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.

Read more at theTorah.com

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

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount