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Article: Autograph of a Legend

נעים זמירות יהודי תימן

Autograph of a Legend

Yacov Fuchs

One of the most beloved figures in Yemenite Jewry, Rabbi Shalom Shabazi (1619–ca. 1680), was known as a scholar, rabbi, gifted poet, mystic, and, according to legend, even a miracle worker. According to one folk tale, he is reputed to have magically flown each Friday to the Land of Israel to spend his Sabbath in one of its holy cities.

Perhaps Shabazi was so beloved because he regarded himself as one of the people. His intellectual greatness did not remove him from everyday concerns and he was well acquainted with the beliefs and fears of the people among whom he lived. His commentary on the Bible, Hemdat Yamim, is a brilliant synthesis of the heavenly and the earthly, the sublime, and the mundane. His commentaries contain interpretations based on the simple and hidden meanings of the text while also incorporating local folk tales involving demons, magicians, and supernatural forces. The world in all its variety is made harmonious in his work.

Likewise, most of his poetry emerges from his interactions with his people and is written for them. Shabazi feels the pain of his humiliated brethren “abandoned in Yemen” and expresses hope for better days. He pleads on behalf of his people while also sounding a message of confidence and consolation.

This autographed manuscript of a collection of Shabazi’s poetry — known as a diwan in Islamic culture — includes poems in Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic. These poems express longing for the glories of the past, lamentations for the pain of the present, and hopes for future redemption. Some of the poems express great sorrow over the sacred books that Yemenite Jews were forced to abandon upon being exiled from their homes and the hope that their situation will improve and they will one day open and study these works once again.