All the Good Things of Spain

Yehuda Halevi
by Hillel Halkin
Schocken, 353 pp., $25

Yehuda Halevi is one of the great poets of the Western tradition and arguably the finest Hebrew poet between the Bible and the 20th-century, but it is difficult to convey his life and achievement to an English-reading audience. Ignorance, false preconceptions, and confusions abound regarding the medieval Spanish world in which he flourished: the distinctive social and cultural matrix of Halevi's poetry is not well understood, relations between Jews and Muslims at the time have too often been idealized, and the group identity of the Jews of medieval Iberia does not fit common stereotypes. The nature of Halevi's poetry is an even greater challenge. His technical virtuosity makes his poems extraordinarily difficult to translate. They are endlessly inventive in their word and sound-play, exquisitely musical, and constantly resourceful in their marshalling of biblical allusions in line after line.

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About the Author

Robert Alter’s most recent book is Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible (Princeton University Press).


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