EPIGRAMS (; in modern Hebrew , ; by way of circumlocution , plural ):
Short poems with an unexpected yet pointed ending; much in favor among Jewish writers because of the play of wit which they permitted, though often rather in substance than in form. Such epigrammatic phrasings of ideas were used in birthday and wedding poems, in dirges and tombstone inscriptions, as well as in epigraphs, chapter-headings, introductions, dedications, and approbations and commendations of written or printed books. They were employed especially in scholarly disputes, and have played a prominent part in controversial literature. At times they took a serious turn, at others they were humorous and satirical: to deride man's lot on earth, or to express sentiments of love, friendship, or enmity. They were used even for fervent prayers. Hebrew epigrams take mostly the form of a witty application of some Biblical or Talmudic expression; or they contain simply an allusion to persons and objects with which the reader is supposed to be familiar.
The epigram is represented in the productions of all the Jewish poets of the Middle Ages. Typical are the didactic and ethical epigrams of Samuel ha-Nagid (see Harkavy, "Studien und Mittheilungen," i., especially some of the fragments of and ), the gloomy verses of Solomon ibn Gabirol, the noble, tender, and at times droll epigrams of Judah ha-Levi. Moses ibn Ezra, who was somewhat older than Judah, excels him in both breadth of thought and depth of feeling, as well as in artistic expression. Sharply pointed are the epigrams of the clever and sarcastic Abraham ibn Ezra. Ingenuity and waggishness vie with each other in the productions of Al-Ḥarizi. The Italian Immanuel may also be classed with the masters of this form of poetry. The disputes about Maimonides and his works ("Moreh" and "Madda'") occasioned a great number of epigrams, which have been collected by Steinschneider (, ed. Meḳiẓe Nirdamim, Berlin, 1885). Some good epigrams were produced by Eleazar ben Jacob ha-Babli, Solomon da Piera, and some of the latter's contemporaries—Azariah dei Rossi, Judah de Modena, Jacob and Immanuel Frances, the three Gavisons (father, son, and grandson, especially the last), and many others. Brüll has published a number of epigrams from a sixteenth century German manuscript, the material of which, however, goes back to a much earlier date ("Jahrb." ix. 1 et seq.).
Among the foremost epigrammatists of modern times, beginning with the period of enlightenment in the eighteenth century, are Ephraim Luzzatto, J. L. Jeiteles, J. B. Lewinsohn, S. D. Luzzatto, Joseph Almanzi, Hirsch Sommerhausen (, Amsterdam, 1840), J. A. Benjacob, whose collected epigrams (, Leipsic, 1842) are accompanied by a treatise on the form and essence of the epigram; M. Letteris, A. B. Gottlober, and S. Mandelkern.