The Great Rabbi-Poet of Gaza

November 20, 2023 | Edwin Seroussi
About the author:

One of the most beloved songs traditionally sung at Shabbat dinner tables is Yah Ribbon (“O Lord of the World”), written in Aramaic by Israel ben Moses Najara (ca. 1555—1625), likely the most prolific and talented paytan, or author of liturgical poems, of his era. Israel was born to a scholarly Sephardi family in the Galilean city of Safed (also Tsfat or Tsfas), which was then a center of kabbalah, and for much of his life served as a rabbi in Gaza, writing hundreds of religious poems and bakkashot (Sephardi liturgical songs) as well as scholarly treatises. In conversation with Nachi Weinstein, Edwin Seroussi discusses Israel’s life and work, the influence of Spanish folk songs and Turkish classical music on his stylings, and what may be a vicious attack on Israel Najara by the great mystic Ḥayyim Vital (1542–1620).

Israel’s grave in Gaza was known until 1948, when the cemetery where he was buried was destroyed by the Egyptians.

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