How Solomon Ibn Gabirol Transformed One of the Darkest Passages in the Bible into a Poem of Hope

July 15 2021

On Tisha b’Av, which begins this Saturday night, Jews commemorate the anniversary of the destruction of the two temples, alongside other historical calamities. The traditional service for the day involves the recitation of numerous elegies, known by their traditional Hebrew name as kinot. In some Ashkenazi communities, the final kinah is one authored by the great 11th-century philosopher-poet Solomon Ibn Gabirol. The poem is a dialogue based on Ezekiel 23, where the northern kingdom of Israel (Samaria) and the southern kingdom of Judah are addressed, respectively, as Oholah and Oholibah—two adulterous sisters whose promiscuity serves as a metaphor for the Jews’ betrayal of God. Yosef Lindell analyzes it:

[In the biblical chapter], Oholah and Oholibah similarly represent a nation that had always been mired in sin. Thoroughly wicked, they deserve the destruction that overtakes them. Moreover, the sisters are silent, objects of prophetic [condemnation]. They have no voice. Tried as adulterers and stoned, their chapter closes without consolation. [By contrast, Ibn Gabirol] provides the sisters’ perspective, allowing them to speak. In fact, most of the kinah is their words and complaints.

Nor, in this telling, are they entirely evil. Each sister acknowledges her sins and seems to regret the consequences. “I, Oholah, acted with spite and treachery; my betrayal opposed me, and my rebellion accused me.” Oholibah admits, “I, too, was perverse and betrayed the Companion of my Youth just as you did.” In Ezekiel, the sisters expressed no regret. But in [the poem], Oholah and Oholibah are here at last to lament their misdeeds.

After 1,000 years of exile, Oholah and Oholibah are chastened, and seem more wretched than wicked. Their sins were but foolish. They are desolate. They are lost. “Have mercy, God!” the [poem’s narrator] demands. Has not their punishment already been meted out in full measure? What’s more, the petition is in the plural, so it seems like we are praying for Oholah too, asking God to bring back the ten lost tribes. This gives voice to one of the most persistent legends in Jewish history: that the ten tribes [of the northern kingdom] did not assimilate and are somewhere awaiting the redemption.

[Thus] Ibn Gabirol’s kinah provides a hopeful coda to one of the grimmest parables in Tanakh. If even Oholah and Oholibah deserve redemption, don’t we?

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More about: Ezekiel, Hebrew poetry, Prayer, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Tisha b'Av

Why Is Iran Acquiring Property in Venezuela?

In June Tehran and Caracas concluded a major twenty-year cooperation treaty. One of its many provisions—kept secret until recently—was the transfer of 4,000 square miles of Venezuelan land to Iranian control. Although the territory is ostensibly for agricultural use, Lawrence Franklin suspects the Islamic Republic might have other plans:

Hizballah already runs paramilitary training centers in restricted sections of Venezuela’s Margarita Island, a tourist area northeast of the country’s mainland. The terrorist group has considerable support from some of Venezuela’s prominent Lebanese clans such as the Nasr al-Din family, who reportedly facilitated Iran’s penetration of Margarita Island. . . . The Maduro regime has apparently been so welcoming to Iranian intelligence agents that some of Hizballah’s long-established Latin American network at the tri-border nexus of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay has been overtaken by Hizballah activities on Venezuela’s Margarita Island.

Iran’s alliance with Venezuela most importantly provides Tehran with opportunities to target U.S. interests in Latin America and potentially the southern United States. Iran, along with the Chinese Communist Party, is in the process of strengthening Venezuela’s military against the U.S., for instance by deliveries of military drones, which are also considered a threat by Colombia.

While air and seaborne arms deliveries are high-profile evidence of Iran’s ties with Venezuela, Tehran’s cooperation with Venezuelan intelligence agencies, although less visible, is also intense. The Islamic Republic’s support for Hizballah terrorist operations is pervasive throughout Latin America. Hizballah recruits from Venezuela’s ten-million-strong Lebanese diaspora. Iran and Hizballah cooperate in training of intelligence agents and in developing sources who reside in Venezuela and Colombia, as well as in the tri-border region of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

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More about: Iran, Latin America, Venezuela