Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

The Book of Tahkemoni

Jewish Tales from Medieval Spain
Judah Alharizi
Translated from Hebrew, explicated, and annotated by David Simha Segal

'This new edition and translation is a formidable work of scholarship. In addition to a readable version of a complicated text, Segal offers the reader invaluable editorial help in negotiating these exotic tales; his extensive set of analyses of Alharizi's introduction and the fifty "Gates" (or sections) could constitute a separate monograph . . . A meticulous and accomplished work that will reward the general reader as well as scholars.'
M. Butovsky, Choice

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'A formidable work of scholarship . . . A meticulous and accomplished work that will reward the general reader as well as scholars'
M. Butovsky, Choice

'A text of major importance . . . this volume belongs in every serious library.'
Stephen D. Benin, Religious Studies Review

The Book of Tahkemoni (The Book of Wisdom or the Heroic) is widely regarded as the crowning jewel of Hebrew maqama literature, or rhymed prose interspersed with verse. In its fifty unlinked episodes we repeatedly encounter the somewhat roguish protagonist, Hever the Kenite, often disguised and assuming many and varied roles-teacher, beggar, adventurer, debater, magician, and so on.

Whether preaching, spinning history or fantasy, or working a crowd, Hever the Kenite is ever a consummate story-teller and wordsmith enlightening or astounding his listeners. The author, generally considered to be the last major Hebrew poet of Spain, displays great scope, moving from prayers to tales of battlefield carnage, from philosophic reflection to droll satire targeting the pompous, the ignorant, and the mean.

The whole is conveyed in a sensuous interweave of rhyme and rhythm, of literal and figurative speech, and copious biblical citations manipulated to serve unusual ends. David Simha Segal's translation captures the drama, wit, and satire of the original in a contemporary English that displays vigour and a sense of fun. Detailed annotations, printed on the same page as the text, identify the numerous allusions.

Analyses of each chapter bring the reader more deeply into the text, illuminating plays on words, adroit uses of the frame tale, adaptations of Arabic and Hebrew literary conventions, and other subtleties of the original.

A substantial Afterword sums up major features discussed in the analyses, especially the authorial game of hide-and-seek in the characters of the protagonist and the narrator.

 

About the translator

David Simha Segal is Emeritus Senior Lecturer in Medieval Hebrew Literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba. Author of many studies of the Hebrew belles-lettres of Spain and a published poet, he has also translated modern Hebrew novelists, essayists, poets, and short-story writers.

Contents

Abbreviations and Conventions Used in the Text
Translator's preface

The Book of Tahkemoni

Introduction

Gates

  1. Whence This Work Sprung and by Whom It was Sung
  2. Brimstone and Wrath Against the Worldly Path
  3. The Mystery and History of the Hebrew Song of Spain
  4. A Discant on the Flea and the Ant
  5. Twelve Poets Sound the Months' Round
  6. Of One too Swiftly Sped to the Marriage Bed
  7. Of Battle Lords and Dripping Swords
  8. In Praise of a Letter of Praise Read Two Ways
  9. Poetic Invention: One And Thirty In Contention
  10. Of Rustic Propriety and Winged Piety
  11. Of Verbal Show-Using and Refusing the Letter O
  12. Of the Ferocity of the Wars of Stinginess and Generosity
  13. Wherein Shall a Man be Whole? A Debate of Body, Mind, and Soul
  14. Of a Prayer beyond Price Hewn from the Mountain of Spice
  15. A Prayer Sent where Grace Reposes: A Prayer to Godly Moses
  16. Airs of Song's Seven Heirs
  17. Rabbanite versus Karaite
  18. The Rise and Reign of Monarchs of Song in Hebrew Spain
  19. Of a Dispute of Poets Seven: Which Virtue is Dearest in the Eyes of Heaven
  20. Of Seven Maidens and their Mendacity
  21. Of a Sumptuous Feast and a Bumpkin Fleeced
  22. Of Fate's Rack and the Zodiac
  23. Of Hever the Kenite's Wretched Hour and Sudden Rise to Wealth and Power
  24. Of A Jolly Cantor and Folly Instanter
  25. Of a Hid Place and a Champion of the Chase
  26. Travels: Kudos and Cavils
  27. Of the Cup's Joys and Other Alloys
  28. Praise and Pity for David's City
  29. Beggars' Arts Versus Frozen Hearts
  30. Of a Quack and His Bogus Pack
  31. Of a Mocking Knight and a Wormwood Cup of Fright
  32. Needlepoint: Point-Counterpoint
  33. Homily, Hymn, and Homonym
  34. Of a Host Bombastic and a Feast Fantastic
  35. Of the Grave of Ezra the Blest and Poems Celeste
  36. Challenge and Reply Sweet Words Fly
  37. In the Clasp of a Deadly Asp
  38. Of Men and Ship in the Storm's Grip
  39. The Debate of Day and Night: Whose the Greater Might and Delight
  40. The Battle of Sword and Pen for Mastery of Men
  41. Badinage: Man and Woman Rage
  42. Generosity or Greed-Which the Better Breed or Deed?
  43. The Sea Roars its Worth against Proud Earth
  44. Life's Laws: Proverbs and Saws
  45. Hid Learning: Saws of Men of Discerning
  46. Of This and That Community Sung with Impunity
  47. Nation Contends With Nation for Rank And Station
  48. The Heart's Grief and Relief
  49. In Praise of the Fruits of the Garden Trees
  50. Varia and Nefari

Analyses
Introduction
Gates 1-50

Afterword
Bibliography
Index of Biblical References
Index of Persons and Peoples
Index of Places
General Index

 

Reviews

'This new edition and translation is a formidable work of scholarship. In addition to a readable version of a complicated text, Segal offers the reader invaluable editorial help in negotiating these exotic tales; his extensive set of analyses of Alharizi's introduction and the fifty "Gates" (or sections) could constitute a separate monograph . . . A meticulous and accomplished work that will reward the general reader as well as scholars'
M. Butovsky, Choice

'Wonderful'
Hillel Halkin, Commentary

'A text of major importance . . . this volume belongs in every serious library.'
Stephen D. Benin, Religious Studies Review

 

Prizes

Winner of the 2001-2002 National Jewish Book Award for Sephardic Studies