Thursday, May 13, 2010

Israel Najara's Piyut Yaarat Dvash יערת דבש

Question: "Youtube has a rousing and exquisite version" of the piyyut Yaarat Dvash יערת דבש with Moshe Haboucha singing and playing the oud. This piyyut is so compelling, I would like to find more information about it, and its author Israel Najara.

Detailed information about this piyyut is available in Hebrew on the outstanding "Invitation to Piyut" website. It provides the piyut text, photos of the text from a manuscript and early printings, word-by-word commentary on the text, short essays on its meaning and poetic art, and a biography of Najara. Click the MELODIES and MORE RENDITIONS buttons to hear 10 different recordings of this piyyut in the Algerian, Babylonian [Iraqi] and Moroccan traditions. Click on NOTES to retrieve the score of the melody in the Babylonian tradition. A background article on the poetry and piyutim of the Babylonian Jewish community is also available.

The Thesaurus of Jewish Music, from the Hebrew University, provides links to a series of biographical articles about Najara in English, and web-based recordings of other Najara piyyutim .

Many Hebrew articles about Najara and his writings are listed in RAMBI, by searching for נגארה as the subject.


  1. what is the possibility of Israel Najara being the author of Shalom Aleichem, that most Jews sing before Shabbos Kiddush? Have any ancient copies of it been found that could hint as to it's author?

  2. We have referred your question to Dr. Raymond Schiendlin, professor of Medieval Hebrew Literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and he has kindly provided this answer:

    The earliest appearance of Shalom aleikhem seems to have been in a book published in 1641. It does not seem ever to have been attributed to anyone. Najjara lived ca 1555-ca 1625, so chronologically it is not impossible that he should have been the author; on the other hand, there is nothing particularly distinctive about Shalom aleikhem that would suggest that it is by him, and it does not resemble his poems. Najjara's poems are well known to scholars, and the manuscripts of his poetry have been catalogued. If Shalom aleikhem were among his poems, someone would have noticed it by now; in any case no one has said they found it among his works.

    It's even hard to consider Shalom aleikhem a poem. In form, it isn't similar to medieval poems or poems by Najjara's contemporaries, since it consists merely of one sentence repeated four times, with only the first two words in each sentence changing each time. It's more like an incantation or a spell. The fact that we are accustomed to singing it shouldn't make us think of it as a poem in the sense that the word might have been used by Najjara.