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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 my friend, how beautiful you are (Song 4:1) means that “you are beautiful, very beautiful, by yourself. Furthermore, your beauty will increase and your light will be brighter, by your contact with me and your companionship.” Then he starts to describe the many aspects of beauty, according to what we know about it and in different parts of the body. Indeed, certain [parts of the body] are beautiful for their red color, like lips. Others, by their blackness like hair. Others, by their whiteness like teeth. Others by blackness surrounded by the white color like the eyes. Such is the case of all the body parts. All are metaphor for creatures’2 aspects, their beauty and the fact that each creature has its own discernible characteristic and that each creature reaches the highest degree of perfection, equilibrium and beauty that suit it. Similarly, the body parts have their proportionate beauty and comeliness. The whole follows the good health of the body, its equilibrium and good proportion pertaining to size, position, and equilibrium concerning weight and conduct. The result is a mixture of natural elements. Hence the detailing description of the visible beauty and its subdivisions, which lead to the perfection of the inner beauty....

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