Israel ben Moses Najara was a Hebrew poet. Born apparently in *Damascus, Israel served as secretary of that community, in which his father, Moses *Najara, was rabbi. While acknowledging Israel's poetic ability, some of the rabbis of Damascus, e.g. Menahem *Lonzano and Ḥayyim *Vital, spoke disparagingly of his unconventional conduct and of his imitation of foreign poetic styles and melodies, acquired, it seems, in Arab taverns. His conduct may also account for his many wanderings. In 1587 Israel published his books Zemirot Yisrael and Mesaḥeket ba-Tevel in *Safed. One of his responsa is preserved in manuscript (Oxford, Mich. Add. 66). Subsequently, he served as rabbi in *Gaza, where, upon his death, his son Moses succeeded him as rabbi. Though during his youth Israel also wrote secular and love poems, his chief compositions are sacred. These are distinguished by their deep religiosity, by their references to Jewish suffering, and by his yearning for redemption. He learned much from the great Jewish poets of the Spanish-Arabic period, but nevertheless frequently employed original forms and contents. His poems, numbering hundreds – the greater part still in manuscript – are outstanding in both their wealth of language and in their polished style. His poems and piyyutim achieved wide circulation among the various Oriental communities and countries and are sung in those synagogues. The Ashkenazi communities also adopted his Sabbath song, written in Aramaic, *Yah Ribbon Olam ve-Alemayya ("God of the World, Eternity's Sole Lord"). Well known, too, is his Ketubbah le-Ḥag ha-Shavu'ot ("Marriage Contract for Shavuot"), a poetic parody describing the wedding conditions made between Israel and God, read in many Oriental communities on Shavuot. The Shabbateans and Frankists highly respected him, mistakenly regarding him as a kabbalist. They were so fond of one of his poems that they made it a hymn.
Israel's works include Zemirot Yisrael (Safed, 1587), 109 poems; second edition (Salonika, 1594); third edition enlarged (Venice, 1599–1600), 346 poems (a scientific edition printed by A. Avrunin and edited by I. Pris-Ḥorev, 1946); Mesaheket ba-Tevel (Safed, 1587), moral instruction in a rhetorical style similar to that of the Beḥinat Olam of *Jedaiah ha-Penini Bedersi; Meimei Yisrael, rhetorical letters with secular and love poems, composed during his youth and appended to the third edition of his Zemirot Yisrael; Keli Maḥazik Berakhah (Venice, 1620), laws of grace after meals; Shoḥatei ha-Yeladim (Amsterdam, 1718), laws of slaughtering in an easy language comprehensible even to children; Pizmonim (1858), 120 poems; She'erit Yisrael (in ms.), a large collection of poems, many of which have been published by various scholars; Piẓei Ohev (Constantinople? 1597?) a commentary on the Book of Job. Some other of his works are known but not extant: Ma'arekhot Yisrael, a commentary to the Torah; Mikveh Yisrael, homilies.
Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 426–9; idem, Parody in Jewish Literature (1907), 34–36; idem, in: Sefer ha-Yovel… S. Krauss (1937), 193–270; idem, in: Sefer ha-Shanah li-Yehudei Amerikah, 4 (1939), 282–94; A. Ben-Yisrael, Shirat ha-Ḥen (1918), 23–58; M.D. Gaon, in: Mizraḥ u-Ma'arav, 5 (1930–32), 145–63; D. Yellin, in: Jewish Studies… G.A. Kohut (1935), 59–88 (Heb. pt.); I. Mendelson, in: Horeb, 9 (1946), 50–58; A. Mirsky, in: Sefer Ish ha-Torah ve-ha-Ma'aseh… M. Ostrowsky (1946), 125–32; idem, in: KS, 25 (1948/49), 39–47; idem, in: Sefunot, 5 (1961), 207–34; 6 (1962), 259–302; G. Scholem, in: I. Gold-ziher Memorial Volume, 1 (1948), 41–44 (Heb. pt.); idem, in: Beḥinot, 8 (1955), 85–86; Zinberg, Sifrut, 3 (1958), 84–100, 373–80; Waxman, Literature, 2 (1960), 93–97; H. Avenary, in: Divrei ha-Congress ha-Olami ha-Revi'i le-Madda'ei ha-Yahadut, 2 (1968), 383–4.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.