Tisha B’Av Lament (Reading Lamentations Rabbah)

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No political hot take, Lamentations Rabbah, the rabbinic commentary to the biblical book, is an ambiguous lament. This is more true of the main body of the text as opposed to the by-and-large more “orthodox” proems, focused as these are upon Torah, mitzvot,  law, and sin. Quietistic, the main weeping body of the commentary more than suggests that the  crimes of the people were not such as to merit God’s punishing anger upon the body of Israel.

There are “historical” scenes and martyrologies (Yohanan ben Zakkai in Jerusalem, Bar Kochba, Bar Kamza, Miriam and her seven sons, and many others). Over the whole place hangs that punishing anger, the anger of God who abandons his consort, who beats his children to death, who takes the crown with which they adorned him and throws it in their face.

“Oh that My head were full of waters” (Jer. 8:23). God wants to return the world-palace to its former watery condition. In the end, it’s enough that we wake up in the morning, enough that we are alive. So don’t complain. “I am the Man” is Israel, who can stand up to all afflictions. That’s one message. The other is that it’s up to God. At the very end of Lamentations Rabbah, the Community of Israel states it like this. “Lord of the Universe, it depends upon You.” God tells the people that, no, it’s up to them, up to them to return. In their consummate stubbornness, the Community of Israel insists, “it depends upon You” to restore the people and turn “us” to you. With anger, the rabbis knew, there’s at least the hope that the one who is angry may be appeased in the end.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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1 Response to Tisha B’Av Lament (Reading Lamentations Rabbah)

  1. Scary bloke our god. Bad / short tempered and more than a little vindictive. But what language. What thoughts. Conjuring up Judea of thousands of years ago.

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