Song of Songs

Ruthy & Baruch Alster alster at
Mon Jan 7 02:20:09 EST 2002


Shoshanna (Song 2:1-2) wrote:

Jewish tradition holds that it was written by King Solomon, and refers to
the relationship between G-d and Israel

Well, most of Jewish tradition.  As a whole, traditional exegetes
interpreted the Song as an allegory, but there seem to have been three
different allegories going around.  The most common one, of course is the
mutual love of God and Israel.  In most midrashim, God is the man and Israel
the woman, but some sources have it the other way round (see the forthcoming
article by A. Sternberg in the Hebrew journal _Megadim_).

Maimonides, and many other medieval and early modern Jewish philosophers,
propose a love story between God (or the "active intellect") and the
individual person.  However, in his letter to the Jews of Yemen, Maimonides
uses the more common midrashic allegory.

In Kabbalistic writings, the Song is interpreted as a poem of love between
different aspects of God.

These allegories seem to me mutually exclusive.  However, there has been at
least one Rabbinical attempt to harmonize them.  See Rabbi J.B.
Soloveitchik's "U-vikkashtem mi-sham" (published in Hebrew along with his
classic "Halakhic Man"), note 1.

Aside from these allegories, there have also ben traditional attempts at
interpreting the Song as dealing with human love, even with halachic
implications.  See Shir Hashirim Rabbah, end of chap. 4 (on Song 4:16), and
Bavli Berachot 24a (on 2:14 and 4:1).  Some medieval exegetes continued this
line of interpretation, notably Rashi's grandson, Rashbam (see Yaakov
Thompson's JTS dissertation dealing with this commentary).  In modern times,
a controversial commentary along these lines prevented Rabbi Raphael Breuer
of Frankfurt from becoming Rabbi of his congregation early last century.
Many commentators throughout the generations offered a dual interpretation.
For a comprehensive article on this (if a little on the polemic side), see
Z.A. Yehuda in _Sinai_ 100 [Hebrew].

As to the date and authorship of the Song, the Talmud (Bavli Bava Batra 15a)
ascribes it to Hezekiah's men, just like the other "Solomonic" books.  How
to interpret this passage's concept of "authorship" is difficult, however,
and I do not think that Hezekiah's role here is more than that of a late
editor of Solomon's work.  The only other possibility of non-Solomonic
authorship I have found is in the Metsudot (R. Yehiel Hillel Altschuler,
18th cent.) on Song 6:4, but I haven't researched that enough, yet.  If
anyone on-list knows of other traditional sources who do not ascribe the
Song to Solomon, I would be happy to know.

Kol Tuv,
Baruch Alster
Zufim, Israel

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