Rabbi Shalom Shabazi: Revelations from a New Manuscript

Rabbi Shalom Shabazi: Revelations from a New Manuscript
In Addition to Introductory Chapters on his Character, Time, and Pilgrimages to his Burial Site
Aharon Gaimani

Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, also known as Abba Shalom Shabazi, lived and worked in southern Yemen in the 17th century. His poetry earned a central place in the cultural life of all Yemenite Jews, and gave Rabbi Shabazi a special status among Yemenite sages and commoners alike, like Rabbi Yehuda Halevi to the Jews of Spain, so Rabbi Shalom Shabazi was to the Yemenite Jews

In this book, a manuscript that has been held privately is published for the first time and contains 22 new piyyutim written in the handwriting of Rabbi Shabazi. The book encompasses prayer passages from around the year: Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah. The study of the Passover Haggadah and the prayer passages revealed that until the second half of the 17th century, the time of Rabbi Shabazi, all Yemenite Jewry knew one version and one custom, except for a few differences between communities. This manuscript is in the handwriting of the great poet, and the discussion of them constitutes an important contribution in the study of the poetry of Rash Shabazi and in the wording of the prayer in its place and time. The book also includes a comprehensive chapter on Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, his life and work, and another chapter on the tradition of ascending to his grave.

Digital Edition Kotar

Danacode:   110-20297 ISBN:  978-965-226-515-9 Language:   Hebrew Pages:   490 Weight:   1100 gr Dimensions:  17x24 cm Publication Date:   09/2020 Publisher:   Bar-Ilan University Press


Introduction 7

Part I

Rabbi Shalom Shabazi and the Pilgrimages to his Burial Site

Chapter 1: Rabbi Shalom Shabazi and his Work 11

1. His History and the Events of his Time 11

2. His Unique Affinity towards the Yeshiva of San’a 38

3. His Work and Manuscripts 43

4. The Sources of Influence on his Poetry 59

5. Rabbi Shalom Shabazi within the Context of Rabbi Yahya Saleh 65

6. His Influence across the Generations 66

Chapter 2: The Pilgrimage to Rabbi Shalom Shabazi’s Burial Site 93

1. Visiting the Burial Sites of the Righteous in Yemen 93

2. Rabbi Shalom Shabazi’s Burial Site 100

3. From the Stories of Pilgrims 106

4. A Letter of Pilgrimage to Rabbi Shalom Shabazi’s Burial Site 130

5. The Varying Versions of Prayers for Rabbi Shalom Shabazi’s Burial Site 132

6. The Burial Site in Past Generations 142

7. Transferring the Bones of Rabbi Shalom Shabazi for Burial in Israel 152

8. A Different Location Dedicated to Prayer, Benediction, and Requests 156

Part II

Insights from the Manuscript Penned by Rabbi Shalom Shabazi

Chapter 3: The Origin of the Manuscript 161

1. The Copied Manuscript: Methods of Authentication 161

2. Analyzing the Manuscript 164

3. Retracing Other Versions of the Manuscript 165

4. The Contents of the Manuscript 165

Chapter 4: New piyyutim by Rabbi Shalom Shabazi 167

1. A List of the piyyutim 168

2. Comparing the piyyutim to the Book Hemdat Yamim 169

3. The New piyyutim 173

Chapter 5: The Pesach Haggadah – Traditions of the Seder and the Text of the Haggadah 241

1. Traditions of the Seder 241

2. The Text of the Haggadah 256

Chapter 6: Prayers Recited during the Month of Tishrei 271

1. The Customs of Succot 271

2. Simchat Torah 285

3. Seder Ha’avodah of Yom Kippur 288

4. The Prayers and piyyutim Recited 291

Chapter 7: Regarding the Grammar and Language of the Manuscript 310

1. Rhyming with Holam and Tsere, Patah and Segol 310

2. Unique Grammar 312

3. The Interpretation of Words from the piyyutim 315

Part III

Facsimile of the Manuscript

1. Piyyutim for Simchat Torah [Pages 1a-4b]

2. The Pesach Haggadah [Pages 5a-11a]

3. A Prayer for Having a Bad Dream [Pages 11a-11b]

4. The Commandment of the Arba’at Ha-minim and piyyutim for Hoshanot [Pages 11b-17b]

5. New and Old piyyutim [Pages 18a-45b]

6. The Seder Ha’avodah of Rabbi Avraham ben Ezra [Pages 45b-51b]

7. “Maran” Piyyutim for after Minha of Yom Kippur [Pages 51b-54b]

8. A’richat Ha'rahamim [Pages 55a-60b]

Conclusion 445

Bibliography 447

Index 465

English Abstract ix

Aharon Gaimani is a professor in the Department of Israeli History and Contemporary Jewry at Bar-Ilan University, who teaches and conducts research in the field of Jews in Islamic countries. He has published numerous studies on the lives of Jews in Yemen on scientific platforms in Israel and abroad. Havatzelet Hasharon to Rabbi Yahya Bashiri, published by Yad Harav Nissim, 5768; The Names of Yemenite Jewry - A Social and Cultural History, University Press of Maryland 2017

Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, one of the greatest Yemenite poets, also known as Abba Shalom Shabazi, lived in the seventeenth century in south Yemen. Throughout the ages, the sages of Yemen appreciated his greatness in Torah, while his poetry earned him a central place among Yemenite Jewry. He is celebrated and admired among all the sages of Yemen.

I have recently acquired a private collection of manuscripts composed by Rabbi Shabazi. The main concern of this book is the detailing of this collection, which includes piyyutim and prayers that have yet to be published. However, since the great poet himself, his life and unique place among Yemenite Jewry, has yet to receive a thorough and comprehensive narration, an account pivotal to understanding the collection at hand, I have seen fit to chronicle the material known to us in the first two chapters of the book.

I begin the narrative of Rabbi Shabazi’s life with the admiration he received after his death. Little is known about his life; his writings and poetry serve as our main source of information. He was born in 1619, and his ancestry includes Shalam ben Yosef ben Avigad ben Halfon. He had two sons and a daughter, the most famous of whom was Shimon, a poet and a dayan.

From time to time, a number of manuscripts have been discovered that include new piyyutim attributed to Rabbi Shabazi. There are currently 850 known poems composed by him, which comprise about a third of the entire poetic work from Yemen. He composed the majority of his piyyutim, which are of a religious nature, in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic.

Rabbi Shabazi lived through one of the most turbulent and difficult periods in the history of the Jews of Yemen. Rumors regarding Shabbetai Zevi’s messianism began spreading among Yemenite Jewry in the years 1665-1667, as expressed in several of Rabbi Shabazi’s poems. Jewish and Muslim sources indicate that the rumors surrounding Shabbetai Zevi led to an increased sense of security among the Jews of Yemen, to which the Muslims responded with a series of decrees intended to humiliate them.

In a document copied by Rabbi Shabazi, which is photocopied and presented here, there are twenty-two unpublished and unknown poems that he composed. In some of them, Rabbi Shabazi expresses the suffering of the Yemenite Jews as a result of the decrees that were imposed upon them during his time. The information in these poems sheds light on the events of the period, enriching our knowledge of the subject. In his poetry, he describes the attacks on Jews, including the desecration of Torah scrolls and the Torah Ark, the destruction of synagogues and the humiliation of the sages, culminating in the expulsion of the Jews to Mawza. The settlement of Mawza is located in southwestern Yemen, by the Tihanah River on the Red Sea coast, and is known as an arid place. The deportation order was issued at the beginning of the month of Elul in the year 1678, and the expulsion began in 1679 and continued through 1680. The expulsion encompassed many communities throughout Yemen. In a different poem, Rabbi Shabazi recounts the extent of the expulsion, from Sa’dah in the north to the Shara’b district in the south, all the while emphasizing the despair and grief over the Jews of San’a. Rabbi Shabazi, who wandered with the exiles to Mawza, describes the hardships of the journey. He apparently survived the march, which he illustrates in vivid colors in his poetry.

From his poems, we bear witness to his greatness in Torah and secular subjects. His education encompassed a profound knowledge of the three languages – Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic – in which he wrote his works. Rabbi Shabazi’s knowledge was not restricted to the Arabic language, but also covered the Arab world and Islam.

In addition, Rabbi Shabazi was one of the most prominent scholars of Yemen in the fields of Torah, philosophy, and Kabbalah. He wrote a number of essays, the most famous of which is his interpretation of the Torah Hemdat Yamim, in which he quotes midrashim and rabbinical literature, and interprets the weekly Parsha, with his own commentaries.

Regarding the pilgrimage to the graves of the righteous, it should be noted that there was no widespread phenomenon of visiting the graves of relatives, nor did Jews frequent the grave sites of the righteous, or dedicate a separate burial plot for them. The three most renowned tomb sites frequented by Yemenite Jews were those of sages who lived in the seventeenth century. These sages had to live under the arduous decrees that affected the Jews of Yemen, in which they were required to leave their places of residence and be exiled to Mawza. Two of the sages, Rabbi Salem Pinchas and Rabbi Yahya Halevy, were from San’a. They passed away on their way to Mawza near the city of San’a, and their grave sites were visited by those who lived in the immediate vicinity. The third, and most famous of the three, was Rabbi Shabazi, who wandered with the exiles from his residence in Taiz in southern Yemen. Jews from all over the country would come to frequent his grave site. From the paucity of information regarding pilgrimages to the grave sites of the righteous in Yemen, one can learn that this phenomenon among Yemenite Jews was very limited.

It is also interesting to note that in the stories (first- or second-hand accounts) of those who visited the tomb, there is a tendency to present vivid descriptions of the spring in the cave located near the tomb, whereas the tomb itself is hardly given a concrete description. In only a few testimonies does the grave merit any description at all. The British researcher Hugh Scott visited the tomb in December 1937, during which visit he recounted the following: “We passed the tomb of a Jewish saint, Weli Shebazi. The actual grave, a whitewashed oblong with a little arch on top at one end, was surrounded by a rough stone wall, with a small, low one-roomed stone building opening into the enclosure.”

Those visiting the grave site from nearby places would frequent the locale, from time to time, without any prior organization. However, pilgrims from distant places, whose journeys required accommodation at intermediate stations, organized themselves in groups and prepared themselves for the journey ahead. Many of the Jews who came to the city of Taiz to visit the grave of Rabbi Shabazi, among them families, would stay in the village of Magraba, located at the edge of the city on the side of Mount Sabar, near the tomb, which was populated by Jews.

The spring near Rabbi Shabazi’s grave site, approximately a hundred meters away, was famous throughout Yemen as a place of healing. Patients from all over Yemen would visit to pray for a quick recovery, and some would remain by his grave site until they were healed. The visitors would attribute miraculous properties to the waters of the spring, and thus some used to drink from it or clean their wounds with it. There were others who swore that if they recovered, they would visit the grave site of Rabbi Shabazi, which would garner them the necessary strength and hope that they would recover from their illness. The patient would immerse in the mikvah, pray at the grave site, and then enter the minshara, which was a cave in the mountain near the site. Inside the cave was collected water, originating from the spring itself. The patient would wait until he noticed an object floating in the spring, such as a leaf, and then he would take it, store it in a box and use it as a talisman for healing. There are other reasons for the visiting the grave of Rabbi Shabazi: personal requests, prayers, success, and the fulfillment of the vows of healed patients. It should be noted that there were local Muslims who also visited the grave site to be cured, respecting the site and treating it as a holy place.

The Jews who lived in Taiz, where Rabbi Shabazi was buried, and the nearby communities, immigrated to Israel in the late 1940s; the Jews who remained mostly dwelled in northern Yemen – thus severing the connection between the grave site and those who held it dear. Since then, we have no reliable source or report on the condition of the grave site. In the 1990s, attempts were made to rehabilitate the tomb of Rabbi Shabazi, but without success, and in the years following the establishment of the State of Israel efforts were made by several organizations to transfer the bones of Rabbi Shabazi to Israel for burial.

I have dealt extensively with the aforementioned manuscript, which contains sixty pages, including twenty-two new piyyutim and prayers for throughout the year: Pesach, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Succot, and Simchat Torah. I have studied all the new piyyutim, which have been collected, and have added an introduction, nikkud, and references. In some of the piyyutim presented here, for the first time ever, Rabbi Shabazi describes the events of his time, as he did in other piyyutim that have already been published. Presenting these piyyutim, their content, and the discussion surrounding them, contributes an additional layer of information regarding the events and time period in which Rabbi Shabazi lived – a particularly turbulent time in the history of Yemenite Jewry. Some of the piyyutim were composed in the wake of historical events that took place in Yemen during the expulsion to Mawza. In the title of one of the piyyutim, Rabbi Shabazi notes: “For the sons of Ishmael stripped the garments of a Torah scroll, and cast them naked with their king, and decreed against us or exiled us from the land before the end.” These piyyutim combine a lamentation for the fate of Yemenite Jews and the decrees against them, while seeking redemption and mercy. The edicts were expressed in light of the closing of synagogues and the desecration of Torah scrolls, as well as the humiliation of the Jews and their expulsion from their places of dwelling. The poet asks that God be merciful with his nation and redeem it, seeking retribution against His wrongdoers, and the release of His nation and a return to the ancestral homeland.

Other piyyutim from the collection are liturgical, discussing the need to beware of sins and the evil inclination and adhere to committing good deeds, reward for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, a call for repentance and acceptance by God, repentance on Yom Kippur and to be written in the Book of Life, a prayer to God that He shall aid Israel, due to their prayers, study, and charity that they provide for the poor. Additionally, Rabbi Shabazi wishes that God will remember the people of Israel due to the rights of the forefathers, hear their prayers, and write them in the Book of Life, and a prayer for redemption with the coming of the Messiah. These piyyutim, which are published here for the first time, and whose purpose is prayer and turning to repentance, attest to the greatness of Rabbi Shabazi in Torah and the literature of Jewish philosophy, in which he excelled.

From the manuscript, I have copied the Pesach Haggadah, a photograph of which is presented in this book. I have discussed the important customs of the Seder and the practices of prayer that arise from passages in this collection. For each custom, I have illustrated the background, overview, and summary of its development, and finally, I note how Yemenite Jews currently maintain the custom. I compared the customs to two other sources, to the tiklāl (a Jewish Yemenite prayer book) that was copied by Rabbi Shabazi in 1677, and to the tiklāl written in the time and region of Rabbi Shabazi by one of his family members, Rabbi Yisrael Mashta, in 1642.

From the customs of the Seder, we learn about the traditions that were common during the time and place of Rabbi Shabazi. For example, regarding the blessing on the four cups during the Seder it is written that a blessing must be recited on each cup of the four cups in accordance with the custom of ancient Yemenite Jews, as is customary today among the Baladi and some of the Shāmī communities. Furthermore, an ancient custom of drinking a fifth cup is presented, a custom that has almost completely disappeared among Yemenite Jews. For the blessing on the matzah on the Seder night, it is commanded to bless only on the matzah and half that is left, as is the custom of the ancient Yemenite Jews, and still practiced among the Baladi.

The sections of the prayer that are presented in this volume are from the month of Tishrei: Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Succot, and Simchat Torah. Rabbi Shabazi wrote instructions for the observance of the Lulav and accompanying customs, which can enlighten us regarding the traditions of his place and time. Moreover, I have added a discussion section for the piyyutim of Simchat Torah and Seder Ha’avodah of Yom Kippur. The discussion of these sources provides us with a broader picture regarding the traditions of the festivals of Tishrei in the time and region of Rabbi Shabazi. With regard to the Ha’dasim of the Four Species we learn that, the Jews of the Shara’b district used to add a non-kosher myrtle to the Lulav in accordance with the custom of ancient Yemenite Jews, a tradition still maintained by the Baladi and some of the Shāmī communities. Regarding the shaking of the Four Species, one can see the influence of Rabbi Yosef Karo on Rabbi Shabazi. The collection of the Simchat Torah piyyutim is very much in accord with the piyyutim that appear in Yemenite prayer books up to the eighteenth century, and the recitation of the piyyutim of Simchat Torah was done only after the morning prayers, which is in accordance with the ancient custom of Yemenite Jews. From the eighteenth to the twentieth century, additional piyyutim entered the prayer book of Yemenite Jewry, and from the nineteenth century there were some who recited the piyyutim after the evening prayers. The Seder Ha’avodah is different from what was brought by Rabbi Yahya Saleh in his tiklāl Etz Chaim, which teaches us about the ancient custom found in the collection of Rabbi Shabazi and the influence it had on publications during Rabbi Yahya Saleh’s period. The evident conclusion is that, during the period and in the region of Rabbi Shabazi, the customs of the Seder and the prayer segments of the month of Tishrei were in accordance with ancient customs, as found in the tiklāls composed up to his time. In later generations, however, the region of Rabbi Shabazi was heavily impacted by the rulings of Rabbi Karo’s Shulchan Aruch and of Kabbalistic teachings to a far greater degree than any other Yemenite community in the other regions and districts. Most of the manuscript copied by Rabbi Shabazi, whose photograph is presented in this book, contains nikkud, allowing for a better understanding of local pronunciation during his time.

In the last chapter, I dwell on matters of language in the writings of Rabbi Shabazi, where I discuss the form of pronunciation, such as the exchange between the Holam and Tsere, which was prevalent mainly in south Yemen where Rabbi Shabazi lived, and less so in other parts of Yemen. Conversely, the pronunciation of Patah and Segol is identical among Yemenite Jews, and is derived from a Babylonian tradition. Additionally, I have incorporated the explanation of numerous words found within the piyyutim, which Rabbi Shabazi interpreted in the manuscript, as they enrich our knowledge of the Jewish language in Yemen.

In the last part of the book, I chose to present to the reader the manuscript of the great poet Rabbi Shabazi, which can further expand our knowledge regarding the presented manuscript. There is no doubt that it will serve as fertile ground for future researchers from an array of subjects and disciplines.

'Greetings from Abba Shalom', Segula, 131 (May 2021)