Jonah Delivered From the Whale by an artist after Jan Brueghel the Elder, 17th century. Yale University Art Gallery.
According to tradition, the book of Jonah is read in its entirety during the afternoon service of Yom Kippur. Two statements in the Mishnah provide indirect evidence as to why. The first cites the Ninevites who, heed the titular prophet’s warnings to set aside their sinful ways, respond to his message with exemplary fasting and repentance. The second cites Jonah’s supplications in the belly of the fish as an archetype of efficacious prayer. Yet to see this biblical book as a straightforward story modeling prayer, fasting, and repentance betrays the back and forth in this most uniquely troubling and spare of prophetic encounters.