The Ancient Translation That Paired the Song of Songs with the Exodus

In many Ashkenazi congregations, the Song of Songs is read publicly on the Sabbath that falls during Passover. This custom stems from the traditional rabbinic understanding that this book’s portrayal of romantic love is an allegory for the love between God and the people of Israel. But how did this allegorical reading establish a connection to Passover, first mentioned in the 13th century? Sheila Tuller Keiter points to a targum, or rabbinically approved translation:

Enter the Targum Song of Songs, the Aramaic “translation” of the Song. Some targumim, like the relatively well-known Targum Onkelos, offer fairly straightforward Aramaic translations of the underlying biblical text. However, some targumim, especially later ones, are not so much translations as interpretations, often digressing into creative and expansive exegesis.

Targum Song of Songs does exactly that. It seems to have originated in the 8th or 9th century, and adopts the same allegorical approach of [an earlier, but less widely read, midrashic work], interpreting sections of the Song as references to the exodus from Egypt. Yet the Targum takes the conceit one step further, being the first source to reimagine the entire Song of Songs (not merely isolated verses) as a history of the relationship between God and Israel as it progresses through distinct eras; from the exodus to the building of Solomon’s Temple; from the Babylonian exile until the building of the Second Temple; and from the Roman destruction of that Temple until the eventual messianic rebuilding of the Third Temple. The biblical Song’s cycles of the lovers’ separation, longing, and reunification become the Targum’s cycles of exile and redemption that permeate Jewish history. The Targum explicitly connects the Song to the national redemption that began with the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery, into the welcoming embrace of God.

Thanks to the Targum, Ashkenazim didn’t just read the Song of Songs as a generalized love allegory, but as the story of Israel’s repeated exile and redemption, starting with the redemption from exile and bondage in Egypt. The Targum’s elaborate historical allegory made Song of Songs the perfect Passover reading for Ashkenazim. And as they sat in shul all those centuries ago, they could hear the Song of Songs, and feel hope for the final redemption.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Ashkenazi, Exodus, Midrash, Passover, Song of Songs


How America Sowed the Seeds of the Current Middle East Crisis in 2015

Analyzing the recent direct Iranian attack on Israel, and Israel’s security situation more generally, Michael Oren looks to the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. That, and President Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal after Donald Trump left it, are in his view the source of the current crisis:

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Barack Obama’s singular foreign-policy achievement.

In order to achieve that result, the administration has repeatedly refused to punish Iran for its malign actions:

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran repeatedly to assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one.

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. . . . Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity.

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

Read more at Free Press

More about: Barack Obama, Gaza War 2023, Iran, Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy