ELIJAH BEN SHEMAIAH (fl. 11th century), liturgical poet in Bari, southern Italy. He was one of the most prolific poets of the Italian school. He composed about 40 seliḥot, most of them strophic, which have remained in manuscripts and old editions; some were included in the German-Polish ritual. Y. David, who prepared a critical edition of Elijah's piyyutim (1977), commented also on their sources, meaning, and characteristics. The subject matter is mostly a variation of the same theme: grief over present misery of Israel in exile and trust in God's help. Some of his poems allude to cruel persecutions in his time, and he refers to the enemies of Israel with many allegorical names. Stylistically, the poems resemble the seliḥot of his contemporary solomon ha-bavli , who was probably his master, but the language is more stereotyped. Zunz made a special study of his language and style. Elijah's signature is, among others, preserved in a responsum of Samuel b. Natronai. In the past scholars underlined the lack of depth and originality of this kind of piyyutim and the obscurity of the language. More recently, scholars have come to have a much higher opinion of the quality of Ben Shemaiah's seliḥot, considering him an excellent spokesperson of the Jewish community of Bari in its historical situation and a good representative of the literary tendencies of the epoch with his own individuality. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Zunz, Vortraege, 406; Zunz, Lit. Poesie, 139, 244ff.; 616ff.; Landshuth, Ammudei, 17; Michael, Or, no. 412; Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 333; H. Brody and M. Wiener, Mivḥar ha-Shirah ha-Ivrit (1922), 233ff.; Schirmann, Italia, 41–47; A.M. Habermann, Be-Ron Yaḥad (1945), 105–7; A. Mirsky, Yalkut ha-Piyyutim (1958), 264ff.; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 362; Roth, Dark Ages, 180, 258–9. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Y. David (ed.), Piyyuṭei Eliyah Bar-Shemaiah (1977); B. Bar-Tikva, in: Sinai, 83, 1–2 (1978), 92–94. (Jefim (Hayyim) Schirmann / Angel Sáenz-Badillos (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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