Shalom Shabazi

(1619 - 1720 / al-Ṣaʻīd)

Biography of Shalom Shabazi

Rabbi Shalom ben Yosef Shabazi of the family of Mashtā (1619 - ca. 1720), also Abba Sholem Shabbezi or Salim al-Shabazi was one of the greatest Jewish poets who lived in 17th century Yemen and now considered the 'Poet of Yemen'. Shabazi was born in 1619 in the town of al-Ṣaʻīd. His family's pedigree has been traced back to Zeraḥ, the son of Judah, the son of Jacob who is called Israel. At the death of his father, Yosef Mashta, Shalom moved to the small town of Shabbez, near the city of Ta'izz. Not long thereafter, he again moved and settled in Ta'izz where he built a house of prayer and a ritual bath (mikveh) outside of the city, beneath Jebel Ṣabir. It was from here that he and his family were expelled, along with most of the Yemenite Jews in 1679. He died in ca. 1720. His father, Yosef ben Abijad ben Khalfun, was also a Rabbi and a poet. Shabazi's extant poetic diwan, comprising some 550 poems, was published for the first time by the Ben-Zvi Institute in 1977. He wrote in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Judeo-Arabic. Shabazi's other works include a treatise on astrology and a cabbalistic commentary on the Torah. Shabazi's grave in Ta'izz is revered by Jews and Muslims alike. He is now considered by Academics as the 'Shakespeare of Yemen'.

He wrote a commentary on the Torah called Hemdath Yamim (Pleasant Days). His leadership was instrumental in helping the Jews of Yemen survive some of the worst persecution in its history. Mori (Yemenites often call their spiritual leaders "Mori" meaning "my master" or "my teacher", rather than "rabbi" which resembles the Arabic for "my God") Shabazi wrote a kinah (lamentation) for recitation during the Ninth of Av, recalling the terrible exile of Jews in his lifetime (known as the Exile of Mawza) from all cities and towns in Yemen to an inhospitable desert called Mawza, during which time the Jews were banished there a full 20% of their number perished. The Diwan of Mori Shabazi alludes not only to that dreadful event in 1679, but also to the Decree of the Headgear in 1667. Shabazi's Diwan has become an essential part of Yemenite Jewry's spiritual and cultural lives.

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