Making Sense of Psalm 137’s Disturbing Coda

March 9 2016

Psalm 137 famously depicts Israelite exiles sitting “by the rivers of Babylon” mourning their lost homeland. Required by their captors to “sing . . . one of the songs of Zion,” they begin with the oft-quoted “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.” But the less well-known final verses of the psalm strike a very different note:

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

Citing Wordsworth’s understanding of poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” Eliezer Finkelman attempts to explain this troubling image:

Let’s try to imagine ourselves in [the exiles’] place. . . . How would we answer [our captors’] taunts? We would want to give them an answer so cruel that it would stop their smug mockery [and] so heartless that it would haunt their dreams, and make them regret having spoken to us at all. We would remind them that they are vulnerable humans, as we are, and they too are destined to be broken on the wheel of history. . . .

We would pray for the next victor, who will do to them what they have done to us. We would praise those who will come and slaughter their babies.

[However], the words of Psalm 137 do not tell us what a pious person should do. We do not recite them now to find out how to treat babies, even the babies of our mortal enemies. We recite them to relive the bitterness of our ancestors, who faced defeat, destruction, humiliation, exile, and slavery. We should remember how they felt.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at theTorah.com

More about: Hebrew Bible, Morality, Psalms, Religion & Holidays

 

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship