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(1085-1142). Hebrew poet of the Middle Ages. Born in Spain when it was under Christian rule, he went to study at the academy of Isaac Al-Fasi in Lucena, near Cordova, in Moslem Spain. Having acquired an extensive knowledge of the Talmud, philosophy, Arabic literature, and medicine, he returned to his native town to be a practicing physician. In his youth, Judah’s joy of life was expressed in the poems he composed on love and the beauty of nature. Few Hebrew poems can rival the gracefulness, style, brilliance of expression, and tenderness found in the best of his poetry. His religious poems, on the other hand, are radiant with nobility of spirit and longing for the living God.

But he reserved his deepest passion and burning love for Zion; only in the land of Israel’s glorious past could the poet find peace and fulfillment. Judah realized his dream. He set out first by boat to Egypt, then to Palestine. This trip enriched Hebrew literature with ardent and powerful songs of the sea. Legend has it that when Judah reached the ruins of the Temple and he knelt at the Wailing Wall, an Arab horseman trampled him to death.

Many of Judah’s poems became part of the Jewish prayer book. His philosophic work The Kuzari greatly influenced Jewish thinking, attempting to prove the Jewish religion superior to the contemporary philosophic systems. Unlike Jewish philosophers before him, Judah Ha-Levi did not find it necessary to reconcile the Jewish religion with philosophic thought. For him, Jewish tradition needs no confirmation by reason; ethical perfection is best attained by religious observance. The Kuzari was written in the form of a discussion at the court of the king of the Khazars among representatives of the three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The king is finally convinced of the superiority of the Jewish religion. The Kuzari also stresses the intimate bond between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, expressing the thought that “Jerusalem will be built when the children of Israel strongly desire it.”

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