This introductory chapter provides an overview of Spanish Hebrew poetry. The revival of Hebrew poetry was a direct consequence of two factors: the residence of the Jews in Muslim lands, and the Jews’ reappraisal of the Hebrew Bible. The Jews of Spain followed their Arabic masters in much of their poetic subject-matter, but they often transmuted it into specifically Jewish material. One encounters often their awareness of the passing of time, of the futility of life, and of the precious quality of the immortal soul. And, above all, one experiences with them their search for the knowledge of God, their sense of dependence on him as the Creator of the world, their consciousness of the relationship between God and the Jewish people, their desire to serve him with all their being, their remorse at their own iniquity, and their torment and their bewilderment at the sufferings of their people. The Spanish period not only saw the efflorescence for the first time since the ‘song of Songs’ of secular Hebrew poetry. It also provided for the first time the framework for the professional Jewish poet.
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