Saturday, June 02, 2012

The First Zionist: Judah Ha-Levi of 1135 CE

Nadene Goldfoot
Judah Ha-Levi's ancestors were forced to leave the kingdom of Judah in 70 CE when their city, Jerusalem, fell to the Romans. He was born in Toledo, Spain in 1075 CE,  1005 years later.  At that time Spain was both Christian and Moslem, chiefly in Cordova.   Toledo had a Jewish community dating back to Roman times which the city council was trying to extirpate (wipe out).  The shock of it all was that the Jews were the ones who brought in the Arabs to the city in the first place.  Jewish rights were taken away and then guaranteed after the Christian reconquest in 1085 and became a very important community when Judaism was suppressed by the Almohades in Moslem Spain in 1146-47.   He became a physician of an honorable profession, even in those days.  In his later years he felt it necessary to go back to his homeland, which was now called "Palestine."

Lucky man, he journeyed back during the period of the 2nd Crusade as he had set out between 1135 and 1140 and reached Egypt, staying there for 6 months.  He wound up dying in Alexandria in 1141 at age 66 instead of reaching the Holy Land, unfortunately.  It was not an easy thing to reach in those days.

During this 12th Century the serious political developments in Spain were of Christians and Moslems fighting desperately for suzerainty (overlordship), with the Jews, and he wound up suffering from both groups.  It affected his sensitive mind, dodging all people there.  He became very religious himself while having a negative attitude towards philosophy and earthly pleasures.

He was a writer, and his songs of Zion "Zionides" express Israel's yearning for its ruined homeland.  He wrote "Ha-Kukzari (The Khazar) and managed to write it in Arabic before he left Spain.  It is concerned with the problem of the Jewish fate and exile and deals with the many problems and their solution.  He is the one who wrote about the   king of the Khazars who listens to a rabbi, a Christian and a Moslem scholar and an Aristotelian philosopher with the result of accepting Judaism for himself and his royal household.

Judah felt that the Jewish people were the heart of all nations and felt their pain and bore their sicknesses.  The sufferings of Exile cleansed them of their sins and prepared them for their restoration to their homeland, after which they will bring the world salvation.  This redemption is dependent on the will of the people and is brought nearer by settling in the Holy Land.  His writing of "The Kuzari,  was a great influence among Jewish readers and is regarded as one of the classics of Judaism.  Little did he realize that this was just the beginning of the exile while all the time all would be yearning to return to Eretz Yisrael.  It would take till 1882-1903 for the return of the 1st Aliyah to start the ball rolling again for the exiles to return to those who had been left to hold down the fort.

Judah had the right idea since there were horrible massacres of Jews in Toledo in 1391 which claimed many victims and left behind large numbers of converts.  It became a center of the Marranos (Jews pretending to be Christians) , who were attacked and massacred again in 1449 and 1467 and later became the seat of the Inquisitional tribunal after Jews were expulsed in 1492.

Reference:  The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia
The Jewish Kingdom of Kuzar by Rabbi Zelig Shachnowitz

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