Doom and Restoration


The reading of sacred scriptures forms a major part of the synagogue service. The Bible itself Nehemiah 8.8 records the practice of translating these readings into Aramaic so that the common people, who did not speak Hebrew, might understand. Frequently these translations were quite discursive, incorporating lengthy interpretations, and even entire stories, suggested by the verse. Other languages (Greek, Spanish, Arabic) replaced Aramaic, as this language ceased to be the prevailing medium of communication among the Jewish masses.

In Arabic-speaking communities there exists a translation sharh of Jeremiah 8.13-9.23 (9.24 in English bibles) which is the prophetic section read on the fast of the Ninth of Ab which commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem on two occasions. It exists in various forms, and incorporates stories and legends appropriate to the day. A full study of these paraphrases is found in my Daughter of My People (Leiden, 1971). Like all the liturgical materials used on this day, the final note is a hopeful one; after all the carnage and sadness, redemption will surely come.

The following selections are taken from ms. 661 in the Sassoon collection, to which acknowledgment is made. The biblical verses on which they are based are given in the King James version.

The Sharh for the Ninth of Ab

I will surely consume them, saith the Lord: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things I have given them shall pass away from them.

Jeremiah the prophet (on him be peace) said to Israel: "'I shall totally destroy you,' says God, 'and bring to you the enemy Nebuchadnezzar, who will exile you to Babylon. And he will cut you off as the grapes are cut off from the branch, and the figs from the vine, which are cut off one by one, great and little, on account of your rebelliousness against me. No one shall pity you, and no one shall have mercy on you. They ignored my law, the written law and the oral law which I commanded them. No one accepted my law, and no one did what I ordered. And they were upbraided, but no one heard the words of the sages who were preaching against them, or the words of the prophets who were prophesying against them.'"

We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold trouble!

The children of Israel said: "Look what our misdeeds and sins have brought. We hoped for good and favors, but desolation has come to us because we killed our prophet Josiah, son of Amoz, when he warned us and upbraided us and said: 'Children of Israel, amend somewhat these deeds in which you engage. But we threw his words behind our ears. For this reason there came upon us desolation, oppression, hunger, thirst and death."
The hunger was so great that the mothers ate their children. There was a certain woman in Jerusalem who had a high income because she had much property. Her offspring was an only son who was very precious to her. She used to weigh him in gold publicly thrice yearly at the pilgrim feasts, and give his weight to charity and say: "This is the redemption of my son." When Jerusalem was besieged, and the food was cut off and no longer brought in, he was dying of hunger, and his mother suffered more than he. When the hunger attacked her, the adoration and love that was in her heart for her son was turned to cruelty. She kissed him, and bound him, and brought a knife to him to slaughter him. He wept and said to her: "Mother, the one whom you are going to slaughter knows how you loved me, for you used to weigh me three times publicly and give it to charity, and you rejoiced in me. Now you are going to slaughter me. Obey me before God, mother. Do not be concerned about me, for you never saw joy in my days, and have not seen the realization of your hopes for me." So she slaughtered and ate him. Likewise children were eaten by their fathers from great hunger. We hope for good; but by God's command istreatment and anguish came to us.

The snorting of his horses was heard from Dan: the whole land trembled at the sound of the neighing of his strong ones; for they are come, and have devoured the land, and all that is in it; the city, and those that dwell therein

The children of Israel said: "Lord of the worlds, why are our prayers and cries to you not accepted?" The exalted God answered and said to them: "On account of the calf which you worshipped, which Jeroboam son of Nebat set up. You said: 'This is your god who brought you out of the land of Egypt.' On account too of murder and fornication. The daughters of Zion used to make bracelets and anklets and earrings of gold, walking with outstretched necks in the streets, with musk and ambergris spread over their faces in front of the boys. The released the scent, and the boys cast their eyes upon them. They did so many times. The prophet Jeremiah (on him be peace) used to enter right into their dwellings, and warn them and say to them: 'Children of Israel, enough of these errors in which you are engaged. On account of this your dwellings will be desolated, and you will suffer breavement for your fornication. They said: 'If the enemy comes, we shall not fear him. We shall marry the king and his officers.' Therefore God smote the daughters of Zion with leprosy. When the enemy came, they saw them all decked out. They took one each. At night, God smote the women with a bloody flux, and the men threw them down from the walls. So instead of the silken garments they expected, they girded themselves with sackcloth, and finally became heaps of garbage in the streets and roads. Even so, no one listened to the words of the prophet sent by the exalted God. On account of such sins, the enemy entered the Temple and desolated it, and took the goods and property which were it it, and he even found property which no one knew where it was. The fear of Nebuzaradan entered their hearts on account of the transgressions which stained men, and they died before the enemy killed them. An encampment of the enemy marched to Bethar and besieged it, but they could not overcome it on account of the abundance of sages and saints who were in it, and Rabbi Eleazar of Modin who was wallowing in the dust and praying to the Lord of the worlds. In it there were four hundred academies, and in every academy there were four hundered rabbis, and every rabbi had four hundred students. And there were in it four hundred myriads of people. He could not prevail against it. They said to him: "There is someone there who persistently wallows in dust and ashes. So long as he is in the ashes, you will not be able to subdue it. He entered and found the congregation sitting in prayer, fasting and supplication. He found Rabbi Eleazar of Modin praying amid the ashes. He mumbled in his ear and spoke to him, but Rabbi Eleazar did not know what he said to him, for he feared God when he prayed. Dissension started between him and the congregation. They said to him: "What did he say to you?" He said to them: "I do not know what he said." Ben Koziba said to them: "If he does not tell what he said to him, let us kill him, and we shall not need his prayer. I have 200,000 brave soldiers with their fingers cut off; each one cut off his finger in the toughness of his heart." The enemy had not been able to desolate Bethar, but in that day dissension entered among them, and for their sins, they entered the city and kolled great and small. And they were angry with the sages, and they killed them, some of them with their phylacteries on their heads, and some of them they burned with their books on their breasts. And they were angry with Ben Koziba who had 200,000 brave soldiers, and they killed all the soldiers he had until the enemy's horses sank in the blood up to the neck. So abundant was the blood that it turned the millstones in the way, and so great was its flow that it reached the sea a day's journey away. Their corpses lay around, but none of them bred worms or stank by reason of the saints who were among them there. Finally God called for their burial, and they were buried. The enemy captured the city and its goods, and the town and its owners.

For, behold, I will send serpents, cockatrices, among you, which will not be charmed, and they shall bite you, saith the Lord.

God said to the inhabitants of our country: "You said: 'Let us go to the fortified strong cities, and strengthen ourselves against the enemy.' None of you repent of your evil deeds. For you transgressed my law and said: 'The enemy will not be able to enter our cities.' I will bring upon you murderers like serpents, who will not be charmed by you. They will have no mercy, but they will lord it over you, and kill your old men without pitying them. And they will kill the child in its mother's bosom in the presence of its father. And they will take you with your young and your women, and show favor and mercy to none of you. You will not understand their language, for their language is a strange language, on account of the slander which your elders spoke against the city of peace, and they wept deceitfully, and others wept on account of their words. Therefore I shall make them weep for real in famine and oppression. And the enemy will slaughter their children in their presence. God says so because they rejected his law, and did not bother about his scripture.

Behold the voice of the cry of the daugher of my people because of them that dwell in a far country: Is not the Lord in Zion? Is not her king in her? Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with strange vanities?

Jeremiah the prophet (on him be peace) said: "I hear the sound of the terror of the children of my people from a far country." When the enemy came and took them to Babylon (that is, the city of Baghdad) they sat upon the ground and put dust on their heads. They carried off 80,000 of them with their hands tied behind their heads with chains. They came to the rivers of Babylon. On account of the trouble and sorrow that had come upon them, the songs which they used to sing in the Temple were turned to wailing and weeping on the willows which were by the rivers. When the enemy said to them: "Sing us some of the hymns which were in the Temple," the Levites arose in the abundance of their grief, and cut their tendons and fingers with their chains, and answere them: "How shall we begin to sing the hymns of Zion upon a land of idol worship after God has demolished the Temple and cut off our prayers from it? As Jeremiah the prophet (on him be peace) said: "My Lord, wherefore is this utter wrath?" The exalted God ansered and said to him: "Because they loved the idols of the peoples, and the objects of worship of the seven nations."

Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?

Jeremiah the prophet (on him be peace) said: "Lord of the worlds. The balm which is brought from Egypt and the land of Iraq will not benefit your children. Oppression and famine and destruction have come to them because there were so few who might judge them, pasture them, and teach them, and make them walk in the good way in fear of the exalted God. And so they became liable to all maladies." Then God answered him and said: "I had many who could pasture them and judge them, and make them walk, and teach them the fear of the exalted God. But they did not listen to the words of the sage who was preaching to them, nor to the prophet when he came warning them, and saying to them: 'Repent, for this is an evil way in which you are walking.' The exalted God forgives misdeeds and sins, but they killed the prophet whom I sent to them, and they would not listen to his words." For the prophet stands in place of balm, like Elijah the prophet (on him be peace) who dwelt in Gilead. By his prayer he revived the dead, and by his command he brought rain in the days of Ahab son of Omri king of Israel. For the sages and those skilled in prayer among the children of Israel would make known to the sick person that with which they might be cured, and if they would listen to the words of the sages, the sick person would not need a cure during his life. For the sage can make known wheter a man will die or stay alive, and will make a cure unnecessary in any of his maladies and diseases. But they would not listen to the words of the sages, whose prayer is like balm which benefits a man. Their prayer is efficacious, for the wise man's prayer is effective and precious to the exalted God. They only ask of him, and abundantly they are answered. He asks on their behalf, and God pardons their misdeeds just like the Temple. For when one would do misdeeds, he would take a sacrifice, and his misdeeds would be forgiven. And the exalted God said to you: "Keep your foot away from your neighbor's house." This means the Temple, your glory and your splendor among the countries. The prophet answered and said: "For this reason you do not prosper, children of Israel."

Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!

Jeremiah the prophet (on him be peace) said concerning this oppression which came upon the children of Israel: "Would that my head were a fountain of water, and my eyes would flow with tears, that would not cease or rest night or day, and I would weep for the oppression and punishment which have come upon the children of Israel and the sanctuary which was burned in fire. And there were in it 200,000 priests; they threw some of them in the fire and burned with them 270 scrolls of the law; some of them they slaughtered like sheep. And the scrolls which remained were submerged in the blood of the slain whom the enemy killed. I will weep for the pregnant women, whose bellies they ripped open and took out their children and slaughtered them in their mothers' presence. I will weep and wail over the sages whom they cut in half with saws, and over the slain whom there was no one to bury, and over the virgin daughters who were taken captive, and the enemy rejoiced over them. Therefore I prayed: 'Would that my head were like a fountain of water, and my eyes might flow with water for the slain of the congregation of my people!'"

Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them! For they be all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men.

Jeremiah the prophet (on him be peace) said: "I wish I could journey into the desert and go far, and dwell in a distant place and be far from the children of Israel, so that I might not hear and might not see the oppression which has come upon them. They did not hear my words, and did not accept my instruction when I said to them: 'Children of Israel, fear the commandments of God which he spoke to you in the precious Torah, which he gave you through our master Moses son of Amram (on him be peace) on Mount Sinai, and he said to you in it: 'You shall have no other gods before me' Exodus 20.3 So repent to God, for after a man commits sins and repents, his sin s are pardoned, as the verse says: 'Repent, repent of your evil ways, house of Israel, and do not die, house of Israel.' Ezekiel 33.11 But they refused to obey me, for they are all treacherous, ignorant and fornicators, who worshipped idols and placed them in the Temple by the Ark of the Torah and Cherubim. Finally, the Lord of the worlds became jealous, and he arose from the throne of glory, and took up the Shekinah [the divine presence] from the Temple and removed it ten stages, and the angels wept, as the verse says: 'The angels of peace weep bitterly.' Isaiah 33.7 Therefore the exalted God says: 'You shall have no respite until you repent of your evil deeds unto your Lord. For you have walked in rebellious deeds, fornication, wickedness, murder and theft. All your congregation has become treacherous.'"

And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the Lord.

They were told that with lies and slander towards one another they cut their friends, just as the archer cuts a man with arrows so that he comes like a sieve. Yet no one repents of his evil ways and says: "It is vicious of me to betray my friend." But he is even more jealous of him from the lack of the fear and worship of God. They did this thing more in the Temple, and did not think what would come upon them from these wicked deeds. No one believed in the words of God and the words of the prophets who were correcting them, like Zechariah the prophet (on him be peace) whom they overpowered and killed. His blood kept on running on the ground like rivers. It bubbled like a pot until Nebuzaradan the chief of the executioners came, and saw the blood running and flowing. He questioned the priests who were offering the sacrifices. They answered him: "This is the blood of the sacrifices." He brought cattle and sheep and slaughtered them, but it was not stopped, nor did it resemble the blood. He said to them: "Tell me the truth." They said to him: "My lord, the exalted God sent a prophet to direct us in the way of repentance, but we rose up against him and killed him." He said to them: "I will test its truth." He brought the priests and slaughtered them upon it. But the blood did not stop. So he brought the sages, and the Sanhedrin, and their chiefs, and tortured them with iron instruments of torture, and warned them to speak the truth and tell how the murder came about. They said to him: "We killed him with saws, and arrows, and knives until we made his body like a sieve." When he heard these words he slaughtered old and young. Down to those who were sucking the breast he killed, with their mothers upon them. But the blood did not stop. He brought pregnant women, and pierced their bellies, and crushed the child and slaughtered it with its mother. But the blood did not stop. When he saw that all the people had been killed, and the blood did not stop, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and his heart was broken. He said in a deep, strong voice: "Zechariah, see, I have killed them old and young, so that none is left whom I have not killed. Yet you refuse to be appeased." Only then the blood stopped, and was absorbed in its place. Nebuzaradan lifted up his eyes to heaven with this broken heart and said: "My Lord, so much have you destroyed these who killed one person. What will come upon me from Almighty God since I have killed thousands and tens of thousands?" At that time he fully repented, and fled to another country, and left his wife and children. He gave up his position, and became a Jew, and Rabbi Meir (on him be peace) was descended from him. "I have made perfect for him his conversion and attachment to me; but my children, whom I brought out from the land of Egypt and brought to Mount Sinai, spoiled my advice, and could not believe in my advice, and said to Moses: "You speak with us." I did for them a number of miracles, but they did not perform my words and would not know me." Thus says God.

Shall I not visit them for these things? saith the Lord. Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?

There was in Jerusalem a certain woman who had three sons, a young son, and a couple of older sons. The older ones were fighting against the enemy on the wall. One day, they went and said to their mother: "We are dying of hunger. Make us something to eat before we die of hunger." She was afraid they would die. She took their young brother and made him into a meal. When they came at night they sat and ate, and found the hand of a young man. Then they understood and said to their mother: "Where is our young brother?" She was silent and did not answer them. Then they knew that they had eaten the flesh of their brother. They wept until their eyes were blinded. Then they went up on the wall and threw themselves down on top of one another and died. When their mother saw that they were dead, she said: "What shall I do with my life?" She threw herself down and died with them. Concerning them Jeremiah the prophet (on him be peace) said: "Better were those who died by the sword than those who died of hunger. Lamentations 4.9 This happened only on account of their evil deeds…

For a voice of wailing is heard out of Zion, How are we spoiled! We are greatly confounded, because we have forsaken the land, because our dwellings have cast us out.

A cry for help was heard: "The Temple is destroyed." It shouted to the holy fathers, namely Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and said: "Holy fathers, wake up from your slumber, and see your children over whom you toiled and killed yourselves. See how this powerful stroke from which they could not recover has come upon them." At that time the holy fathers went to our master Moses (on him be peace) and said to him: "Our prophet Moses! Where are your children concerning whom God commanded you and sent you to Pharoah, and you brought them out of the land of Egypt, and you divided the sea into twelve paths for them?" Moses said to God: "Remember the merit of the precious Torah which I gave to them by your hand from Mount Sinai and the trouble I went to for them in the wilderness, bring forth water from the rock. After all this you swore concerning me that I should not enter the land of Israel with them. And I accepted your command, and did not enter it, and I did not transgress your precious command to me." Master Joshua answered and said: "Lord of the worlds, remember the trouble and torment I underwent for the children of Israel until I brought them into the holy land of Israel, and I made them dwell each in his place by your precious command. My Lord, remember the time I stopped the sun and the moon for them in Gibeon, and now you have decreed upon them death and burning, and you have left them in the hand of the enemy." All of them answered at once: "Our Lord, wherefore this utter wrath? Wherefore do we never pity them and resore them to their place better than they were?" Jeremiah answered them and said: "No place remains to be found in the land on account of the slain." Our master Moses said to him: "Show me that some of them remain." When all of them went to the rivers of Babylon, and when Israel saw our master Moses, they rejoiced and said to him: "Master Moses, rescue us from this trouble." Then a voice went forth from heaven and said: "Moses, you cannot improve it, for the decree is determined before me. Return in honor to your place." Then Israel arose in weeping and wailing to the Temple, and Moses and Jeremiah returned to their place with the holy fathers and said to them: "Thus says God." When all of them sat down, they wailed and wept, and the fathers said to them: "How did you leave our children?" -- "We found some of them slaughtered, some of them with heavy burdens on their backs." All of them arose and wept and said: "Woe to our children. What has happened to them! They are naked and hungry in the hands of the enemy." Then God most high (blessed be he) said: "The enemy have entered the Temple. Your sickness is decreed." And I answered him: "Our Lord, you let them distress me, and wound me, and strike me sixty times with fiery rods until they brought out blood from me." Then Abraham said: "Our master, Lord of the worlds! You wrote in the Torah 'him and his son you shall not slay in one day.' Leviticus 22.38 But as for these children of yours, the enemy have killed the children in their mothers' bosoms in one day, many of them without number. My Lord, I entreat you that you have mercy on them as you promised the holy fathers. My Lord, hear the voice of the people of Zion who are saying: 'Woe unto us! How we have left the holy land, and we are naked, and ashamed, and carried off.'"

Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches:

Thus says God, the Lord of hosts: "Let not the intelligent man praise himself for his intelligence, for intelligence does not avail in the death and oppression which come upon them. And let not man praise himself for his power and wealth, for none of them who have strength will profit in the city of peace, since they did not rely on the exalted God, and did not hear his words. And let not the rich man praise himself for his riches, for wealth will not avail anyone in the city of peace in the streets and the squares.

But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.

God, Lord of hosts said: "In this let him who is praised be praised, and men will praise him in his city and in the cities of man – let him walk in the good way which I commanded. As for justice and grace and truth – in this let man be praised. But thus let man remember and he will merit praise – only if he understands and knows the way of my law, and knows my potent commands. If you want to be pardoned and pitied in the place where you are exiled, instruct one another in my good deeds, for I, God, do graciousness and judgment and goodness in the land. Therefore you should instruct your children and one another. The one who is wise and knows wisdom and the way of my law and obedience to me should instruct the one who does not know it, and he who is able and strong should likewise continually strengthen the weak, like the poor, and orphans, and criminals, and evildoers, everyone according to his ability, as I do with you. And for this I will have mercy on you, and will annul from you every distress and every oppression, for these good things I love," says God.

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Alan D. Corré