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An Image for Tisha B'Av

As I was reading Lamentations (today is Tisha B’Av, which I wrote about extensively three years ago and again two years ago), I happened on a different translation by David Mevorach Seidenberg, who describes himself as a neo-Hasid—he espouses a sort of Chasidic-flavoured egalitarian eco-Judaism? Anyway, his stuff sounds interesting and his Tisha B’Av stuff is at neohasid.org.

Anyway, here’s the KJV for Lamentations 1:8 and 1:9:

Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed: all that honoured her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness: yea, she sigheth, and turneth backward. Her filthiness [is] in her skirts; she remembereth not her last end; therefore she came down wonderfully: she had no comforter. O LORD, behold my affliction: for the enemy hath magnified [himself].

And here’s Rabbi Seidenberg’s translation:

Sinning she sinned, Jerusalem. For this an outcast / nidah she became. All who honor her despise her, for they saw her nakedness. Also her, she is moaning, turned around backward. Her blood / tum’ah in her skirts, she didn’t remember her end after, she descended wondrously. There is no comforter for her. YHVH, see my poverty, my humiliation, for an enemy became great.

Here’s my attempt at transliterating the Hebrew:

Chayt Chat’ah Y’rooshaliyim
al kayn l’needah hayatah
col-michab’deyah hizeelooah
kee ra’oo ervatah
gam-hee ne’enchah
vatashav achor

tumatah b’shuleyha
lo zachra echaritah
v’tayred p’la’im
ayn m’nuchaym lah
r’ayh adonai et an’yee
kee higdil oyayv

It’s an arresting image of Jerusalem as a menstruating woman, humiliated Carrie-like and stained with blood. Although, of course, menstruation is not really a thing to be ashamed of—messy and unpleasant and painful, I’m told (not having experienced it myself) but not an indicator of any sort of wrongdoing. Or for that matter of being done wrong to—chayt chat’ah could be here evoking both the sinned against and the sinner, but neither is actually implicated in niddah. Well, and that’s one of the things about niddah that I think we’ve brought up before, that while it’s translated as unclean or impure, it actually means temporarily unqualified for certain ritual duties and there is no moral censure associated with it—reference Tobit’s burial of the dead, a virtuous act which nonetheless makes him temporarily unclean and leads to his blindness. On the other hand, think about Tobit’s blindness as a sort of punishment for his impure virtue. When you declare someone or something temporarily unqualified for certain ritual duties it leads more or less inevitably to a sort of exclusion or ostracization. Think about lepers. Think, for that matter, about Carrie.

Or, of course, we can take the blood as evidence not of natural cyclical menstruation but of forcible deflowering—is the Jerusalem of Rabbi Seidenberg’s translation a rape victim? And if she is, how does that image combine with our reading of chayt chat’ah? How do we feel about Jerusalem as a victim being further punished? How does that comport with our understanding of the entire story of Destruction, Expulsion and Redemption?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

As a start to consider answering the question… this may feed into a more fundamental shift-of-paradigm about the observance for us, by which I mean current progressive-minded Jews. If instead of thinking about Tisha B’Av as being fundamentally about the Temple that was destroyed, we think about it as being fundamentally about the people who were displaced, then it becomes more about the present than the past, or about looking at the past and the present through each other. And in that frame, we can and should highlight the impulse to blame the victims even when we are the victims ourselves, and all the more so when the victims are Other People, scruffy riffraff and exiles and refugees and the vulnerable, huddled masses with funny accents and strange unsavory habits. The response at the time was to blame the victim, to say that the exile must have been caused by Sin—not necessarily the sins of the people actually being exiled but perhaps the generation before or the generation before that—and the response of the Sages was to blame the victim, and the response of the translators was to gloss over the entire matter. That doesn’t have to be our response. We can recognize that refugees have been violated, and we can choose how to respond to that.

Thanks,
-V,


Sin, and sin, and sin, Jerusalem, and now you are defiled, reviled, for we have seen it all, the crying call, the terrible fall, alone in all. Lord, see how we are rejected, ejected, by an enemy triumphant.


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