History

The Mystic Poet of Gaza and his Hebron Connection

You've sung his song, now hear his story. Rabbi Israel Najara, famous for the song Y-a Ribon, lived in Hebron during a time when the Jewish community thrived.

17.12.15, 15:01
(PHOTO: Rabbi Israel Nagara Street in Jerusalem.)
 
The song Ya Ribon has been printed in Jewish prayer books for generations. If you've ever sat at a Shabbat table, then you've likely sung this traditional liturgical song. But it wasn't considered that traditional back in the 16th century. Some rabbinical authorities were skeptical of Rabbi Israel Najara and his collection of poems. 
 
But nevertheless, Rabbi Najara (alternatively spelled Nagara or Naggara) was considered a versatile scholar, and he corresponded with many contemporary rabbis. Rabbi Isaac Luria, the the holy ARI of Tzfat declared that Rabbi Najara's hymns were listened to with delight in heaven. His piyyutim (liturgical poems) were also praised by Leon of Modena, who composed a song in his honor.
 
Rabbi Najara was born in Tzfat, in northern Israel in 1555. He studied with his father Rabbi Moshe Najara and his grandfather Rabbi Israel ben Meir di Curiel, both scholars in the city. As a young man he moved to Damascus, Syria and was a local leader for the Sephardic community. 
 
He also lived in Hebron, but in 1619, an epidemic drove most of the Jewish townspeople to Gaza for safety. It was during thid period he befriended Rabbi Avraham Azulai, a Hebron resident who fled the plague and later became Hebron's chief rabbi.
 
There in Gaza City, on Israel's southern Mediterranean coastline, Rabbi Najara served as the community rabbi and teacher. He died there in 1628 and his burial site is still located there in the old Jewish cemetery. His son Rabbi Moshe Najara succeeded him as Rabbi of the Gazan Jewish community.

During his lifetime, he published a collection of his poems entitled Songs of Israel (Zemiroth Israel), in Tzfat in 1587. An enlarged edition appeared in Venice (1599 -1600). Other books include, Ma'arkot Yisrael -- a commentary on the Torah, a book of sermon entitled Mikweh Yisrael and Pize Ohev (Wounds of Love), a commentary on  the Book of Job. In 2014, Prof. Tova Barry of Tel Aviv University published a book entitled Israel Najara - Songs.
 
Today streets in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Holon, Ra'anana and Rehovot are named for him.
 
Rabbi Najara's home in Hebron is testament to the thriving community of scholars that lived there hundreds of years ago.
 
 
To visit Hebron:
 
United States contact info:

http://www.hebronfund.org/
1760 Ocean Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11230
718-677-6886
info@hebronfund.org

In Israel contact the offices of the Jewish Community of Hebron at:
http://en.hebron.org.il/
02-996-5333
office@hebron.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hebronofficial