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
kee ra’oo ervatah
lo zachra echaritah
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,