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Where Are God’s Tears in Lamentations?


Prof. Edward L. Greenstein

The, July 16, 2021

Lament is a widespread literary form of expression—from ancient to modern times, from East to West, chanted and declaimed.[1] Gershom Scholem (1897–1982), the great scholar of Jewish mysticism, characterizes lament as tragic discourse that finds expression not in language but in silence:

[L]ament is precisely the stage at which each language suffers death in a truly tragic sense, in that this language expresses nothing, absolutely nothing positive… Language in the state of lament destroys itself, and the language of lament is itself, for that very reason, the language of destruction.[2]

Lament abounds in language; lament destroys language. This seeming paradox can be sustained, if not resolved, when we take into consideration the function of lament to exhibit grief,[3] that can take the non-verbal form of weeping, and is expressed in tears.[4]

Crying for Jerusalem

Prof. Edward L. Greenstein is Professor Emeritus of Bible at Bar-Ilan University. He received the EMET Prize (“Israel’s Nobel”) in Humanities-Biblical Studies for 2020, and his book, Job: A New Translation (Yale University)..

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