Why the Book of Lamentations Doesn’t Get Specific about the Jewish People’s Sins

This Saturday evening, Jewish congregations around the world will mark Tisha b’Av by reading the book of Lamentations, a series of elegies—attributed by tradition to the prophet Jeremiah—for the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar. The text, Martin Lockshin notes, makes quite clear that the terrible suffering it recounts is divine punishment with such verses as “Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is become a mockery” (1:8).

Lockshin details various rabbinic interpretations pointing to particular categories of sin, or even one specific sin, that provoked God’s wrath. But he also notes that some medieval commentators reject these interpretations of the book, an approach with profound implications of its own.

Lamentations leaves us without a specific sin to explain what Judah did to deserve this fate. As Yael Ziegler of Herzog College writes, “Glaringly absent [in Lamentations] is an inventory of Israel’s sins, a consistent portrayal of God’s nature, and a clear notion of how to explain the catastrophic events.”

In fact, according to at least one [passage] in Lamentations, the fate that befell the Israelites in 586 BCE cannot be attributed to any sin that occurred in their days, but to earlier unspecified sins: “Our fathers sinned and are no more; and we must bear their guilt.”

We can understand the desire of the midrashic tradition to find in Lamentations an attempt to explain the tragedy theologically and to discover God’s voice somewhere in the text. At the same time, we can be impressed by the author of Lamentations’ refusal to provide facile explanations, deciding instead simply to mourn the losses experienced by the people.

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Read more at theTorah.com

More about: Book of Lamentations, Hebrew Bible, Theodicy

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter