Are Hymns All That Different from Psalms? Perhaps

“Better to go to the house of mourning,” says the book of Ecclesiastes “than to go to a house of feasting.” Heeding this advice—even if not by design—Howard Jacobson has found himself going to quite a few funerals and memorial services of late. But a recent one led him to some thoughts about how Jews mourn their dead:

So here I am, sitting on the back row of a little urban chapel, giving thanks for a life that ended only last week. But at least the service isn’t taking the humanist route. No breezy gathering of accidental mourners wearing cardigans in a room resembling a bridge club and everyone desperate not to mention God. Instead, a real vicar in a real surplice; a reading from St. John’s Gospel; many in the congregation wearing black; and proper hymns instead of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

Even so, the hymns make me feel uncomfortable. They always do, though there’s often no discernible religious difference in sentiment between a hymn and a psalm, unless the hymn happens to be one of those that ends with an invocation of the cross. The mourners, I notice, move without any sort of spiritual jolt between “Guide Me, O, Thou Great Redeemer,” and “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” though the first is unmistakably theirs and the second definitively ours. So if the Anglicans make no distinction, in the face of bodily dissolution, between Old Testament and New, why must I?

Let’s rephrase the question: am I right in thinking there’s a qualitative difference—religiously speaking, and poetically speaking as well—between a psalm and a hymn? How desperate the gravity of Psalm 77: “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted.” How jaunty, by comparison, [the Christian hymn] “Be Thou My Vision”: “Thou my best thought, by day or by night;/ Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.”

Isn’t a psalm a more elevated form, as different from a hymn as a hymn is from an ironic song in a Monty Python movie? . . . Even in the King James Version some unwarranted Christianizing was afoot. But if that means essential distinctions between psalms and hymns were elided, there remains difference enough for a Jew to feel that hymning is a species of trespass.

But why, Jacobson wishes to know, should he, a very secular Jew, care?

Read more at Tablet

More about: Christianity, Judaism, Mourning, Psalms

As Hamas’s Power Collapses, Old Feuds Are Resurfacing

In May, Mahmoud Nashabat, a high-ranking military figure in the Fatah party (which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority), was gunned down in central Gaza. Nashabat was an officer in the Gaza wing of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist outfit that served as Fatah’s vanguard during the second intifada, and now sometimes collaborates with Hamas. But his killers were Hamas members, and he was one of at least 35 Palestinians murdered in Gaza in the past two months as various terrorist and criminal groups go about settling old scores, some of which date back to the 1980s. Einav Halabi writes:

Security sources familiar with the situation told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaza is now also beleaguered by the resurgence of old conflicts. “Many people have been killed in incidents related to the first intifada in 1987, while others have died in family disputes,” they said.

The “first-intifada portfolio” in Gaza is considered complex and convoluted, as it is filled with hatred among residents who accuse others of killing relatives for various reasons, including collaboration with Israel. . . . According to reports from Gaza, there are vigorous efforts on the ground to contain these developments, but the chances of success remain unclear. Hamas, for its part, is trying to project governance and control, recently releasing several videos showcasing how its operatives brutally beat residents accused of looting.

These incidents, gruesome as they are, suggest that Hamas’s control over the territory is slipping, and it no longer holds a monopoly on violence or commands the fear necessary to keep the population in line. The murders and beatings also dimension the grim reality that would ensue if the war ends precipitously: a re-empowered Hamas setting about getting vengeance on its enemies and reimposing its reign of terror.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Fatah, Gaza War 2023, Hamas