A Jewish Hebrew poet (6th century CE ?). Also called Eleazar beirabbi HaKallir, Eleazar ben Killir, Leazar Kallir, or just the Kallir. Largely considered the greatest poet in the style of the classical piyut. Probably lived in Eretz Israel prior to the Arab conquest (635 CE), apparently in Tiberias.

Though his works have figured repeatedly in printed rituals, and hundreds have come to light in manuscript collections, his biography is one of the greatest mysteries of Hebrew literary history. His country of birth, when he lived, and even his exact name are still unknown and can only be speculated upon. There is a doubtful reference to him in the writings of Rav Natronai ben Hilai, gaon of Sura in 857 CE, and he is quoted by Rabbi Saadiah Gaon (10th century CE). According to a late (12th century) source, Eleazar ben Kallir was killed by his teacher Yannai who was jealous of him. There is evidence that as early as the 10th century he has become the centre for a multitude of legends.

Eleazar ben Kallir's radical innovations in the diction, style and structure of the piyut had a great influence on successive Hebrew poetry in Eretz Israel as well as other places in the Near East and Europe. The "Kallir Style" involves a highly allusive use of language, packed with references to written and oral traditions. Accordingly the dramatis personae of his poems, as well as various subjects and place names are often designated by epithets and periphrases, many of which became the stock-and-trade of Jewish liturgical poetry. The enigmatic nature of the Kallir's language, which draws on the full range of post-biblical Hebrew, is further complicated by a wealth of neologisms and morphological oddities (see below). The structure of his poetry, the patterns of rhyme, acrostic, repitition, and refrain are far more complex than those of Yannai.

In the 12th century, Abraham ibn Ezra denounced the "Kallir style" for having corrupted 'classical' (i.e. biblical) Hebrew, and for being unduly obscure and esoteric, ignoring the fact that the Kallir was also capable of writing simple direct poetry, both lyrical and dramatic. Ibn Ezra's criticism greatly influenced the disparagement of 19th and early 20th century poets for his language.

However, modern scholars believe that his language represents contemporary Hebrew folk language, and that his language is an organic continuation of ancient Hebrew, while the Hebrew poetry of Spain (from which ibn Ezra's Hebrew was derived) is a revival of biblical language.

The Kallir wrote piyutim for all the main Jewish festivals (often more than one for the same festival), for the special Sabbaths, for weekdays of festive character, and for the fasts. His most quoted poem is the piyut for Purim known (after its first two words) as Atz Kotzetz (Rushed the Wicked). Other important works include - Aguddim BeSimkha (Bound by Joy), and Em HaBanim (Mother of Children).


Sources:

Carmi T. (ed.), "The Peguin Book of Hebrew Verse", Penguin, London, 1982, p. 89
Encyclopaedia Judaica, 1972, Vol 10, pp. 714-715

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