Israel ben Moses Najara

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Israel ben Moses Najara (Hebrew: ישראל בן משה נאג'ארה, "Yisrael ben Moshe Najarah"; Arabic: إسرائيل بن موسى النجارة‎, "Isra'il bin Musa al-Najara"; c. 1555, Safed, Ottoman Empire – c. 1625, Gaza, Ottoman Empire) was a Jewish liturgical poet, preacher, Biblical commentator, kabbalist, and rabbi of Gaza.[1]


According to Franco (Histoire des Israélites de l'Empire Ottoman, p. 79, Paris, 1897), there is another account which declares that Najara was born about 1530 and that he lived for some years at Adrianople. From his secular poems, which he wrote in the meters of various Turkish, Spanish, and modern Greek songs, it is evident that he knew well several foreign languages. He travelled extensively in the Near East, had lived in Safed, where he came under the extensive influence of Lurianic Kabbalah. After an attack on the Jews of Safed in 1579, Najara left with his family and settled in Gauhar, a town near Damascus.[2] He later served as a rabbi at Gaza.[3]

As may be seen from his works, he was a versatile scholar, and he corresponded with many contemporary rabbis, among others with Bezaleel Ashkenazi, Yom-Ṭob Ẓahalon, Moses Hamon, and Menahem Ḥefeẓ. His poetic effusions were exceptionally numerous, and many of them were translated into Persian. While still young he composed many hymns, to Arabic and Turkish tunes, with the intention, as he says in the preface to his Zemirot Yisrael, of turning the Jewish youth from profane songs. He wrote piyyuṭim, pizmonim, seliḥot, widduyim, and dirges for all the week-days and for Sabbaths, holy days, and occasional ceremonies, these piyyuṭim being collected in his Zemirot Yisrael. Many of the piyyuṭim are in Aramaic.[3]

For his hymns on the marriage of God and Israel, Najara was severely blamed by Menahem Lonzano (Shete Yadot, p. 142) when the latter was at Damascus. The Shibḥe Ḥayyim Wiṭal (p. 7b) contains a violent attack (accusations included: use of foul language, being a drunkard, homosexuality, and sexual relations with non-Jewish women[4]) by Ḥayyim Vital upon a poet whose name is not mentioned, but who some take to be Israel Najara. (It was later discovered that Vital actually had named Najara, but this had been censored out until the 1954 publication of Sefer HaḤezyonot based on Vital's own autograph manuscript.[5]) Nevertheless, Isaac Luria, Vital's teacher, declared that Najara's hymns were listened to with delight in heaven. His piyyuṭim were praised also by Leon of Modena, who composed a song in his honor, which was printed at the beginning of the Olat Shabbat, the second part of the Zemirot Yisrael.[3]

He is buried in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Gaza. His son, Moses Najara was also a poet, who succeeded his father as the chief rabbi of Gaza.


Najara's letters, secular poems, epigrams, and rimed prose form the work entitled Meme Yisrael (published at the end of the second edition of the Zemirot Yisrael). Najara's other works are as follows:

  • Mesaḥeḳet ha-Tebel (Safed, 1587), an ethical poem on the nothingness of the world
  • Shoḥaṭe ha-Yeladim (printed with Moses Ventura's Yemin Mosheh, Amsterdam, 1718), Hebrew verse on the laws of slaughtering and porging, composed at the request of his son Moses
  • Ketubbat Yisrael (with Joseph Jaabez's Ma'amar ha-Aḥdut, n.p., 1794), a hymn which, in the kabalistic fashion, represents the relationship between God and Israel as one between man and wife (it was composed for the Feast of Pentecost)
  • A collection of hymns published by M. H. Friedländer (Vienna, 1858) under the title Pizmonim.

His unpublished works are

  • She'eret Yisrael, poems (see below)
  • Ma'arkot Yisrael, a commentary on the Pentateuch
  • Miḳweh Yisrael, sermons
  • Piẓ'e Oheb, a commentary on Job.

Zemirot Yisrael[edit]

The Zemirot Yisrael, originally entitled Zemirot Yisrael Najara, was first published at Safed (1587) and contained 108 piyyuṭim and hymns. Many additional songs were printed in the second edition[permanent dead link] (Venice, 1599). This edition contains also the Meme Yisrael and the Mesaḥeḳet ha-Tebel, and is divided into three parts:

  1. Olot Tamid, containing 225 piyyuṭim for the week-days
  2. Olot Shabbat, containing 54 piyyuṭim for the Sabbaths of the whole year
  3. Olot Ḥodesh, containing 160 piyyuṭim and dirges for the High Holy Days, Purim, the Ninth of Ab, and occasional ceremonies. It was published a third time at Belgrade (1837), but with the omission of many songs and of the two works just mentioned. Extracts from the Zemirot Yisrael were published under the title of Tefillot Nora'ot (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1712).[3]

Many of Najara's piyyuṭim and hymns have been taken into the rituals and maḥzorim in use among the Jews in different countries, especially in Italy and Israel. Benjamin II (Mas'e Yisra'el, p. 15) states that the Jews of Aleppo sing on Sabbath eve many beautiful hymns and recite many prayers, most of which are by Najara. The best known of his Aramaic hymns is the one beginning Yah Ribbon 'Olam, recited on the Sabbath by the Jews of various countries. The She'erit Yisra'el contains sixty poems and is, according to its heading, the second part of the Zemirot Yisrael; it is found in the bet ha-midrash of the German community in Amsterdam. From it Dukes published one poem in Orient. Lit. (iv.526; comp. 540). M. Sachs attempted to render some of Najara's piyyuṭim into German (Busch, Jahrbücher, 1847, pp. 236–238). After the ruins of the house inhabited by R. Judah he-Ḥasid at Jerusalem were cleared away in 1836, some writings of Israel Najara of the year 1579 were found; these writings are now (as of 1906) preserved in the archives of the synagogue of Jerusalem.

Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography[edit]


  1. ^ Abrahams 1911.
  2. ^ Maír José Benardete (1953). Hispanic culture and character of the Sephardic Jews. Hispanic Institute in the United States. p. 78. In 1579 Safed was attacked by an Arabic tribe. Israel de Nagera left, with his family, for Gauhar, a small town near Damascus.
  3. ^ a b c d "Israel ben Moses Najara". Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 26, 2012.
  4. ^ Shapiro, Marc B. Changing the immutable : how Orthodox Judaism rewrites its history. Littman Library Of Jewish Civilization. p. 211. ISBN 9781904113607.
  5. ^ Shapiro, Marc B. Changing the immutable : how Orthodox Judaism rewrites its history. Littman Library Of Jewish Civilization. p. 211. ISBN 9781904113607.

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