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Old Jewish Commentaries on the Song of Songs I

The Commentary of Yefet ben Eli- Edited and translated from Judeo-Arabic by Joseph Alobaidi


Edited By Joseph Alobaidi

The commentary of Yefet ben Eli the Karaite (second half of the tenth century) on The Song of Songs is example of an exegetical work obeying two imperatives: The explanation of the divine message of Salvation mixed with the assiduous Karaite effort to prove wrong their adversaries, the Rabbanites, with the help of the Bible. In so doing Yefet ben Eli wrote a thoughtful and original commentary on the very symbolic Song of Songs. Indeed, according to Yefet ben Eli nothing in the Book should be taken realistically. The ability of Yefet to replace symbols by historical events is one of the many marks that show Yefet’s mastery and the originality of his commentary.


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The English Translation of Yefet’s commentary


on the Song of Songs The English translation of the Bible text of the Song of Songs is not that of the masoretic text. It is the translation of Yefet ben Eli’s rendering in Judeo-Arabic of the masoretic text. His understanding and translation are different from our modern interpretation of the Bible text. English words written in standard letters translate Judeo-Arabic words in the manuscript. English words written in italic translate Hebrew words in the manuscript. Chapter 1 1:1 The Song of Songs that belongs to Solomon. Know that [the expression] that belongs to Solomon (Sg 1:1), peace be upon him, [brings to mind] two sciences. The first is a worldly science that he did not record for us. It is what the scribe implies when he states that God gave Solomon wisdom… (1 Kgs 5:9). He then added: Solomon pronounced three thousand proverbs and his songs were [one thousand five] (1Kgs 5:12), he was wiser than all men…(1 Kgs 5:11). The second science is religious, pertaining to life after death and the ways of rein- forcing Judaism.1 The scribe records them for our benefit in this life and for the next. They are represented in three books: The Song of Songs, Proverbs and Qohelet. Each of the three has its own particular style. The Proverbs, [for example,] deals with the principles deduced from the Lord’s Commandments, how to make their observance attractive, how to avoid transgressions of God’s will, recalling his treatment of...

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