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?

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Ezekiel, Hebrew poetry, Prayer, Solomon ibn Gabirol, 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