Several of our previous Jewish cruises have explored the breadth and depth of Jewish heritage in Iberia, a peninsula whose history is defined by the three faiths that thrived within its shores.

The Golden Age of Spanish Jews, in particular, was a time of much artistry for the Sephardic inhabitants of that land. Poetry is one of the most resonant forms of literary art, compositions with themes and concepts that still ring true with people throughout the centuries. Judah Halevi was one of the most prominent writers of his era, and both his poems and literary works continue to be relevant beyond 11th Century Iberia.

The Life of a Poet in Iberia

Statue in Caesarea, Israel. | Photo

Judah Halevi was born in Muslim-controlled Toledo, Castile, 1075, 10 years before Alfonso VI took over. As a youth, he received a well-rounded education, which included religious literature, philosophy and poetry. He travelled to Al-Andalus, where he attracted much attention for his skillful poetry. This caught the eye of renowned Jewish poet Moses ibn Ezra, who invited him to stay in Granada, where he flourished as a writer. However, Granada would soon be taken over by the less tolerant Almoravids, and Judah Halevi left the city, disheartened.

In the following years since Granada’s takeover, Judah Halevi would travel through the many cities of Spain, before settling in Cordoba, capital of Jewish culture during the last years of the Golden Age. It was there that he began to compose his famous works: The Kuzari, a defense of Judaism using the framing device of a rabbi instructing a pagan king, and the Zionides, an ode for the Holy Land.

In 1140, he would act on his longing, travelling to Alexandria before continuing his journey to Jerusalem. He stayed in Egypt for a time and then went on his way towards the Holy Land. His death there was unexpected, and heavily mythologized, with only a few letters potentially revealing the exact circumstances of his last breath.

Of Poems and Long Travels

Judah Halevi’s life was one of art, travel, friendship and religious introspection. The works that he produced near the end of his life showed a resonance to modern-day Zionism, but even his older writings were of great artistic merit. He was a man immersed in culture and contributed to Sephardic heritage in his time. On our future kosher cruise expeditions through Iberia, let us remember some of Judah Halevi’s works, and imagine how our own travels might inspire us to make great art.

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