Lamentations Rabbah

The Midrash on Lamentations or Eichah (Lamentations) Rabbah (Hebrew: מדרש איכה רבה), like Bereshit Rabbah and the Pesiḳta ascribed to Rab Kahana, belongs to the oldest works of the Midrashic literature. It begins with 36 consecutive proems forming a separate collection, certainly made by the author of the Midrash. They constitute more than one-fourth of the work (47b-52b in the Venice ed., 1545). These proems and, perhaps, most of the annotations, which are arranged in the sequence of the verses (52c-66b), originated in the discourses of which, in olden times, the Book of Lamentations had been the subject. The haggadic explanation of this book—which is a dirge on the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem and the national destruction that came along with it—was treated by scholars as especially appropriate to the Ninth of Ab, to the day of the destruction of the Temple, and to the eve of that fast-day (comp. Yer. Shab. 15c; Lam. R. iv. 20; Yer. Ta'an. 68d et seq.).

The Proems

The sources from which Yerushalmi drew must have been accessible to the author of Eichah Rabbah, which was certainly edited some time after the completion of the former, and which probably borrowed from it. In the same way older collections must have served as the common source for Eichah Rabbah, Bereshit Rabbah, and especially for the Pesiḳta de-Rab Kahana. The haggadic comment on Hosea vi. 7 appears earlier as a proem to a discourse on Lamentations, and is included among the proems in this Midrash (ed. S. Buber, p. 3a) as a comment on Gen. iii. 9 (Ber. R. xix.). The close of this proem, which serves as a connecting link with Lamentations i. 1, is found also in the Pesiḳta as the first proem to pericope xv. (p. 119a) to Isa. i. 21, the Hafṭarah for the Sabbath before the Ninth of Ab (comp. Müller, Einleitung in die Responsen, p. 38).

The same is the case with the second and fourth proems in the Pesiḳta, which are identical with the fourth and third (according to the correct enumeration) of the proems to Eichah Rabbah; the fifth in the Pesiḳta (120b-121b), which corresponds to the second in this Midrash, has a defective ending. With a change in the final sentences, the first proem in Eichah Rabbah is used as a proem in the Pesiḳta pericope xi. (110a), and with a change of the proem text and of its close, proem 10 (9) of Eichah Rabbah is found as a proem in the Pesiḳta pericope xix. (137b).

On the other hand, there is found embodied in the exposition of Lam. i. 2, "she weepeth sore in the night," etc., a whole proem, the text of which is Ps. lxxvii. 7 et seq., "I remember my lute-playing in the night," etc. (Hebr.); this proem contains also the final sentence which serves as introduction to the section Isa. xlix. 14 (ed. Buber, p. 30a), and it is known from the Pesiḳta pericope xvii. (129b et seq.) to be a proem to a discourse on this section, which is intended for the second "consolatory Sabbath" after the Ninth of Ab. From this it becomes evident that the collector of the Eichah Rabbah used the haggadic exposition—found in the Pesiḳta fulfilling its original purpose—as a comment on Lam. i. 2. The same is true of the commentary to Lam. i. 21 (ed. Buber, p. 47a), for which there was used a proem on the Pesiḳta section Isa. li. 12, intended originally for the fourth Sabbath after the Ninth of Ab, and a section which had for its text this verse of Lamentations (pericope xix., p. 138a); and also in regard to the comment to Lam. iii. 39 (ed. Buber, p. 68a), which consists of a proem of the Pesiḳta pericope xviii. (p. 130b).

But the author also added four proems from Eichah Rabbah itself (29, 18, 19, 31, according to the correct enumeration), retaining the introductory formula ר ... פתח, as a commentary to Lam. iii. 1, 14, 15; iv. 12 (ed. Buber, pp. 61b, 64a, b, 74b). The opinion set forth in the introduction to Buber's critical edition that the arrangement of the proems at the beginning of the work was made by a later editor, who included the marked comments of the Midrash as proems, and who, after prefixing the introductory formula to a comment on the Midrash Ḳohelet xii. 1 et seq., used it as a proem for Lam. R. xxiv. (xxiii.), is entirely wrong. There can be no doubt that precisely the opposite process has taken place. The entire interpretation in Eccl. R. xii. 1-7, which consists of two versions, is composed of two proems—that in Wayiḳra Rabbah, ch. 18, beginning, and the proem in this Midrash. The numberless proems originating in the synagogal discourses of the earliest times must be regarded as the richest source upon which the collectors of the midrashim could draw (comp. Monatsschrift, 1880, p. 185; Maybaum, Die Aeltesten Phasen in der Entwickelung der Jüdischen Predigt, p. 42).

Relation to Bereshit Rabbah

The character of the interpretation in that part of the midrash which contains the running commentary to Lamentations is on the whole the same as in the Bereshit Rabbah. Side by side with the simple interpretation of sentences and words, and with various midrashic explanations dating from different authors, whose comments are placed in juxtaposition, the Midrash contains haggadic passages having some sort of relation to the verse; as, for instance, in connection with the verse "at the beginning of the watches" (ii. 19) is introduced the whole discussion of Yerushalmi, Ber. 2d, on the statement of the Mishnah, "to the end of the first watch"; in connection with the words "let us lift up our heart with our hands to God in heaven" (iii. 41) is introduced a story from Yer. Ta'an. 65a, telling how R. Abba bar Zabda preached on this verse during a fast-day service.

It is not strange that for similar expressions, such as "en lo . . ." and "lo maẓ'ah manoah" occurring in Lam. i. 2, 3, and Gen. viii. 9, xi. 30, Eichah Rabbah (ed. Buber, pp. 31a et seq.) uses the explanations of Ber. R. xxxviii. and xxxiii., end; or that in the Eichah Rabbah the same aggadah is found three times (pp. 23a, 56a, 56b)—i.e., in explaining the three passages Lam. i. 1, ii. 4, and ii. 5, in each of which the word "like" occurs; or that the same comment is applied to iii. 53 and iii. 56; or that a sentence of R. Simeon b. Laḳish is used five times—namely, to iii. 3, 18, 22, 26, 32; or that the explanation for reversing the order and putting the letter פ before ע is given twice—namely, to ii. 16 and iii. 46.

Only a few verses in ch. iii. are entirely without annotations. To some verses (ii. 20, iii. 51, iv. 13, 18, 19) are added the stories to which they were referred, even though they are also found in the large collections on ii. 2 and i. 16: "For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water." These collections, as well as the long passage on i. 5 ("her enemies prosper"), giving so many accounts of the sufferings of Israel, including the times of the First and Second Temples and the fateful revolt under Bar Kokba, are the most impressive in the Midrash to Lamentations; they form an integral part of the work, like the interesting sagas and stories to Lam. i. 1 on the greatness of the city of Jerusalem and the intelligence of her inhabitants.

Jerusalem and Athens are contrasted in ten stories. The Scriptural words "the populous city, the city great among the nations," are vividly interpreted in the Midrash as meaning "great in intelligence." In connection with iv. 2, "the sons of Zion, the splendid ones " (Hebr.), the Midrash tells of social and domestic customs. The stories of Eichah Rabbah fill over fifteen columns of the Venice edition (about eleven in the first chapter), and include more than one-fourth of the midrashic comments (without the proems). Without these stories the differences in size of the several chapters would have been less apparent, even if (as was perhaps the case) the first chapter, in the form in which the author knew it, offered more opportunity for comments than did the other chapters. From this it is erroneously concluded in the Gottesdienstliche Vorträge that "the last sections were added later"; and, furthermore, "that the completion of the whole work must not be placed before the second half of the seventh century," because Zunz concludes that the empire of the Arabians is referred to even in a passage of the first chapter.

However, according to a reading of S. Buber's edition (p. 39a), which is the only correct one as shown by the context, Seir, not Ishmael, is mentioned in connection with Edom in this passage to i. 14. The other arguments of the Gottesdienstliche Vorträge likewise fail to prove such a late date for the Midrash, especially since Zunz himself concludes that the authorities mentioned therein by name are not later than Yerushalmi. All that can be definitely stated is that Lamentations Rabbah was edited after the completion of that Talmud, and that Bereshit Rabbah must also be considered as of earlier date, not so much because it was drawn upon, as because of the character of the proem collection in Eichah Rabbah. Like Bereshit Rabbah, this Midrash is also of Judean origin, and rich in foreign words, especially Greek.

It certainly is not strange that the "Vive domine imperator!" with which R. Johanan b. Zakkai is said to have approached Vespasian in his camp, should have been reproduced. The same phrase was likewise transmitted in Aramaic and Hebrew form, in Buber's edition and in the Aruk. The Midrash is quoted, perhaps for the first time, by R. Hananeel under the name "Agadat Eichah." Many passages are quoted by R. Nathan, who invariably calls the work "Megillat Eichah." The term "Eichah Rabbati," which is general even now, is used to designate the many extracts in Yalḳuṭ which have been included with the other Biblical books. In Eichah Rabbah itself the sources are almost always missing. The names "Midrash Eichah," "Midrash Ḳinot," "Megillat Ḳinot," are also found in the old authors. In Yalḳuṭ there are likewise long extracts from a Midrash on Lamentations published under the name "Midrash Zuṭa" (Berlin, 1894) by Solomon Buber.

Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography

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