What do the rabbis know about love?

What do the rabbis know about love?

If anything, they sure haven't told us.

Strange fact. Rabbis took the Song of Songs, one of the world's greatest collections of love poems, made it part of both the biblical canon and the synagogue liturgy, and then took the human to human love out of it. They transformed the book into a theological allegory about God and Israel.

Anecdote. Some years ago, shortly after the Artscroll edition of Shir Hashirim was published, I was in the RJC synagogue in Riverdale on Passover. The synagogue's energetic Rabbi Rosenblatt began his sermon on the new Artscroll book and the congregation promptly closed their eyes to rest.

But suddenly the whole congregation awoke. The rabbi declared that the new edition presented the book too allegorically for the his taste. In a loud voice he decried that the translation that read, "Sages of Israel" was wrong. He defiantly proclaimed to a suddenly wide-eyed congregation, "The text speaks of womens' breasts and that is how it must be translated!"

Fast forward several years for a second anecdote. I had returned to my office at the university after thinking that I had given one of the best lectures I could remember on Shir Hashirim. Guided by the work of Robert Alter, I had reviewed the structure of the book, the nature of its poetry and had waxed eloquent about the interplay of the poetic echoes between the lover and his beloved.

A student appeared right afterward at my office hour with a look of concern on his face. He wanted respectfully to bring to my attention something important about the class.

He sat down and all he had to say to me was that I had referred several times in my lecture to the lover as a man and to his beloved as a woman.

I got it. I never made that limiting presumption again in a lecture at the university.

Look. Rabbis just do not get it. They don't understand heterosexual love. They don't understand gay love. As far as I can tell, they have nothing of value to say about any kind of love.

And if you argue that the rabbis do get it, then I say pointedly and simply, Show me.

Show me by finding Halakhic Talmudic Rabbinic ways to preserve the dignity and sanctity of the Torah and to permit same sex love within rabbinic Judaism.

Not easy? Okay, I agree. Not possible? Hey, did they even think about it?


Shades of Gray said...

The questions surrounding translating the most romantic/sexual/intimate portions of Shir Hashirim was discussed in Mail Jewish in 2002(Volume 36 Numbers 69 and 91); the following are excerpts from views pro and con.

In favor in translation:

" ... They feel that we, the Jewish readership of their books, might develop sinful, lustful fantasies if we read a literal translation. My argument is that Shlomo
HaMelech wasn't concerned about this, so why do we need to be FRUMMER than Shlomo Ha Melech. It is an untenable position to claim that Jews that know Hebrew are less succeptible to sinful fantasies than those who
don't know Hebrew. I don't know who Artscroll thinks it is fooling.

I contend that it is a deep insult to the intelligence and maturity of the Jewish People to translate Shir HaShirim--the "Holy of Holies" (see Rashi on Shir HaShirim, and Shir HaShirim Rabba 1:1)--in this prudish,
Victorian, sterile manner. Shlomo HaMelech is telling us that there issuch passionate love between the Jewish People and HaKadosh Baruch Hu, that sexuality is the only appropriate metaphor. There is nothing
shameful about this; to the contrary, it is a Kiddush HaShem. Indeed, it would be a Kiddush Ha Shem to produce a translation of Shir HaShirim with all of its vivid and erotic imagery, and write a religiously faithful commentary explaining the traditional understanding of the conceptual meanings of these metaphors, and why such metaphors were

Opposed to translation:

"Translating Shir Hashirim literally nowadays will not accomplish much. To the contrary it will diminish the value of the sefer in the
eyes of most people. Not because we are frummer than Shlomo Hamelech but rather because we have a corrupt trend of thought compared to that of Shlomo Hamelech. Let's stop fooling ourselves."



--Shades of Gray

Shades of Gray said...

"Show me by finding Halakhic Talmudic Rabbinic ways to preserve the dignity and sanctity of the Torah and to permit same sex love within rabbinic Judaism."

1) There is no mechanism within halacha to do that

2) There is nothing holy and dignified in same-sex love, only animalistic, therefore, there is no dignity to preserve. This is not to say that it is abnormal for even heteresexual people to experience, at times, homosexual feelings. From Tradition Magazine:

"Thus we need not even argue against the psychological position that holds that many healthy people have homosexual thoughts at one time or another. The Torah's position is that the normal quality of any impulse is irrelevant to its ethical or halakhic character..."


3) As far as rabbis and love, I know that there are works of Rishonim such as Iggros Hakodesh(attributed to Ramban); how to explain comprehensively Chazal's view, I don't know, but they certainly spoke about love throughout the Talmud.

---Shades of Gray

Duck said...

How about this guy?

Gil Student said...

"Show me by finding Halakhic Talmudic Rabbinic ways to preserve the dignity and sanctity of the Torah and to permit same sex love within rabbinic Judaism."

See Prof. Joel Roth's two articles on the subject:

Anonymous said...

Tzvee, ArtScroll's Shir HaShirim was published over in the 1970's, yeras before Rabbi Dr. Rosenblatt was ordained.

To all those proported disciples of the Rav who are attacking the allegorical approach to translating Shir HaShirim, the Rav himself stated emphatically that a literal translation of SH"HSH is a distortion, and only an allegorical translation is accurate. I suggest that you consult with Rav Lichtenstein who was present at the shiur before you attack me.

Tzvee Zahavy said...

thanks i guess for confirming what i am saying, namely the rabbis are adamant that we take the human love out of the book and interpret it allegorically. my conclusion is, to reiterate, that deprives us in rabbinic judaism of the benefits of a rich source of inspiration, expression and understanding about love between human beings.