Monday, June 19, 2006

The infant son of the Gazan judge

There is a poem found in the Genizah which I have been meaning to write about for a while now. It is a kerovah, an expanded version of the Shemoneh Esreh, written as an elegy for the son of the payyetan.

The author of this poem was Yeshuah ben Natan ha-Levi, who identifies himself as a Haver, apparently holding some position in the academy of Erets ha-Tsevi. From other Genizah fragments it emerged that he was also the judge of Gaza. His son, to whom the poem is dedicated, was named Yoshiyahu (Josiah), and he died a few days after Purim, 1026, at the age of six.

Yeshuah describes the world as turning dark as he carried his son to burial. How can he forget him, and how can he possibly be comforted? All he asks is that, when he dies, he should be reunited with his son. The imagery that he uses to describe his relationship with his son is that of a mother - interestingly, the mother of Yoshiyahu is never mentioned.

He declares that there never was such a special child as his, so clever and studious and pious. Instead of playing with children in the street, he would come home and recite the prayers with his father. He shared his food with others, and asked his father questions about his learning. One question in particular stumped his father, and amazed all those who heard he had asked it. It is a question that has no answer. The question begins "why do all mortals die?", and there the fragment ends.

The poem was first published by Menahem Zulai in 1937, and dedicated to the memory of his brother. An additional page was found by Ezra Fleischer in Cambridge and published in a festschrift for Simon Halkin in 1973.


Anonymous francine marino said...

I remember reading a few lines from this piyut once and finding them amazingly moving and eloquent. Could you possibly post the original for us?

4:41 PM  

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