THE THREE OATHS, ISRAEL, and EPHRAIM. Religious Zionism, Jewish anti-Zionism, and the Lost Ten Tribes Today. Adapted from CHAPTER VII of a work in preparation. by Alexander Zephyr.
THE THREE OATHS, ISRAEL, and EPHRAIM.
|Preliminary Note by Brit-Am Editorial Staff:
A small group of Ultra-Religious Jews are opposed to Zionism and the State of Israel. They base their case on an obscure Talmudic comment on a Biblical verse. These are known as the Three Oaths that some interpret as forbidding Jewish en masse immnigration and occupation of the Land of Israel until the Messiah comes.
Alexander Zephyr examines the sources, discusses the pros and cons of different opinions and commentaries in the light of historical fact. He comes to the conclusion that if the Three oaths are at all applicable then they apply to "Ephraimite Israel" meaning the Lost Ten Tribes and not to the Jews (Judah).
Brit-Am does not agree with Alexander Zephyr on this matter but we think his article nevertheless makes a valuable contribution to these studies. Information of interest and importance is given and discussed and the conclusion is worth noting.
THE THREE OATHS, ISRAEL, and EPHRAIM.
Religious Zionism, Jewish anti-Zionism, and the Lost Ten Tribes Today.
Adapted from CHAPTER VII of a work in preparation
What are the Three Oaths? Where did they come from? How are they connected with the State of Israel? What effect do they have on Judaism, Zionism and the movements of Satmar and Neturei Karta? In this article, we will try to give answers to these and other questions.
Let us begin with the smallest book of the Bible, where the Three Oaths are found, the Song of Songs. It contains only 117 verses, but it is the most controversial and puzzling book of the Tanakh.
Some people believe that authorship of this book belongs to Solomon because the first verse of Chapter 1 says: 'The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's.' Others have argued that right translation of the title should read as 'which is for Solomon,' meaning that someone else wrote it for Solomon, as was common practice in ancient times. There is a solid tradition in the Talmud that Hezekiah, King of Judea (715 b.c.-687 b.c.), was the author of the book. He has been greatly praised by the Bible:
'For since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like (Hezekiah) in Jerusalem.' (2 Chron.31:26).
There is also a suggestion that the book was written by God and dedicated to His love for Israel. There is no mention in the book about Solomon's ancestry, specifically, that his father was David, as we find in the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The name 'Solomon' in Hebrew is pronounced as 'Shlomo', which could mean [the King] "to whom peace belongs", and God is the source of all peace.
The time of this book is also in dispute. It varies from the earlier circa 950 b.c. which is close to Solomon's time, to a very late 300-200 b.c., the times of an anonymous writer. Linguistic analysis points out that the vocabulary of the book is derived from ancient Hebrew and from post- exilic languages, such as Persian, Greek, and Aramaic.
The title 'The Song of Songs' depicts supremacy, greatness, excellence of the 1005 songs Solomon wrote (1-Kings 4:32), like similar titles such as 'the king of kings,' or 'holy of holies.' In Hebrew it is rendered as 'Shir ha-Shirim,' in a short version of Latin it is called 'Canticles.'
The Song of Songs is found in the last section of the Hebrew Bible, known as the 'Ketuvim' (Writings), where the special group of 'Hagiographa' books are located, such as Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.
Disagreements about the contents of this book have persisted up to this day. Some early expositors thought that the book was explicitly religious, written in allegorical form and represented the relation between God and Israel. It is interesting to note, that the name of God is never mentioned in the Song, as it wasn't in the books of Esther or Ecclesiastes either. Nevertheless, it has been insisted that the book depicts the allegorical love between the Israelite people and God.
Others say that the book is a wonderful poem celebrating human love and sexuality. It is regarded as one of the greatest pieces of erotic literature ever written. Socrates called the Song 'the erotic mania of the soul for the divine.'
In Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, in the book of Zohar, the Song became the most important Biblical text, regarded as sacred erotica. Kabbalistic Sages view Shir-ha-Shirim as a craving dialogue between the rational soul and active intellect imprisoned within the human body, which is an obstacle in the path of their union with Hashem.
Some scholars insist that the Song of Solomon is nothing other than a hymn, glorifying the ideal human love between King Solomon and a poor shepherd girl named "Shulamite" before, during and after marriage. There are some views on the numbers of characters involved. In addition to Solomon-lover and Shulamite-beloved; man is Solomon, woman is 'Wisdom'; lover is Messiah, woman is Israel; the Lord is Lover, Jewish people are beloved; there is Shepherd-lover in between, who Shulamite chose over King Solomon despite all his riches and splendor. The Young shepherd was victorious because he was the one 'whom my soul loveth', his true love satisfied her heart and soul whereas the love of the King offered only pleasure and luxury for the bodily senses.
Others maintained that this is a true story of the first love between Solomon and Abishag the Shunammite, although they accepted parallel allegorical interpretation of God's love for His people, where God praises Israel and Israel praises God. Who was Abishag the Shunammite? Her story is recorded in 1-Kings, chapter 1:
'Now King David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat. So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the costs of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.' (Verses 14)
Young Solomon met beautiful Abishag in the palace of his father David and fell in love with her. Since King David never had intercourse with her and had not married her, she was free, and Solomon, after getting rid of Adonijah, made Abishag his wife.
According to one of the different opinions the book may be regarded as a criticism against King Solomon who had 700 wives and 300 concubines in his harem (1-Kings 11:3); against sexual exploitation of women and promiscuity; and as a triumph of true pure love and beautiful marriage over unfaithfulness, temporal bodily pleasure and broken dreams of the heart outside marriage.
How could Solomon be the author of such a Divinely-inspired holy book, glorifying the institution of marital love, people argued, since he had the reputation of being a violator of the Ten Commandments, a sinner?
'For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord, as did David, his father.'(1- Kings 11:5-6)
On the other hand, there is a Jewish belief that in no way may a profane person produce a holy book. The Canticles, the Holy of Holies, must have been written by a holy man, which is Solomon.
This book has also been considered as just a collection of ancient Near Eastern love ditties similar to Sumerian erotic passages, the Egyptian Ramesside love poetry, and the Syrian Wedding Songs, where the groom is presented as a King and the bride plays a role as the Queen.
If the Song of Solomon is just promoting human sexual love and marriage, sometimes passionately and frankly erotic; without well expressed religious or theological motives or prophetic insides, how come, then, that this little puzzling book, after long debate, was accepted by the Council of Jamnia (Yavneh) in 90 a.c. in the Bible canon and placed within the category of the 'Writings' [Hagiographa] Sacred books in the Tanakh? The Song definitely entered the canon not only as a secular love poem. Something else had moved the wise men of Jamnia to render their decision. What was it?
Allegory? Yes, it is the allegorical interpretations of the text with hidden meanings, which have little or no connection with the meaning of the words of the text translated. That is the answer!
That is why Rabbi Akiba said: 'Heaven forbid that any man in Israel ever disputed that the Song of Songs is holy.'
The Song of Solomon is the most difficult and intriguing book of the Old Testament.
Rabbi Saadia explained:
'Know, my brother, that you will find great differences in interpretation of the Song of Songs'. It resembles locks to which the keys have been lost.'
Jewish Sages have interpreted the Song as allegorical love between God and Israel. The concept of identifying God as a husband and Israel as a wife is very well known in Hebrew Scripture:
'For thy Maker is thine husband. For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth: 'For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.' (Isaiah 54:5-7).
'I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has closed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the rope of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh Himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.' (Isaiah 61:10)
'They say, if a man put away his wife, and she go from him and become another man's, shall he return unto her again?...but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to Me, saith the Lord.' (Jeremiah 3:1).
'Return, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you.' (Jeremiah 3:14).
These are just few examples of the typological expression of a metaphorical relationship between God and the People of Israel, as a human relationship between husband and wife.
Despite the fact that some scholars have argued against allegorical interpretation, saying that the Song of Songs nowhere gives hint to an allegoric understanding, and even using the allegorical approach, the result is so subjective, that there is no way to rightly identify correct interpretation. The text itself, they say, does not indicate that we should interpret this book differently than any other Biblical book. The Song of Songs events really took place, and Solomon and Shulamite were real historical personalities. All things are possible to those who allegorize.
Although the Canticles is accepted by most scholars according to the concept of an allegorical interpretation, the discussion has not reached a unified consensus and leaves other possibilities open.
No other book in the Scriptures involves so many controversies and variety of interpretations than the Song of Songs, which is Solomon's.
THE THREE OATHS
[The Three Oaths refer to (possibly-hypothetical) self-imposed obligations that the Jews and Gentiles took upon themselves when the Jews went into Exile. They are explained by referring to certain verses in the Song of Solomon.]
The Verses of the Song of Songs, that originated the Three Oaths are:
2:7; 3:5; 8:4.
What are they saying?
'I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till it please.' (Song of Songs 2:7).
The wording of verse 3:5 is identical to 2:7.
[These represent two of the oaths.]
The third verse of Oaths is Song of Songs 8:4:
'I charged you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, until it please.'
Whose words are these? Who is speaking in verses 2:7; 5:3; and 8:4?
Many modern-day commentators have understood that these 'chargers' belong to the beloved Shulamite, the main female character, whose intimate thoughts, feelings and dreams are recorded 53% of the time, while the male lover speaks 39% in the book. They interpret these passages literally, thinking that the main message here is the human love between the lover and beloved:
'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.'
Love needs time. Do not rush it, do not excite it, and do not stir it up. Wait for the right time, no matter how long it takes. Let love take its natural course. To illustrate their point, they explain that as the gazelle is a member of the antelope family, and the hind is a female deer, both animals are very skittish, easily frighten, and if anyone wants to approach them closely, must exercise extreme patience and caution. And so too with love.
From the same three verses of Song of Songs come the Three Oaths of Prohibition.
These are the subject of our discussion here.
These Three Oaths are recorded in the narrative, Ketubot 111a of the Babylonian Talmud, containing a discussion defending Rav Zeira's decision to leave Babylon and go to the Land of Israel.
They were taken from Solomon's Song of Songs, and in large part consist of an exegetical analysis of the three verses of allegorical text translated as a love relationship between God and Israel.
Here are the quotes of the Oaths as they are conveyed in the Gemara (Talmud):
# What are these Three Oaths?
One, that Israel should not storm the wall (Rashi: forcefully return to the Land of Israel).
Two, the Holy One made Israel take an oath not to rebel against the nations of the world.
Three, the Holy one made the nations vow that they would not oppress Israel too much. #
The Torah Jews Against Zionism have taken these Oaths as a prohibition for the Jewish people to end the Exile, to emigrate to the Promised Land and build there a state before God allows them to do so and sends the Messiah. This has been their theological base for a more than a century without any significant changes.
There are a variety of opinions among Jewish Sages on this subject.
The Rambam [Maimondies] may have considered the Oaths as a Divine Decree and as a warning that these actions would be unsuccessful in his time. Nevertheless, in his "Epistle to the Jews of Yemen" he interpreted the oaths metaphorically, not literally, and did not include them in the main work of his life, the "Mishne Torah" as legally, halachically binding.
Rabbi Chaim Vital (16th century Kabbalist) said that, according to our Sages, the time of these Oaths had expired, because the Oaths were binding only for one thousand years.
The Ramban [Nachamnides] had never treated the Oaths as Halakhically binding. On the contrary, he propagates the idea that Jews have to conquer and settle in the Land of Israel in every generation as a positive commandment, and considered such actions as a great Mitzvah [commandment, injunction] in the sight of the Lord.
The Maharal of Prague (1525-1609) is often understood as saying that the Oaths were legally binding and that Jews could not violate them even though the nations threatened to kill them with terrible tortures.... The Oaths are Divine decrees that the Exile cannot be shortened, and our effort to do so will only end in disaster. The same tragic way as it happened to the descendants of Ephraim, who tried to shorten the predestined time of exile and hurry the redemption.
[ A legend says that members of the Tribe of Ephraim who were in Egyptian Bondage with the rest of Israel before the Exodus miscalculated the Time of Redemption.
The Satmar Rebbe (1887-1979) [head of a Chasidic group originally from Hungary but now mainly in the USA] built a vehement position against Zionism and the State of Israel based on the Three Oaths which he valued as strict legal prohibitions prohibiting the Jewish people to 'ascend like a wall' to the Holy Land and establish their state. It is the Zionists, he said, who were 'guilty of the Holocaust and it is because of them that six millions Jews were killed'. His writings and leadership in this regard have caused deep divisions and hatred among Jewry, mainly in Orthodox communities, where some radical Torah Jews of the Naturei Karta cult proclaimed the Jewish State of Israel and the Zionists enemy #1, and have done everything in their power to dismantle (or destroy) the State and send the Jewish population back to the countries of their exile, where they are supposed to wait for permission from Almighty to end the exile and be redeemed.
For the Satmar Rebbe it makes no difference whether the Jews, in their unquenched lodging for the land of their fathers, repented and turned to God:
'Even if the whole Government were all pious, as men of old, any attempt to take their freedom prematurely would be to deny the Holy Law and our faith.'
The Religious Zionists have claimed: The Three Oaths were Aggadic (homiletic) Midrashim, they were not Halakhically obligatory;
The fact that the Jews have returned to the Promised Land and successfully established the modern State of Israel, which continues to exist today, is evidence that the Oaths were void and the Divine Decree has ended.
The nations of the world violated their end of the Oath to not excessively persecute the Jews, therefore the validity of the other two vows was nullified, and the Jews were allowed to immigrate to the Land of Israel 'en masse'.
The Jewish people could not be considered to have rebelled against the nations because the UN acknowledged the existence of the Jewish State of Israel.
To put it simpler, the Jews have not violated any of the Three Oaths of Shir-Ha Shirim.
Anti-Zionists, of course, have denied everything stated above and maintained that the Three Oaths were Halakhically binding, and therefore the Zionists were heretics and rebels against God.
'THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM'
'I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem.'
Who do they represent, these daughters of Jerusalem?
Are they the Jewish People as Satmar and Naturei Karta claim?
Do the prohibitions of the Three Oaths apply to them?
The answer is - not at all!
In the book, there is a dialogue between the two main characters, God and His beloved, House of Israel. The Song of Songs was written, when Solomon was the King of the United Israel, prior its division into the two separate, politically independent kingdoms of Israel and Judea. Among the geographical references to the cities and towns in the book, there is no mention of Samaria, the capital city of Northern Kingdom of Israel, founded later by the Israelite King Omri (reigned 876-868 b.c.).
The 'daughters of Jerusalem' cannot be the Jewish people. They are, probably, the [Ten Tribes] People of Israel (the reason we use the word 'probably' is that there is another meaning of 'daughters' as 'heathens destined to ascend to Jerusalem' or 'the righteous souls'). There is a huge difference between the Jewish people and the People of Israel. They are not synonymous! If they were the same, why would God, throughout the Scriptures, have dealt with them separately?
[ The writer is working on the understanding that in prophecy the terms "Israel" refer to the Ten Tribes and "Judah" to the Jews.
Now, let us go back to the Three Oaths. We have learned that the 'Daughters of Jerusalem' could be translated, besides "the house of Israel', also as 'heathen nations', which resulted in more various interpretations of the Oath verses.
Song of Solomon 1:5 'I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem'' has been explained to mean:
(a) 'Though I am black with sin, I am comely with virtue, O nations who are destined to ascend to Jerusalem;'
(b)' I am black all the days of the year, and comely on Yom Kippur";
(c) 'I am black in this world, and comely in the world to come.'
In all these verses, explained Rashi, 'the nations of the world' are figuratively referred to as 'daughters of Jerusalem.'
The Targum, for instance, translated Song of Solomon 2:7 as referring to Moses charging the Israelites in the desert after return of the spies:
"I adjure you, O assembly of Israel, by the Lord of Hosts, and by the strength of the land of Israel, that you presume not to go up to the land of Canaan until it be the will of Heaven".
[Numbers chapters 13 and 14 tells us how the Israelites sent 12 spies into Canaan as a preliminary step before conquest. Ten of the Spies brought back a bad report about the Land and the formidable strength of its inhabitants. The people became afraid and disheartened and wished to return to Egypt. God was angry with them and decreed that none (apart from two) of that generation would merit to enter Canaan but they would all die in the Wilderness and their children take the Land in their place. Numbers 14:39-45 relates that upon receiving this decree the Israelites had a sudden change of heart and wanted to enter the Land immediately. Moses urged them to stay put and not go against the will of the Almighty. Nevertheless they went ahead but were driven back by the Amalekites and Canaanites. ]
The tractate Kesubos 111a in the Talmud renders this verse as God speaking to Israel, adjuring Israel not to rebel against the yoke of the nations and not ascend 'as a wall' to the Holy Land.
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (1040-1105 a.d.), Teacher of Israel, the Father of all Commentators, better known by the acronym Rashi, explained the Song of Solomon 1:5; 2:7; 3:5; 8:4 as being Israel speaking to the heathen nations (his opinion is supported by Sforno and Metzudas David):
'I adjure you, O nations who are destined to ascend to Jerusalem, lest you become as defenseless as gazelles or hinds of the field, if you dare cause hatred or disturb the love while it yet gratifies.' (2:7; 3:5)
'O daughters of Jerusalem' might be also translated as, 'You nations in whose midst I dwell.' (Rashi)
'If you will wake or rouse the love until it pleases',
Rashi understood it as to say:
'If you will try to sway my Beloved's love for me by persuasion and incitement to abandon Him, while His love is still desirous of me',
'Know, you nations: Although I complain and lament, my Beloved holds my hand and is my support throughout my Exile.'
What a difference of meanings is derived if one takes the 'daughters' as meaning the 'heathen nations'!
In verse 8:4 the adjuration sounds a little different.it lacks the previous the threatening of making trhem as vulnerable as the 'gazelles and hinds of the field,' because the timing of this adjuration (in this verse) is Closer to the Final Redemption, and its purpose is not to frighten the nations, but to let them know that whatever they plot, their efforts to disturb God's love for Israel are in vain (Divrey Yedidiah).