My heart is in the East

Statue of Judah HaleviThe great medieval Jewish poet and apologist Judah Halevi (c. 1075–1141) wrote the following poem sometime after AD 1099.

לִבִּי בְמִזְרָח, וְאָנֹכִי בְּסוֹף מֵעֲרָב —
אֵיךְ אֶטְעֲמָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר אֹכַל וְאֵיךְ יֶעֱרַב?
אֵיכָה אֲשַׁלֵּם נְדָרַי וֶאֱסָרַי, בְּעוֹד
צִיּוֹן בְּחֶבֶל אֱדוֹם וַאְנִי בְּכֶבֶל עֲרָב?
יֵקֵל בְּעֵינֵי עֲזֹב כָּל טוּב סְפָרַד, כְּמוֹ
יֵקֵר בְּעֵינַי רְאוֹת עַפְרוֹת דְּבִיר נֶחָרָב.

For those of you who don’t read Hebrew, here’s the translation given in T. Carmi, ed., The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse (London, Penguin: 2006):

My heart is in the East and I am at the edge of the West.
Then how can I taste what I eat, how can I enjoy it?
How can I fulfill my vows and my pledges, while
Zion is in the domain of Edom, and I am in the bonds of Arabia?
It would be easy for me to leave behind all the good things of Spain;
it would be glorious to see the dust of the ruined Shrine.

Zion, Edom, Arabia. That is, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Brothers enmeshed in conflict, with the joyous vision of Psalm 133 a distant hope.

My heart, too, with prayers and tears, is in the East.

Κύριε ἐλέησον

6 thoughts on “My heart is in the East

    1. Chris Heard Post author

      Recall that, in Genesis, Edom is another name for Esau, and the ordinary biblical name for the nation descended from him (per Genesis 36). Esau’s brother, Jacob, is of course the eponymous ancestor of the Israelites. In early Rabbinic Judaism, Edom became a symbol for the Roman Empire. After Christianity became the dominant religion in the later Roman Empire, and with the development of the bishopric of Rome into the papal office, Esau/Edom attached metaphorically (from a Jewish point of view) to Christianity—especially in times and places where Christians persecuted or otherwise oppressed Jews living among them as a minority. Judah Halevi wrote “My Heart Is in the East” from Muslim-controlled Spain sometime after the First Crusade (1096–1099), when Christian armies took Jerusalem from its Muslim occupants.

  1. Mad Latinist

    Beautiful poem, and better in Hebrew than English.

    Is it wrong, though, that it just makes me want to quote אמונה by Ethnix: “קול קורא לי מין המיזרח: חזור עלי”

    1. Chris Heard Post author

      I confess to not entirely understanding אמונה (I don’t think I quite get סכין אמונה), but I’m a big fan of intertextual connections. אמונה also puts me in mind of the aqedah. (And I think that should be חזור אלי rather than חזור עלי).

      Also, yes, the translations in the Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse tend to be a bit clunky and expansive.

      1. Mad Latinist

        Oops, my bad. My Hebrew orthography leaves much to be desired, but that error should have been obvious.

        I confess to not entirely understanding אמונה

        Is it even possible to “entirely understand” an Ethnix song? 😉

        Yes, definitely reminds me of the aqedah as well. I always assumed the song had some sort of political meaning, involving the settlers. But then why are the Samaritans waiting on the Mountain?

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