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Three Unknown Piyyutim by David Ben Ḥasin

  • André E. Elbaz (a1) and Ephraim Hazan (a2)

David Ben Ḥasin (1727–1792) is the most celebrated poet of Moroccan Jewry. His piyyutim were already popular during his lifetime, not only in his native city of Meknès, but all over Morocco, as evidenced by his frequent visits to distant Jewish communities (including Gibraltar, in southern Spain) where he was regularly invited to sing his compositions. Contemporary poets wrote songs of praise in his honor while he was still alive, as well as elegies lamenting his death. To this day, David Ben Item's piyyutim remain remarkably popular among Moroccan Jews. All anthologies of Moroccan piyyutim, whether printed or in manuscript form, include large numbers of his compositions. His popularity is such that several of his poems have served as models for many interesting imitations.

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1. On David Ben Hasin's biography and poetry, see Elbaz, André E., “Quelques precisions inédites sur la vie et l'oeuvre de David Ben Hassine,” Revue des études juives 149 (1990): 449456; idem, “L'exil marocain dans la poesie de David Ben Hassine,” in Recherches sur la culture des Juifs d' Afrique du Nord, ed. Issachar, Ben–Ami (Jerusalem, 1991), pp. ivii–lxii;Hazan, Ephraim, “Hebrew and Aramaic in the Poetry of R. David Ben Aharon Hasin-The Poet of Moroccan Jewry” (Heb.), East and Maghreb 4 (1983): 111123; idem, “Language Layers in the Poetry of R. David b. Aharon Hasin” (Heb.], Massorot 1 (1984): 19–39; idem, “Chants liturgiques du patrimoine de Rabbi David Hassine” [Heb.], in Recherches sur la culture des Juifs d' Afrique du Nord, pp. 65–73; idem, “Shirav ha'ishiyim shel Rabbi David Ben Aharon Hasin” [The personal poems of David Ben Aharon Hasin], in Mehqarim besifrut 'am Yisra'el ubetarbut Teiman [Studies in the literature of the Jewish people and the culture of Yemen], ed. Yehudit Dishon and Ephraim Hazan (Ramat-Gan, 1991), pp. 279–299; idem, “The Elegy Poems of R. David Hasin-Their Quality and Singularity,” Miqqedein Umiyyam 4 (1991): 13–23; idem, “Hariza umivta beshirat Rabbi David Hasin” [Rhyme and accent in the poetry of Rabbi David Hasin], Massorot 7 (1993): 77–85.

2. In his introductions to various piyyutim, David Ben Hasin mentions trips to Fez, Marrakesh, Salé, Tetuän, El-Qsar, Gibraltar, the Tafilalet area, etc.

3. Songs of praise were composed in his honor during his lifetime by Abraham Alnakar, EftaH pi beshir vezimra, in MS Jewish Theological Seminary of America Library 5417, p. 29v, and by David, Hayyim Serero, 'Ashira na liyedidi, in Tehilla leDavid (Amsterdam, 1807), p. 1r. After the death of David Ben Hasin, elegies were composed by poets like Aharon Ben Simhon (MS copy kindly provided by Raphael Ben Simhon, in Jerusalem) and Shelomo Halewa (MS JTS 1237), pp. 147r–149r. See Chetrit, Joseph, “The Personal and Socio-Historical Poetry of R. Shelomo Halewa…and the Tradition of Hebrew Poetic Discourse in Morocco” [Heb.], Miqqedem Umiyyam 4 (1991): 6365.

4. Tehilla leDavid (Casablanca, 1931), pp. 17v–18r.

5. Shir Yedidot (Marrakesh, 1921), pp. 231v–232v.

6. Ibid., pp. 184v–185r.

7. MS JTS 8576, pp. 55r–57r.

8. MS Ben Zvi Institute Library 52, pp. 27r–27v.

9. In the nineteenth century, David Ben Hasin's piyyutim were popularized by shadaraim,or itinerant emissaries from Israel, Eres, like Raphael Ohana, born in Meknés, emissary from Tiberias to the Far East in 1886. See his book Sefer tovat mar'e (Jerusalem, 1896), pp. 96r–96v. Some of these piyyutim were printed in Sefer Pizinonim, an anthology published in Calcutta, India, in 1842. Other poems by Ben Hasin were found in the Cairo Geniza (MS Cambridge University library, T.-S. H 10/1882–10, and MS British Library, BM 5557 R 72). 'E'erokh mahalal nivi has become part of the Havdalah and berit milah rituals in North Africa and the Middle East. It is included in various siddurim published by Baqqal and Mansur Editions in Jerusalem; in Sefer 'ot brit qodesh (Leghorn, 1894), which also contains 'Efseha shir hadash, 'E'erokh shir tehilla, and 'El barukh gedol de 'a; in Sefer siyah Yishaq (Jerusalem, 1923), which also includes 'E'erokh shir tehilla; and in Sefer tehillot la'el (Jerusalem, 1932), which also contains 'Ohilyomyom 'eshta'e and 'lm 'amarti 'asappera. Sefer hemed Elohim(Leghorn, 1852), a mahzor, contains 'Asadder tushbahta, a piyyut in honor of the festival of Sukkot.

10. These piyyutim were contained in a manuscript entitled Shetil David. See Benaim, Yosef, Malkhe Rabbanan, Kevod Melakhim (Jerusalem, 1931), p. 22v. They were included in the second edition of Tehilla leDavid (Casablanca, 1931). A third edition was published in Jerusalem in 1973.

11. “Une élégie de David ben Aron Ibn Houssein sur les souffrances des juifs au Maroc en 1790,” Revue des etudes juives (1898): 120–126.

12. MS JTS 3089 (dated 1819), pp. 4r–4v and 17v–18v. The authors, who discovered these texts, wish to thank the Jewish Theological Seminary of America for its kind permission to publish them in this article.

13. Cf. Isa. 41:4. As clearly evidenced in these three piyyutim, Moroccan paytanim like David Ben Ḥasin used profusely the medieval Spanish masters' technique of shibbus, or the insertion of biblical verses or verse fragments, sometimes slightly modified, in their poems.

14. Cf. Job 36:22.

15. The poet here uses the words of the piyyut on the Thirteen Principles of Faith, Yigdal 'Ḥlohim ḥay veyishtabbaḥ/nimṣa ve 'ein 'et 'el mesi 'ut

16. The second stanza follows the wording of the first blessing of the Haftarah.

17. Cf. Ps. 95:7.

18. Here Ps. 22:32 is reproduced word for word.

19. Cf. Ps. 19:10.

20. Cf. Josh. 21:43.

21. The whole line reproduces the beginning of the Amidah prayer, from Deut. 10:17.

22. Cf. 2 Sam. 23:5.

23. Cf. Deut. 33:4. This whole poem constitutes an introduction to Lekhu shim'u va'asappera, which is the reshut, or opening, of the azharot of David Ben Hasin. The authors of this article gratefully thank Mr. Earl Masser of Ottawa, who made useful suggestions for the improvement of these translations.

24. Cf. Ps. 66:16.

25. Cf. Ps. 19:9.

26. Cf. the morning blessing 'Oter Yisra'el betif'ara, from B.T. Berakhol 60b.

27. Cf. Exod. 13:9 and Num. 15:40.

28. B.T. Makkot lla.

29. Cf. B.T. Pesahim 4a.

30. According to Deut. 28:10, Vera'u kol 'ammei ha'areṣ ki shem hashem niqra 'aleikha veyar'u mimmekka (“And all the peoples of the earth will see that the name of the Lord is called upon you, and they will be afraid of you”).

31. Cf. Ps. 139.17.

32. Cf. Zech. 4:7.

33. Cf. Isa. 38:16.

34. Cf. the Priestly Benediction, as in Num. 6:26.

35. Cf. Job 38:13.

36. Cf. Ps. 105:4.

37. Cf. Zech. 9:12.

38. Cf. Isa. 58:1.

39. Cf. 1 Sam. 20:30.

40. Cf. Hab. 2:3.

41. Cf. Prov. 13:12.

42. Cf. Esther 7:10.

43. Cf.Jer. 50:17.

44. Cf. Deut. 29:23.

45. Cf. Ps. 15:4.

46. Cf. Deut. 28:31.

47. Cf. B.T. Ketubbot 112b.

48. Cf. Isa. 9:11

49. Cf. Num 21:22. Here the poet means the way of the Lord, who is the King of the universe.

50. Cf. Ps. 45:14.

51. Cf. Ps. 16:5.

52. Cf. Ps. 55:23.

53. Cf. Lam. 4:22.

54. Cf. Ps. 122:7.

55. The Temple of Jerusalem, as in Isa. 29:1.

56. Cf. Ps. 14:7.

57. This piyyut was meant to be sung after the complete recitation of David Ben Hasin's azhaivt,

58. Azharot: Tefilla leDavid, in Tehilla leDavid, pp. 62v–68r

59. Cf. the azharot of Yehuda Halevi on the laws of Pesah, Hiqqabesu veshim'u bnei Ya'aqov, in Heinrich, Brody, ed., Diwan … Yehuda Ben Shemu'el Halevi (Berlin, 1894–1930), 4:53. On the azharot genre, see Hazan, Ephraim and Bar-Tikva, Binyamin, Shirat hahalakha(Ramat-Gan, 1991).

60. Cf. Exod. 12:28.

61. Cf. Isa. 59:20, which is also the beginning of the well-known prayer recited during the Shabbat minhah service.

62. On the reshut genre in classical Spanish poetry, see Fleischer, Ezra, Hebrew Liturgical Poetry in the Middle Ages [Heb.] (Jerusalem, 1975), pp. 395402

63. The pervasive presence in the reshuyot of the “national” themes of the suffering of Israel in exile and its messianic hopes is also typical of Spanish poetry. Ibid., p. 401.

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