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Old Jewish Commentaries on «The Song of Songs» II

The Two Commentaries of Tanchum Yerushalmi- Text and translation


Joseph Alobaidi

This book contains two commentaries on The Song of Songs by Tanchum Yerushalmi (c. 1220-1291), one of the best representatives of rational exegesis in the Middle Eastern rabbinical school of thought. His in depth knowledge of the Bible as well as his acquaintance with Greek philosophy, added to familiarity with his own Jewish tradition allowed him to write rich biblical commentaries. In so doing he showed himself as a worthy disciple of Saadia Gaon, Hai and Ibn Janah whom he mentions in his commentary on The Song of Songs. The extent of his knowledge can easily be seen in both his philological and philosophical commentaries on one of the most intriguing books of the Bible.
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Chapter 4




How beautiful you are my friend, how beautiful you are, Your eyes are like doves1 from behind the veil Your hair resembles a flock of goats Coming down from Mount Gilead.

[The expression]: How beautiful you are, your eyes are like a dove (Song 4:1) [refers to] the prophets and the Sanhedrin as explained earlier. From behind the veil (Song 4:1) [means] that the word reaches them from behind the curtain2 that separates between the Temple and the Holy of Holies. It is similar to the heart curtain that separates, on one hand, the heart and, on the other hand, the liver and the intestines.3 There is also the cover4 that envelops the heart itself. The heart represents the Ark and the lung that by its wings, covers the heart from outside the curtain: … a shielding cover of their wings (Ex 25:20; 37:9). As to the liver, it has always the frontal bread5 (Ex 35:13; 39:36), as it is from there that all the limbs receive their nourishment. [Concerning] the brain, the senses, the perceptive and enlightening energies, [it was said]: [Make its seven lamps] … to give light across its front side (Ex 25:37). Because there are seven [openings] in front: Two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, plus the mouth. The altar of burnt offering is the stomach and the altar of incense is the intellect6 that does ← 153 | 154 → support neither pervert desire...

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