To Each Their Own: Shir Hashirim 2019
by Adam J. Rosenbaum
Pre-Game Chatter: Why are great works of art subject to vastly different interpretations? Is art that inspires boisterous debate necessarily great, or merely provocative?
Of all of the books of the Bible, perhaps no text inspires more vastly different reactions than the Song of Songs; on its surface, it is romantic poetry, but to others, it is a metaphor for religion and/or politics:
The Pitch: “My beloved is mine And I am his Who browses among the lilies.” – Song of Songs 2:16
Swing #1: “He demanded all His needs from me. He commanded only me, to make the Pesach sacrifice, sanctify the firstborn, make a Tabernacle, sacrifice burnt offerings; and He did not demand [these things] of any other nation.” – Rashi
Swing #2: “The image of the lover as shepherd, when amplified by ‘browses among the lilies’, is an erotic double entendre, especially since lilies are mentioned in connection with … [one’s] lover’s lips.” – Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch, The Song of Songs: A New Translation
Swing #3: “ The reference to ‘grazing,’ both here and in the parallel verse in 6:3, once more suggests an invective against the king.” – Scott B. Noegel and Gary A. Rendsburg, Solomon’s Vineyard: Literary and Linguistic Studies in the Song of Songs
Late-Inning Questions: Why do you think such a divisive text was selected to be read in synagogues on the Shabbat (or second Shabbat) of Passover? Does the conversational nature of our Passover Seders help make it easier to consider a complicated text such as this? Is our religion better off consulting texts that are difficult to understand? What are the benefits and potential problems of teaching a text like this?
On-Deck at Emanu-El: We hope you’ll be here on Shabbat, not only to observe the final day of Passover and Yizkor, but also to be present when we re-dedicate our Holocaust Torah scroll, which will include participation by local Holocaust survivors as well as Synagogue youth who traveled to the National Holocaust Museum in February. Be here on Saturday the 27th for an important moment in our congregation.
The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of texts that are difficult to understand, perhaps the greatest moment of baffling baseball talk took place July 8, 1958, when Yankees manager Casey Stengel testified before Congress. It has to be read to be believed.
Chag Sameach, and very soon, Shabbat Shalom!
It’s interesting too that many have the custom to read Shir HaShirim as part of their Kabbalat Shabbat, again expressing the love between God and Israel as we look forward to sharing Shabbat together.
The multiply-layered text allows for some level of questioning/reflection just like this every week for those who read it.