Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Three Oaths

Pessach is the right time to discuss the most anti-Zionistic midrash of them all, which is based on a verse that appears three times (with slight variations) in the Song of Songs

Young women of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and the wild does of the field: do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time.

According to Rav Yehuda (Ketubot 111a) this means that no act of redemption should be performed until a time arrives when it pleases God to bring about the redemption. We also see from elsewhere that Rav Yehuda thought that it was forbidden to return to Israel. 

Other sages understand the passage slightly differently, and also suggest reasons for the three-fold mention.  

Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Ḥanina, most famously put it this way:

Why are three oaths mentioned? One, so the Jews don't return to Israel en-masse (like a wall) Two, so that they should not rebel against the nations of the world. Three, that the nations of the world shouldn't excessively subjugate the Jews.

Both Rambam and Rabenu Bahya understand this to mean that Jews are to wait patiently for a supernatural redemption, and to do nothing to "stir up love before its proper time" 

These ideas formed the basis for religious opposition to the establishment of the state of Israel. 

In response, Zionist religious authorities have suggested several approaches, all of which seem to me to be perfectly valid, while suffering from one flaw: They all seek to change or obviate  a traditional understanding of a Talmudic passage because that traditional understanding is no longer convenient.  

Now let's be clear: I don't object to this at all. 

After all I believe that it was exactly this sort of approach that distinguished the original Pharisees from their more conservative and traditional opponents. In fact, because I hold that such interpretations are inevitable, I also think they had to have been anticipated by any divine author. How could God give a book to men and not expect them to interpret it?

I just wish that we'd all be more honest about this and recognizes that it happens