Al-Charizi (Alharisi), Judah ben-Solomon

(1170-1235)
   Spanish-Hebrew poet and translator. Born into a wealthy family in Spain, Al-Charizi became a great traveller. Soon after 1190, he set sail from Marseilles for the East, and visited Jewish communities in Jerusalem, Damascus, Baghdad and Aleppo. During his travels he composed his poems and worked at his translations into Hebrew. He had an expert knowledge of the Bible and the Talmud, an unusual fluency in Hebrew and a good command of Arabic and Aramaic.
   The work of his which had most importance was his translation from the Arabic into Hebrew of MAIMONIDES’ Guide of the Perplexed, produced at the request of the Jewish elders of Rome. Although this is less accurate than that prepared by Samuel ibn-Tibbon, it is in far more readable Hebrew. While ibn- Tibbon’s version was preferred in Jewish communities, Al-Charizi’s was the one read in Christian circles.
   Al-Charizi wrote a Hebrew adaptation of a rhyming prose work by the Arab poet Al-Hariri. His book in the same genre, Tachemoni (‘The Wise One’), is a brilliant work which combines literary merit with observations on life and letters in the many places he visited. His style is light and sometimes racy (occasionally even obscene), and his opinions dogmatic. A firm believer in the Jewish mission and the superiority of the Hebrew language, he was also a Spanish patriot who believed that Spain was the source of all true poetry. From his complaints, it is apparent that Al-Charizi was arrogant and always quarrelling, especially about money. To generous patrons he wrote fulsome verse, while he heaped abuse on those he felt owed him support. But he is always entertaining, and his descriptions of nature, of storms at sea and of battles are particularly vivid. It is not known where he died.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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