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

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


The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law