Scheindlin illuminates Halevi's journey

Author, translator discusses his new book about Judah Halevi's poetry and pilgrimage

The Daily Pennsylvanian
February 4th, 2009

Yesterday in the Arts Cafe of the Kelly Writers House, Judah Halevi's thousand-year-old poetry was brought to life through the passionate, musical voice of Ray Scheindlin.

Last night, Scheindlin, a 1961 Penn alumnus, discussed and signed copies of his new book, The Song of the Distant Dove: Judah Halevi's Pilgrimage. The event was co-sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program.

The book contains Scheindlin's new translations of poems by Judah Halevi, a celebrated poet and theologian of medieval Judaism. The book also includes a narrative of Halevi's life.

During the event, Scheindlin read and commented on several of the translations in his book. He also spoke of Halevi's life, friends and alleged pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

According to legend, Halevi made it to the gates of Jerusalem and was reciting his most celebrated elegy when he was killed by an Arab.

"[The subject] cries out for attention," Scheindlin said of Halevi's life. "There was a story to be told that hasn't been told in English, and it seemed to me that I could do it. Now we have documentation to reconstruct his outer pilgrimage and poetry that gives his inner voyage."

Scheindlin described Halevi's pilgrimage as a radical gesture that was unprecedented in Judaism at the time. Halevi, according to Scheindlin, was trying to go beyond conventional practices of piety by communicating with God on a more individual level and giving himself completely to the "inner demand" of his faith.

Elisheva Goldberg, College sophomore and co-editor-in-chief of Kedma, Penn's journal on Jewish thought, said she was thrilled to hear Scheindlin speak.

"I wrote a paper using three of [Scheindlin's] books and I enjoyed them immensely," Goldberg said. "He's brilliant. I think he's very true to the text ... It's easy to get into the medieval-Judeo mindset."

Beth Wenger, the director of the Jewish Studies Department, also praised Scheindlin's work.

"Ray Scheindlin is one of the most prominent and talented scholars of medieval Hebrew literature," she said. "He is very modest when talking about his skills as a translator, but his mastery of medieval Hebrew literature is unmatched, and his skill as a translator shone through in his readings."

"The Jewish Studies Program and the Kelly Writers House was thrilled for the opportunity to have him," she added.