Applying a social interaction approach to the study of the reception of different literary genres, this article focuses on an unnoticed Judeo-Arabic Genizah fragment whose contents deal with the relative cultural value of midrash and piyyut in medieval Mediterranean society. The fragment describes a debate concerning the identity of Elijah and his connection to the zealous act of Phineas. The debate, which probably took place in the early thirteenth century in Fustat, occurred in reaction to a synagogue performance of Havdalah liturgical poetry. The arguments for and against the poems were based on aggadic traditions. A survey of relevant piyyutim reveals that this debated motif was indeed subject to variations and alterations. A similar development can be traced in the evolution of another Havdalah piyyut composed by Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Levi. The fluidity of the poetic texts likely reflects the same literary hierarchy presented in the events recorded in the Genizah fragment (and at the same time reinforced by them): a growing appreciation of the authority of aggadic midrash, alongside the perception of the Havdalah piyyut as creative performance, and not as an authoritative source of knowledge.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cultural Studies
- Religious studies
- Literature and Literary Theory