What “Hamlet” and Ecclesiastes Have in Common

Sept. 27 2021

Read in many synagogues this past Shabbat, the book of Ecclesiastes consists of the reflections on life and its vicissitudes of “Kohelet the son of David”—identified traditionally as King Solomon. To Noah Millman, Kohelet’s musings on the futility of human endeavors and the ironies and absurdities of earthly existence resemble nothing so much as the soliloquies delivered by Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Kohelet, Millman writes may seem like a philosopher, but in fact that’s not quite so:

Ecclesiastes . . . is a record of Kohelet’s philosophical investigations in dialogue with himself. But on closer inspection, the book is not so much a work of philosophy as a first-person account of the failure of philosophy. Kohelet is an individual striving to make some sense out of his life, only to discover that he cannot do this by philosophical means.

Millman points to numerous similarities between the play and the biblical work, such as Kohelet’s “What profit hath a man of all his labor?” and Hamlet’s “How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable/ Seem to me all the uses of this world!” But, with help of the great medieval rabbinic commentary of Rashi, Millman identifies a deeper parallel. Hamlet seeks to take revenge on his uncle for killing his father, usurping the throne, and marrying his mother. And Solomon?

Ecclesiastes appears to offer no similar family backstory for making sense of Kohelet’s misery, . . . but if we take the traditional notion that Kohelet is Solomon seriously, comparisons suddenly spring forth. Solomon, after all, was witness to an almost absurdly on-point Oedipal struggle within his own family when his half-brother, Absalom, revolted against their common father, David, and slept with David’s concubines as a way of fortifying his claim to the throne. David’s deathbed advice to Solomon was to kill the man responsible for Absalom’s death—his general, Joab. Solomon also had to commit fratricide to consolidate his power, killing Adonijah, his half-brother, who had himself crowned king first. Solomon’s struggle for the throne was fully as bloody and incestuous as the one in Elsinore, but he played the royal part that Hamlet labors to avoid.

A suggestion of Rashi provides an even more valuable interpretive lens onto the personal drama behind Kohelet’s melancholy. His commentary suggests that King Solomon foresaw the division of the kingdom under his son Rehoboam and that this was the source of Kohelet’s despair. It’s a notion that can be used to bring many of the book’s apparent contradictions into sudden focus. Why, for example, is Kohelet so persistently concerned with the possibility that someone unworthy will enjoy his wealth? With the possibility that his heirs will be fools?

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Ecclesiastes, Hebrew Bible, King Solomon, Rashi, William Shakespeare

Iran’s Four-Decade Strategy to Envelope Israel in Terror

Yesterday, the head of the Shin Bet—Israel’s internal security service—was in Washington meeting with officials from the State Department, CIA, and the White House itself. Among the topics no doubt discussed are rising tensions with Iran and the possibility that the latter, in order to defend its nuclear program, will instruct its network of proxies in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and even Iraq and Yemen to attack the Jewish state. Oved Lobel explores the history of this network, which, he argues, predates Iran’s Islamic Revolution—when Shiite radicals in Lebanon coordinated with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s movement in Iran:

An inextricably linked Iran-Syria-Palestinian axis has actually been in existence since the early 1970s, with Lebanon the geographical fulcrum of the relationship and Damascus serving as the primary operational headquarters. Lebanon, from the 1980s until 2005, was under the direct military control of Syria, which itself slowly transformed from an ally to a client of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The nexus among Damascus, Beirut, and the Palestinian territories should therefore always have been viewed as one front, both geographically and operationally. It’s clear that the multifront-war strategy was already in operation during the first intifada years, from 1987 to 1993.

[An] Iranian-organized conference in 1991, the first of many, . . . established the “Damascus 10”—an alliance of ten Palestinian factions that rejected any peace process with Israel. According to the former Hamas spokesperson and senior official Ibrahim Ghosheh, he spoke to then-Hizballah Secretary-General Abbas al-Musawi at the conference and coordinated Hizballah attacks from Lebanon in support of the intifada. Further important meetings between Hamas and the Iranian regime were held in 1999 and 2000, while the IRGC constantly met with its agents in Damascus to encourage coordinated attacks on Israel.

For some reason, Hizballah’s guerilla war against Israel in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s was, and often still is, viewed as a separate phenomenon from the first intifada, when they were in fact two fronts in the same battle.

Israel opted for a perilous unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, which Hamas’s Ghosheh asserts was a “direct factor” in precipitating the start of the second intifada later that same year.

Read more at Australia/Israel Review

More about: First intifada, Hizballah, Iran, Palestinian terror, Second Intifada