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Orthodox Conundrum


Jul 24, 2023

“What does Eichah have in common with climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, Holocaust deniers and those that claim that the 2020 presidential elections were stolen?” Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman sent this to Scott, who was intrigued and immediately invited him back onto this podcast to discuss what he meant.

More than anything else, we need a way to relate to Megillat Eicha in a world which seems so distant from that described in the book. And even the world described in Eicha is complicated; it’s often hard to make sense of exactly what is being said. There are different voices represented, and they often contradict each other, and themselves. The book seems to go back and forth between blaming the community for its own destruction, and saying that G-d went too far - and sometimes neither, just lamenting how terrible everything is. Maybe the real question is whether there is a theology of Eicha at all, or if it's a book with multiple theologies - some of which border on the heretical.

Rabbi Berman developed a novel approach to Eicha, and his reading infuses it with new life. Rabbi Berman believes that Eicha was written to be performed like a play, as a dialogue between the prophet Yirmiyahu and Bat Tzion - a composite character who represents the different voices that were being expressed by the grief-stricken people after the Destruction. Rabbi Berman also sees Eicha as representing a type of therapy session between the author and the people, who need to face realities that they’re refusing to acknowledge even when those realities seem blindingly obvious. And crucially, Rabbi Berman sees Eicha as a corrective to common but shallow theology - a theology that, he believes, remains something that we believe until today.

Ultimately, any deep understanding of Judaism and acknowledgement of G-d’s love for Israel isn’t complete without the splash of cold water that Eicha provides. It would be nice to advocate a Jewish theology that ignores the difficult parts of our relationship with Hashem; but it wouldn’t be honest or true. This conversation with Rabbi Berman will not only make Tisha B’Av more meaningful, but will also provide serious food for thought that we can take with us long after Tisha B’Av is over.

To order Rabbi Berman’s new book on Eicha, go to https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/book-of-lamentations/5CE9A9C4A6B9159F1CACAE7055C35768?fbclid=IwAR0fU0sjtMUwmMT2o6kGQBche6DL4POuNi29jYYJVfwhDLNtT1mXqy5jw6g.

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Music: "Happy Rock" by bensound.com