The Book of Tahkemoni

BookThe Book of Tahkemoni

The Book of Tahkemoni

Jewish Tales from Medieval Spain

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


August 1st, 2003

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National Jewish Book Awards Winner of Sephardic Studies Award, 2001.

The Book of Tahkemoni (The Book of Wisdom or the Heroic) is widely regarded as the crowning jewel of Hebrew maqama literature —rhymed prose interspersed with verse. In its fifty unlinked episodes we repeatedly encounter the somewhat roguish protagonist, Hever the Kenite, often disguised and assuming many and varied roles—teacher, beggar, adventurer, debater, magician, and so on. Whether preaching, spinning history or fantasy, or working a crowd, Hever the Kenite is ever a consummate story-teller and wordsmith enlightening or astounding his listeners. The author, generally considered to be the last major Hebrew poet of Spain, displays great scope, moving from prayers to tales of battlefield carnage, from philosophic reflection to droll satire targeting the pompous, the ignorant, and the mean. The whole is conveyed in a sensuous interweave of rhyme and rhythm, of literal and figurative speech, and copious biblical citations manipulated to serve unusual ends. David Simha Segal's translation captures the drama, wit, and satire of the original in a contemporary English that displays vigour and a sense of fun. Detailed annotations, printed on the same page as the text, identify the numerous allusions. Analyses of each chapter bring the reader more deeply into the text, illuminating plays on words, adroit uses of the frame tale, adaptations of Arabic and Hebrew literary conventions, and other subtleties of the original. A substantial Afterword sums up major features discussed in the analyses, especially the authorial game of hide-and-seek in the characters of the protagonist and the narrator.

'This new edition and translation is a formidable work of scholarship. In addition to a readable version of a complicated text, Segal offers the reader invaluable editorial help in negotiating these exotic tales; his extensive set of analyses of Alharizi's introduction and the 'fifty Gates' (or sections) could constitute a separate monograph ... A meticulous and accomplished work that will reward the general reader as well as scholars.'
- M. Butovsky, Choice

- Hillel Halkin, Commentary

'A text of major importance... this volume belongs in every serious library.'
- Stephen D. Benin, Religious Studies Review

Author Information

David Simha Segal is Emeritus Senior Lecturer in Medieval Hebrew Literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba. Author of many studies of the Hebrew belles-lettres of Spain and a published poet, he has also translated modern Hebrew novelists, essayists, poets, and short-story writers. David Simha Segal is Emeritus Senior Lecturer in Medieval Hebrew Literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba. Author of many studies of the Hebrew belles-lettres of Spain and a published poet, he has also translated modern Hebrew novelists, essayists, poets, and short-story writers.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title2
Title Page4
Abbreviations and Conventions Used in the Text13
Translator's Preface14
The Book of Tahkemoni24
Introduction 28
Gate 1: Whence this Work Sprung and by Whom it was Sung44
Gate 2: Brimstone and Wrath against the Worldly Path55
Gate 3: The Mystery and History of the Hebrew Song of Spain62
Gate 4: A Descant on the Flea and the Ant72
Gate 5: Twelve Poets Sound the Months' Round82
Gate 6: Of One Too Swiftly Sped to the Marriage Bed96
Gate 7: Of Battle Lords and Dripping Swords104
Gate 8: In Praise of a Letter of Praise Read Two Ways109
Gate 9: Poetic Invention: One and Thirty in Contention116
Gate 10: Of Rustic Propriety and Winged Piety126
Gate 11: Of Verbal Show: Using and Refusing the Letter O134
Gate 12: Of the Ferocity of the Wars of Stint and Generosity142
Gate 13: Wherein Shall a Man be Whole? A Debate of Body, Mind, and Soul157
Gate 14: Of a Prayer Beyond Price Hewn from the Mountain of Spice166
Gate 15: A Prayer Sent where Grace Reposes: A Prayer to Godly Moses176
Gate 16: Airs of Song's Seven Heirs181
Gate 17: Rabbanite versus Karaite190
Gate 18: The Rise and Reign of Monarchs of Song in Hebrew Spain198
Gate 19: Of a Dispute of Poets Seven: Which Virtue is Dearest in the Eyes of Heaven213
Gate 20: Of Seven Maidens and their Mendacity218
Gate 21: Of a Sumptuous Feast and a Bumpkin Fleeced224
Gate 22: Of Fate's Rack and the Zodiac228
Gate 23: Of Hever the Kenite's Wretched Hour and Sudden Rise to Wealth and Power233
Gate 24: Of a Jolly Cantor and Folly Instanter238
Gate 25: Of a Hid Place and a Champion of the Chase247
Gate 26: Travels: Kudos and Cavils251
Gate 27: Of the Cup's Joys and Other Alloys256
Gate 28: Praise and Pity for David's City261
Gate 29: Beggars' Arts versus Frozen Hearts266
Gate 30: Of a Quack and his Bogus Pack269
Gate 31: Of a Mocking Knight and a Wormwood Cup of Fright273
Gate 32: Needlepoint: Point-Counterpoint278
Gate 33: Homily, Hymn, and Homonym290
Gate 34: Of a Host Bombastic and a Feast Fantastic297
Gate 35: Of the Grave of Ezra the Blest and Poems Celeste302
Gate 36: Challenge and Reply: Sweet Words Fly308
Gate 37: In the Clasp of a Deadly Asp313
Gate 38: Of Men and Ship in the Storm's Grip317
Gate 39: The Debate of Day and Night: Whose the Greater Might and Delight321
Gate 40: The Battle of Sword and Pen for Mastery of Men325
Gate 41: Badinage: Man and Woman Rage330
Gate 42: Generosity or Greed—Which the Better Creed or Deed?334
Gate 43: The Sea Roars its Worth against Proud Earth340
Gate 44: Life's Laws: Proverbs and Saws345
Gate 45: Hid Learning: Saws of Men of Discerning350
Gate 46: Of This and That Community Sung with Impunity356
Gate 47: Nation Contends with Nation for Rank and Station379
Gate 48: The Heart's Grief and Relief385
Gate 49: In Praise of the Fruits of the Garden Trees389
Gate 50: Varia and Nefaria395
Analysis of Introduction440
Gate 1451
Gate 2456
Gate 3461
Gate 4467
Gate 5472
Gate 6477
Gate 7482
Gate 8491
Gate 9496
Gate 10502
Gate 11505
Gate 12511
Gate 13514
Gate 14518
Gate 15522
Gate 16526
Gate 17530
Gate 18534
Gate 19538
Gate 20544
Gate 21548
Gate 22549
Gate 23552
Gate 24557
Gate 25564
Gate 26568
Gate 27571
Gate 28575
Gate 29581
Gate 30585
Gate 31588
Gate 32591
Gate 33599
Gate 34601
Gate 35608
Gate 36611
Gate 37615
Gate 38618
Gate 39620
Gate 40624
Gate 41627
Gate 42630
Gate 43633
Gate 44635
Gate 45637
Gate 46639
Gate 47642
Gate 48645
Gate 49650
Gate 50656
Index of Biblical References704
Index of Persons and Peoples719
Index of Places725
General Index728