Jan 012013

My mom said that between Immanuel of Rome, Yehuda al-Harizi and Yaakov Frances’ respective odes to the, ah, fairer sex, I was starting to look like a misogynist. I would like to clear up any confusion. I am not a misogynist. I am a misanthrope. Equal opportunity. I appreciate any finely crafted takedown of our wretched species, be it directed towards the distaff or the…staff? So in the interest of balancing the scales, here’s Yaakov again, proving that with politics, it’s a plus ça change sort of situation. I don’t know against whom this witty invective was initially inveighed, though it seems to be someone placed in charge of the Jewish community. But I would like to dedicate it to Congress. All…however many there are of them. BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: Actually, I dedicate it to Eric Cantor and only to Eric Cantor. May he lose all but one of his teeth and then get a toothache.

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
Who Set as a Judge

Who set as a judge and a prince over us
  This man who lay down in our filth yesterday?
How could this man who could be wholly covered
  By a mustard seed’s shadow turn to our shade?
This man who was borne on shoulders like a monkey —
  Why should we forsake all our fortunes for him?
This man who’s confused in his thoughts and his speech —
  In all our confusion could he stand for us?
He’s more fit for the yoke than beasts of the field,
  Yet he comes to weigh down our own yoke with his!
How could he strike fear into us when he was
  The source of our laughter and mirth yesterday?
And how could a human being soar like a bird —
  He’s more fit to fly like an owl1 through our night!
How could the font of all darkness and blackness
  Be the lamp at our feet, the lamp of our brilliance?
When raising a tower before all our foes,
  How could a loathsome louse serve as our standard?
And how could the man who was thought to be dung
  Be seen as the sun that shines in our heavens?
Tasteless and lacking all salt and all flavor,
  With our pilpul, could he season his notions? 2
How could he be amongst our lions today?
  Shouldn’t he be more a tail for our foxes?
We’ll all have to call him a crown for our heads,
  This man who’s not fit to lace up our own shoes.

יעקב פראנשיס
מי שם לאיש שופט

מִי שָֹם לְאִישׁ שׁוֹפֵט וְשָׂר עָלֵינוּ
 הָאִישׁ תְּמוֹל רָבַץ בְּתוֹךְ זִבְלֵנוּ
הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר כֻּלוֹ בְצֵל גַּרְגִּיר
 חַרְדָּל יְכֻסֶּה אֵיךְ יְהִי צִלֵּנוּ
הָאִישׁ כְּקוֹף הֹעַל עֲלֵי כָתֵף
 עָלָיו עֲלֵי־מָה נַעֲזֹב חֵילֵנוּ
הָאִישׁ מְבֻלְבַּל רַעֲיוֹן וָפֶה
 אֵיךְ יַעֲמֹד לָנוּ בְבִלְבּוּלֵנוּ
הָגוּן לְעֹל מִבַּהֲמוֹת שָׂדַי
 אֵיךְ בָּא לְהַכְבִּיד עֹל עֲלֵי עֻלֵנוּ
אֵיךְ יַחֲרִידֵנוּ וְהוּא אֶתְמוֹל
 הָיָה שְׂחוֹקֵנוּ וְהִתּוּלֵנוּ
אֵיכָה כְעוֹף דָּאָה אֱנוֹשׁ רָאוּי
 לָעוּף כְּמוֹ דָאָה בְּתוֹךְ לֵילֵנוּ
אֵיכָה יְסוֹד־חֹשֶׁךְ מְקוֹר־אֹפֶל
 נֵר הוּא לְרַגְלֵנוּ וְנֵר הִלֵּנוּ
עֵת הַעֲמִיד מִגְדָּל לְמוּל אוֹיֵב
 כִּנָּה מְאוּסָה אֵיךְ יְהִי דִגְלֵנוּ
הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר נֶחְשָׁב כְּמוֹ־גֶלֶל
 אֵיכָה יְהִי שֶׁמֶשׁ בְּגַלְגַּלֵּנוּ
תָּפֵל בְּלִי־מֶלַח וְטַעַם אֵיךְ
 יַנְעִים סְבָרוֹתָיו בְּפִלְפּוּלֵנוּ
אֵיךְ אֶל־לְבִיאֵנוּ יְהִי הַיּוֹם
 הֲלֹא יְהִי זָנָב לְשׁוּעָלֵינוּ
כֵּתֶר לְרֹאשֵׁנוּ נְשַׁוֶּה אִישׁ
 לֹא דַי הֱיוֹת לִשְׂרוֹךְ לְמִנְעָלֵנוּ.


Mi sam le-‘ísh shoféit ve-sár ʕaléinu
Ha-‘ísh temól ravátz be-tókh zivléinu?
Ha-‘ísh ‘ashér kuló ve-tzéil gargír
Ḥardál yekhuséh ‘eikh yehí tziléinu?
Ha-‘ísh ke-kóf hoʕál ʕaléi khatéif
ʕaláv ʕaléi mah naʕazóv ḥeiléinu
Ha-‘ísh mevulbál raʕayón va-féh
‘Eikh yaʕamód lánu ve-vilbuléinu?
Hagún le-ʕól mi-bahamót sadái
‘Eikh ba lehakhbíd ʕol ʕaléi ʕuléinu?
‘Eikh yaḥaridéinu ve-hú ‘etmól
Hayáh seḥokéinu ve-hituléinu?
‘Eikháh khe-ʕóf da’áh ‘enósh ra’úi
La-ʕúf kemó da’áh be-tókh leiléinu?
‘Eikháh yesód ḥóshekh mekór ‘ófel
Neir hu le-ragléinu ve-néir hiléinu?
ʕeit haʕamíd migdál le-múl ‘oyéiv
Kináh me’usáh ‘eikh yehí digléinu?
Ha-‘ísh ‘ashér neḥsháv kemó gélel
‘Eikháh yehí shémesh be-galgaléinu?
Taféil belí mélaḥ ve-táʕam ‘eikh
Yanʕím sevarotáv be-filpuléinu?
‘Eikh ‘el levi’éinu yehí ha-yóm
Ha-ló yehí zanáv le-shuʕaléinu?
Kéiter le-roshéinu neshavéh ‘ish
Lo dai heyót lisrókh le-minʕaléinu.

  1. A play on words between the verb da’ah, to glide or soar, and da’ah, a kind of bird. The identity of named bird species is kind of a moving target amongst the various strata of Hebrew’s development. In modern Hebrew, a da’ah is a kite, but kites are diurnal, and Frances here seems to be referring to a nocturnal bird. So owl it is!
  2. Pilpul, a kind of mind-bending(ly useless) Talmudic casuistry, is related to the word pilpel, “pepper.” A savarah, a reasonable conjecture or “notion,” might be presented during a discussion of some point of pilpul. The Italian poets also loved punning around with Hebrew words that brought to mind Italian words, so Frances is perhaps linking savarah with sapore, “flavor.”

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