In Arab culture, a Diwan is an anthology of poems by one or several poets. In the medieval Hebrew poetry of Al-Andalus, the term Diwan meant exclusively a collection of poems by a single author. Today however, the term refers to an anthology of poems by a number of authors.


The Diwan of the Jews of Yemen is a paraliturgical collection of poems for home use, intended for all family and social celebrations of the yearly cycle, such as the Sabbath and festivals, and for celebrations of the cycle of life, such as weddings and circumcisions. All the sacred writings were for the use of men only, for only they were literate. The writings began as a supplement to the prayer-book Tikhlal, and included a collection of poems, songs and blessings composed by the Sephardi poets of medieval Spain. This collection was gradually expanded from the sixteenth century onward by the addition of poems by Yemenite authors, and at this stage it began to be copied and bound separately from the Tikhlal. Thus, the Tikhlal came to be devoted solely to synagogue liturgy, and the Diwan was devoted to celebrations outside the synagogue. Over the generations, the number of poems written by Yemenite authors grew larger than those written by Sephardi authors. When the poems of the great Jewish-Yemenite poet Shalem Shabazi began to appear, these texts became the chief component of the Diwan.

The Diwan contains two main groups of poems, and is divided into sections according to function and form. One group contains poems for any occasion, while the other consists of poems for special events: Sabbaths, weddings, circumcisions and various festivals.

(Written by Naomi Bahat-Ratzon and Avner Bahat, for the JMRC CD: With Songs They Respond. Go to the CD Webpage to listen to recordings from the Yemen Jews Diwan.)

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