Lost Literary Worlds

Lost Literary Worlds: A Review of David Torollo’s edition of Yedaya ha-Penini’s Sefer ha-Pardes

David Torollo. Sefer ha-Pardes by Jedaiah ha-Penini: A Critical Edition with English Translation (Open Book Publishers/University of Cambridge, 2022). https://doi.org/10.11647/obp.0299.

Yedaya ha-Penini (c. 1285-c. 1340) is a fascinating, lesser-known figure from medieval Provence, a Jewish community whose considerable contributions were disrupted, dispersed, and largely lost to subsequent Jewish culture on account of the expulsions of Jews from France in the fourteenth century. A new translation, with a brief contextual introduction, aims to introduce a youthful work of Yedaya’s to an English-speaking audience. Like Behinat Olam, the belletristic ethical poem for which he is best known, Sefer ha-Pardes is a poem of advice written in melitza, a turbid literary style often florid to modern ears but beloved of the chattering classes of medieval Sefarad and later Provence, too. One of the most interesting aspects of Sefer ha-Pardes is its closing section, which deals with rhetoric and poetics. We don’t have a plethora of medieval Hebrew writing on the topic, making this a rare treat for scholars and lovers of Hebrew literature. Undoubtedly, the work bears historical significance and literary interest, and David Torollo’s bilingual edition supports both Hebrew readers looking to check their understanding as well as English readers. But why Sefer ha-Pardes, and why now?

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