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.

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

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

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 Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy