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Kara, Avigdor

(d. 1439), rabbi, Talmudic scholar, kabbalist, and poet. Very little is known about the life of Avigdor Kara, a contemporary of Yom Tov Lipmann Mülhausen. Kara survived the “Bloody Easter” pogrom in Prague during Passover 1389, though his father was probably a victim and is described as a martyr in Kara’s tombstone inscription. Kara may also have been the stepbrother of Menaḥem ben Ya‘akov Kara, another Prague scholar. Avigdor Kara’s name, as well as that of his wife Rivkah, appears in municipal registers.

Kara served for many years on his city’s rabbinic court. According to an unsubstantiated report, he was received by King Václav (Wenceslas) IV of Bohemia, with whom he discussed religious questions; similarly, it has been assumed that Kara had a certain influence on Jan Hus. It is likely that Kara, as spiritual head of the Prague Jewish community and its leading scholar, held discussions with Christian theologians. Also connected to his alleged Hussite contacts is the claim that Kara’s hymn “Eḥad yaḥid u-meyuḥad” was translated into Czech.

Only a small portion of Kara’s works, in manuscript form, has been preserved. His most noted text is Kodesh hilulim, a kabbalistic commentary on Psalm 150, though he also produced highly regarded fractions of a commentary on the Torah and a small lexicographical work. With his interest in and knowledge of Kabbalah, Kara contributed significantly to a broadening of its study in Central Europe. His liturgical poetry, which remains lively to this day, is the most well-known part of his literary output. Considered the last Ashkenazic payetan (an author of sophisticated liturgical prayer-poems), Kara left behind eight piyutim (liturgical poems inserted into prayers). The elegy “Et kol ha-tela’ah,” in memory of the 1389 pogrom, is included in the Prague collection of penitential prayers (seliḥot), and is still recited during the afternoon service on Yom Kippur in Bohemia and Moravia. His elegy is a report that precisely describes the event, and hence constitutes an important source, referred to, for example, by David Gans (Tsemaḥ David; 1592, I, fol. 59b); in addition, it was the model for other Hebrew works on pogroms or similar catastrophes in Bohemia and Moravia until the eighteenth century. Kara’s poetry is alluded to in the words on his tombstone inscription: “The one who understood sweet songs.”

Suggested Reading

Otto Muneles, Ketovot mi-bet-ha-‘almin ha-yehudi he-‘atik bi-Prag (Jerusalem, 1988); Vladimír Sadek, “Medieval Jewish Scholars in Prague,” Review of the Society for the History of Czechoslovak Jews 5 (1992–1993): 135–149; Leopold Zunz, Literaturgeschichte der synagogalen Poesie (1865; rpt., Hildesheim, Ger., 1966).



Translated from Czech by Stephen Hattersley