God’s Absent Tears in the Book of Lamentations

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.

Read more at theTorah.com

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

The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7