Vox Tablet

Life of a Poet

Yehuda Halevi’s 12th-century Hebrew poems still speak to biographer Hillel Halkin

February 15, 2010
Hillel Halkin(Yoav Etiel)
Hillel Halkin(Yoav Etiel)

Yehuda Halevi was, some say, the greatest Hebrew-language poet who ever lived. Also a physician and philosopher, he had the good fortune of living in a time and place—Andalusia, in southern Spain, in the 11th and 12th centuries—where the ability to write verse well was highly valued, and where there existed a culture of lively, if not always peaceful, exchange among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. In a new Nextbook Press biography, Hillel Halkin chronicles the life and work of Halevi, including his spiritual yearnings, which would ultimately lead him to make aliyah at a time when such a journey was all but unheard of. Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry spoke by phone to Halkin, who lives north of Tel Aviv, about Halevi’s ability to knock off a few lively verses in exchange for a jug of wine, about the tenuous nature of La Convivencia, “The Coexistence,” and about how he and Halevi found similar resolutions to midlife crises about what it means to be a Jew.

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Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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