the ultimate worth of Andalusian Hebrew culture and all it stood for, he set sail for the Holy Land. Historical records find him thriving in Alexandria and Fustat (medieval Cairo), where he spent some six months waiting for favorable winds to continue his journey. In early 1141, he left the port of Alexandria, heading for Acre, and though the facts remain unclear, it seems that he died en route or shortly after arriving in Palestine.

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