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Old Jewish Commentaries on the Song of Songs I

The Commentary of Yefet ben Eli- Edited and translated from Judeo-Arabic by Joseph Alobaidi

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Joseph Alobaidi

The commentary of Yefet ben Eli the Karaite (second half of the tenth century) on The Song of Songs is example of an exegetical work obeying two imperatives: The explanation of the divine message of Salvation mixed with the assiduous Karaite effort to prove wrong their adversaries, the Rabbanites, with the help of the Bible. In so doing Yefet ben Eli wrote a thoughtful and original commentary on the very symbolic Song of Songs. Indeed, according to Yefet ben Eli nothing in the Book should be taken realistically. The ability of Yefet to replace symbols by historical events is one of the many marks that show Yefet’s mastery and the originality of his commentary.

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Preface IX

Extract

Preface After more than three decades working on Judeo-Arabic texts it is disheartening to continue facing the same problems, without finding adequate solutions. The importance of Saadia Gaon, Alquerqisani, Salmon ben Yeruham, Yefet ben Eli, Tenchuma Yerushalmi, Almaaribi is beyond dispute. Nevertheless, scholars consecrating their efforts to make available their texts are few and usually reserving only part of their time to such fascinating, yet difficult, endeavors. This, in fact, is the original sin of studies pertaining to the history of biblical interpretations as well as to the history of Judaism. These are two fields where our knowledge is incomplete because of the scarcity of the edited works belonging to that period. Another difficulty comes from the nature of the Judeo-Arabic literature. It is a contrived literature: Using mainly popular Arabic it is written with Hebrew (Aramaic) letters and littered with Hebrew and Aramaic quotations. With few exceptions, the Arabic used is far from classical usage or, often, with many grammatical errors. Wrong plurals, unnecessary vowels, confusion of letters (between ﻅ and ﺽ in Arabic, and, in Hebrew, between ס and ) ֺש are common aspects of the Judeo- Arabic. As to the Hebrew language it is written with the same cursive letters as the Judeo-Arabic. Yet the lemmata of the Song of Songs are written in square-styled letters. The biblical quotations inside the commentary are left in their original Hebrew or Aramaic. The result is a hybrid text where the Arabic is amply contaminated by the Hebrew. It is true that this is the...

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