The Book of Psalms’ Universal Message about Death and Mortality

Nov. 30 2020

Reflecting on the death of his own father, Atar Hadari considers three of the texts traditionally recited at Jewish funerals: the liturgical poem known as the “Justification of the Sentence over the Dead,” and Psalms 49 and 16. He includes as well his original translations of these prayers. On the first of these, he writes:

[This prayer] is quite simply a recitation of praises for the Lord and repeated declaration of how He could not possibly have gotten things wrong by taking your loved one away at just this juncture. The Talmud relates this prayer to Ḥaninah ben Tradion, a rabbi martyred by the Romans for teaching Jewish law in public in the 2nd century CE. All the stories [about Ḥaninah] revolve around the essential commandment of acknowledging that what is done to you is just, and the text includes the requisite statement you make upon hearing of a death: “Blessed be the true judge.”

This vision of the afterlife struggles with God’s implacable wrath and the arbitrariness of death, but affirms over and over that he is just, and closes with a comforting suggestion of the departed being seen to their own little bed in a hospital ward of sorts, finally home.

The Psalms express some greater difficulty with this whole state of affairs.

Representative of this attitude is Psalm 49, a meditation on death itself that includes such troubling verses as “Like sheep to the underworld they amble—death will herd them/ And honest angels will beat them each morning, their form in the wastes of hell will fester.”

This is one of the hardest psalms in the entire book to understand, including some lines that no Jewish commentators gloss with any confidence, such as the beating from honest angels. It is of interest here as a prayer Jews recite that is not addressed to Jews but to all who live on the earth, its metaphysical struggles applying to anyone who worships or even does not worship—as much as anything it is a prayer addressed to those who worship mammon and wonder at the injustice of the wicked rich around them. Or as Rabbi David Kimḥi, the medieval Hebrew grammarian and author of the first complete commentary on Psalms, wrote, “This song is about the business of this world and the world to come, therefore it [begins by apostrophizing] ‘all the nations and all who dwell in the world,’ all who want the good way, from whatever nation they may be.”

Read more at Plough

More about: Death, Judaism, Mourning, Prayer, Psalms

The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy