God’s Absent Tears in the Book of Lamentations

July 16 2021

Four thousand years ago, ancient Sumerian priests composed poems of lament to mourn the catastrophes visited on the city of Ur—the birthplace of Abraham—due to foreign invasion. Edward Greenstein notes some similarities between these texts and the biblical book of Lamentations, composed a millennium and a half later, after the destruction of the First Temple, although he deems it “implausible” that the Babylonian works had any direct influence on the Jewish one. He also observes a striking difference between Lamentations—read in synagogues this Saturday night, the beginning of the fast day of Tisha b’Av—and its pagan precursors:

Nowhere in Lamentations does God show any compassion. Just the opposite: the phrase “had no compassion” (v’lo ḥamal) recurs as a refrain throughout chapters 2 and 3; [note also] “You were unforgiving” in 3:42. . . . In the Sumerian laments, [by contrast], the gods, and particularly the goddesses, of the devastated cities cry over the desolation of the sites and the people.

The impression is created in Lamentations that the biblical Deity is unfeeling and cruel. He is unmoved by the profound human suffering He causes. But the classical sages would not let that impression stand. . . . [W]hereas the God of Lamentations sheds no tears over the destruction He has wrought, the God of the midrashic compilation known as Lamentations Rabbah not only cries—He shows himself to be a virtuoso of grieving.

According to [one passage in this] work, the Deity so wearies himself with weeping that He must get help. This [interpretation] is based on a close reading of a passage in Jeremiah (9:16-17), where God tells the prophet, “Look around, and summon the female keeners, that they come; and send for the wise women, that they come. Let them hurry and raise up a wailing for us; and let our eyes run with tears and our eyeballs flow with water!”

The midrash discerns that the Deity here speaks in the first-person plural. Let the keeners wail for us; let our eyes flow with tears. God includes Himself as a beneficiary of the women mourners’ services. The Deity, the midrash infers, had so tired Himself with mourning over the destruction of the northern kingdom [in the 8th century BCE] and other disasters that He felt compelled to wreak on the people of Israel and Judah, that He would need assistance in properly grieving over the destruction of Jerusalem.

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Read more at theTorah.com

More about: Ancient Near East, Book of Lamentations, Hebrew Bible, Jeremiah, Tisha b'Av

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy